The Signature Experience of NHL Arenas: Atlantic Division Part I

What Makes NHL Arenas Special?

NHL arenas offer an environment and an atmosphere that cannot be found at any other major sporting event. A camaraderie and sense of brotherhood exists between fans of the same team that does not exist in other sports. At their core, all NHL arenas are essentially the same. They seat anywhere from 15,004 in Winnipeg to 21,273 in Montreal. They all have beer, food, and hockey.

However, many subtle little differences exist between NHL arenas. There’s something different and special about every arena, whether it’s a regional food specialty they serve, a tradition of the in-game entertainment, displays in the concourse, or a famous fan. In an ongoing eight-part series, I will be examining the little things in each NHL arena that make them great, with each division being covered in two articles. I would like to thank the fans and posters on each Atlantic Division team’s board on Hockey’s Future for their insight that made this possible.

TD Garden (Boston Bruins)

Located smack in the middle of Boston, TD Garden has been home to the Bruins since 1995, when they left Boston Garden after 67 years. Since it is located right in the middle of the city, there many bars and restaurants right around the arena that are great to visit before or after the game. Sullivan’s Tap, The Greatest Bar, which is known for its Bruins video montage before the game, and The Fours are all spots where you will be bound to find Bruins fans on game day. At the Fours, you can get a Bobby Orr, which is a famous steak and cheese sandwich.

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(Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE)

Inside the arena is The Sports Museum, which is a shrine to all things Boston sports, both professional and collegiate, past and present. Before the game gets underway, you can hear Rene Rancourt, and his famous fist pumps in the playoffs, belting out the National Anthem, which he has done for the Bruins since 1976.

When the Bruins score a goal, it is customary for the fans to reply “WOO” after public address announcer Jim Martin announces the Bruins goal.

In the concourse or on the jumbotron, you are bound to see a number of famous Bruins fans. They include Big Scary Man Guy, who wears a jersey that says the same, and dons a viking hat and shield. Then, there is the fan that made a full suit out of Bruins rally towels. Finally there is Sully, a man who dons a blazer and black, yellow, and white polka dot hat who dances at nearly every Bruins game.

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First Niagara Center (Buffalo Sabres)

After 11 years as HSBC Arena, the stadium in which the Sabres play is now known as the First Niagara Center. If you’re planning on attending a Sabres game, go early or stay late to enjoy the many bars that are near the arena. Cobblestone and Pearl St. Grill are local favorites. While you’re there, be sure to have a Beef on Weck, a roast beef sandwich on a kummelweck roll, a western New York staple.

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Buffalo’s First Niagara Center(cr: FreedomWalker@Wikimedia)

HarborCenter is a 1.7 acre development project undertaken by Sabes owner Terry Pegula, and is located directly across from the First Niagara Center. One of highlights will be a restaurant called 716, which will feature a 38 foot TV, the largest in the continental United States. Inside will also be a 40 foot bar with a top that is custom built to replicate the surface of an ice hockey rink.

Inside the arena, it is a tradition for the team to play Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” after the opponent scores their first goal. To see the arena at its most raucous, try to attending a game against the Maple Leafs. The arena is about a two hour drive from Toronto, and when the two teams meet the arena erupts in a shouting match between the two fanbases to see who can out-cheer the other.

Joe Louis Arena (Detroit Red Wings)

If you are going to a Red Wings home game to enjoy the amenities and beautiful building, you will probably be disappointed. But if you’re going to see a game in a true hockey atmosphere with great sightlines, you won’t find a better place than Joe Louis Arena.

Joe Louis Arena, Detroit Red Wings, Hockey, NHL
An empty Joe Louis Arena – banners hanging – before the show begins. (Photo by Andrew Forbes)

Among NHL arenas, Joe Louis is the fourth oldest. It is built without many of the frills and amenities that are found in modern NHL arenas. However, there is not a single bad seat in the entire place.

The arena serves as a shrine and museum to the Red Wings. It starts with the statues of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay outside, and continues with the many pictures and memorabilia that celebrate the rich history of the Red Wings in the concourse. In the playoffs, there is the famous tradition of throwing an octopus on the ice that started way back in 1952. However, it is proper fan protocol to only throw it when it does not disturb play, like right after the national anthem. Similarly, after a win in a big game the cramped tunnels that lead to the parking structures turn into a sea of red that erupts in cheers and celebrations for the Red Wings.

If you’re looking to eat and drink with fellow Red Wings fans before or after the game, head to Old Shillelagh, Anchor Bar, or Motor City Brewing Works.

BB&T Center (Florida Panthers)

Florida Panthers' President
Florida Panthers’ BB&T Center on a quest to be filled in light of the team’s attendance woes. (Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE)

Since 1998, the Panthers have called the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida their home. In the concourse, there are two main attractions that are a must-see for fans. The first is Pantherland, where fans can find the largest selection of Panthers merchandise in the world. The second is the Den of Honor, which is like a mini Hall of Fame dedicated to hockey in southern Florida. It celebrates the history of Panthers, including players and management, and also has displays that show the history of local high school and youth hockey in the area.

If you’re looking to eat and drink before or after the game, Uncle Al’s Spots Cafe and Bokamper’s Sports Bar & Grill are a short drive from the arena.

The most famous tradition of Panthers games is the Rat trick, which began in 1996 when Scott Mellanby killed a rat with his stick in the locker room, and later scored two goals with the same stick. Soon after, fans began throwing hordes of plastic rats on the ice when the Panthers scored a goal. The tradition had its heyday when the Panthers made it all the way to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals.