Melrose Minute: Chicago Stadium the best NHL arena of all time
Former NHL head coach and player Barry Melrose starts a new gig this season: He will be blogging for NHL.com throughout the 2011-2012 season.
I've got two lists for everyone this week. The first is the five greatest hockey buildings in the history of the NHL.
No. 5 -- St. Louis Arena, or the Checkerdome
Most people do not think this would be on a list of the best buildings, but it was a unique building. It sat close to 20,000 people and when I was there it was full. I saw great crowds, loud crowds. They were right on top of you. It was really an unbelievable building.
I loved playing there. If you couldn't get jazzed about playing in St. Louis, oh boy, you had problems. Purina owned it at the time, so it looked like a checkerboard on the roof of the building. It was a real unique building.
No. 4 -- Madison Square Garden
Any building that has the rink on the fifth floor has to be fantastic. New York is the greatest city in the world. MSG is as mentioned as the greatest sports building in the world. I don't have it as the best in the NHL, but that first time you play at MSG and you walk up that ramp when you get to the building and you start to think of all the great things that have happened in this building. All the great fights, all the great hockey games, all the great basketball games, the college basketball, the track and field events – it is pretty phenomenal.
In it's heyday, the Montreal Forum could hold up to 17,959 fans of the Canadiens or Maroons before it was closed in 1996. (Photo: AP)
When you think of a building with 18-19,000 fans on the fifth floor, it is pretty fantastic. The thing that I love about MSG is it is always full. Even when the Rangers were terrible, the building was always packed to the rafters. On my list, that is the only building still being used as a matter of fact.
No. 3 -- Montreal Forum
Not the Bell Centre, but the Forum – I was lucky enough to play in the Forum and I was lucky enough to coach in the Forum. I actually coached for the Stanley Cup in the Forum, which not a lot of people can say. I am a big history guy, and I love the tradition of our sport. No other building says that like the Montreal Forum.
You walk around and you could be sitting in the same seat that Maurice Richard sat in, that Elmer Lach sat in, that Howie Morenz sat in. You think about what has happened in this building and how many Stanley Cups have been won in this building. The Montreal Forum was a cathedral, a church in Quebec and in the hockey world.
No. 2 -- Maple Leaf Gardens
Obviously I think this will draw some ire in Montreal, but I have Maple Leaf Gardens higher. I grew up a Maple Leafs fan. I was watching Toronto winning Stanley Cups in the 1960s when they won three in a row. I was watching when they won in 1967. I was lucky enough to play for the Maple Leafs in the Gardens.
I remember listening to the radio and Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada coming from Maple Leaf Gardens. When I got the chance to play there, I remember the first time seeing [Howard] Ballard's Box in the corner and the place where Foster Hewitt did all those games from the gondola. To be in the same dressing room as Syl Apps and King Clancy and all those other great Leafs players.
Maple Leaf Gardens had hardly changed. The Montreal Forum was the same way. You couldn't change that much because there wasn't any room to make changes, so the building I was in in the 70s and 80s was basically the same building that was there in the 30s and 40s. It was basically the same building that all that great history had taken place in.
If I grew up a Montreal fan, the Forum would probably be No. 2 on my list, but I grew up a Toronto fan and played for Toronto, so I always loved Maple Leaf Gardens. I think it was just a fantastic, fantastic building and I'm really glad they haven't been able to tear it down.
No. 1 -- Chicago Stadium
No. 1 on my list is the old Chicago Stadium. This building was tremendous. It sat 20,000 people and it was so unique. It had a small ice surface and the people were right on top of you. There was the great tradition of the people screaming in the anthem.
The fact that you had to walk up the stairs from the dressing room to get to the ice was different. The color of the seats – the seats were all red. I just loved the old Chicago Stadium. I loved the excitement of the building, the intensity of the building, the look of the building. It was a beautiful building on the outside and a beautiful building on the inside.
It was a great atmosphere for hockey. I know he said it and I've seen that he said it in print, but Wayne Gretzky said one of his most emotional nights in hockey was at the All-Star Game in Chicago in 1991 during the first Iraq war. The place was just crazy with emotion.
He said his nerves were rattling, and he will always remember that as one of the greatest feelings he's ever had. I just want to be able to say it now that Chicago Stadium was just a special building. I've been to all of the old buildings – I've been to the Olympia and Boston Gardens and I've played in all of them. I've always thought that Chicago Stadium was the best building the NHL ever had.