B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Reporters' Travel Guide to the Best Spots Around the League
There's nothing like seeing your favorite NHL team play a game that's not in their home building.
The excitement of getting on the road and going to a new locale is a rite of passage for the hardest of hardcore fans.
With that in mind and with training camps getting underway this week, we here at Bleacher Report thought it might be prudent to put together a handy guide for any hockey fans willing to make the journey to see their favorite team.
B/R NHL Staff members Abbey Mastracco, Joe Yerdon and Sara Civian have been all over North America from Colorado to Columbus and have their opinions on some of their favorite spots around the league.
Got your own thoughts on some of the best places to check out around the NHL? Submit them in the comments below and give us your opinion on where you like to go!
What Is the Best Arena in the NHL?
It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but the impression Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, left on me was incredible. It’s spacious inside, the layout provides a great view from anywhere in the arena, and the Wild inspired other teams to post the jerseys of the area high schools around the concourse as a tribute.
There’s a superb organ played during games, and there’s a lighthouse (why not, right?) where they sound the foghorn from. Minnesota is the State of Hockey for a reason, and having an arena that plays to that is pretty great.
While I would argue that Montreal's Bell Centre is the most iconic place to catch a hockey game, I’ve been super impressed with T-Mobile Arena in Vegas in the five or six times I’ve been there.
There is a robust group of hometown Golden Knights fans who show up and scream their hearts out. The sound system shakes my laptop in a good way. There’s always some over-the-top-but-well-executed shenanigans going on. I feel like it’s so important for modern-day expansion teams to try to elevate the NHL product, and the Golden Knights have done that with their arena and in-game experience.
I love covering games at Bell Centre in Montreal. The warm-up presentation gives me the chills every time, and I would never expect that from any team who uses a Coldplay song. The way it's built with the seats going straight up to the top of the rafters makes it feel as though you're among the banners when you're sitting up at the top, and it also feels as though you're right on top of all of the action. Teams love to challenge their young players, especially their young goalies, but having them play in what feels like a steep cavern with the fan noise right above you is intimidating. The atmosphere is unlike any other.
Plus, it's in close proximity to several bars and restaurants in one of North America's best cities. There's a Dunn's nearby, so if the game goes late you can still get some late-night smoked meat poutine. My other favorites are the United Center in Chicago, Madison Square Garden in New York and PNC Arena in Raleigh. It feels more like a college basketball crowd with the way the fans paint their faces and stand throughout Hurricanes games.
— Abbey Mastracco
Which Team Has the Best Home-Ice Advantage?
There is no place like Madison Square Garden when the New York Rangers are rolling. The Garden has a sound to it when the teams that reside there are winning. The roar of the fans seems unique to New York.
Sure, lots of places have great crowds and can be as loud as anything, but—and I’m sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes at this—there’s just something so different with how MSG sounds when the Rangers can finish off a pivotal game in the postseason.
When I took the job covering the Carolina Hurricanes, I got a text from a former, non-Hurricanes-associated NHL GM I know. He said, “Just wait until they make the playoffs again. It’s by far the craziest atmosphere in the league.”
A few months later, the Canes returned to the playoffs in 2019 and blew even those expectations out of the water. I’ve been lucky enough to witness some iconic playoff moments in the past decade, like the Bruins-Leafs overtime classic in 2013 at TD Garden. Nothing has come close to the madness of the playoffs returning to Raleighwood.
The Vegas Golden Knights for very obvious reasons. For East Coast teams, this is typically in the middle or toward the end of a long West Coast trip, so maybe it's the tired legs and the time change, but you can't discount the fact that the Las Vegas Strip remains the debauchery capital of the country.
But the fans are often what give teams the best advantage, and it's clear the fans have embraced hockey in Las Vegas. The game presentation might be one of the best in professional sports. All of the things that make Las Vegas great, like the showmanship and the party-like atmosphere, are incorporated into Golden Knights games.
