Ranking Toughest NHL Arenas to Play In – 2022 Edition

Over the years there have been some great stories about the toughest NHL arenas to play in. With NHL expansion there are some newer arenas that have proven difficult barns to play in. The Hockey Fanatic ranks the all-time top NHL arenas to play in.

Top 10 Toughest NHL Areas to Play In

Boston Garden

From 1928 to 1995, the Boston Bruins played out of the Boston Garden.  With a seating capacity of 14,448, the Garden opened in 1928 and was home to some of the toughest Bruins players of all-time including Eddie Shore, Terry O’Reilly and Cam Neely just to name a few.  The Garden was reported to have cost $4M to build back in 1927 which roughly translates to a little more than $60M in today’s dollars.  The small ice surface made it easy for Bruins players to get their licks in.  The Boston Garden was nine feet shorter and two feet narrower than the average NHL rink coming in at 191 feet by 83 feet.  The smaller ice surface allowed the Bruins players to dump the puck in the offensive zone and then crush their opponents with checks along the boards.

The gloomy fog made playing the Big Bad Bruins even more intimidating on many nights.  The Garden was built by architect Tex Richard who built it with boxing in mind so that every seat should be close enough to see boxers up close and personal.

Fun Facts About the Boston Garden

  • The Garden had no air conditioning which often resulting in the formation of fog over the ice surface.
  • The Garden was designed after Madison Square Garden in New York and was originally known as Boston Madison Square Garden.
  • Elvis Presley performed in Boston only once, at the Garden on November 10, 1971 with a full crowd of about 16,500.
  • In 1976, the band KISS was banned from performing at the Garden because the band refused to comply with the venue’s no pyrotechnic policy after fire marshals had watched their flamethrowers hit the ceiling at another venue.
  • The Bruins won two of their championships at the Garden in 1939 and 1970.
  • The last event at the Boston Garden was fittingly, a preseason game between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens on September 26, 1995.


Philadelphia Spectrum

When the Philadelphia Flyers joined the National Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1967, they played out of the Spectrum in Philadelphia.  The Flyers played in the Spectrum (which was rebranded a number of times over the years last being known as the Wachovia Spectrum from 2003-2009) from 1967 until 2009.  The Spectrum was home to the Broad Street Bullies in the mid-1970’s when the Philadelphia Flyers captured their two, and to this day only Stanley Cup Championships.  The Spectrum had a seating capacity of 17,380 for hockey and was known to house diehard, loyal Flyers fans.  There have been many a story about Flyers fans fighting in the crowd with non-Flyers fans during games.  The Spectrum was no doubt one of the all-time toughest barns to play in throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties.  Even today, Barry Trotz coached Nashville and the New York Islanders said that “it’s not friendly… you can get hit with objects.  You have people yelling at you.”  Do we expect anything less from a barn that housed the Broad street Bullies?

Fun Facts About the Philadelphia Spectrum

  • The first sporting event at the Spectrum was an October 17, 1967 boxing match featuring Joe Frazier vs. Tony Doyle.
  • In 1978, the Spectrum saw the last tour of the original Black Sabbath lineup. Opening for them was a young band by the name of Van Halen.
  • The Flyers won their only two championships at the Spectrum in 1974 and 1975.
  • The Spectrum is the only venue to host the NBA and NHL All-Star Games in the same season, doing so in 1976.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers played their last game at the Spectrum versus the Carolina Hurricanes in an NHL pre-season game on September 27, 2008.
  • The last event at the Spectrum was a Pearl Jam concert on Halloween night, October 31, 2009


Chicago Stadium

From 1929 through 1994, the Chicago Blackhawks played out of the old Chicago Stadium.  With an original construction cost of $9.5M (around 150M in today’s dollars) the Stadium opened up in March of 1929.  Chicago Stadium was the largest indoor arena in the world at the time.  Including standing room, the capacity for Blackhawks game was 18,472.  Chicago Stadium was dubbed “The Madhouse on Madison” for it’s noisy atmosphere which included the world’s largest theatre organ console for the 3,662 pipe organ used to entertain fans during Blackhawks games and other events.  Chicago Stadium was home to some of the toughest Chicago Blackhawks players of all time including “Terrible” Ted Lindsay, Stu “Grim Reaper” Grimson, Dave “Charlie” Manson, Chris Chelios, Mike Peluso, Behn Wilson, Keith Magnuson, Al “Rocky” Secord and Bob Probert.  Definitely one of the all-time toughest hockey rinks to play in.

