The Forum. The Olympia. The Stadium. The names of the Original Six’s arenas were instantly recognizable to hockey fans around the world, shorthand or not. Well, for fans of the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, at least.
Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs (the Gardens), New York Rangers (the Garden, singular. One garden was good enough, apparently.) and Boston Bruins (the Garden…that opened three years later) had slightly more trouble.
They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To
Creativity of early 20th Century naming conventions aside, these old barns brought something special to the hockey experience. Take the Canadiens, for example: the Habs were residents of the Forum for 70 years; playing there, with so much history enveloping every stride, must have been a pretty surreal experience.
Not to mention the quirkiness of each old barn. The Chicago Stadium, for instance, was slightly smaller than National Hockey League regulations, meaning the Blackhawks had an inherent advantage to playing in their own building, as they had half the season to figure out the oddly shaped ice surface. They also re-purposed the foghorn off of their owner’s yacht to celebrate goals.
Modern arenas tend to have little of this character and are generally being laid out in cookie-cutter designs with gently sloping seats. Contrast this to older rinks, where spectators and players alike describe fans being right on top of the action. Here is Don Cherry talking about the time he, quite literally, walked into the stands at Maple Leaf Gardens to speak with a disapproving spectator.
And, of course, we all remember Patrick Roy walking up to Canadiens team president Ronald Corey and demanding a trade after being left in to stew during a Red Wings rout of the Habs.
The Name Game
Old-school arena names, too, are gone, with most facilities being named after corporate entities, and these names often changing too often to keep up (looking at you, Ottawa). Other times, companies put their names on multiple facilities, creating no confusion whatsoever (Rogers, Scotiabank…). And, let’s be honest, who can honestly call it “PPG Paints Arena” without dying inside just a little.
So, with that said, let’s see if we can provide some new lingo for these often less-than-iconic structures:
Air Canada Centre (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Unlike the building’s NBA tenant, the Leafs name doesn’t really conjure up any evocative imagery that might assist in assigning a nickname to their home. “The Tree?” “The Bush?” Exactly.
The lack of atmosphere at most Leaf games doesn’t help matters; former head coach Ron Wilson likened the arena to a “morgue.” Let’s go with something typically Toronto; something uninspired, safe, corporate, vanilla… Let’s stick with “The ACC.”
Amalie Arena (Tampa Bay Lightning)
While it’s hard to top the building’s original name, “The Ice Palace,” surely we can do better than the name of an oil company. Unfortunately, the best I could come up with is “The Ground.” You know, proving ground, training ground, Britishy-type word for sporting venue… Not to mention the double entendre with electrical physics. You see, because grounding.
…right, I’ll show myself out.
American Airlines Center (Dallas Stars)
Given the Stars’ explosive offense, it stands to reason that no team wants to spend any more time in this arena than is absolutely necessary. Given the Stars’ wildly inconsistent defense and goaltending, the same goes for their fans, albeit for slightly different reasons. In any case, “The Lone Star Lay-By” seems appropriate.
Barclays Center (New York Islanders)
That said, the team is on a hot streak dating back to late last season, coinciding with the installation of Assistant General Manager Doug Weight as head coach. Thus, I give you “The Weight Room.”
BB&T Center (Florida Panthers)
Hmm, what nickname to give to the home ice of the most entertaining team to cover (off the ice, that is) the past two seasons… How does “The Sunshine Circus” sound?
Bell Centre (Montréal Canadiens)
As we all know, the Canadiens are known colloquially as the Habs, a play on habitants, the French settlers who set up shop in what is now Quebec. As such, I put forward “Habitant Habitat” as my suggestion, as it sounds just as good in English as it does in French (“Habitat Habitant”).
Bell MTS Place (Winnipeg Jets)
Airlines have long sponsored NHL arenas, but only a team called the Jets should truly be able to lay claim to “The Hangar” as the nickname for their rink. Plus, there’s no point trying to make a fun nickname out of one of the most universally reviled companies in Canada (you’re not off the hook either, Rogers).
Bridgestone Arena (Nashville Predators)
The Predators have a fearsome, prehistoric sabre-toothed cat as their logo and a loyal, rabid fan base. Fortunately for me, said fan base provides a ready-made option for the Preds’ arena nickname: “Smashville.”
