Ranking the 10 Most Iconic Arenas in NHL History

Brad KurtzbergContributor ISeptember 2, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Iconic Arenas in NHL History

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    With the exception of the Winter Classic, NHL hockey is always played at indoor arenas. Over the years, many of these arenas have become iconic.

    What makes a rink special? For purposes of this article, it's not the shape of the building, the quality of the view or the concessions available outside the rink. NHL arenas become iconic because of the NHL history that took place inside them. The performance of all-time great players or the fact that historic games were played there make a rink iconic and memorable.

    Feel free to comment and indicate any rinks you feel belong on this list. Indicate why your choice should be on the list and which rink you would remove from it to add your choice.

10. Rexall Place

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    Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, is presently the third-oldest arena still in use in the NHL. It opened back in 1974 when the Oilers were still part of the old WHA.

    The arena hosted the Avco Cup Finals in 1979 when the Oilers met the Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers lost the series in six games.

    The following season, the Oilers joined the NHL. The arena saw the birth of one of hockey's greatest dynasties in the 1980s. The Oilers won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and also reached the final in 1983 before falling to the Islanders.

    Among the great players who called Rexall Place home are Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Doug Weight and Andy Moog.

    Many of Gretzky's iconic moments took place in the arena, including his five-goal effort against Philadelphia on December 30, 1981, which gave "The Great One" 50 goals in just 39 games.

    In addition to the many records Wayne Gretzky set at the arena, Rexall Place also hosted games in both the 1981 and 1984 Canada Cup and the 1989 NHL All-Star Game.

    The arena may not be hosting NHL games much longer, but it has a rich history and has seen many iconic moments.

9. The Spectrum in Philadelphia

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    The Spectrum in Philadelphia was home to many iconic moments in the history of hockey.

    The arena didn't get off to the most auspicious start as the roof blew off on March 1, 1968, and the Flyers had to play the rest of their home games in Quebec City. The roof was repaired in time for the playoffs later that season.

    In 1974, the Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup by defeating the Boston Bruins on Spectrum ice. Before the game, the Flyers brought in singer Kate Smith to sing "God Bless America," which became the team's good luck charm when played before games.

    The following season, the Spectrum was one of two venues that hosted the first all-expansion Stanley Cup Final when the Flyers met the Buffalo Sabres. Philadelphia won the series in six games.

    The Spectrum also hosted the Stanley Cup Final in 1976, 1980, 1985 and 1987.

    The United States celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976, and it was a big year for the Spectrum. In addition to hosting the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive year, the arena hosted the NHL All-Star Game (it would host it again in 1992) and the infamous game between the Flyers and the Soviet Red Army which saw the Russians leave the ice in protest of the Flyers' roughhouse tactics. The Spectrum also hosted two games of the 1976 Canada Cup that year.

    Great players who called the Spectrum their NHL home included Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Dave Schultz, Pelle Lindbergh, Ron Hextall, Eric Lindros and Rod Brind'Amour.

    The Spectrum was closed in 2009 and demolished in 2011.

8. Madison Square Garden (Modern)

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    The present-day Madison Square Garden in New York opened in 1968. The self-proclaimed "World's Most Famous Arena" is located above Penn Station in Manhattan.

    The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup there in 1994, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in a thrilling seven-game series. The Rangers also reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1972 and 1979.

    In addition, MSG has also hosted the NHL All-Star Game in 1972 and 1994.

    In 1979, "The Garden" also hosted "The Challenge Series" between a team of NHL All-Stars and the Soviet national team. The Soviets won the series two games to one.

    Madison Square Garden has a unique atmosphere, especially for playoff games. The fans typically drown out the national anthem and continue to keep the level of electricity high throughout the game.

    Among the greats who called the present Madison Square Garden home are Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Ed Giacomin, Phil Esposito, John Davidson, Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch and Wayne Gretzky.

7. Joe Louis Arena

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    The Joe Louis Arena in Detroit opened in 1979 and was the first "new" building to replace an Original Six structure.

    The Red Wings have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL recently, reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons and counting. Along the way, Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008 and reached the Final in 1995 and 2009.

    The Joe Louis Arena hosted the NHL All-Star Game in 1980 during its first season in existence. It featured a special moment as the great Gordie Howe returned to Detroit while representing the Hartford Whalers. The crowd gave its returning hero a lengthy and warm standing ovation when he was introduced prior to the game.

    Among the greats who called the Joe Louis Arena home were Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Larry Murphy, Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Osgood, Sergei Fedorov and Chris Chelios.

    Joe Louis Arena's days are numbered as there are now plans in place to build a new hockey arena in Detroit.

6. Madison Square Garden (Original Six)

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    The old Madison Square Garden was actually on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets in Manhattan. The building opened in 1925 and closed in 1968. It was the home of both the New York Americans and the New York Rangers of the NHL.

    The Rangers won three Stanley Cups while they played at the old Garden, but they never played their playoff home games there. Each spring, the circus would come to Madison Square Garden, and because it was more lucrative to the owners of the arena than the hockey games were, the Rangers played all of their postseason games on the road.

