The NHL season is set to begin next week. Fans may not be able to attend games to begin the 2021 season, but when arenas do open, Route 66 travelers have multiple options to watch some hockey in person.
The first place, if you’re traveling from east to west, is Chicago’s United Center. The arena, used by the NHL’s Blackhawks and NBA’s Bulls, is the largest venue in both leagues with a capacity of more than 22,000 spectators.
United Center opened in 1994 and replaced the old Chicago Stadium, which opened in 1929. It has since been home to Michael Jordan-led Bulls teams that won three straight titles from 1996-98 and Blackhawks squads that hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Both teams have won a total of six championships and banners signifying those seasons hang from the United Center rafters.
Outside the stadium, known as the “Madhouse on Madison,” are statues of Blackhawks Hall of Famers Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. The 7-foot-tall bronze sculptures, unveiled in 2011, show the two hockey legends in full color with red sweaters and leggings, sticks in their hands, and skating in still-motion atop 5-foot-tall black granite pedestals.
Inside the stadium, expect an energized atmosphere, especially when the Blackhawks are playing the rival Blues from St. Louis. (Photo at the top of the page: The St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup in 2019.)
The Blues are the soul of St. Louis sports. They call Enterprise Center, which is just a few blocks off of Route 66 on Clark Street, home. The Blues were an expansion team in 1967 and reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons.
The Blues’ early success generated excitement for the city’s new team. That excitement still exists and was amplified in 2019 when the Blues went on a remarkable run to win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.
Also part of the 1967 expansion were the Los Angeles Kings. The expansion brought the NHL from its original six teams to twelve, and the Kings were in the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of their first two seasons. Led by the legendary Wayne Gretzky, the Kings reached their first Stanley Cup Final in 1993 but fell to the Montreal Canadiens. The Kings finally got to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2012 and 2014.
The Kings share the downtown Staples Center with the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers. While the Clippers and Lakers both moved from other cities, the Kings are an original L.A. team. Of the L.A. teams in the four major professional sports leagues, the Kings are the only one that has never played elsewhere.
Staples Center is a spectacular complex and its interior walls are dotted with posters from the innumerable concerts the venue has hosted as well as memorable sports moments. Staples Center hosted the 2004, 2011, and 2018 NBA All-Star games, as well as the 2002 and 2017 NHL All-Star Games. It was also home to the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships.
For those not wanting to pay major league prices to watch professional hockey, there is another option in Texas. The Amarillo Bulls play in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and use the 4,900-seat Cal Farley Coliseum inside the Amarillo Civic Center as its home.
The civic center, at the intersection of Buchanan and historic 6th Avenue, has been a frequent host of pro hockey since the Amarillo Wranglers were founded in 1968. That team folded in 1971, but a second edition of the Wranglers arrived in 1975 and won the Southwest Hockey League in their inaugural season. When the Wranglers again folded in 1977, Amarillo went nearly 20 years without hockey before the Amarillo Rattlers were launched in 1996. The team name changed to the Gorillas in 2002, but the franchise enjoyed some success in the now-defunct Western Professional Hockey League and Central Hockey League. The Gorillas were an affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, but ceased operations in 2010. There would be no hockey hiatus this time. The Bulls moved to town later that year and had immediate success. Amarillo reached the NAHL semifinals in each of its first two seasons and then won a league title in Season Three.
The names and leagues may have changed, but Cal Farley Coliseum is a great place to watch hockey. Named in honor of a local philanthropist, Farley Coliseum offers a dazzling display of color on its walls and catwalks. While most arenas want the overhead walkways to blend in with the ceiling, the red, orange, green, and blue platforms stand out at the coliseum. Banners that illustrate Amarillo’s hockey history dot the walls, interrupting colorful motifs.
Whether it’s in Chicago, St. Louis, Amarillo, or Los Angeles, there is plenty of hockey on Route 66, so get the puck out there!