Hockey is a sport where home-ice advantage goes beyond just the few benefits granted by the rules (such as shooting first in the shootout or having the last change after a whistle). The massive roar of a crowd for a good play, or the deafening scream of a goal horn when a puck hits the twine for the home team is something that is truly unlike any other sport in the world.
Certain buildings are particularly known for their atmosphere. Whether it's the quality of the team, the passion of the fans, or the flat out difficulty it is for road teams to win, a few buildings stand out in the NHL as places where it's truly difficult to win games.
For this reason, I now present you with ten of the most feared and revered arenas in the NHL.
Location: Denver, CO
Home to: Colorado Avalanche
This building had been a fierce place in years past, but the post-lockout Avs have not been the same as the dominant force they were before. Nonetheless, the building has remained an intimidating place for opponents. The fans are strong and loyal, and the team has started to show signs of talent once again, making a return to the playoffs last season.
However the real reason I list this arena here is because of its one distinct advantage: altitude. Denver, Colorado is higher above sea level than any NHL city, giving it thinner air and a definite deterrent to the stamina of opposition teams. The Avs are used to playing and training in this high altitude, but opponents come in and are usually gasping for breath by the time the third period starts.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Home to: Los Angeles Kings
For most of the 2000s a trip to LA was something most teams looked forward to. For one, most of the teams got the chance to get out of the snow and ice in their own cities (I'm looking at you, Eastern Conference) and experience some of that wonderful weather California is known for. That and a trip to Staples Center almost always meant two points in your pocket, since let's face it, the Kings were pretty much a joke.
However, there have been moments of brilliance in this building, and none more so than now since the team is playing like a freight train without brakes--running over everyone in it's path. The fans have returned in droves to fill the building night in and night out, and believe me, they can really roar when the Kings start tearing their opponent apart, which they've done pretty much every home game this season.
The roar of the crowd alone when the team scores is like a whole fleet of passenger jets taking off...and then you add the goal horn. The Kings changed it a couple years ago to a much higher frequency train horn that is LOUD. I swear if the glass were any thinner around the arena it would completely shatter every time the Kings found the net with a shot. While it might be painful, it's music to the ears of Kings fans as opponents continue to fall night after night in this now-daunting castle of the Kings (Pun intended.)
Location: Boston, MA
Home to: Boston Bruins
This building in Beantown knows how to really get loud and support its Bruins. There's really no questioning that Boston sports fans are some of the best in the nation, and lately they've had plenty to cheer about with a very successful Bruins team. That and they're not particularly friendly to opponents.
However this building is also scary itself because of the sheer challenge that opponents face when it comes to scoring. Boston is anchored on defense by Zdeno Chara, the biggest guy in the entire NHL with the hardest shot in the entire league. Add in guys like Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart, and this defense is pretty rock solid. On top of that add in two top-caliber goaltenders in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, and scoring becomes rather difficult in this building.
Location: Calgary, Alberta
Home to: Calgary Flames
The largest NHL building in western Canada is home to the red-clad Calgary Flames, and oh boy can this building be a scary place to go. Over 19,000 people, all wearing red, all screaming at the top of their lungs in support of their team while real, high-temperature fire surges all throughout the arena. The intimidation factor just before the game starts is incredible. I think the picture tells the whole story here...if that's not a scary sight to see when stepping onto the ice, I'm not really sure what is.
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Home To: Montreal Canadiens
There's one reason why this winning in this building is such a daunting task: the crowd. At a capacity of well over 21,000 people, this is the largest building in the NHL by a wide margin. With every game sold out and filled to capacity, it is absolutely rocking for the rouge blanc et bleu every time they take to the ice. Goals are a sight to behold here, with all those voices screaming out simultaneously.
The fans' passion goes well beyond cheering in the building as well, as they have a reputation for rioting through the streets of Montreal after huge victories. It's safe to say opponents likely fear coming here purely because their team bus might be pushed over and burned if they're defeated. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Home to: Philadelphia Flyers
Recently renamed after being the Wachovia Center for the past several years, this building is always fearsome due to its team: the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have been remodeled to a formula that saw enormous success back in the days of the original Broad Street Bullies--a rough, scrappy, physical team that isn't afraid to throw their weight around.
Their roster boasts tough guys like Ian Laperriere, Chris Pronger and Daniel Carcillo in an excellent balance with high-scorers like Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere. The resulting team has become a nightmare in the East, currently sitting atop their division.
Opponents can expect to come into this NHL building, be mercilessly attacked by some of the NHL's most passionate fans, get beat up and walk away pointless in a demoralizing loss. I can't imagine what it's going to be like for Pittsburgh to walk in here this year.
