Going into my second year of U Sports Hockey and into my second removed from the Western Hockey League, I thought it would be fun to reminisce about the league I spent four years of my life in. This will be the first of a series of articles reflecting on the players, teams, arenas and cities I visited.
In this article I will be counting down the top five best arena atmospheres. Bear in mind this is all coming from a slight Western Conference-bias, as I spent all four years on the Vancouver Giants, only visiting each Eastern Conference division every other year. Enjoy:
#5: Scotiabank Saddledome – Calgary
The atmosphere for a Hitmen game isn’t quite like a Flames game at the Saddledome (duh) however the Calgarians do their best to make it comparable. Each time I played here (usually a Saturday or Sunday afternoon), there were still around 10,000 people jammed into the lower bowl. Not much can compare to the sound of an NHL team’s goal horn blaring in through your ears… except when you’re on the visiting team. Let’s also just fathom that us WHLers were lucky enough to lace up in an NHL arena.
#4: The Arena (not used anymore) – Medicine Hat
If you want to discuss hell on ice, then playing the Medicine Hat Tigers in The Arena was just that. This 4,006 seat building was built in 1970 and believe me, did it ever look like something out of the helmet-less, straight-bladed wooden stick hockey era. It seemed as though every time I played there we were down 3-0 when the game began. By the time you had found your legs you were sitting on the bus leaving the rink. The building was nothing short of spectacular to play in, whether or not you were getting walloped.
#3: ShoWare Center – Kent
The 6,500 seat home of the Seattle Thunderbirds was tucked away in Kent, Washington but it was a perfect venue for junior hockey. No matter if it was a sellout or 3,000 people in on a Friday night, it all sounded the same. Once Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll Part 2 started playing to welcome the ‘Birds to the ice, you knew the crowd was waking up. The contours of the rink made you feel like you were playing on an ice surface half the normal size, plus you were getting physically dominated by the lineups Seattle put out each and every game. I am 99.99% sure that in the 8 times I played there I was put on my ass well over 50 times.
#2: XFINITY Arena – Everett
If there was an award for loudest atmosphere in relation to the number of fans in an arena, then the home of the Everett Silvertips would win every single year. The 8,100 seat facility was always rocking. Whether it was Friday or Saturday night, you were going to need your earplugs. I played 13 games in this arena, and I’m not kidding when I say that EVERY time the ‘Tips skating out across their blue line the crowd would ring their cowbells as if they had just won the league championship, how amazing is that?! It seemed as though we played in 4 or 5 military appreciation night’s which made it that much louder with the crowd almost at capacity. I also vividly remember coach Don Hay drawing up a play late in a game during a timeout and me skating dumbfounded into the faceoff circle afterwards, not knowing the play, as I was too busy staring at the man directly behind the glass of our bench flipping me off with two beers in his hands (great multitasking). The icing on the cake was the P.A announcer’s, “ let’s play hockey!” at the drop of the puck to begin each period. The atmosphere the fans have created in Everett is fantastic.
#1: Moda Center/Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Portland
If you were to tell me five years ago that the best atmosphere I’d be apart of in the WHL is a game in Portland, I would’ve laughed at you. Boy, was I ever wrong. It could’ve been the fact it felt like you were playing against the Harlem Globetrotters of hockey, but playing in either the Moda Center or the The Coliseum was treacherous. Both venues brought in about 10,000 fans for a hockey game and you heard it from every single one of them. One of my very minimal playoff experiences came at the Moda Center, which could easily be confused for a Trailblazers playoff game – the atmosphere was that good. At The Coliseum I played in an “outdoor” game where they would open up all the curtains around the arena and have the sun shining in through all the windows. The game was delayed an hour because it was so bright, and once it did commence, the second period was strictly dump-and-chase hockey. The Winterhawks also hold the title of having the greatest goal song/fan chant of all-time. “TNT” by ACDC would blare with all the fans standing and fist-pumping to “Oi! Oi! Oi! TNT!”
Carter is a hockey player, formerly in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants, currently at the University of British Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter @carter_popoff.
You can follow Hit the Cut on Twitter @hitthecutblog.
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