Greetings from 35,000 feet, as I make my way to Texas this afternoon to cover a quick but very important Winnipeg Jets road trip that begins tomorrow night in Dallas, and ends Saturday night in Nashville.
I got my latest rapid antigen test completed yesterday — I believe that’s the 22nd time I’ve now had my nostrils invaded since last September — and got the positive result I was looking for. Which, in this case, is negative!
And so I was once again cleared for takeoff bright and early this morning, with a three-hour layover in Minneapolis.
In my never-ending search for content you may or may not finding interesting, it dawned on me the other day that I’m on the cusp of something pretty cool.
In just over two months — April 15, to be precise — I’ll complete my NHL bingo card.
That night, I’ll be inside FLA Live Arena as the Jets begin their final regular-season trek. And it will mean I’ll have been in every single big-league barn as a Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer.
As of right now, I’ve experienced 30 of the league’s 31 team venues as a visitor, with only the home of the Florida Panthers still on my list. I began this current season at 29, and added Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, home of the expansion Kraken, last December.
A handful of places I’ve only been to once. The majority, two or three times. And a few are now requiring a second hand to count.
One of the most frequent questions I get from folks is some variation of “what’s your favourite city/rink” that I’ve been to.
A few always quickly come to mind — but I’m not ready to share those with you just yet.
Instead, I’m going to turn this into a multi-part series, building up some suspense with each passing week. Three periods, if you will.
Today, I’ll give you my Bottom 10. Next Thursday, my Middle 10. And then on Feb. 24, my Top 10.
To sort this all out, I spent a bit of time this week compiling my overall list, creating a ranking system in which I took into consideration several factors: the city itself (including the all-important airport), the rink and press box and any personal attachment/significance/connections the place might have for yours truly.
I gave each category a score between one and five, then added them all up, crunched the numbers and had my findings, which I’m happy to now start sharing with you along with a bit of an explanation for each.
I hope you enjoy. And, as always, I appreciate your feedback. Which NHL barns have you visited, and which ones stood out (positively or negatively)? Which are on your bucket list? Fire away.
Mike McIntyre, Sports columnist
THE BOTTOM 10
30. Buffalo Sabres (KeyBank Center): Put it this way: when I go there again next month, I plan to do the same thing I did the last time I went. Which is: fly into Toronto, rent a car, stop to look at Niagara Falls, quickly get into Buffalo to cover the game, then get outta Dodge and head back to the Big Smoke (where the Jets play the very next night). I’m sure the people of upstate New York are lovely, but there’s just not a whole lot to write home about here.
29. Detroit Red Wings (Little Caesars Arena): The rink is enormous — I’d argue it’s actually too big — but the atmosphere is pretty “meh.” All that losing in recent years has taken a toll. As for the city, it didn’t really get my motor running, pun intended.
28. Ottawa Senators (Canadian Tire Centre): This would score a lot higher but for one very important factor. The Senators' home is nowhere near Ottawa, which is a terrific place to visit. Instead, it’s way out in the middle of nowhere (Kanata), and no doubt my last visit there, which included waiting nearly an hour to get a cab/Uber to finally pick me up, left a bad taste in my mouth.
27. St. Louis Blues (Enterprise Center): My trip there next month is going to bring me close to double-digits. A Jets-Blues playoff series, plus plenty of divisional play over the years, had made me a frequent flyer to Missouri. The highlight is always the toasted ravioli, a St. Louis staple.
26. Calgary Flames (Scotiabank Saddledome): I feel bad for having this one so low, because I love going to Calgary — several really good friends live there, and it’s always a blast catching up. Problem is, their arena is, without a shadow of a doubt, the very worst in the NHL. The walk to the press box, which involves a high-wire act over the centre ice scoreboard, is truly terrifying. Let’s hope a new arena deal comes together quickly.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (Nationwide Arena): Nice city, some great restaurants, and a fun building save for one major item that puts it way down — I hate the damn cannon! It fires when the team comes out at the start of the game, and it blasts every time the Blue Jackets score a goal. And it sends me jumping out of my seat every time, even though I know it’s coming. I have zero rooting interest when it comes to the Jets — the only thing I cheer for are good storylines and quick games so I can meet deadline — but I make one exception here. I pray every time I go there Winnipeg can pitch a shutout, just so I don’t have to hear it. On the plus side, they have a Tim Hortons attached to the arena.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (PNC Arena): I’ve always enjoyed going to Raleigh, but my only small complaint is, not unlike Ottawa, the rink is kind of out of sight, out of mind a bit. In this case, sort of in the middle of a forest. Still, the atmosphere is great, and the Hurricanes are a really fun team to watch. I even grabbed my wife and daughter “A Bunch Of Jerks” T-shirts the last time I was there (thanks, Don Cherry) per their requests.
23. Nashville Predators (Bridgestone Arena): I’d likely have this higher if I were a country music fan, as Music City is a mecca for that kind of thing. But alas, I’m really not. Still, the 2018 second-round playoff series was a ton of fun to cover, although I must admit all the chants in the rink, which I initially found amusing, have sort of grown old. And a wee bit obnoxious, to be honest. Plus, the press box is in a truly bizarre place, situated smack-dab in the stands, but tucked away in a far corner that means some pretty terrible sightlines. You won’t find a better press box meal, however. (Fried catfish and mashed potatoes during the first intermission when I was there last month. We’ll see what this Saturday has in store)
22. Philadelphia Flyers (Wells Fargo Center): I’ve only been once, and it was several years ago, so it’s a very small sample size in this case. The City of Brotherly Love and the home of Gritty has a rich hockey history. And the fans certainly know their stuff, as passionate as you’ll find anywhere. Plus, how can you go wrong with a Philly cheesesteak, right?
21. Edmonton Oilers (Rogers Place): I’ll forever link this place to the month I spent there in the surreal summer of 2020, covering the NHL “bubble” playoffs in the Hub City. To be honest, that probably (unfairly) knocked it down some pegs here, as the empty rink atmosphere was jarring, to say the least, especially as I watched the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup. Plus, the airport is too far away from the city! But I fell in love with some of the terrific walking trials in the city, which really got me going on my fitness journey a couple years ago.
That’s it for this week, folks. We’ll see you back here next Thursday for the “second period” of my list. Take care and stay safe.