Fun Facts About Chicago Stadium

  • The dressing rooms at Chicago Stadium were placed underneath the seats, and the cramped corridor that led to the ice, with its twenty-two steps, became the stuff of legend. This was an “old-time hockey rink”.
  • It became tradition for Blackhawks fans to cheer loudly throughout the singing of the national anthems, especially when sung by Chicago favorite anthem singer Wayne Messmer.
  • On April 10, 1982, the largest recorded crowd for an NHL game at the stadium was 20,069 for a playoff game between the Blackhawks and Minnesota North Stars.
  • Chicago Stadium was the last NHL arena to retain the use of an analog dial-type large four-sided clock for timekeeping in professional hockey games.
  • The final NHL hockey game at Chicago Stadium was played on April 28, 1994. The Blackhawks lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 1–0, eliminating Chicago from the first round of the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs.


Montreal Forum

The fabled Montreal Forum was home to the Montreal Maroons and later Les Canadiens from 1924 through to 1996.  With a seating capacity of 17,959, the Montreal Forum is one of the most storied building in all of sports.  What makes the Montreal Forum one of the toughest barns to play in was not necessarily the atmosphere or feistiness of the team, it’s the fact that the legendary Montreal Canadiens teams who played out of the Forum were difficult to beat on any given night.  The Montreal Forum was home to 15 Stanley Cup Championships. 

Construction costs for the Forum were said to be $1.5M in 1925 which is about $23M in today’s dollars.  Original seating capacity was only 9,300.  The Forum has hosted the most Stanley Cup Finals of any NHL arena.  Stanley Cup Finals were played in the Montreal Forum in 1926, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1989, and 1993.

The Forum saw some of the NHL’s toughest players to play including: Sprague Cleghorn, Emile “Butch” Bouchard, Lou Fontinato, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Larry “Big Bird” Robinson, John Ferguson, Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, John Kordic, and “Big” Georges Laraque.


Fun Facts About the Montreal Forum

  • On March 11, 1937, the Forum hosted its only funeral, for Canadiens great Howie Morenz who died from complications due to a broken leg, sustained in a game between the Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks in late January.
  • The New Year’s Eve contest on Dec. 31, 1975 between the Canadiens and the Soviet Red Army at the Montreal Forum is said to be one of the greatest hockey games to have ever been played.
  • The Battle of Quebec started after the Canadiens met the Quebec Nordiques for Game 6 of the Adams Division Final on Good Friday in 1984.  Two bench-clearing brawls, 10 player ejections and 252 penalty minutes handed out by referee Bruce Hood sparked an in-province rivalry that quickly became known as the Battle of Quebec, arguably the most heated and fierce rivalry in NHL history.
  • The only visiting teams to win a Stanley Cup in the Montreal Forum were the New York Rangers (1928) and the Calgary Flames (1989).
  • The Montreal Forum was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1997.
  • The Montreal Canadiens played their last game at the Montreal Forum, defeating the Dallas Stars 4-1 on March 11, 1996.


Northland Coliseum (Edmonton)

Starting with the Alberta Oilers in 1974, then the Edmonton Oilers in 1979, Northland Coliseum was home to the Edmonton Oilers through to 2016.  Renamed the Coliseum in 1995, then Skyreach Centre in 1998 and finally Rexall Place in 2003, Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum saw some of the greatest NHL players in the history of the game.  The “House that Wayne Built” was also home to some of the most toughest players in the NHL in the eighties and nineties including: Lee Fogolin, Kevin “Vish” Lowe, Mark “Moose” Messier, “Dave “Cement Head” Semenko, Kevin McClelland, Marty McSorley, Dave Brown, Dave “Charlie” Manson and “Big” Georges Laraque.

Come playoff time, very few buildings were louder than the Northlands Coliseum.  With the like of Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky skating up and down the ice there was always something to cheer for.

Construction costs for Northland Coliseum came in at around $17.3M in 1972, around $94M in today’s dollars.  Seating capacity was around 17,498 for NHL games.

