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(Photo: Blake Benzel, stadiumjourney.com)

The National Lacrosse League is in its 26th year of operations this year. During that time, some teams have come and gone, and a few have moved around to new cities.

There are currently nine teams in the NLL, with each home venue providing a unique experience of what I consider to be the best spectator sport in the world.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly (at least to me), every single NLL arena scored at least 3 out of 5 in Stadium Journey's ranking system, which means the entertainment value at any of the venues is well worth the effort.

From worst to best, let's have a look at how the various stadiums in the NLL rate.

9. Washington Stealth: Comcast Arena

(Photo: Joe Mabel, Wikipedia)
(Photo: Joe Mabel, Wikipedia)

Since moving from San Jose in 2010, the Washington Stealth have made their home in Comcast Arena in Everett.

The Stealth have enjoyed some ups and downs in Washington State, having gone all the way to the Champion's Cup final in their first two years—including a victory in the big game in 2010—and then missing the playoffs entirely in 2012.

Things seem to be back on the good side of the ledger for the 2013 season, with the Stealth in second place in the West Division as of this writing.

The fans in Everett are among the real positives for this stadium experience. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, even if attendance is often less than half the 8,149 capacity of Comcast Arena.

The biggest knock against Comcast Arena is apparently the security staff, who are prone to hounding anyone who tries to enter carrying a backpack if you walk up to the wrong entrance. If not for this issue, which would put a bad taste in the most patient fan's mouth, the stadium might have scored in the middle of the pack among NLL venues.

Tie 7. Rochester Knighthawks: Blue Cross Arena

(Photo: Andrew Kulyk, stadiumjourney.com)
(Photo: Andrew Kulyk, stadiumjourney.com)

The Rochester Knighthawks are the reigning champions in the NLL. They've had a slow start to the 2013 season, putting them in last place in the East Division with just six games left to go, but hopes are high for a strong finish following a couple trade deadline deals.

With star forwards Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson running the offense and former Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc between the pipes, the product on the floor is top notch.

Blue Cross Arena is home to the Knighthawks and has been since the franchise began in 1995. The team's three championship banners, along with a handful of retired jersey numbers, hang proudly from the rafters, underscoring the tradition in this building.

The strongest element of this stadium experience—and the one that counts the most—is the fans. Although they typically only draw around 7,000 people to the 11,200 seat stadium, they're loyal, they're knowledgeable and they add to an already entertaining atmosphere.

Tie 7. Edmonton Rush: Rexall Place

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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rexall Place is best known as the home of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty that won a handful of Stanley Cups in the 1980s while powered by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

These days it is also home to the Edmonton Rush who got hot as the playoffs started last year and rolled all the way to the Champion's Cup final before finally being stopped by the Rochester Knighthawks.

This year, they're in second place in the West Division while rookie phenom Mark Matthews steadily continues to establish himself as the Next Big Thing.

Rexall Place itself is showing signs of age, with narrow hallways and limited concession options. Built in the 1970s, it has seen a few upgrades over the years, but news that a new facility in Edmonton's downtown has been approved and will be built in the coming years means that Rexall's days may be numbered.

The Rush are currently in their ninth season in the NLL and have a solid but smallish fan base. With continued success and a dynamic new face for the franchise, it is a distinct possibility that the numbers in the crowd will continue to grow and make this city into a lacrosse powerhouse. 

Tie 5. Colorado Mammoth: Pepsi Center

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Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Pepsi Center is a busy facility, serving as home for the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the Colorado Mammoth of the NLL. 

The Mammoth are one of only two surviving franchises from the very beginning of the NLL. Originally the Baltimore Thunder, the franchise has now moved three times but seems to have settled in Denver for the long haul.

The Mammoth consistently draw some of the biggest crowds in the NLL, packing over 15,000 into the stands most games, so the energy in the house is terrific.

And of course, adding to the energy is the team itself.

The Mammoth have had a slow start to the season, but they've won two of their last three and are coming on strong. And with defending league MVP John Grant Jr. running the offense, you can always expect plenty of goals and excitement on the carpet.

Tie 5. Toronto Rock: Air Canada Centre

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Robert Skeoch/Getty Images

The last goal ever scored in Maple Leaf Gardens was the game winner in the 2000 Champion's Cup. Rookie Kaleb Toth rifled a shot home with one second left on the clock to to give the Toronto Rock the victory over the Rochester Knighthawks.

Since then, the Rock have relocated to Air Canada Centre where they have continued to enjoy a fair bit of success. They won their sixth Champion's Cup in franchise history in 2011 and currently are poised for yet another deep playoff run, as they are in first place in the NLL East.