Canadian Tire Centre (Ottawa Senators)
Given that the teams moniker is the Senators (despite their logo being a centurion), “The Red Chamber”, after the Canadian Government’s Upper House (and the team’s primary colour), seems appropriate. Simply “The Chamber” would do, too.
Capital One Arena (Washington Capitals)
I don’t know how Capital One is viewed in the States, but in Canada they’re best known for pestering people by sending mountains of mail advertising promotional rates for credit cards and other financial products.
In protest, am sticking with “The Phone Booth,” the building’s nickname in its days as the Verizon Center. Though other arenas are named after telecommunications companies (see: Bell, Rogers), Capital One Arena’s naming rights were previously held not only by Verizon, but also by a second such entity, MCI Inc. Thus, only Capital One Arena is truly worthy of The Phone Booth.
Gila River Arena (Arizona Coyotes)
“The Desert Den” for the Desert Dogs? Okay Coyotes, you can have it, but only on a probationary basis. One more embarrassing season and you’d better believe it’s gone.
Your move, ‘Yotes.
Honda Center (Anaheim Ducks)
Hondas regularly win all sorts of awards and have a reputation for bulletproof reliability. Completely the opposite of the Ducks, then.
I’ve never understood why the transfer of corporate naming rights necessitates changing an arena’s entire name. Arrowhead Pond was a fantastic name; what would have been wrong with swapping out Arrowhead for Honda? Nothing, that’s what. “The Pond” it is.
KeyBank Center (Buffalo Sabres)
Even though it’s what I love about them, the Buffalo Sabres’ branding is a mess. If their name is the Sabres, why do they have buffalos in their logo? Do buffalo have opposable thumbs so they can wield sabres? At least they got rid of that sweat stain motif underneath their arms…
Given the confusion, for an arena nickname, why not harken back to the team’s old barn (Buffalo Memorial Auditorium) and simply call it “The Aud?”
Little Caesars Arena (Detroit Red Wings)
However, the fan-created “The DoughJoe” takes the cake – err, pizza. A pizza reference with reverence for The Joe? I’m not even going to attempt to top that (not even with extra cheese).
Madison Square Garden (New York Rangers)
Not that this building has as much history behind it as marketing campaigns would have you believe (this is actually the fourth separate version of MSG), but they’ve stuck with the same name for over a century and I respect that. “The Garden” is theirs.
Nationwide Arena (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Given the rich history behind the Blue Jackets name, it is only fitting that something Civil War-esque should be the nickname for their home ice. “The Stockade” comes to mind. Given the Jackets’ monstrously good home record the past two seasons, it’s really not that far from reality.
Pepsi Center (Colorado Avalanche)
Yes, it ices a historically bad team but, credit where credit’s due, the Pepsi Center has been the Pepsi Center ever since opening in 1999. Interestingly, shortly after the franchise moved to Denver, Colisée de Quebec, the team’s arena in its Quebec City days, changed its name to Colisée Pepsi. So you’ll understand why the Pepsi Center simply cannot be nicknamed anything other than “The Cola Coliseum.”
PNC Arena (Carolina Hurricanes)
The name “Hurricanes” conjures up all sorts of ferocious and electrifying imagery. They deserve to play in an arena with a suitably ominous nickname. “The Storm Center,” perhaps? “The Eye of the Storm?” Anything to compliment the great atmosphere provided by the legendary Caniacs.
PPG Paints Arena (Pittsburgh Penguins)
I suppose I should cut Pittsburgh a break; following up such an iconic and well-suited nickname like “The Igloo” is no easy feat. Might I suggest “The Iceberg?” Scientifically accurate (igloos tend to be found in northern climes, while penguins are indigenous to the south), aesthetically accurate (the building’s façade features glass galore) and can be shortened to “The ‘Berg,” which jives perfectly with the city’s nickname (“The ‘Burgh”).
Prudential Center (New Jersey Devils)
New Jersey’s home ice is already known colloquially as “The Rock” (Prudential’s logo features the Rock of Gibraltar). That said, this nickname does not exactly help rid New Jersey of its stereotypical image as a barren, industrial wasteland.
