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mb financial Features

The Chicago Stadium Chair -- A Great Conversation Piece

Sunday, 04.06.2008 / 12:06 AM / Features
By Evan Weiner  - NHL.com Correspondent
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The Chicago Stadium Chair -- A Great Conversation Piece
In today’s world, pro teams squeeze every last dollar from their stadiums. That only makes what Bill Wirtz did with Chicago Stadium all the more remarkable.

Former Blackhawk Darcy Rota has a Chicago Stadium seat in his home and it's a conversation starter for guests.
Officials from the New York Mets and the New York Yankees recently told New York City officials that the two baseball teams playing their final seasons at Shea and Yankee Stadiums would like the opportunity to sell items from the soon to be demolished stadiums -- like seats -- to fans interested in putting the memorabilia in their homes or places of business.

Both Mets and Yankees officials would do well if they were to steal a 1994 idea from Chicago Blackhawks ownership before Chicago Stadium was closed down to make way for a new arena.
 
Owner Bill Wirtz, gave away seats from “The Madhouse on Madison” to one-time Blackhawks players.
 
Darcy Rota, who was a member of the Blackhawks from 1973 to 1979, has a seat in his home, and the seat is a conversation starter for guests.

Chicago Stadium hosted Blackhawks games from 1929 to 1994, as well the NBA's Chicago Bulls from 1967 through 1994, five United States political conventions and even an NFL playoff game in 1932 -- played on an 80-yard field. There was also a massive pipe organ built into the structure.

"I am sure they sent most of the players who played for the Blackhawks the chair,” Rota said. “For me, it's been something that is a great talk piece when people come to the house. It's got my name and my number when I played for the Blackhawks and the Blackhawks logo. But it is an old rickety chair and people get quite a kick out of it. The young kids and my young kids don't know about the Chicago Stadium."
 
Chicago Stadium had a colorful history and was unique. Players had to walk up and down a flight of steps to get to the ice surface, which was smaller than the standard 200-feet by 85-feet setup in the NHL. Therefore, there was less room between the blue lines. Plus, the place was maybe the loudest building in the NHL.
 
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"Yeah, you had to go from the dressing room up about 17 or so stairs to the arena and the ice surface,” Rota said. “It was very unique. I don't know any other rink that had that arrangement. The atmosphere in that facility. ...you would walk up and the noise would get louder and louder and it was very spine-tingling. It was a special place to play."
 
But climbing up and down the steps was the biggest obstacle players had, and it was not an easy hike.
 
"You wanted to make sure you didn't slip because you were walking down steps with skates on,” he said. “You had to be careful about that. The odd guy would tumble and fall down the stairs. Basically, you had to watch your steps as you went down."
 
If one guy fell, it could have had a domino affect and a whole team of players could have fallen down at the same time. But during Rota's tenure, that never happened.
 
The console of the Chicago Stadium 3,663-pipe Barton Organ, which was played for years by Al Melgard, now resides in the Las Vegas home of Phil Maloof whose brothers own the NBA's Sacramento Kings. That organ was as much a part of Blackhawks history as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita.

It was a legendary musical instrument.
 
"That organ was fantastic and it was a very, very special place to play,” Roda said. “(The rink) was about 185 feet long or so. It was a tough place for visiting players to play. People I know found it an intimidating place to play. If you weren't ready to play a game in Chicago Stadium you were in the wrong business because of the type of atmosphere in there. I always enjoyed the ice area, it was never a problem.

“Now it's a parking lot and it's unfortunate that the Stadium is no longer there."
 
Chicago Stadium perfectly fit into its era and was vastly different from the other NHL rinks in Boston, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto during the days of the Original Six between 1942 and 1967.
 
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"You talk about Boston Garden, it is a very difficult place to play, the small ice surface again," said Rota who played in all those old buildings. "The Montreal Forum is gone, Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens is gone, and the old Olympia in Detroit, where I played in my first year in the League, we used to play in that. The old Olympia was a tough place to play, there was no question about that, and it was a small rink again.

“You couldn't hide in the some of these Original Six places because the ice surfaces were small. A lot of history, a lot of tradition. Growing up as a young boy in Canada, of course following the Original Six teams and having an opportunity to play in the National Hockey League, it was pretty exciting. A lot of old rinks with lots of character are gone (now), replaced with fancy buildings for revenue opportunities now.”
 
The new arenas are, in some cases, too nice.

The chairs are too plush and don't have the character -- or probably the stories that a chair from Chicago Stadium could tell. It is well known that Blackhawks games routinely broke city fire laws because there were more people in the building than the 17,317-seat capacity. There was the fog horn after goals, Melgard and the organ, and if the chair could talk, the stories would probably be intriguing.


Author: Evan Weiner | NHL.com Correspondent