The Eastern Hockey League (EHL) existed from 1933-1973, and was a truly classic time in American hockey outside of the NHL. Many of the teams and players in the league served as inspirations -- or even extras -- for the movie Slapshot, the league existed in small cities, and towns where the teams were truly a part of the fabric of the locale, and featured a rough and tumble old school style of play. While the league itself is long gone, some of the arenas still exist and host hockey to this day.
1. Clinton Arena (Clinton, NY - Clinton Comets)
Tiny rink in Clinton, NY—The Clinton Arena which tonight will host the Kraft #HockeyvilleUSA game tonight between #CBJ and Buffalo. The old scoreboard dates to 1953 and yes, it does still work. pic.twitter.com/TEDwoPe4kz— Dave Maetzold (@DMaetzMedia) September 25, 2018
Probably the tiniest town on this list and in the whole EHL was Clinton, NY located in upstate New York near Utica. However, it's also the one that you're most likely to have heard about. In 2018, Clinton was named Kraft Hockeyville USA and hosted an NHL pre-season game between the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets and received $150,000 for upgrades and improvements.
The arena dates back to 1954 when it was rebuilt following a fire that had destroyed the original building from 1948. From 1954, the EHL's Clinton Comets would call the tiny 2,000 seat arena home for nearly two decades. The Comets eventually moved to Utica when the EHL collapsed in 1973 and became the Mohawk Valley Comets. The arena is on the National Register of Historic Places and is still a fully functioning arena today.
2. Cambria County War Memorial Arena (Johnstown, PA - Johnstown Jets)
A couple hours east of Pittsburgh in the middle of Pennsylvania lies Johnstown, which is the epitome of a steel town and a hockey town merged into one. Most of Slapshot was filmed in Johnstown and the War Memorial, so you may already know the locale even if you didn't know the name. In the same vein as Clinton Arena, the War Memorial is a small arena in a hockey mad northeastern town, although Johnstown is a bit bigger at 20,000 residents as of 2010. Decades ago, Johnstown was a massive steel town home to as much as 75,000 people in the early 20th century. The city center is packed into a downtown area that is surrounded on all sides by the hills of northern Appalachia and features an incline plane just steps from the arena. The geography is further cut by rivers running through the city, the banks of which were cemented and deepened in the 1970s by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent flooding that had set back the city in its early days. It ends up being a very unique setting for the city with its downtown slotted in between all of these natural features.
But back to the arena. The War Memorial -- probably the most brutalist of arena names -- opened in 1950 for the Johnstown Jets to occupy as their home ice. They did so for nearly three decades until folding in 1977 but not before winning five league titles along the way. Since the days of the Jets, the arena has hosted hockey almost continuously from the Johnstown Red Wings of the late 1970s EHL, to the classic Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL created in the wake of Slapshot, finally to the junior hockey Johnstown Tomahawks who are the current inhabitants. Currently named 1st Summit Arena and managed by SMG, the arena plays hosts to the Tomahawks and many live events throughout the year. The town was also a Kraft Hockeyville USA winner in 2015 and hosted a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
War Memorial Arena. Photo Credit: Ron Shawley
3. Boardwalk Hall (Atlantic City, NJ - Atlantic City Sea Gulls)
I'm not 100% sure, but Boardwalk Hall may be one of, if not the only hockey arena in America that is beachfront property. At the very least its the only one on this list that is. Built in 1926, Boardwalk Hall was built on the beach in Atlantic City, right next to all the casinos and shops that line the famous boardwalk. Somewhat unusual for its era, the arena did not have any support beams coming down from the ceiling and blocking views. The arched roof that is required to hold the ceiling makes the arena feel much larger than it is (approx 10,000 seats). I'm not sure if back in the 1920s the arena had lights hanging from the ceiling like in the above postcard, but that surely is an interesting look.
Boardwalk Hall hosted the Atlantic City Sea Gulls hockey team, a founding member of the EHL back in 1933. The Sea Gulls were a sporadic entrant into the league, making three different appearances from 1933-42, 1947-48, and their last go-around from 1949-52. The Hall hasn't hosted a lot of hockey since then, the only other pro team to take up residence was the ECHL's Boardwalk Bullies from 2001-05. It also hosted the 2012 AHL All-Star Game. However, Boardwalk Hall is famous in and of itself apart from hockey. It hosted Wrestlemania IV and V, college football bowl games, tons of concerts including the Beatles' first American tour, and the arena is probably most famous for the boxing that it has hosted over the decades.
4. Hershey Sports Arena (Hershey, PA - Hershey Bears)
Created by the Hershey candy company, Hershey sports arena was constructed in 1936 thanks to local interest for hockey and as a promotional tool for the company. The company had created a team, the Hershey Chocolate B'ars, in 1933 and the team moved in into the arena a few years later. The B'ars -- who changed their name to the Bears a few years later -- still exist today competing in the AHL. The Bears are the longest-running franchise in North America other than the NHL's Original Six clubs. Originally, the Bears played in the EHL from 1933-38, before moving to the AHL for the 1939-40 season where they have played ever since. The Bears did leave the arena though for the nearby Giant Center in 2002. The arena still exists today and hosts public skating as well as local youth and college teams.
