STADIUM DUDE’S NHL ARENA RANK: #9
- Location: Chicago, Illinois
- Opened 1994
- Capacity 19,717
- Games attended: 30+
- Last visited: 2022
I became a Blackhawks fan as a boy because I liked the jersey. As life progressed, the Hawks were largely awful and I regretted my choice. But I never wavered. When I got a job in Chicago later in life, my very first day in the city coincided with the 2010 Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade. I was excited to now be in the same town as my (winning) team, and knew I would be going to see good live hockey several times a season
In the decade since, I’ve averaged 3-5 games annually at The United Center. I saw a Game 4 semi-finals 2OT thriller that my son calls the best sporting event he’s ever attended (and he’s been to 100+ games in 50 venues in his life). I also saw a Stanley Cup clincher from the standing room area that is among my best sporting moments of my life.
I may be biased, but many hockey fans would put the UC somewhere in their Top 10. Yes it’s probably too big; it packs 21,000+ for hockey regularly. And yes, it’s not directly on a subway line (though the Express Bus to and from The Loop isn’t bad). But there’s a ton of good here.
Located 3 miles west of the Loop, the arena used to be in a terrible neighborhood. While you still don’t want to go too far west, the area to the east continues to gentrify (it hasn’t made it all the way to the arena, but it’s getting closer and closer). Those willing to make a little walk to the rink can enjoy a beer and a bite at many good establishments along Madison or Randolph Streets, with many of those places even offering a free shuttle to save you the hike.
Once near this massive building, you’re greeted by the Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull statues outside (which one day will likely be joined by Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane). Inside, navigation is easy and concessions have been significantly improved. Many stands are run by great local eateries. Chicago brewer Goose Island dominates the beer selection.
The fans, after deserting the team during the lean years in the early 2000s, returned in full, bringing with them an “Original 6” hockey knowledge pedigree, and the bluster and volume of the Chicago sports fan. Even now with the Hawks struggling badly, the world-class Game Day presentation, creates a charged in-arena experience. The pre-game projection and on-screen show is among the very best, nicely reflecting the team’s long history, while building anticipation for the immediate future. The scoreboard is the biggest in hockey, providing crisp replays and top-notch between-play entertainment. The playing of Chelsea Dagger after every goal is a fun tradition now well into its second decade. But the real hair-raiser is the national anthem. Belted out expertly by Jim Cornelison full-time since 2007, Blackhawk fans continue the tradition of cheering wildly for the Star Spangled Banner, making more noise for the anthem than most arenas ever get for the on-ice play. I still get chills every damn time. It’s awesome; one of my favorite traditions in sports.
After a glorious stretch of 3 Cups in six years, the team no longer packs in 21,000+ a game. But “The Madhouse on Madison” still delivers a great game day atmosphere, and is a rink that every hockey fan needs to experience.