Old Hockey Rinks

The rink. The old barn. The icebox.

Hockey rinks have come a long way from the days of chicken-wire cages and wooden stands. The hockey fan now has state-of-the-art seats, a wide array of fancy and healthy food selections, craft beers and all the amenities such as WiFi and other modern-day conveniences.

It’s a long way from when old hockey rinks had people sitting on a wooden bench and munching on a hot dog, popcorn and peanuts.

Rinks have always gone through the life-cycle on birth, growth and eventual decay and death. Not so long ago the New York Islanders played in the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale before leaving the Island to move into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Fans do want to be in comfort, but there’s something missing about the new places. They seem to lack the intimacy and charm of the old school arenas. People used to be on top of the players and able to heckle them and be right in the action.

There are three old hockey arenas that I’m going to talk about today, all with outstanding hockey memories (and one still making them).

So Long, Nassau Coliseum

The Isles have seen a lot of success and failures over the years. The Islanders dominated from the late 1970s until the early 80s and had four straight Stanley Cup titles to show for it. The team would be competitive until falling on hard times in the late 90s and 2000s.

Former Nassau County Sports Commission Executive Director Bryan Revello grew up in Little Neck and attended many events such as Disney on Ice, WWF wrestling events and other sporting events. Revello, who was executive director from 2006 to 2013, said the seating at Nassau Coliseum was great.

“There’s very few bad seats in the place,” said Revello, who now runs the New York sports magazine, NYSportScene. “Even the 300 level seats had good angles.”

The Islanders have always been a big part of the community since the team came into the NHL in 1972. When the building was first opened, then NHL commissioner Clarence Campbell called the arena “magnificent.”

However, that was said in 1972. The arena is very Spartan and didn’t have all the bells and whistles like the newer arenas. People said the place was behind the times. The Coliseum was called a barn, the “Mausoleum” and other assorted derisive names.

However, the arena and their team were admired by area residents and Islander fans alike.

“Long Islanders love their Islanders,” Revello said. “It’s the only team they still have.”

That love couldn’t keep the team on the Island as voters rejected a proposal to keep the team in Nassau County. That was the impetus for owner Charles Wang to move the team to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season.

Hockey Sentinel writer Damian Mirkut blames someone else for the loss of his beloved Isles.

  One major reason the Islanders will be leaving Nassau County is Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray. Murray who is clearly not a fan of hockey saw the site the Islanders play on as a potential to make more money for the county than the Islanders did. At the time the Islanders were a bad team, unlike the Islanders of today.  Sadly the land the Islanders play on is more valuable than the team to most people, including developers who have been trying to get their hands on the property for years.

According to Revello, the timing of the vote being held in the midst of poor economic times and with the Islanders struggling at the bottom of the league caused the end result.

He also thinks Long Islanders will regret turning down the renovation of the Coliseum.

“People are short-sighted,” Revello said. “Barclay’s Center is more appealing, but it’ll be annoying for Islanders fans to commute 45 minutes from Long Island.”

While the Islanders are saying that they’re leaving the door open for a possible return, Revello is a realist about the club coming back.

“I guess some of the fans are holding onto unrealistic open-ended return,” Revello said. “I’m not optimistic.”

The return to the Coliseum has probably been quashed once and for all after it was announced that the arena will be overhauled .

The Islanders franchise is on the upswing, but it will be a shame that the fans in Long Island will have to travel to Brooklyn to enjoy it.

An Empty Yardmen Arena

While not having the fanfare of the Islanders leaving Long Island, the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls are leaving the Yardmen Arena to move to Hamilton after owner Gord Simmons sold the team in March. The team will be without OHL hockey for the first time since the early 80s.

The Yardmen was built in 1978 saw the Bulls win the 1999 OHL title and hosted 2013 Kraft Hockeyville’s exhibition game between the Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets.

old hockey arena
Yardmen Arena (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Bulls were looking to try to get a new arena, but the city couldn’t spare the funds to upgrade the arena or get the financing for a new one. The writing was on the wall when Hamilton lost their American Hockey League affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers and the city needed a new club.