The view of Hershey Sports Arena from ice level. Photo credit: centpacrr
5. Charlotte Coliseum (Charlotte, NC - Charlotte Clippers & Charlotte Checkers)
Photo credit: James Willamor
Built in 1955, the Charlotte Coliseum (now Bojangles Coliseum) was at the time the largest dome in the world and first free-spanning dome in America. A number of EHL teams played in the arena during the early years. First the Charlotte Rebels for a season in 1955-56, then the Charlotte Clippers 1956-60, and finally the Charlotte Checkers from 1960-73. You may know the Checkers name from the AHL team that currently uses the moniker and inhabits the Coliseum. The current Checkers are an homage and not the same franchise. The original Checkers franchise started in Baltimore as the Clippers, moving to Charlotte in 1956 and changing their name to the Checkers in 1960. They would play in the EHL until 1973, joining the Southern Hockey League after that date and folding along with the rest of the SHL in 1977. The Checkers name was first revitalized by the ECHL in 1993, and then again by the AHL in 2010.
6. Knoxville Civic Coliseum (Knoxville, TN - Knoxville Knights)
Photo credit: Walker Kinsler
Constructed in 1961 to attract an EHL team, the Knoxville Civic Coliseum played host to the Knoxville Knights until the franchise folded in 1968. The arena seats 6,500 and is currently an SMG managed arena. Since the Knights folded the arena has continued to host hockey over the years with the ECHL's Cherokees (1988-97), UHL's Speed (1999-02), and current tenants the SPHL's Ice Bears since 2002.
7. Nashville Municipal Auditorium (Nashville, TN - Nashville Dixie Flyers)
Photo credit: Gary Layda
Through the 1960s the EHL featured a number of southern teams, which ultimately led to the league's split into the northern and southern leagues in 1973. One of the most successful southern teams in terms of on-ice results was the Nashville Dixie Flyers. They sported purple and yellow jerseys, and made the EHL finals four times winning the Walker Cup twice in 1966 and 1967. The Dixie Flyers first took the ice in 1962 and ended up folding in 1971 due to financial difficulties.
The auditorium has continued to host music city hockey over the years. The Nashville South Stars who have one of the best logos you'll ever see inhabited it from 1981-83. The Nashville Knights of the ECHL played at the auditorium from 1989-96, and the Nashville Ice Flyers from 1996-98.
8. Salem Civic Center (Salem, VA - Roanoke Valley Rebels)
Photo credit: Salem Civic Center
Still in operation today, the Salem Civic Center played host to the Salem Rebels aka Roanoke Valley Rebels hockey team in the 1970s. The Rebels started play in the EHL in 1967 and moved to the SHL in 1973 before folding after the 1975-76 season.
9. Madison Square Garden (New York, NY - New York Rovers)
Oh what's that? You didn't expect the World's Most Famous Arena to show up on this list? Well, the WMFA has tons and tons of history that includes the EHL. The New York Rovers played at the Garden from 1935-48, 1949-52, and 1964-65. Many nights, the Rovers would be the second part of a doubleheader that featured action from the local amateur leagues before the Rovers game. Sometimes it was even a triple header if the Rangers were playing as well. Other EHL teams also could call the garden home. A number of the amateur league teams tried their luck at the EHL for a short year or two during this era, including the Sands Point Tigers.
10. Eastern States Coliseum / Big E Coliseum (Springfield, MA - Springfield Indians & New England Blades)
Photo credit: The Big E
The Eastern States Coliseum or the 'Big E' is the oldest arena on this list that is still standing in its original location. Located in western Massachusetts, it was built in 1916 and hosted the Spingfield Indians from 1926 through 1972. The Indians spent the majority of their history in the AHL, however they did spend two quick seasons in the EHL during 1951-52, and 1952-53. After returning to the AHL in the late 50s, the Indians had one of the most dominant runs in AHL history. They had the best record in three straight regular seasons, and won the Calder Cup each of those years losing only five playoff games in the process. The Big E would host the New England Whalers for one year in the 1970s but otherwise has not hosted hockey since the Indians moved to the Springfield Civic Center in 1972.
11. Mount St. Charles Arena (Woonsocket, RI - Rhode Island Eagles)
The Mount St. Charles Arena is the only arena on this list whose main tenant has never been a professional team or concert venue. The arena is located on the campus of Mount St. Charles Academy a private catholic high school. Their hockey team is the stuff of legend, winning 44 state titles since 1933 with an unbelievable 26 straight state title wins from 1978-2003. Their list of alums is littered with NHL names including Mathieu Schneider, Bryan Berard, Bryan Lawton, and Garth Snow. For one brief year, their arena also played host to the EHL's Rhode Island Eagles. For the 1972-73 season -- the last the EHL would survive -- the Eagles called the arena home and were an affiliate of the WHA's Chicago Cougars. The team would go 32-35-9 and fold after only one year.
12. Onondaga County War Memorial (Syracuse, NY - Syracuse Blazers)
Last but not least is another arena that played a part in Slapshot, the Onondaga County War Memorial in Western New York known today as Oncenter. The building was built in 1951 and hosted the Syracuse Warriors of the AHL. It seats just over 6,000 for hockey which makes it one of the bigger small arenas on the list. The War Memorial also hosted the Syracuse Blazers of the EHL and later the NAHL from 1967-1977. After the Blazers left, the building didn't host much hockey until the Syracuse Crunch moved in in 1994 and they haven't left since.
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