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What’s the toughest arena to play in?

What makes an arena difficult for an opponent to play in? Is it noise level from the fans, who often give the home team a lift? Is it the building itself? Is it the fact that a team flat out doesn’t have success in that specific arena? These are just a few of the many factors that can go into it.

This past season we surveyed 100 NHL players with one simple question: What is the toughest arena for an opponent to play in? The results were not surprising.

1. HP Pavilion, San Jose
Built in 1993, ‘The Shark Tank’ has been a house of horrors for many NHL teams over the years (as proven by the Sharks’ home record in recent years). Though it seats 17,562 for a hockey game, the arena’s structure is smaller than most others around the NHL. Sharks fans pack into the arena every night and create a hostile environment, especially when their team has played as well as they have in recent years. Combine the rowdy fans with that low ceiling in the arena, and you have one of the loudest buildings in hockey.

Why is it the toughest?

Coyotes G Jason LaBarbera: “It’s funny – I’ve always personally played well in there but my record is awful there. Every team I’ve played on – Vancouver, L.A., Phoenix – we always got our [butts] kicked in San Jose. You always see firsthand what the crowd there does. It’s a great atmosphere. The first 10 minutes in that building, you know they are coming and they always get a power play early. It’s always like that there.”

Predators D Shea Weber: “They (the Sharks) have always had good teams since I’ve come in the league. The way the arena is built, the fans are right on top of you and it’s a loud and exciting crowd.”

2. Bell Centre, Montreal
Whenever you’re discussing loud arenas or great atmospheres with people around the league, the question that is posed to you is, “Well have you been to Montreal?” The Bell Centre is home to the NHL’s most historic franchise and, possibly, most passionate fans. The Canadiens haven’t played in front of a non-sellout crowd since January 2004. The noise level is aided by the arena’s steepness, which makes it feel like 21,273 fans are directly on top of the action. On top of all that, there is a certain mystique about the building with all of the banners hanging from the ceiling.

Why is it among the toughest?

Panthers C Jerred Smithson: “Any arena in Canada is tough, but especially Montreal. It’s always packed and they are behind their team. It can be a hostile environment. A lot of times we talk about trying to get the crowd out of it right away. Once they get going, it can be pretty hectic. The Habs feed off that and it can be extra energy for them.”

Ducks D Toni Lydman: “The fans are crazy and it’s loud all the time, and that’s what you want. It’s always a good atmosphere playing there.”

Wild C Darroll Powe: “The fans are on top of you and they seem to be homers. It’s deafening. It’s tough.”

3. United Center, Chicago
Every arena has something of their own. The United Center in Chicago has the anthem, in which Blackhawks fans cheer throughout right before puck drop. It’s one of the coolest things in all of sport. Blackhawks fans carry that tradition to road games. Around the lockout, opponents who entered the ‘UC’ would be playing in front of many empty seats. Not anymore. The Blackhawks’ revival as a franchise has once again made the ‘UC’ a difficult building for opponents to play in.

Why is it among the toughest?

Blues C T.J. Oshie: “Right at the national anthem right away the fans get into it; I actually get pretty pumped up when the fans are yelling like that. Hockey has made a big step in that town in the last few years or so. Their fans are always excited.”

Predators LW Colin Wilson: “When you have a young team you can really feed off the crowd and that’s what they do. I get geared up for it and I love it. I don’t care if they’re cheering for or against me, I get excited by the crowd. But the Blackhawks get so jacked up by being at home. It’s really special when they get the anthem going. During the playoffs when they were extra loud it was amazing.”

4. Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
The City of Philadelphia is home to some of the most passionate and hostile fans in sports. You can’t talk about Philadelphia sports fans without mentioning, “They threw snowballs at Santa Claus!” Flyers fans are right up there with Eagles and Phillies fans, and they make their presence felt on game nights at Wells Fargo Center. The arena, which replaced the Spectrum in 1996, can be especially tough for opponents in the playoffs when Flyers fans all don orange (known as the ‘Orange Crush’).

Why is it among the toughest?

Predators C Mike Fisher: “I remember back in the day, Philly wasn’t fun. They probably had the biggest team in NHL history. As a young guy that was a tough and intimidating building to play in.”

Flames LW Blake Comeau: “They’ve got really passionate fans and it’s sold out every night. Playing with New York, we struggled there a lot.”

Flyers C Danny Briere: “Before I signed with Philly, I used to say Philly all the time. They are certainly up there.”

5. Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
As is the case with the Bell Centre in Montreal, Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena has oodles of history. Some suggest there are ghosts in ‘The Joe’ amongst all the championship banners and retired jerseys. The tight-quartered arena was built in 1979 and is the second-oldest NHL barn, right behind the New York Islanders’ run-down Nassau Coliseum. Aside from the historic building itself, the Red Wings have been awfully successful in ‘The Joe’, including their record 23-game home winning streak this past season. They annually put together one of the better home records around the NHL.

Why is it among the toughest?

Blues D Kevin Shattenkirk: “The Red Wings use their arena to their advantage better than anyone. They find those little breaks where things start bouncing, pucks start bouncing their way and they really pounce on you and really get the crowd in it. It’s got to be one of the toughest places to play, especially when they’ve got guys that have played there forever who know every single break of the boards.”

6. Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
People who say hockey doesn’t work in the south have never been to a game in ‘Smashville’. Predators fans have a college football-like approach in the sense that they are always chanting or cheering, trying to push their team to victory. It has become an even better atmosphere in recent years with the Predators’ playoff success. NBC’s Pierre McGuire once called it the loudest arena in the league, which is high praise coming from someone who has visited each arena at ice level. Between Section 303, the TV timeout ovations and playoff gold-outs, Bridgestone Arena is home to one of the more unique atmospheres in hockey.

Why is it among the toughest?

Ducks RW Bobby Ryan: “If you’re not ready out of the gate, all of a sudden you hear that damn Tim McGraw song three times in the first five minutes. The fans have really gotten rabid. The style they (the Predators) play, they smother you all over the ice. The building is hot. There’s just nothing really great about it when you’re an opposing team.”

Full results:

San Jose HP Pavilion 20
Montreal Bell Centre 15
Chicago United Center 13
Philadelphia Wells Fargo Center 11
Detroit Joe Louis Arena 11
Nashville Bridgestone Arena 8
NY Rangers Madison Square Garden 4
Winnipeg MTS Centre 4
Boston TD Garden 3
Phoenix Jobing.com Arena 2
Vancouver Rogers Arena 2
Washington Verizon Center 2
Calgary Scotiabank Saddledome 2
Anaheim Honda Center 1
Colorado Pepsi Center 1
St. Louis Scottrade Center 1
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  1. [...] is an intimidating place for opposing players to visit; a survey of 100 NHL players by Smashville 24/7 last season had it ranked 6th in the league, up there with vaunted arenas like HP Pavilion, Bell [...]