The Pittsburgh Penguins play their home games in one of the NHL’s nicest venues.
PPG Paints Arena has clean, wide, well-lighted concourses, as well comfortable seats — with cup-holders, no less — and an enticing selection of food vendors for those with healthy appetites. (And bank accounts to match.)
It opened in 2010 and already has undergone significant renovations and upgrades, giving it all of the amenities a patron could reasonably expect.
But there is at least one thing the building lacks: The personality and quirks that used to be an integral part of every just about NHL arena.
Sometimes, those features were exceptional. (You might recall, for example, that the Penguins’ original home had a one-of-a-kind roof.)
Others were less spectacular, like the striking mix of green. white and gold seats at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minn.
The point is, there was a time when every NHL rink had qualities that simply aren’t found in contemporary, cookie-cutter arenas.
If you saw chest-high boards, you knew you were at the Corral in Calgary. Same with being lost in the labyrinth (or so it seemed to occasional visitors) of ice-level corridors at the St. Louis Arena/Checkerdome.
And then there was the novel lighting at the Capital Center in Landover. Md., where the playing surface was brightly illuminated but the seating area was so dark that it seemed to be designed for the benefit of bats, not ticket-buyers.
Almost everywhere, buildings were smaller than those in the current iteration of multi-purpose arenas, but consequently, they were more intimate. And often louder, presumably because of less-restrictive fire codes when they were constructed.
That all began to change in the mid-1990s, when venues like Boston’s Shawmut Center/FleetCenter (now TD Garden) and CoreStates Center (now Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia opened.
That generation of arenas — and those that have followed — came with plenty of creature comforts, but precious little character, and there’s no reason to believe that will change anytime soon.
That’s progress, sort of. It also is unfortunate. The game just seemed more intense, — maybe even more important — when it was contested in places the ones below.
Those who don’t believe in ghosts might have been tempted to rethink their feeling after visiting the Forum, because the presence of long-ago greats from the Canadiens’ past was almost palpable.
The seats were wooden and the corridors cramped and crowded, but the atmosphere was always charged — and even more so on Saturday nights. And there was an exotic quality to it all for Anglophone visitors, because French was the predominant, though not exclusive, language for conversations in the hallways and public-address announcements.
Which often were passing along details about another Canadiens goal. And might well have been followed by the arena organist pumping out a chorus of “Les Canadiens sont La.”
The Forum’s rafters were awash in banners celebrating the franchise’s 24 Stanley Cups and the legends like Jean Beliveau, Howie Morenz and Maurice Richard, whose numbers had been retired after their runs in the bleu, blanc et rouge had ended. Indeed, Montreal’s locker room was so hallowed that it has been recreated at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Hockey is — or, at least, it used to be — the unofficial religion of La Belle Province, and the Forum was, without question, the game’s foremost cathedral.
It was known as “The Madhouse on Madison,” and that might have been an understatement.
The neighborhood around it was so dangerous at the time that security personnel would encourage reporters who stayed to write after the game to wait for a cab inside the building at Gate 3 1/2 rather than risk standing by the curb.
And things were almost menacing for a lot of visiting teams.
The ice surface was undersized, which was legal in those days, and its ceiling was low, so crowd noise — and there were plenty of that — was amplified. Visiting players got a good workout before the game even began, because the locker rooms were located below ice level, which meant they had to climb a flight of stairs before every period.
The stadium was the last NHL building to use an analog, dial-type timeclock, and any visit was sure to include several renditions of “Here Come the Hawks” on the arena’s massive pipe organ.
All of which made any time spent at Gate 3 1/2 a reasonable price to pay.
Ken (The Rat) Linseman spent part of his career here, but he might not have been the largest rodent to spend time in the building along Causeway Street. Every now and then, one would be spotted that looked as if it might be waiting to be saddled.
The building’s most memorable feature was the parquet floor on which the Celtics played, but it had a few others that made life unpleasant for Bruins opponents.
The ice surface was shorter and more narrow than usual — a particular advantage for Boston during its Big, Bad Bruins days — and the visiting team’s locker room was tiny and lacked air-conditioning, which became an issue as the playoffs ran deeper into spring.
The press box was a favorite among many reporters because it afforded a superb perspective on the ice, but there was a catch: People sitting there had to navigate a low, short tunnel under the seats to reach it.
Because of the unmatched view, getting there was worth the trouble for them. Which was more than many visiting teams — including the Pittsburgh Penguins, for a lot of years — could say.
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