The game is the thing, and the experience fans get at an NHL arena is 100 times more exciting than watching it on television.
Watching an NHL game live is far different than watching any of the other professional sport in person. There's a certain electricity at an NHL game that just has more current running through it than any of the other sports.
But not all NHL arenas are created equal. At some buildings, you are there, you enjoy the game and then you go home. At the best venues, the atmosphere covers you like a blanket and you feel it in every ounce of your being.
In this piece, we rank the arenas with the best environments. We are not taking the price of the ticket, the taste of the food or the cleanliness of the bathrooms into account. The only thing that matters is the hockey atmosphere.
The return of the NHL to Winnipeg was a rapturous moment for this Canadian city.
The Phillips Center was the home of the Atlanta Thrashers. Atlanta wasn't a hockey town. That city has lost two teams, the Flames (to Calgary) and the Thrashers (who became the Jets) to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg is a small town in Manitoba and it knows that it is lucky to have an NHL team to call its own. The fans never take this for granted and neither does anyone associated with the franchise.
You go to a game in Winnipeg, and you know you are in the company of people who love hockey and appreciate a top performance.
The fans make the environment reverential and electric at the same time.
Philadelphia fans are raucous in their support of all their home teams, but the Flyers' long-term aggressive nature has spread to their fans.
Ever since the Broad Street Bullies became an NHL power in the mid-1970s, Flyers games became destination events for Philadelphians.
The fans loved having an aggressive team that was not going to take any guff from their opponents. To say that Flyers fans appreciate a good hockey fight is like saying that cheese steak is a pretty good Philadelphia sandwich.
We're not going to say that visiting fans are taking a risk by heading to the Wells Fargo Center to support their team, but we are going to say that you should be prepared for a special Philadelphia welcome.
It's raucous, it's exciting and it's unforgettable.
You wouldn't think that Northern California would provide one of the more exciting venues for NHL hockey, but old-school perceptions have nothing to do with reality.
The SAP Center is a sensational place to watch a hockey game. The Sharks, of course, are that city's only major league team, and the fans honor the team in that manner.
The full-throated atmosphere in San Jose makes it feel as if you are in a place that has loved hockey for decades and that the sport is ingrained in the blood of the local denizens.
For a team that didn't start to play until the 1993-94 season, this place offers a sensational atmosphere to watch an NHL game. If the Sharks are playing a hated Pacific Division rival, it ups the atmosphere that much more. These people want to win badly and they also appreciate the game when it is played at is best.
There is far more sophisticated knowledge than you would have any reason to expect. The SAP Center is a superb atmosphere to watch the game.
"The Joe" is one of the older buildings in the NHL, having opened in 1979.
It lacks many of the luxuries and pizzazz of the more modern buildings.
But when you go to the Joe Louis Arena, you get Original Six hockey played by the NHL's best team over the last two decades and you are treated to it in an atmosphere that says you are at a special event. There is just something cool about being inside the Arena and watching the Red Wings play hockey.
You can multiply the coolness factor when it's playoff time and the Red Wings are making another deep run. There is often an air of inevitability there as the fans will the team to win. Of course, you get that special sensation when an octopus is thrown on the ice, which is a Detroit tradition.
It's an oily and slimy tradition, but a notable one nonetheless.
The Joe also has a statue of the great Joe Louis in front of the arena, perhaps the best heavyweight fighter in the history of the sport. You will want to see that and study the bronze likeness of his classic form before taking your seat next to some of the most knowledgeable fans anywhere in the league.
Any time you talk about a Canadian arena, you know you are going into a special place to watch a National Hockey League game.
The city of Calgary became home to the Flames in 1980 after they moved from Atlanta. The Flames had some success in Atlanta, but they were never fully embraced by the community.
By the time the Flames moved to Calgary, the on-ice product was quite good and the fans in Calgary made it very difficult on opponents because of their continuous support. Not only did they fill the Scotiabank Saddledome, they did it in a loud and boisterous manner.
Over the years, the atmosphere has always been loving and supportive toward the home, even though the team's fortunes have suffered.
Here's another aspect: The Scotiabank Saddledome was severely damaged in June by the floods that devastated the Alberta city. Despite the damage caused by more than 300 million gallons of water spilling into the arena, round-the-clock work was done to return the arena to top condition.
Detroit may be Hockey Town, but Minnesota is the State of Hockey.
That may be a public relations expression, but it is completely appropriate. Minnesotans love hockey the way Canadians do, and they treat the game with reverence at all levels.
They love their high school hockey, college hockey and they have a rabid and knowledgeable fanbase that makes each Minnesota Wild game at the Xcel Energy Center a big event.
The resentment in Minnesota was palpable when the beloved Minnesota North Stars left for Dallas following the 1992-93 season. However, that wrong was righted when the Wild became an expansion team in 2000-01.
The Wild have suffered through many of the growing pains that are typical of expansion teams, but they have first-rate fans who deserve a top-level team.
The atmosphere for hockey has been magical in Boston since the 1966-67 season.
That's the year that the game's greatest defenseman, Bobby Orr, made his debut with the Boston Bruins.
Since that time, hockey in the Boston Garden, and now the TD Garden, has been magical and electric. Many Bruins fans have grown up playing the game and they have intimate knowledge of what it takes to win. They have regularly gotten a maximum effort from their team, and they support the Bruins with remarkable passion.
The Bruins helped galvanize the city of Boston last spring after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. After the city was shut down by the tragedy, the Bruins returned to the Garden and the national anthem was performed in a remarkable manner.
Singer Rene Rancourt instinctively stopped singing and let the fans take over, providing one of the most memorable moments of the year.
The support the Bruins received in their run to the Stanley Cup Final was consistently loud, emotional and raucous.
That's standard operating procedure at the TD Garden.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have endured plenty of hard times, but even though they have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967, they have still won 13 NHL championships.
The tradition of hockey in Toronto is ingrained in the populace, and the fans are probably the sharpest in the league. The Air Canada Centre—known as the ACC—is a beautiful building that features a spectacular video board that allows fans to follow everything on replay that they have just seen live and in person.
The fans are hungry for a winner and want to see their Leafs make a climb back to the top of the hockey world. While they are waiting for that to happen, they can visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and then come to the arena to enjoy the game in a spectacular atmosphere.
The atmosphere at the United Center is simply amazing for any Chicago Blackhawks home game.
The Blackhawks don't operate their franchise as if a home game was just another date on the schedule. Instead, every Blackahwks home game is a huge event.
Fans are treated to videos that highlight the history of the franchise prior to each game and then the arena turns into one of the loudest buildings in the world when anthem singer Jim Cornelison begins to belt out "The Star Spangled Banner."
The fans roar throughout the song, and once it is over, the vibe in the building is electric. There are pictures and statues that are reminders of the team's memorable past, and former Blackhawks heroes Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito show up at games regularly.
The Bell Centre is the NHL's premier arena and it is perhaps the most electric venue in all of sports.
The history of the Montreal Canadiens comes to life at the Bell Centre, much as it did at the venerable Montreal Forum for decades. While the old building had remarkable charm and excitement, the new building may be even more electric due to the videos and light shows that are such a regular part of the atmosphere.
The Canadiens have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993, but they are still the league's dominant historical franchise. When former Canadien greats show up at games, they are treated like conquering heroes, which only adds to the passion.
The fans know their sport like few others and they can compare today's greats with past heroes and make accurate assessments.
They also have incredible fervor for their rivalries with the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Attending a hockey game at the Bell Centre is a must for anyone who considers themselves a hockey fan.