Ranking the Honda Center and other NHL Buildings

Occasionally when you come across something of interest you file it away in the back of your brain for later.

While preparing for the trip down to Anaheim tonight my thoughts were drawn back to a recent article from Rich Hammond of LAKingsInsider.com , where he ranked his favorite NHL cities.

Having been to 27 different NHL markets, including two that no longer exist, I started to line them up in my head to see how my list compared with his.

Before we begin, there are five buildings I haven’t seen an NHL game in yet – Florida, Montreal, Nashville, Ottawa and St. Louis.

However, I have seen NHL games in over 35 arenas.

Wait a minute, you say…how can that be when it’s only a 30 team league?

Well, in addition to the current buildings housing the 30 teams, I can check off places like the Winnipeg Arena, Hartford Civic Center, Met Center (Minnesota), Old Chicago Stadium, Boston Garden, Maple Leaf Gardens, Capital Centre (old Caps building), America West Arena (original home for Phoenix Coyotes), Arco Arena (LA and Edmonton played there when the NHL used to host two regular season games at neutral sites), San Diego Sports Arena, MGM Grand Garden Arena (exhibition games) and of course, the Fabulous Forum.

With five cities to go, here’s how I arranged things, largely based on four criteria (in no particular order) – vibe of the city, local food, passion/knowledge of the fan base inside the arena and the music scene (because you have to do something besides see hockey while you’re there)…

1. Toronto — By far, one of my two favorite NHL cities. You can’t go wrong with the Hall of Fame, Gretzky’s Restaurant, good tunes, good food, lots of junior hockey and overall, the most rabid fans in the NHL – even if most of them are crazy (as in out of their minds!).

2. New York Rangers — Take everything I just said about Toronto and mark it ‘ditto’, with one exception, the fans are slightly more sane. As a stand alone city, I’d take NYC. If you’re throwing in hockey, I’d go Toronto. So, this is more like 1A and 1B. If you’ve never been, you have to go. There is nothing like seeing a Rangers game in Madison Square Garden.

3. Boston — No surprise here. This is one of the best cities in America. It’s also a great college hockey town. Try to take in a BC-BU game if you can. You can also make about an hour drive to see the Monarchs play. So, you can’t go wrong in Boston.

4. Chicago — For some reason the weather in Chicago seems to make or break the trip. New York and Boston can have snow, but it’s different. Chicago tends to be more difficult to get around in if you want to really see the city. The anthem is great, the fans are great…but, yes, it was better in the old building.

5. Vancouver — Not sure if this is fair or not, but this city moved up about 15 places for me last year. The first time I visited Van City was in 1996 and I hated it. It was a dark, dirty place. After the Olympics, I’m finally in love with Vancouver. Great time, great people – even though we were the hated Americans. The only true thing they’re lacking is a good variety of live music.

6. Minnesota — This might surprise people, yet Minnesota rocks! And I’m not just talking about their cool under-the-radar music scene. The people are extremely nice, very smart on hockey and I’ve enjoyed every trip there – two buildings, two different teams, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, etc. They deserve their title as the ‘State of Hockey.’

7. Detroit — Probably another shocker, especially considering the much advertised crime rate. If you can put that aside for a second and focus on something else, it’s a great city. They love their sports and they are the EXACT opposite of Red Wings fans you run into in LA. Super cool vibe at the games and random people will just come up and start talking to you. Be sure to get some pre-game pizza over in Greek Town before the game too.

8. Dallas – The best part about hockey in Dallas? You’re usually there when it isn’t so humid! Seriously, if it wasn’t for the weather, this city might rank higher. Also, I haven’t been back since they lost Mike Modano, Marty Turco, etc. So, the atmosphere is probably much different now and it might actually push them lower in these rankings.

9. Edmonton — If LA and New York are to Vancouver and Toronto, then…well, Edmonton is to Barstow – but with an incredible hockey tradition.  Come on, they had Gretzky and Messier, so how can you go wrong?  While it’s not a city I’d visit every season, it’s worth going back there every few years just to soak in the hockey atmosphere.

10. Philadelphia — This one is tough. I’m sure not everybody there is this bad, but I’ve encountered some of the rudest people of my life in the supposed ‘City of Brotherly Love.’ High marks for everything else in Philly, including the arena itself – which until Staples Center was built, was the benchmark for outstanding NHL arenas.

These next 10 could easily be a few spots higher or a few spots lower. As a group, they’re all middle-of-the pack in my opinion…

11. Washington — Away from hockey, it’s a city you have to go back to several times to take in all of the history. At the rink, it’s a packed house and a fun time. However, the city rolls up at night and there isn’t much to do.

12. Colorado — Like Washington, this place seems to close up shop early. If you’re a college kid looking to drink, fine. But, how about some food? The arena itself is just OK. Again, middle of the pack.

13. Phoenix — This is a much better Spring Training city than a hockey destination. That’s all.

14. Calgary — You go, you check it off the list and you leave. No bad feelings, no bad marks. Just not much punch for a big city guy.

15. Anaheim – The arena used to have good food, not so much anymore. The fans have become increasingly hostile over the years too. It’s nice to be back home quickly after a road game, but…overall, blah.

16. Pittsburgh – This one may surprise some people. You have Crosby, Malkin, a sold out building, etc. Yet, overall, I didn’t get that ‘hockey rush’ you get in some cities.  And bad marks for the food.

17. Carolina – Nice food, nice people, nice building…nothing bad, nothing over-the-top great either.

18. Atlanta – This is actually a pretty cool city. Problem is, there is a very minimal (read: nonexistent) hockey energy anywhere you go in HotLanta.  Excluding hockey, it would rank higher.

19. San Jose – The building has always seemed cold and industrial to me. There are a few great restaurants close by and that’s about it. For real fun, it’s an hour’s drive into San Francisco.

20. Tampa Bay – Similar to Atlanta, just further south.

And the bottom four, the places I never care to visit again (nothing against the people, it’s just not my cup of tea as they say)…

21. Columbus – sterile, generic, bland…and a building that looks identical to the one in Phoenix
22. Buffalo – a very ‘cheap’ looking arena, but it probably would have been a fun place during the World Junior tournament
23. New York (Islanders) – Bakersfield is better
24. New Jersey – recommendation: stay in the city and train it over

Not listed yet:

– Florida
– Montreal
– Nashville
– Ottawa
– St. Louis

Honorable mention:

* Winnipeg – Would be a top 10 city, maybe top five, if they ever got a team again. Yes, it’s colder than cold there. However, it just has a certain charm about it. Plus, I saw Wayne Gretzky’s final game as a King there (he was traded the next day), so it will always be special.  NOTE: For a look at Gretzky’s last day as a King – including some of our exclusive photos from the morning skate –  click here.

* Hartford – This would be dead last if they still had a team. They played the games at a mall. Seriously. Imagine your local Nordstrom’s or Macy’s converted to an arena. Horrible sight lines. Terrible experience.

That’s it. Someday I’ll update this list after visiting the five remaining cities.

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