Word surfaced this past week that the Arizona Coyotes have been attempting to find a temporary arena solution that could result in them sharing a home building with Arizona State University’s hockey program. That would result in them potentially spending a couple of years playing home games in a venue that seats under 5,000 fans. Needless to say, that would be pretty much unheard of in today’s NHL and one of the most, let’s call it, unique home-ice situations in the league.
The smallest rinks in the NHL currently are in Winnipeg (15,321) and New Jersey (16,514) and are the only two buildings in the league with a listed capacity of under 17,000 fans. Arizona’s current home rink, Gila River Arena, holds 17,125 fans.
That development got us thinking about some of the other unique home arena situations in NHL history that, for one reason or another, forced teams to play in some strange venues.
Civic Arena (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Originally constructed in the early 1960s for Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera, the Civic Arena became the permanent home of Pittsburgh’s expansion hockey team, the Penguins, starting with the 1967 season. They played there until the 2010-11 season when they moved into their current home, PPG Paints arena.
What made the Civic Arena so unique was its shape, literally looking like an igloo, and the fact it had the first retractable roof in North American sports stadiums, even though it was never actually opened for a hockey game.
The Cow Palace (San Jose Sharks)
When the NHL went through an expansion boom in the early 1990s a lot of league’s new teams had to find some temporary homes that were a bit out of the ordinary.
The first of those homes was the Cow Palace just outside of San Francisco. What made the Cow Palace so noteworthy as an NHL rink is that the NHL originally rejected it as a building for the California Seals when they entered the NHL during the 1967-68 season. It was also one of the last rinks in the NHL to have an ice surface smaller than the traditional NHL regulations (the old Boston Garden also famously had a smaller playing surface).
With a capacity of just around 11,000 it was one of the smallest buildings in the league, with the Sharks routinely playing to sell outs during their years in the building. The Sharks played there from their inagural season until the San Jose Arena (now the SAP Center) opened in 1993.
The arena has been a popular destination for concerts, other sports (the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors also called the arena home throughout the 1960s), and, as the name might suggest, livestock competitions and rodeos.
Ottawa Civic Centre (Ottawa Senators)
When the Ottawa Senators entered the NHL during the 1992-93 season their new, permanent building was not yet built, resulting in them playing the first two-and-a-half years of their existence in the tiny Ottawa Civic Centre, which had had a capacity of around 10,000 and a very unique design. One side of the building had only about 15 rows of seats, with the majority of the fans sitting on the opposite side and in the two ends. The arena was temporarily renovated to increase capacity and add a handful of luxury suites, but it still resulted in a bizarre configuration.
The Thunderdome (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Now we get into the fun one.
The Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, and Stadium Series have made seeing hockey games in a baseball stadium something of a common occurrence. But did you remember when the Tampa Bay Lightning made one their permanent home rink for a couple of years?
Tampa had constructed a domed baseball stadium in the early 1990s with the hopes of luring a Major League Baseball team to the arena, a move that ultimately failed until they were granted an expansion team (the Rays) in the late 1990s. With the stadium sitting empty, it was temporarily reconfigured into a hockey arena (and called “The Thunderdome”) for the cities NHL expansion team (the Lightning). It resulted in some massive crowds of more than 25,000 people, including more than 28,000 people for the Lightning’s first playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. That game was an NHL attendance record until the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton.
The Lightning played at the Thunderdome until the 1996-97 season when they moved into their current home.
What is funny about the Lightning’s brief experience in a baseball stadium, making it the largest home rink in the league, is that they originally played in one of the smallest buildings in the league, playing their initial season at the 11,000 seat Expo Hall which was located on the Florida state fairgrounds.
Barclays Center (New York Islanders)
Yes, we have to include this one. The Islanders temporarily moved to Brooklyn in the mid-2010s to play in a brand new state of the art arena that was primarily built for basketball and concerts. Not hockey. The result was an off-center scoreboard that was located over the blue line, a three-quarter seating alignment that saw one end of the rink go without fans because you could not see anything below the face off dots, and the infamous Barclays Center SUV that was positioned in the one end. Great building. Just not built for hockey.