Location: San Jose, CA
Home to: San Jose Sharks
One of my friends I used to work with told me stories of going to many Sharks games growing up in the San Jose area. This building has an interesting design issue in that it has a tendency to resonate with the cheers of the crowd, causing the floor to shake. Imagine hearing the roar of a crowd (all of which are opening and closing their arms in an imitation of a shark's chomping on its prey) drowning out the theme from Jaws. And then on top of that it's literally shaking the ice underneath you as you're about to try to kill off a penalty against what has been one of the most lethal powerplay units in the entire NHL for pretty much the past decade. Then when they do score, the arena is filled with the deafening thunder of a deep-bass foghorn making the floor shake even more violently.
Scared yet? Imagine the NHL players faced with going in and playing in this building. The Eastern media might dismiss this building and the loyal fans that fill its seats night in and night out because of their western location, but I assure you these fans are as passionate as any other team in the NHL, and they have turned this building into a house of horrors for teams on the road.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Home to: Washington Capitals
The Capitals have been one of the best teams in the NHL over the past several years, and the fans in D.C. have come back in droves to support their Capitals. Boasting a team that is known for its highly-entertaining, high-speed and high-scoring tendencies, the Verizon Center has become one of the less favorable stops for NHL opponents.
Caps fans have also proven themselves to be some of the most loyal and passionate in the league as well, with the entire arena packed night after night. They've really taken the Capitals "Rock the Red" campaign to heart, as you can see in the picture. The arena is a sea of red shirts, red hats, red towels (in playoff time) and in certain cases red face paint to compliment the team's bright red jerseys.
Additionally, the goal horn in Washington is something to behold. Or well...horns for that matter, since there's like four or five of them for every goal. Talk about salt in the wounds of a visiting goaltender.
Location: Chicago, IL
Home to: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have returned to a form similar to that of their heyday in the era of Bobby Hull and the other greats, but this time with a new generation. Led by the young duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks returned to glory by winning the Stanley Cup last season and with a lack of success from other Chicago sports teams, fans have really placed their pride in this group. And in a large, proud city like Chicago, that's saying something.
The most significant feature of this arena occurs before the puck is even dropped. The Star Spangled Banner rendition before every game is truly a sight to behold. The fans in Chicago have completely done away with the traditional dramatic silence while our national anthem is performed, and have instead taken to cheering loudly and proudly as the anthem singer belts out the words.
Location: Detroit, MI
Home to: Detroit Red Wings
The home of what is unquestionably the most popular team in the Western Conference and arguably the entire NHL, "The Joe" as it is affectionately called, is without question respected and revered as much as it is dreaded and feared among NHL players.
The Red Wings who grace its ice have been the most consistently incredible NHL team over the past 20 years, winning the Stanley Cup multiple times and making the playoffs annually since the 1980s. No sports franchise has enjoyed as much success as the Red Wings, and they've reaped the rewards since then. They're the most feared team in the entire league and have a significant fan base in any building they play in, but their home arena is without question a fortress of power for the Winged-Wheel.
Between the incredible team, the brutally passionate fans, the hallowed legendary success of the franchise, the storied history of the building and the many hard-lasting traditions, the Joe Louis Arena is in my eyes the most feared arena in the NHL. Without question.
The Changing of the Guard in Pittsburgh.
Madison Square Garden (New York City, NY)
Home of: New York Rangers
One of the oldest buildings in the NHL, this building has a storied tradition of being the home of the New York Rangers, the home team of New York City. With the passionate fans of New York, this building is a very difficult stop on any trip. However, the Rangers have not been a stellar team over the past sevearl years, finishing their seasons with disappointment year after year. Hence, this building falls to this category.
Air Canada Center (Toronto, ON)
Home of: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Air Canada Center is constantly sold out and filled with Maple Leafs fans. The team has missed the playoffs for the past several years, making this building more of a free-points situation, but there is light on the horizon. Young players are starting to come into their own, and the team is winning games. For the first time in a while they're not in the cellar of the East right now. And with the seats always packed and full for every game, this building could soon once again be one of the most intimidating in the NHL.
Mellon Arena (Pittsburgh, PA)
Former home of: Pittsburgh Penguins
I can't really put this building on the list since it's technically no longer an NHL arena. The Pittsburgh Penguins moved into the newly constructed CONSOL Energy Center at the start of this season, but my hat does have to go off to this building, which was a nearly impenetrable fortress over the past several years, particularly in the spring. The Pens made the Stanley Cup Finals in both 2008 and 2009, and had a nearly unbeatable record at home during both of those runs. The fans, the team and the history behind this arena made it truly a fearsome place to play.