My second pick might be Nationwide Arena in Columbus. I don't know how the Blue Jackets get used to that damn cannon going off all of the time, but I suspect it might rattle players as much as it rattles visiting beat writers.
— Abbey Mastracco
Favorite Place to Eat on the Road
There’s nothing better than getting the best of the local fare on the road, and when you go to Dallas, there is none better than Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum. Yes, you’ll probably have to stand in line, and yes, it might take a little while, but it’s 100 percent worth it.
Texas and barbecue go together so naturally, and getting it from one of the best places around is awesome. Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey…there’s even Southern fried chicken. Goodness. It’s appointment eating.
As an Italian Bostonian, I’m going to automatically disqualify the North End because that’s not fair to any other city. Let’s go ahead and take New York City off the list for the same reason.
Hard for me to a pick a favorite, so I'm going to name a few spots. I’ve had some lovely bar food and experiences at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Columbus, Ohio. I’m also obsessed with the KB&Co chain in Edmonton, and I’m not usually a plant-based kind of gal.
It's tough to argue with Joe's choice of Pecan Lodge in Dallas. It's excellent barbecue. But I've kept a list of my favorite meals in NHL cities for years, so here are a few more places.
Raleigh is a fantastic food city, and years ago a staffer took me to Beasley's Chicken and Honey and I've been back several times since.
Speaking of fried chicken, when a group of media friends went to Hattie B's in Nashville, I took a trip to Chauhan Ale and Masala House for Indian-Mexican fusion. Try the tandoori chicken poutine. You won't be disappointed.
Defenseman Connor Carrick once suggested the Purple Pig in Chicago when my parents decided to spend Christmas on the road with me a few years ago, and my mom still talks about how much she loved some of their vegetable dishes.
As an Italian, I can't leave out Mike's Pastry for cannoli in Boston, and I've heard the owners are big hockey fans as well. When I was young, my grandfather used to put birthday candles in cannoli instead of cake for my brother and me, so it's one of my first stops every time I'm in the North End.
And, of course, as a born-and-raised Californian, I would be remiss not to mention a couple of Mexican places in Los Angeles. El Cholo, near Crypto.com Arena, has been a local favorite since 1920. You can't go wrong with any of the taco trucks in Downtown Los Angeles, and if you want to go right outside of downtown, hit up King Taco.
— Abbey Mastracco
Best Place to Grab a Drink
Let me tell you about a place not too far from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto: C’est What? It’s a craft beer bar–with a super food menu as well–and it’s got one of the more relaxed atmospheres you’ll find in The Six to go along with the supremely good beer list.
It’s a must-visit place whenever I can, be it to cover a Leafs game or during a casual visit up north. If you go once, you’ll probably go a few more times later and wind up telling others all about it.
I lit up when I saw Joe’s suggestion for C’est What?—that place has an incredible vibe if you’re looking for a relaxing space to have a few drinks. If you’re looking to have anything but a relaxing time, you need to go to the Roxy in Vancouver.
This storied establishment is a staple around the league for a reason. Yes, some of the allure is gone now that everyone knows about it, but I still have a great time every time. There are other bars on the travel circuit I’d suggest in different situations, but if you’re in Vancouver because your team is playing the Canucks and you want the full experience, the Roxy is a no-brainer.
Here's a not-so-secret secret: Hockey writers love dive bars. One of the best is Rossi's in Chicago. It's a bottle shop and liquor store that features one of the diviest dive bars I've ever come across. You can grab a can of beer from a fridge in the back and hang out talking about sports all night.
The only other city where I've covered more playoff hockey is Tampa, and while you can always have a good time at Hattricks Tavern or a solid cocktail at a newer spot called Hotel Bar, you have to go to The Hub Bar. It's even more of a dive than Rossi's. You'll smell like cigarettes and get frustrated with the ancient jukebox, and you might even fear for your life just a little, but it's cheap and it's an infamous spot on the NHL circuit. Jon Cooper took the Stanley Cup there once, so if it's good enough for him, then it's good enough for the rest of us.