The Bulls have plenty of alumni that made the NHL, including Subban brothers, P.K. and Malcolm. (Brother Jordan was on this year’s team.) Jason Spezza, Darren McCarty, Al Iafrate also played in Belleville.

Fans have already been trying to get the league to bring a team back. The group called “Bring Back OHL Hockey” has set up a Facebook page and are starting to gather petitions.

The main issue in getting a team back in the Qunite region is the fact the Bulls were ranked towards to bottom in attendance. However, supporters are pointing to the dramatic turnaround of their former regional rival, the Kingston Frontenacs, after the building of the K-Rock Centre.

A more viable option may be the second tier of junior hockey called Ontario Junior Hockey League aka Junior A. The league currently has 22 teams and a team in Belleville would be help keep the league aligned. The OHL Writers radio program, Inside the O, speculated about this.

With the tenants of Belleville leaving for Hamilton there is a prime opportunity to go back into Markham and plant a team in Belleville. Without any type of realignment you can make a 24 team league with 4 divisions of six and easily make it a 12 team conference for the playoffs.

The article went on to state that the Yardmen would be an ideal location for a Junior A club, but who would step up and put loads of money into a club with receiving little or nothing in return. However, the move would make a ton of sense.

The move from a small market like Belleville could be interpreted as the league moving away from the smaller markets in order to saturate the larger Ontario markets like Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa.

Malcolm Subban at the Yardmen
Former Belleville Bulls goalie Malcolm Subban and his brothers P.K. and Jordan used to call the Yardmen Arena home. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Cornwall resident Ryan Petrynka and Frontenacs fan feels the Hamilton experiment might fall flat, and hockey could return to Belleville.

“They’ll be back,” Petrynka said. “Hamilton’s tried supporting OHL hockey before and it doesn’t work.”

He added that “Copps Coliseum is too big,” but Belleville would need a 4,000 seat arena in order to get an OHL team.

Lynah Rink Shines as a Big Red Beacon

While the old hockey arenas may be going be the wayside, there are still places where these old rinks thrive in college towns littered across the Northeast.

The ECAC has plenty of old hockey arenas like Appleton Arena (St. Lawrence University), Starr Rink (Colgate University) and others. However, there’s one place in the conference that stands out and that is James Lynah Rink in Ithaca, New York. The home of the Cornell Big Red men’s and women’s programs.

Both Big Red men’s and women’s programs consistently fill Lynah Rink on a nightly basis. The rink was opened in 1957, and has been the scene of many great moments for the program, including numerous ECAC conference and Ivy League championships.

The arena has changed with the times as it was renovated in 2000 and 2006 to replace the rink floor, expand the locker rooms, add offices and 450 more seats. However, not much else has changed and that’s the way the “Lynah faithful” like it.

The Big Red men’s program has won nearly 72-percent of its games there, and it provides an atmosphere that is unrivaled in all of college hockey. This tweet from one of Cornell’s many hockey blogs sums up the intimidation factor of the one of the great old hockey arenas.

It may not have extravagant food choices like sushi or health food, but every college hockey fan should come here. ESPN’s Barry Melrose waxed poetically about the place as one of the best old hockey arenas.

The Verdict on Old Hockey Arenas

I do think hockey is evolving like other sports and arenas are no exceptions. However, I am going to miss some of the old barns.

I came from a NCAA Division III Oswego State, and its home arena was an old World War II airplane hangar called Romney Fieldhouse. The place was cold and small, but it was a ton of fun to watch a game. The fans were right on top of the players and the fans were raucous. It was my favorite of the old hockey arenas.

I went down to check my old alma mater in their brand-new arena that opened in 2007 and I was blown away by how modern and clean it was. The place looked great, but I felt like the arena didn’t have the same vibe as Romney. I don’t know if it was nostalgia or if I just didn’t connect the way I used to with old place.

New arenas are nice, but we should never forget where we came from. Those old hockey arenas remind us of that.