Fun Facts About Northlands Coliseum

  • Northlands Coliseum was the first NHL arena in Canada to have a center-hung scoreboard with an electronic message board.
  • The band ABBA started their North American tour at Northlands Coliseum in 1979, and part of their tour documentary was recorded there.
  • The only time that the Oilers have hosted the NHL all-star game was in 1989 when Edmonton hosted the National Hockey League All-Star Game at Northlands Coliseum.
  • On October 15, 1989 at Northlands Coliseum, then as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Wayne Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s points record (1,850) in the final period of a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky’s record-setting goal tied the game; in overtime he scored another, as the Kings won 5-4.
  • On April 6, 2016, the Edmonton Oilers played their final game at Rexall Place, against the Vancouver Canucks. The Oilers won 6–2 with the last NHL goal scored by Oiler Leon Draisaitl.


Bridgestone Arena (Nashville)

Opening in 1996 and home to the Nashville Predators since 1998, the Bridgestone Arena was designed to pa homage to the original Grand Ole Opry.  Seating 17,159 for Preds games, the Bridgestone Arena is rocking on most nights.  Built at an estimated cost of $144M ($252M in today’s dollars), the Preds home rink is often voted as one of the toughest rinks to play in.  It’s loud, it’s raucous and for the most part the Predators have iced strong teams since their inception into the NHL.  The Rowdy atmosphere makes the Bridgestone Arena one of the toughest to play in.

Fun Facts About the Bridgestone Arena

  • Bridgestone Arena is often home to the CMA and CMT country awards shows being in the heart if Music row in Nashville.
  • On October 13, 1998, The Nashville Predators hosted their first ever regular season home game against the Florida Panthers with the Panthers winning 1-0 on a lone goal by Ray Whitney.  Panthers’ goalie Kirk McLean earned the shutout.
  • On October 9, 2003, Jordan Tootoo made his debut with the Predators becoming the first plater of Inuit decent to play in the NHL.
  • In 2003, the Predators hosted the NHL Entry draft at Bridgestone Arena where 13,000 fans attended the two day event.
  • In 2007 a new scoreboard was added to the arena.  The new scoreboard became referred to as the “megatron” by arena and Predators staff.


Canada Life Center (Winnipeg)

Built in 2003 for a cost of $134M ($200M in today’s dollars), the Canada Life Centre (formerly the MTS Centre) is home to the Winnipeg Jets 2.0.  One of the smaller barns in the league, the CLC seats just 15,321 for Jets games, but makes the atmosphere a little more “tougher” for opposing players.  The fans add a certain layer to Jets home games.  With some of the wittiest chants in all of sports who can forget when the Pittsburgh Penguins play in Winnipeg and the fans chant “Ovi’s better” when Sidney Crosby steps on the ice.  Conversely when the Capitals play in Winnipeg, Jets fans begin with the “Crosby’s better” chant.  Or what about all of the goalie “hex” chants?  “Roli, Roli, Roli…”  Or what about “Parros’ Moustache”?  Check out the video below for some of the more memorable crowd chants from Winnipeg.

In 2011, Mark Chipman and True North Sports & Entertainment purchased the Atlanta Thrashers with the intent on moving them to Winnipeg.  The rest is history.  With some of the greatest fans in the NHL, the Canada Life Centre is one of the toughest rinks to play in, I the modern era.

Fun Facts About the Canada Life Centre

  • The Canada Life Centre is the smallest arena in the NHL
  • Prior to receiving an NHL team, the then named MTS Centre hosted several NHL preseason games including the first one on September 17, 2006 between the Edmonton Oilers and the Phoenix Coyotes (the former Winnipeg Jets) in front of a sold-out crowd, with the Oilers winning 5–0.
  • The well-known statue of Timothy Eaton remains on display in the arena’s atrium (a tribute to the site of the historic Eaton’s department store location).
  • The Atrium also displays World War One and World War Two memorial plaques placed in the store by Eaton’s employees to commemorate family lost in the two wars.
  • Record attendance in the CLC was for a Metallica concert I September 2018 with 17,000 fans.