With superstars Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson and Garrett Billings leading the way, the Rock are as good a team as there is in the league.

Fan numbers have slumped at the Air Canada Centre over the years, from a high-water mark in the 15,000 range a decade ago to a more typical 10,000 attendance for most games these days. Still, that fills the stadium to over half capacity and the fans that are there are loud and proud.

Overall, the atmosphere for Rock games is very good, although it is clear looking around the facility that the primary tenants are the Maple Leafs and the Raptors. You'll still see the Rock's banners on display, the game play is awesome and the energy in the stadium is great. 

4. Calgary Roughnecks: Scotiabank Saddledome

(Photo: Jim Flannery, stadiumjourney.com)
(Photo: Jim Flannery, stadiumjourney.com)

The Calgary Roughnecks have established themselves as one of the most successful franchises in NLL history in their relatively short team history. They have only missed the playoffs once (their inaugural season), and have won two Champion's Cups in 2004 and 2009.

The Saddledome is better known as the home of the NHL's Calgary Flames, and as one of the key venues during the 1988 Winter Olympics, memorabilia from both the Flames and the Olympics can be found on display throughout the concourse.

You'll also find plenty of food and drink options in the concourse, but the main event is on the floor where the Roughnecks put on an outstanding show game after game.

As of this writing, forward Shawn Evans is leading the NLL in scoring (82 points) while Jeff Shattler, Curtis Dickson, Scott Ranger and Dane Dobbie aren't far behind making Calgary's offense the most potent in the league. 

A loyal local following means there are usually around 10,000 fans in the seats; not bad for the NLL. And that crowd remains boisterous and engaged throughout, making game night a great experience. 

3. Philadelphia Wings: Wells Fargo Center

(Photo: PHL Approach)
(Photo: PHL Approach)

There are only two NLL franchises that have been around since day one and only one of those two still remains in the place where they started. That team is the Philadelphia Wings.

The Wings came over from the original Spectrum to their current digs in what is now called the Wells Fargo Center in 1996, along with the Flyers of the NHL and the 76ers of the NBA.

While they don't open all the stands for lacrosse games the way they do for hockey or basketball, they get every bit as much noise and crowd intensity as is normally expected at a Philly game.

Sophomore Kevin Crowley is leading the offense with 19 goals and 48 points, while goaltender Brandon Miller is having an outstanding year on the other end, posting an 11.71 goals against average to date.

The food and drink options at Wells Fargo Center are apparently outstanding and the options nearby are as good or better, so you can enjoy some great eats before and after the game, which is always a nice bonus. 

2. Buffalo Bandits: First Niagara Center

(Photo: Andrew Kulyk, stadiumjourney.com)
(Photo: Andrew Kulyk, stadiumjourney.com)

The Buffalo Bandits have been at or near the top of the NLL when it comes to attendance every year that they have been in the league. Drawing a league-best 15,918 per game in 2012, you can expect the First Niagara Center to be full of dedicated Bandits fans every game.

The fans have plenty to cheer about this year, with an improved squad currently sitting in third place in the East.

The ageless John Tavares is continuing to add to his all-time NLL points lead game after game, newly acquired Shawn Williams is continuing to add to his all-time NLL ironman streak, and rookies like Dhane Smith are establishing themselves as the future of the franchise.

Inside First Niagara Center, the raucous atmosphere is full of energy, noise and excitement. The food is good, the fans are crazy and the action on the floor, of course, is excellent. 

1. Minnesota Swarm: Xcel Energy Center

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Ron LeBlanc/Getty Images

Rumor has it that the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., is one of the best places anywhere to watch sports. Not surprisingly, the experience at a Minnesota Swarm game is at the top of the NLL list.

The Swarm have committed to moving ahead with a very young squad in the last couple years and bring a ton of energy and exuberance to their play as a result. While that hasn't translated into a ton of wins this year (losing team captain Andrew Suitor to injury hasn't helped), they're definitely one to watch for the future.

The X factor for the Swarm this year, if they make the playoffs, is that the rookies on the roster will have a full season under their belts going into the playoffs and that could make them a very dangerous opponent.

The atmosphere in the Xcel Energy Center is fantastic, with music playing, fans cheering, announcers taunting the opposition, contests, etc. Mix in some good, but spendy munchies and you've got yourself a party!

It all adds up to a tremendous experience at a fraction of the price you'd pay to see the Minnesota Wild at this venue. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @calgaryjimbo 

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