By Allan Muir
What's the best place to watch an NHL game?
According to Stadium Journey magazine, Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center was tops in 2013.
The magazine ranked the overall fan experience of attending a game in all of the league's 30 buildings. Factoring into its decisions were elements such as "food and beverage in the arena, overall atmosphere, the neighborhood, the fans, access (which includes parking, traffic, restrooms, and concourses), return on investment, and an extras category for any unique or bonus points."
So, why did Xcel top the charts? "The fans know the game and appreciate the little things, such as clearing the puck on the penalty kill, or a good defensive play to prevent a scoring chance. That is what gives the Xcel a truly special atmosphere."
Um, well, ok...that's kind of faint praise. I mean, outside of saying they open the doors on time, that's probably about as weak as it gets. Still, I can't argue with the choice. The 12-year-old facility offers all the modern amenities, but still has a bit of a lived-in feel thanks to all the attention paid to local hockey history in the halls. The downtown location is great, the grub is varied and reasonably priced, the game presentation is solid and, yes, the fans do know it's a good thing to ice the puck on the PK. And while it doesn't factor into the Stadium Journey rankings, you can't beat the media meal there. My compliments to the chef. Seriously.
The rest of Stadium Journey's top 10:
2. Verizon Center (Washington)
3. Tampa Bay Times Forum (Tampa Bay)
4. Staples Center (Los Angeles)
5. Bell Centre (Montreal)
6. United Center (Chicago)
7. Consol Energy Center (Pittsburgh)
8. Jobing.com Arena (Phoenix)
9. HP Pavilion (San Jose)
10. Scottrade Center (St. Louis).
Gets a bit sketchy after No. 1, doesn't it? Jobing.com? Really? The Tampa Bay Times Forum? Yeah, the recent renovations helped, but third overall seems like a stretch, doesn't it?
You want my take? Give me Bell Centre, United Center, HP Pavilion and Nashville's Bridgestone Arena to round out the top five. Each has its flaws, but you know you've experienced a major sporting event after you leave one of those buildings.
The worst rink in the league? They say the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. Can't argue that choice, although Ottawa's Scotiabank Place (#25 on the SJ list) has to rank right there with it if only because of the brutal location and the spirit-crushing traffic to and from the venue.
The beauty of lists like these is that they're great for stirring up debate and this one, well, it's crazy enough to do the trick.