On the other side of Florida in Fort Lauderdale, the Elbo Room has long been frequented by sports media people and athletes alike.
— Abbey Mastracco
Best NHL City to Explore on an Off Day
I love museums, and Washington, D.C., is teeming with them. If you’re into nature, government, science, espionage or basically anything else, there’s a place to visit in greater D.C. to dive in and nerd out about it.
A lot of it is walkable, too. Even if it’s not, Washington’s metro system is easy enough to figure out. The various Smithsonian museums and galleries alone are enough to fill up an entire day and more.
The International Spy Museum is fascinating, and the U.S. national parks are all worth seeing. There’s so, so much to soak in that it makes me look forward to visiting more each time.
This might be the hardest question to answer because almost every city has something great to offer. The real veteran move is to take the bus from Calgary to Banff, Alberta, on an off day, but I’ll stick to the rules.
Since I gave Vancouver the nightlife shoutout, I’ll give Seattle the title of best city to explore in general. It’s a novel experience considering the Kraken are only one year old, there’s so much for music lovers and coffee lovers like me to explore, and there’s a pretty cool hockey bar called The Angry Beaver. But there’s so much else to do that isn’t hockey-related, and it isn’t too difficult to travel around the city to do several things in one day.
Banff, Alberta, and I cannot stress this enough. I've been lucky enough to make several trips to Calgary with a few different teams, and each time I'm there I'm blown away. If it's warm, take a canoe out on Lake Louise. If it's cold, skate on the lake. Taking a gondola up Sulphur Mountain will provide you with some of the most spectacular mountain views. This history center is interesting, and the restaurant at the top isn't bad for food. It's my favorite off-day trip.
If beaches are more of your thing, then check out Orange County before taking in an Anaheim Ducks game. The city of Anaheim itself doesn't have a ton to offer unless Disneyland is your thing, but a trip down the 55 will get you to Newport Beach. You can take the ferry to Balboa Island to get a frozen banana, made famous on Arrested Development, or you can head a little farther south to see the art scene in Laguna Beach.
— Abbey Mastracco
Best NHL City to Travel to Overall
I am the biggest sucker for Montreal. I’m an American who's never been able to visit Europe, and going to Montreal gives me the sense of what that might be like. The downtown is bustling, French is spoken predominantly throughout the city, and the vibe downtown makes me want to be more well-dressed.
There’s also an incredible amount of history in Old Montreal with its stone buildings and cobblestone streets. Whether the Canadiens are good or bad, there’s always a buzz about the team. Very few places I’ve been have a fanbase that lives through their team the way Montreal does, which adds to the atmosphere of the area.
With the caveat that it can be stressful and expensive, Toronto is the coolest. The diversity of the city and the fanbase is refreshing, the range of amazing food options seems endless and it’s one of the few major cities where hockey is the No. 1 sport.
This really depends on personal preferences. If you're a city person, then you might enjoy some Metropolitan Division cities like New York, Boston or Philadelphia. If you enjoy a slower midwestern pace and a riverboat casino, then St. Louis is the place for you. I enjoy going to warm weather cities in the winter, but I also enjoy seeing the museums in places Washington, Chicago and even Pittsburgh (big fan of the Roberto Clemente Museum and the Andy Warhol Museum).
But the biggest hockey museum of them all is the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, so I'm going with The Six as my top spot. It's a city that lives and breathes hockey, and it really comes to life during Maple Leafs games. Hit up the Hall of Fame during the day, go over to the St. Lawrence Market for lunch, have some drinks over near Maple Leaf Square and then go to a Leafs game and sing Hall and Oates with the blue-clad crowd. If you're able to get there during Hall of Fame week, even better. There is a ton to do and see in Toronto, the people are friendly, and public transportation is accessible, and if you're looking for a hockey destination, then this is it.
— Abbey Mastracco