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Presenting the best NHL venues

By Mike Randleman, SportsEngine, 01/08/21, 12:15PM MST


Hub exclusive: In celebration of 2021 regular season starting next week, we looked at top arenas to take in a game.

With the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights for the 2017-18 season, the NHL is up to 31 teams and counting (the Seattle Kraken will join the fray starting with the 2021-22 season and will play home games at Climate Pledge Arena). That's quite a few venues to track, but each team's home arena has distinctive features making them unique from the other 30 buildings.

Canada has the distinction as a hockey-crazed nation, with many arenas packed with history, though plenty of American teams have a big home ice advantage of their own in glamorous state-of-the-art arenas.

Continue reading to see the Colorado Hockey Hub's five best venues the NHL has to offer.

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5. Vegas Golden Knights, T-Mobile Arena


For decades, when thinking of Las Vegas, hockey might have been buried near the bottom on a list of attractions, if mentioned at all. Maybe it’s still just a mirage, but the frozen sport seems to be catching on quickly in the desert.

Immediate success has definitely helped. The expansion Golden Knights shocked the hockey community in their first season in 2017-18, advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they were defeated in five games by the Washington Capitals. The quick success helped the Vegas faithful latch onto their new team.

The Golden Knights were the first major league franchise to inhabit a city that was once seen as too risky for a big-time team. The Golden Knights showed it can be done, and are doing it in theatrical Vegas fashion.

The team plays its home games at T-Mobile Arena, located right on the Las Vegas strip. The state-of-the-art facility opened in 2016 as a sports and entertainment venue and is operated by MGM Resorts. According to ESPN, the Golden Knights were 13th in 2019-20 attendance at 18,310 people per game, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hot ticket. The Golden Knights ranked fifth in capacity percentage at 105.4 percent for the 17,500-seat facility (T-Mobile Arena maxes out at 20,000 for mixed martial arts and boxing).

Attending a Golden Knights game is a different experience than the other 30 arenas in the NHL. The production level throughout the game is ramped up, but particularly in pregame intros that feature highly produced videos and the ice being used as a projector screen.

Hockey purists might shake their head at T-Mobile Arena making the top five, and that’s OK. A healthy sports league offers a variety of experiences from city to city with each taking on their own charm. The Golden Knights and T-Mobile Arena, aka The Fortress, offer all the new amenities that pander to the common fan while still putting a good hockey product on the ice.

The Golden Knights, who now share the city with the Raiders of the NFL, made the Stanley Cup Playoffs each of their first three seasons and are coming off a Western Conference Final appearance against the Dallas Stars.

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4. Pittsburgh Penguins, PPG Paints Arena


Some fans may still long for the days of Pittsburgh Civic Arena, commonly known as The Igloo, but the Penguins currently have a gem of a home venue. They even brought the old Civic Arena horn to the new digs.

PPG Paints Arena made its debut for the 2010-11 season. The 19,758-seat venue is located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh and offers plenty of room for fans to congregate outside before big games. It’s also quickly established itself as a premier concert and multipurpose venue.

Two of the Penguins' five Stanley Cups were won since the move to PPG Paints Arena, giving the building a special spot in the hearts of Penguins fans.

Pittsburgh sports fans have a reputation as one of the more passionate groups in the country. Their black and gold raucousness helps create a home ice advantage. The Penguins posted the fourth best home record in 2019-20 (23-8-4) and third best in 2017-18 (30-9-2), according to Pittsburgh has averaged in the top 10 in attendance since arriving to PPG Paints Arena.

These folks aren’t packed in like sardines, either. The arena’s website touts itself as having “the most comfortable seating arrangement in the NHL” with seats up to 24 inches wide and increased leg room, making the awkward dance of walking past others in your row to get to the concession an easier task in the Steel City.

Another fun fact: PPG Paints Arena is one of the rare American major sports venues without a Coke or Pepsi soft drink sponsorship. Penguins game attendees have their choice of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group beverages.