T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas)

T-Mobile Arena is home to one of the NHL’s newest teams the Vegas Golden Knights.  Opening in 2016, T-Mobile Arena was built at a cost of $375M.  I’ve been to T-Mobile Arena to take in an Oilers / Knights game and it was a tremendous experience.  I mean it’s Las Vegas what would you expect?  There were about five to six thousand Oilers fans in attendance who were quite loud and proud, but the hometown Knights fans drowned out all of the chants and cheers of Oilers fans in a hurry.  So on atmosphere alone the T-Mobile Arena is a tough barn to play in.  Add to that the competitive and on-ice success the Golden Knights have had early in their existence and one of the newest rink in the league is one of the hardest to win in.

Fun Facts About the T-Mobile Arena

  • In March 2017, the UFC signed a seven-year agreement to become an official tenant of T-Mobile Arena.
  • T-Mobile arena seats 17,500 for hockey and 20,000 for boxing or UFC events
  • T-Mobile Arena contains 44 Luxury Suites, 2 Party Suites and 8 Event Level Suites
  • Attendees under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult 18 or older
  • In the first ever regular season home game at T-Mobile Arena, the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 in front of 18,191 fans with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury getting the win.  The Golden Knights played seven of their first nine games at home that season getting off to an 8-1 start during that time.


Madison Square Garden (New York)

Probably the most famous arena in all of sport, Madison Square Garden has been home to the New York Rangers since 1968.  Note that the current Garden is the fourth to be called Madison Square Garden.  Previous versions (built in 1879, 1890 and 1925) were located in slightly different areas.  The original Garden was located at Madison Square: 26th Street and Madison Avenue opened in 1874 (at a cost of $35,000) by the legendary P.T. Barnum.  What makes MSG tough to play in is the awesome history of the arena with all of the past Rangers greats such as Ed Giacomin, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Gump Worsley, Phil Esposito, Brian Leetch, Mark Messier as well tough players including Ching Johnson, “Leapin’ Lou” Fontinato, Nick Fotiu, Barry Beck and Tie Domi.  The history of MSG alone makes it one of the toughest arenas to play in.

Fun Facts About Madison Square Garden

  • Madison Square Garden is the oldest major sporting facility in the New York metropolitan area.
  • With two major renovations, total construction cost of MSG is approximately $1.1 billion, as it has been ranked as one of the 10 most expensive stadium venues ever built.
  • Madison Square Garden has hosted the Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Finals simultaneously on two occasions: in 1972 and 1994.
  • The Rangers played their first regular season NHL game at V3 of Madison Square Garden on Nov. 16, 1926, beating the Montreal Maroons 1-0.
  • On Feb 28, 1968, the Rangers played their first game in their new home (what is the current MSG), earning a 3-1 victory over a Philadelphia Flyers.


SAP Center (San Jose)

The Shark Tank is one of the loudest rinks in the National Hockey League.  The Sharks often skate out to the song “Seek and Destroy” by Bay-area band Metallica.  Building on the arena started in 1990 at a cost of $162M (325M in today’s dollars) nut the building didn’t open until 1993.  SAP Arena holds 17,562 for Sharks games.  The Sharks have iced a number of strong regular season teams over the years and in a span of six years between 2008 and 2013 only lost 43 home games including going 17-2 at home in the shortened 2012-13 season.  The loud atmosphere makes the SAP Center still one of the toughest arenas to play in. Over the years the Shark Tank has seen their fair share of tough characters including: “The Missing Link” Link Gaetz, Jeff Odgers, Doug Smolek, Andrei Nazarov, Bryan Marchment and Marty McSorley.

Fun Facts About Madison Square Garden

  • After playing their first season in the San Jose Arena (now SAP Center), the Sharks had an NHL record 58-point jump from the previous season making the playoffs for the first time in their history in 1993-94 (their third season overall)
  • In their first game in what is known known as the SAP Center, the Sharks suffered a 2-1 defeat to the visiting Calgary Flames.
  • In 2006, the SAP Center sold the most tickets (633,435) to non-sporting events of any venue in the Western United States.
  • The SAP Center has hosted a number of MMA events including Strikeforce:
    Shamrock vs Gracie in 2006.
  • During their first season at the SAP Center (then called the San Jose Arena), the Sharks iced a team with notable tough players that included: Todd Eilk, Bob Errey, Doug Smolek, Shawn Cronin “The Barbarian” and Jeff Odgers who has 222 penalty minutes that season.


There you have it, The Hockey Fanatic’s list of the toughest NHL rinks to play in.

Check out our previous post with our ranking of the all-time toughest NHL players.