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Old hockey rinks can never die… – The Babuk Report

Old hockey rinks can never die…

A recent story in the Calgary Herald spoke of plans to build a new venue for the Calgary Flames, quoting Calgary Flames President and CEO, Ken King, as saying that the Saddledome was the sixth oldest venue in the National Hockey League.

Time flies.  It’s not that long ago – 1983 to be exact –  that the Flames, this recent expansion team – set up shop in an even more recent hockey rink – the Calgary Olympic Saddledome (now the Pengrowth Saddledome) – replacing the venerable Stampede Corral.  If the Saddledome is the sixth oldest venue in the NHL, that would make Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum (now the Rexall Centre) even older on the pecking order.  While not revealing just how old I was, I recall the ruckus in 1974 around Calgary when everyone fashionable went up to Edmonton to see Billy Preston play the opening act at the Coliseum, and how it had “theatre style seating” – compared to the painted, wooden bleachers of the Corral.  It had all sorts of other amenities that we just didn’t have in the Corral.

And while many notable events occurred in both the Northlands Coliseum and the Olympic Saddledome; architecturally, they weren’t like anything resembling the truly legendary rinks, like The Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, the Chicago Stadium or Boston Gardens, all with their booming pipe organs that inspired both team spirit and intimidation simultaneously. 

Low and behold, there is even talk of replacing the Northlands Coliseum as well.  Updated amenities, better public transportation connections and more opportunities for skybox seating are frequently cited reasons for replacing existing rinks in both Edmonton and Calgary.

So, if the Saddledome and Northlands are among the six oldest NHL rinks, what are the other four?

Since 1979, the Detroit Red Wings have played in the Joe Louis Arena.  Since this new facility – now one of the leagues oldest – replaced a legendary hockey hall, the Detroit Olympia, and thinking that that the Joe may be thought of as ‘dated’, brings about a grandfatherly sort of feeling.

The New York Islanders play in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in Uniondale, NY, which opened in 1972.

Madison Square Gardens opened in 1968 in New York City, despite it being located much closer to Herald Square (a block away) than Madison Square.  If ever you’ve arrived too early for a train at Penn Station, catching a hockey or basketball game upstairs at the Gardens is a truly urban way to spend a transfer.

The Igloo in Pittsburgh
The Igloo in Pittsburgh

The oldest venue – and one also soon to be vacated – is the Igloo (now called the Melon Dome) in Pittsburgh.  Originally built as a bandshell with a retractable roof for the local symphony, its peculiar acoustics caused the symphony to relocate and the Penguins to move in.  A completely aluminum structure, its high, spherical cone shape brought about the name ‘The Igloo”.