I mean, if you’re going to go that route, at least pick something related to your team. “The Pit”, for instance. What, what did I say?
Rogers Arena (Vancouver Canucks)
Vancouver is a beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest, populated by relaxed, progressive people. Just don’t beat (or insult, or comment on, or mention in passing, or select in a video game) their hockey team. For underneath their calm exterior – behind the thick, full beard and mason jar full of hand-ground fair trade coffee – dwells a hockey-mad beast of unconscionable power. I hereby dub the Canucks’ barn, “The Canuck Corral.”
Rogers Place (Edmonton Oilers)
This spectacular new facility is ram-packed on a nightly basis. No, not because of CEO and Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson’s signature hamburger (yes, that is indeed a thing. Check out the cringeworthy video below).
Anyways, the Oilers are still very much an awful hockey team, other than star goaltender Cam Talbot. Oh, and that kid named Connor is pretty good too. But seriously, it’s gotta be “Mount McDavid.” It just has to.
SAP Center (San Jose Sharks)
“The Shark Tank” is an arena nickname that is alive and well. No need to change it. Unless their American Hockey League affiliate the San Jose Barracuda decide to get all uppity. “The Sharp-Toothed Predatory Sea Creature Tank”, anyone?
Scotiabank Saddledome (Calgary Flames)
The Saddledome is an iconic piece of Calgary’s skyline, but it isn’t actually a dome. Like, at all.
“The C of Red” is an alternative that does suit the arena, given both the Flames’ logo and the predominance of red-clad fans at every home game.
Scottrade Center (St. Louis Blues)
The Gateway Arch is St. Louis’ most famous landmark, so it stands to reason it should be incorporated into its arena’s nickname in some way. I give you, “Gateway Gardens.”
Staples Center (Los Angeles Kings)
It figures that the team with the league’s most boring uniform plays in an arena named after an office supply company. Unless you’re looking for a sleep aid, there’s really no need to watch them play, either (although Jonathan Quick tends to make things a little more interesting).
Wanna know something exciting though? I learned a new word today. Maybe using it here will give the Kings some flair. “The Hollywood Hippodrome.” Boom. Flair. You’re welcome.
T-Mobile Arena (Vegas Golden Knights)
The league’s newest addition, playing out of this sparkling new facility on the Las Vegas Strip, have absolutely trounced opponents in their own barn. I have no problem sticking with “The Fortress” nickname that’s already sort of been ascribed to the place. In the right light, it looks pretty menacing.
However, despite being an entertainment product in Las Vegas, the NHL has made it clear that any references to gambling are unwelcome. Which would make it all the better if we gave T-Mobile Arena a nickname like “The House,” or the more hockey-centric, “The Sin Bin.”
TD Garden (Boston Bruins)
There might not be a team in the NHL that plays as close to what their moniker suggests as the Boston Bruins. It is only fitting that their building be dubbed “Bears’ Burrow”; it really is like entering a lair.
United Center (Chicago Blackhawks)
“The Madhouse on Madison” is pretty cool, not to mention nostalgic; the old Chicago Stadium was dubbed this, as well. Can’t argue with history, not to mention three Cups since 2010.
Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia Flyers)
The Flyers’ Cup-winning teams are remembered fondly (by Flyers fans, at least) as the Broad Street Bullies, who played out of the now-demolished Spectrum. Given that the Wells Fargo Center is located on the same road, why not call the Flyers’ home “Broad Street.”
Xcel Energy Center (Minnesota Wild)
Wikipedia tells me that “The X” is the local nickname for the Wild’s home ice. I’m just going to go ahead and stick with that, since I don’t know what a “Wild” is. Even if I did, where would they play, “The Woods?”
Make It Your Own
All kidding aside, there is nothing in this world that can quite measure up to the live hockey experience; a blindingly fast sport with constant action being played in a venue with just the right amount of people. The atmosphere, the fans, the game ops… NHL hockey is truly something that must be seen in person to be properly experienced.
And make no mistake: the venues are an equally important part of this experience. Even if modern facilities don’t measure up with regards to quirks, defects and eccentricities, an NHL arena is still very much what the fans make it. Nicknames breed affection. Affection breeds loyalty. Loyalty breeds memories. And memories last forever.
** originally published in Feb. 2017