    The Americans remained tenants of the old Garden until they left the NHL in 1942. The Rangers remained at the Garden until it closed in 1968.

    Among the famous players who called the original MSG home were Bill and Bun Cook, Frank Boucher, Ching Johnson, Lorne Chabot, Ott Heller, Harry Howell and Dave Kerr.

    The reason the old MSG ranks last among Original Six buildings is because the Rangers rarely played their playoff games in the building. That eliminated a lot of potential iconic moments.

5. Chicago Stadium

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    The Chicago Blackhawks called "The Madhouse on Madison" home from 1929 until 1994. The building was demolished the following year.

    Chicago Stadium was best known for its noises. The fans were extremely boisterous, especially before playoff games, and the building also contained the world's largest pipe organ, which would sound after each goal scored by the home team.

    Because it was shorter than most other NHL rinks, there was less room in the neutral zone at Chicago Stadium. It gave the Blackhawks an even bigger home-ice advantage.

    The NHL All-Star Game was played at Chicago Stadium three times, in 1961, 1974 and 1991.

    The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1961. They also reached the final on seven other occasions, with the most recent coming in 1992.

    The final hockey game at Chicago Stadium was played during the 1994 playoffs. The Blackhawks now play at the United Center.

4. Boston Garden

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    The Boston Garden was the home of the Boston Bruins from 1928 until 1995.

    Like Chicago Stadium, Boston Garden also had a shorter center ice area and was not as long as most regulation-sized NHL rinks. The Bruins played a more physical style to adjust to their home arena and were known as "The Big, Bad Bruins" in the late '60s and '70s.

    The Boston Garden had no air conditioning, lacked modern amenities, and was famous for rats and leaky pipes in the locker rooms. 

    The fans were right on top of the action, and it gave the place an intimacy that modern venues lack. That intimacy, and the fact that the Bruins were often a hard-working, blue-collar team, helped cement the relationship between the Bruins and their fans.

    Boston reached the Stanley Cup Final 16 times while it was tenants of the Boston Garden, winning in 1929, 1939, 1941, 1970 and 1972.

    Among the all-time greats who played for the Bruins at the Boston Garden are Eddie Shore, Frank Brimsek, Woody Dumart, Milt Schmidt, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, Johnny Bucyk, Gerry Cheevers, Wayne Cashman, Brad Park, Jean Ratelle, Terry O'Reilly, Cam Neely and Bobby Orr.

    The Garden closed in 1995 and was demolished in 1998.

3. The Olympia

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    The Red Wings called the Olympia home from 1927 (when the team was known as the Cougars) until 1979. It was known as "The Old Red Barn."

    Detroit won the Stanley Cup seven times while it called the Olympia home and reached the final another 11 times. The Red Wings were among the league's best teams from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, and the Olympia was host to many memorable moments during that time.

    The NHL held the All-Star Game at the Olympia four times, including 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955.

    Among the greats who called The Olympia home were Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Glenn Hall, Sid Abel, Terry Sawchuk and Gordie Howe.

    The Red Wings played their final home game at the Olympia on December 15, 1979. The building was demolished in 1987.

2. Maple Leaf Gardens

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs called the Maple Leaf Gardens home from 1931 to 1999.

    During that time, they won 11 Stanley Cups and reached the Stanley Cup Final on another eight occasions.

    The arena also hosted seven NHL All-Star Games, including three straight from 1962 to 1964.

    Because it was located in the media capital of Canada, more "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcasts originated from Maple Leaf Gardens than any other NHL rink.

    One of the unique features of the Maple Leaf Gardens was a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, which was removed by owner Harold Ballard in the 1960s to make room for additional seats.

    In 1972, it played host to Game 2 of the famous Summit Series between the Soviet Union and a team of NHL All-Stars. Team Canada won the game 4-1 to even the series 1-1.

    Among the greats who played their home games at Maple Leaf Gardens were Syl Apps, Busher Jackson, Dick Diff, Tim Horton, Teeder Kennedy, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Lanny McDonald.

    The Maple Leafs played their final home game at the Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999. Today, the place has been renovated and Ryerson University plays its home hockey games there. The building has a capacity of just 2,796 fans.

1. Montreal Forum

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    The Forum in Montreal is the most iconic arena in NHL history. More historic hockey games have been played at the Forum than in any other rink.

    The place is so full of history that visiting teams used to speak of the "Ghosts of the Forum" when they played there. It was rumored that the ghosts of great players from years past would help the Canadiens win games.

    The Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Maroons both called the Forum home. The Maroons played there from 1924 until 1938 when they suspended play while the Canadiens played their home games there from 1926 to 1996.

    During their time at the Forum, the Maroons won two Stanley Cups. But it was the Canadiens who made the arena famous. The Habs won the title 22 times while playing their home games at the Forum. They won one Cup in 1924 before they played their home games there.

    The Canadiens won five straight championships from 1956 to 1960 and then won four straight from 1976 to 1979.

    Among the greats who played their home games at the Forum were Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Boom-Boom Geoffrion, Howie Morenz, Steve Shutt and Aurel Joliat.

    Although the exterior of the Forum still stands, the interior was completely reconfigured in 1998.