Chicken Wire and Chien Chaud
I have seen games, played on and refereed at just about every significant rink in North America and scores of community rinks, too, that have existed over over the last 60 years. European ones, too. I've had fun recently participating in a Facebook discussion about the absolute worst rink I've been to over the years.
In past blogs, I've written about my love of Madison Square Garden, the old Forum in Montreal, Chicago Stadium and others. I made my NHL playing AND refereeing debuts at the Boston Garden and, as a kid growing up in Boston, saw my father officiate many games there. My grandfather also coached (the Chicago Black Hawks) and refereed the third-ever NHL game played in the ol' Gahden.
Le Colisée in Quebec will always be special to me, because I played for the Nordiques in my lone NHL season. While there was nothing quiet like the chien chaud (hot dogs) in Montreal -- truly a hot dog like no other -- the ones in Quebec City were darn good, too.
Another memorable facet about that rink: the dimensions were doctored in favor of the Nordiques. I once took to the ice during my refereeing career and instantly realized that something seemed off. Sure enough, the faceoff circle circumference in one of the ice was regulation size but the other side -- the end the Nordiques attacked in the first and third periods -- was non-regulation. This gave the opposing team the disadvantage of being further away from the net in offensive zone faceoffs for two-thirds of the game.
I confronted Michel Bergeron about it, and "Le Tigre" refused to admit to anything but the look in his eye and a barely suppressed smirk gave him away even as he said in this thick Quebecois accent, "Really? And how the [bleep] do you know this, Stewy?"
"Where do you think I played in this league?" I said. "We're going to have to switch sides mid-period so it's 30-30 at each end."
"You can't just do that," he said, his smirk quickly turning to a glower.
"I can and I will," I said.
After the game, with the help of an RCMP friend, we went back and carefully measured the circumference of the circles. It wasn't even close to equal dimensions on both sides!
I pretty much have a story tied to every building, so feel free to ask about one in the comments section or on Twitter and I'll do a future blog about that arena.
Now, what were the absolute worst hockey arenas? I'd give a vote to the long defunct Cherry Hill Arena in South Jersey. It was a 100%, complete and total DUMP!
For one thing, the ice was sloped. The visiting team literally had to skate uphill in the first and third period. Center ice was almost like the top of a hill. More than one player was injured by the puck hitting the bump, and it suddenly springing up like a ski jumper to hit them in the face. The boards in each attack zone had chicken wire over them. The rest of the ice surface had no protection at all above the boards.
To say that the dressing rooms lacked creature comforts is to be too generous. Only the the home team had a (tiny and cramped) dressing room at all! The visiting team had to dress for the game at their hotel and come to the arena in uniform. Even Gordie Howe once had to suit up at the team motel and walk to the building.
The pressbox was no better. The ceiling was only four feet high, and many folks accidentally struck their head if they didn't stoop down enough. Radio broadcasters often learned the hard way.
By comparison to the Cherry Hill Arena, the old Civic Center adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania was, let's say, ever-so-slightly less of a dump. It was close, though, because the Civic Center was awful.
I played in that arena as a member of the Philadelphia Firebirds in the AHL and while the NAHL against the Firebirds. A few years earlier, while a student at Penn, I was there for opening night with The WHA Blazers and watching the Zamboni sink into the ice. Will always remember that as well as the red pucks.
A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.