I'm a lucky man because of when my playing career took place. I was in the NHL from 1979 until 1986, which meant I got to see all those new buildings, but I also got to play in some of the classic older buildings right as the architecture of arenas was changing.
The new arenas are gorgeous. They're much more luxurious. But they're all the same. They all hold 20,000 people, they all have private boxes, the ice is exactly the same, the lighting is exactly the same, the concourses are exactly the same. There's no uniqueness -- Philly is L.A. is Chicago is Pittsburgh. They're all beautiful buildings, but they don't have the character and the uniqueness of the old ones.
That's why the old ones are the ones that really have a place in my heart. These are my five favorite legendary arenas of all time.
5. Detroit Olympia -- My first season was the last time the Red Wings played at the Olympia before moving to Joe Louis Arena. This was a place, like all the places on this list, that was so great because of its history. Gordie Howe skated there. Alex Delvecchio played there. Bill Gadsby played there. Terry Sawchuk played there. You were doing the same things those guys did. And it also had a lot of those old quirks you see in those great buildings. It was very small and the crowd hung over you in the stands, and the rink almost felt like it had an oval shape. Perhaps most interesting, players actually had to walk through the lobby from the dressing room to the ice surface right through the crowd that was buying their hot dogs. It was very entertaining and very intense to play there and great for someone who loves the history of hockey like I do.
4. Boston Garden -- This was one of the most unique buildings ever in the NHL. It wasn't fancy, it held less than 15,000 seats -- a lot of them obstructed -- and basically everything you shouldn't do when building an arena was done with this place. Concessions were hard to get to, the ice was famously very small, but all of those things made it great. And the fans -- the fans were so intense. The penalty boxes were beside the home team bench. The ice surface was so small it had almost no neutral zone, and as a result the game was always physical no matter what happened. You were bound to have scrapping and fighting, and the crowds in New England loved every minute of it. It was just an unbelievably unique and special place to play.
3. Montreal Forum -- I'd love to put this building lower because I grew up rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I can't do that. I had a lot of great memories playing in Montreal, and no matter who you played when you faced the Canadiens, you were facing someone great. You were playing Larry Robinson or Bob Gainey or any other member of those great Canadiens teams from the late 1970s, and the history and tradition of the Forum was just everywhere. The fans were right on top of you in the Forum, which is something new buildings just can't capture because they're so big. This was the type of building where the fans sitting behind you could reach out and grab you if they wanted because it was so small. Playing in the Montreal Forum was like playing in old Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field. When you add in the history and the teams that played in this building, it's just impossible to keep off the list.
2. Maple Leaf Gardens -- I grew up a Maple Leafs fan. I watched them growing up in Saskatchewan and the first time I played in Maple Leaf Gardens I played as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. But I'd seen that building so many times. I had seen the gondola, the different-colored seats, the way they were disproportionately arranged with so many at one end, and the two teams' benches that were basically in the seating area. This was another old unique building with great crowds and great quirks, like the two teams entering from the same area. It was just a great, great building to play in. One of the greatest moments of my life was that first night I put on the Toronto Maple Leafs jersey and stood for the national anthem in Toronto.
1. Chicago Stadium -- I just love this building. It was pretty big for its time, holding over 16,000 people, but the wildest thing about it was that the dressing rooms were in the basement and you had to walk upstairs to get to the ice. I remember watching on TV as a kid and seeing those guys walk up the stairs. I always laughed at it. Then you finally get there yourself and it's just an amazing place to play. The ice surface was tiny, the fans were right on top of you and they were as loud as can be. You had to be ready to play in Chicago Stadium. It was a great atmosphere, and when I played they still had great teams that were fighting for the Stanley Cup and making the playoffs every year. It had an incredible atmosphere and was just an incredible place, and you knew it from the moment you walked up those stairs and stepped on the ice.