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3. Toronto Maple Leafs, Scotiabank Arena


Opened in 1999, Scotiabank Arena is a place where tradition fills the rafters of one of the NHL’s bedrock franchises. Mementos, photos and various tributes from the Maple Leaf Gardens days (1931-1999) are reminders of the team's hallowed Original Six status.

Toronto has a reputation as one of the more knowledgeable fan bases and they're hungry for success. It’s been more than a half century since the Maple Leafs hoisted the last of their 13 Stanley Cups (1967), but you wouldn’t know it from the consistent support the team receives.

Fans continue to pack Scotiabank Arena year after year. In 2019-20, the Maple Leafs were sixth in the NHL in attendance at 19,301 people per game, according to ESPN. That was good for 102.6 percent capacity for the 18,800-seat venue.

The location in downtown Toronto is also a boost. A plaza outside the arena offers a great spot to congregate and watch the game on video boards if you're unable to score a ticket to get inside. It’s not uncommon for playoff games for the Leafs or the NBA’s Raptors to draw more fans outside the arena than at the game itself.

Along with NBA and NHL action, Scotiabank is an invaluable multi-purpose venue for the city.

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2. Chicago Blackhawks, United Center


Few places make you feel like you’re at a big-time event like the United Center. In the 1990s, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls made this arena on the west side of Chicago the epicenter of the sports world.

The Chicago Blackhawks took the title-winning torch from the Bulls in the next century. Between 2010-2015, the Blackhawks blessed the Windy City with three of the Original Six franchise’s six Stanley Cups.

One of the highlights of attending a Blackhawks game isn’t even the game itself. Fans make sure to get to their seats plenty early to catch Jim Cornelison. The singer’s spine-tingling renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “O, Canada” are renowned throughout the league.

The venue itself is not in an ideal location with regard to parking or traffic, but ride sharing and a good transportation system in Chicago makes it work.

The building opened in 1994 and is owned 50-50 by the Blackhawks and Bulls. Its acoustics were made specifically to try to recreate the same thunderous noise heard at the old Chicago Stadium (Chicago Stadium’s site is now a parking lot across from United Center).

A 8,600-foot scoreboard was installed in 2019 — the largest in dual-use NBA and NHL venues.

Though the team hasn’t won a playoff series since 2015, Blackhawks fans continue to prove their loyalty. Excluding outdoor games, Chicago has led the NHL in average attendance per game every season since 2008-09. Last season, in 34 games, the Blackhawks averaged 21,441 fans per game.

Standing room only tickets are common at United Center. It was packed to an average of 108.7 percent capacity in 2019-20, only behind Dallas at 113 percent.

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1. Montreal Canadiens, Bell Centre


Several arenas around the league have risen since the Bell Centre went up in downtown Montreal in 1996, but it continues to stand as one of the NHL’s premier venues.

The Bell Centre boasts a capacity of 21,288, which tops the NHL. The spirit of the old Montreal Forum still shines through, just now in more cavernous surroundings. The siren that signals the end of each period instead of a more common horn is a cool throwback touch.

The storied franchise hasn’t made it past the second round of the Stanly Cup Playoffs in six years and hasn't made a Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1993, when the Canadiens topped the Los Angeles Kings in five games, but the rabid support won’t stop.

Montreal was second in the NHL in attendance in 2019-20 at 21,085, coming in just shy of Chicago's 21,441. The two have been Nos. 1 and 2 in attendance every year since the 2014-15 season, suggesting you won’t be able to convince Canadiens' loyalists that their 25th Stanley Cup won’t come anytime soon.

The Bell Centre grandstands are sloped more than most NHL arenas to allow for some of the league’s best sightlines. Renovations have been made throughout the arena's existence, including a new scoreboard being installed prior to the 2008-2009 season.

Laser lights and capabilities to project visuals onto the ice make for entertaining pregame introductions as chants of “Go Habs, go!” permeate.

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