Friday, 2 February 2007

Playoff Hockey In February

I don't know how many people caught TSN's feed of the Montreal Canadiens-Pittsburgh Penguins game last night, but it was probably the best game I have seen all season. There were hits. There were goals. There was a fight. There was some brilliant goaltending. There was some effective special teams play. All in all, this is a game in which NHL should take pride. The officiating was good, the game was up-tempo, and the result was a packed house in Pittsburgh that was buzzing with energy. From the atmosphere in the Mellon Arena, it felt like 1992 all over again. Gord Miller and Pierre Maguire, the TSN play-by-play team, made mention on a number of occasions of how good the game was.

However, the game isn't the reason why I am writing today. I am writing about the need for Pittsburgh and the Penguins' franchise to come to to an agreement about a new arena. Pittsburgh had a sellout crowd on hand last night to watch their young team battle to a 5-4 victory in the shootout. Not one of the 17,323 people left their seats until the game had been decided. With Pittsburgh's young, talented team, the Penguins should expect more sellouts in the next coming years, especially during the maturation in terms of gameplay by Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.

According to reports, the arena deal is close to being done. The Mellon Arena was built in 1961, and it is currently the oldest NHL arena still in use today. It has been said many times that the Igloo has its share of great hockey memories, but is nowhere close to the ambiance of some of the other old arenas, namely Madison Square Garden in New York City and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Having a hockey ambiance for the arena's main tenant is paramount to keeping people coming back.

To give a better example, Chicago's old arena, Chicago Stadium or "The Madhouse on Madison", was loved by fans, and consistantly registered decibel levels over 100 when the playoffs rolled around. The fans loved the sound of the 3663-pipe Barton organ, and the arena was said to shake when the fans cheered. This is the ambiance I am talking about. The United Center in Chicago is a gorgeous facility, but it has nowhere near the popularity that the old Chicago Stadium did. The Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh is the same - a distinct lack of ambiance. This is something that needs to be addressed when the new arena goes up.

Notice I said "when the new arena goes up". That's because, according to this report, Governor Ed Rendell "says the arena deal that state, city and county officials are putting together for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the best offered to any National Hockey League Team in recent years". For a franchise looking for a new owner, this is excellent news. If the team had to spend a bundle to get into a new building, I'm quite sure that the current owners would be balking at this deal. The Penguins have to be happy that they are playing to 94% capacity right now, and with a proposed new building and an exciting team, there is no better time like the present to take advantage of these factors.

The only thing that could kill the buzz is if the Penguins' new arena is built like US Cellular Field/New Comiskey Park. The Chicago White Sox's stadium is probably the biggest concrete repository in the Midwest, and it feels like that when you're in the park. Why? No ambiance.

Ambiance is the key. If it feels like a hockey arena, and looks like a hockey arena, it's probably a hockey arena. If, however, once you step inside, it feels like an experience, that's ambiance. Pittsburgh's new arena should embrace the Penguins history, and capture the fans' attention and imagination. If done properly, people will come for the experience instead of just another hockey game. People forget about hockey games; no one forgets an experience.

Let's get the arena deal done so that the details of building an experience can be examined. It's owed to the fans of the Penguins who have supported this team for so long while sitting in one of the worst arenas for any level of hockey.

As for the proposed "Kansas City Monarchs", you'll just have to wait for the next wave of NHL expansion. The Penguins are staying in Pittsburgh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That game was awesome!!!! And guess what? They play again on sunday afternoon in Montreal. Habs VS Pens AND the Superbowl going on back-to-back. This is going to be a great day for TV sports.