With the Mac’s Midget AAA Hockey Tournament taking place at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, the Islanders and Flames practiced across the street in a time warp at the Stampede Corral.
It’s an old barn – opened in 1950 – that still features wooden seats, portraits of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England and is littered with historic hockey and figure skating pictures. There are no frills in this rink, but tons of character. There’s an entire section of seats that sit on a warped slab of concrete. The pictures that line the concourse are largely black and white. The color prints of hockey legends like Phil Esposito and Guy Lafleur are actually paintings. There’s even a hole in the glass and a rope attached to the door handle so that players can exit the playing surface. Obviously, there are no hallways from the bench to the locker room.
Head Coach Jack Capuano said this used to be the standard for the AHL, so there’s a sense of nostalgia for him and the coaches old enough to have played in rinks like this. But the Corral also housed the NHL, as the Flames played here from 1980-1983. Capacity is only 6,450, plus standing room. Talk about an intimate venue.
With the Winter Classic being played Thursday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., much was made of returning to the roots of hockey with outdoor rinks. While hockey was born outside, the NHL wasn’t. Standing among the wooden seats, this dimly-lit building, one that still has low glass and gaps between the panes, one feels closer to the roots and history of the league.