Former Arenas of the Western Hockey League

WHL

I also apparently can't stay away from former arenas, particularly when they're ancient and interesting like Estevan, or literally across the street from one of America's best automotive museums like Tacoma.

For current WHL arenas, please click here.

 




Bighorns

Rimrock Auto Arena
(formerly the METRA Park Arena)

Billings, Montana
Former Home of the Billings Bighorns
Built 1975

Rimrock Auto Arena

In the summer of 2015 Mrs OHLAG and I drove across the United States en route to her sister's wedding in Vancouver. I hadn't been planning to stop off in Billings to see a five year (1977-82) curiosity like the METRA Park Arena, but our original plan to spend the day in Yellowstone National Park was 86'ed by a massive snowstorm in the high altitudes (n.b: this was a July 17 snowstorm). So with no other brilliant ideas, we availed ourselves of an indoor waterpark in town, went to the mall, and checked out the arena. I couldn't get into the seating bowl (my considerable internet fame doesn't apparently help when no one remembers the Bighorns, or at any other time), but the arena seemed nice enough. It was hit by a powerful enough tornado in 2010 to necessitate a massive renovation - check the video on YouTube if you want to see the power of nature.

For what it's worth, Billings itself is half industrial and half rodeo and is very very boring. We ran out of stuff to do mid-afternoon and headed to Bozeman, which if you're ever in the area, is a really cool college town with all of the restaurants, shops and museums that Billings lacks.

 




Wranglers

Stampede Corral
Calgary, Alberta
Former Home of the Calgary Centennials and Wranglers
Built 1950

Stampede Corral



The Stampede Corral was built in 1950 on the grounds of the Calgary Stampede as the main arena for the city of Calgary - to the point that this picture was taken from the steps of the Saddledome. It was used by a variety of Calgary teams over the years, including the WHL's Centennials and Wranglers. The NHL's Flames also played in the building between their move to Alberta in 1980 and the construction of the new Olympic Saddledome, built a stone's throw away in 1983. The Corral is still open today and is used for a variety of functions, including the annual Stampede. The Corral was also used in the 1988 Winter Olympics as a secondary venue for hockey and figure skating.

 




Bruins

Estevan Civic Auditorium
Estevan, Saskatchewan
Former Home of the Estevan Bruins
Built 1957

Estevan Civic Auditorium

Estevan Civic Auditorium

Estevan opened a shiny new arena for the SJHL Bruins in 2011, and yet for some reason the Civic Auditorium is still open and hosting hockey in spite of being comparable to the Laval Colisée for the most run-down old shantytown rink I've ever been in. I don't mean that in a bad way, either (hardwood floors in a hockey arena are indescribably awesome), just that given the condition the Auditorium is currently in, no one would have blamed the city council for demolishing it after the new place opened. Don't get me wrong, though, I'm glad I got to see it still open, and now I never ever have to go back to Estevan.

 




Medicine Hat Tigers

Medicine Hat Arena
Medicine Hat, Alberta
Former Home of the Medicine Hat Tigers
Built 1971

Medicine Hat Arena

Medicine Hat Arena

Medicine Hat Arena

So I will be the first to admit that I haven't really kept up on my arena news, particularly from out west. I hadn't exactly done my arena homework when we drove across the damn country, and so shortly after lunch one August day when Mrs OHLAG and I cruised into Medicine Hat in search of the Arena, we found that a) the Medicine Hat Arena was closing imminently, and b) the season ticket pickup happening that day was one of the last things that the Tigers would do there before moving across town to a new rink.

Some days you get lucky, and getting to see one of the WHL's old barns on what literally was one of its last days was a great experience for me.

 




Seattle Thunderbirds

Key Arena
Seattle, Washington
Former Home of the Seattle Thunderbirds
Built 1962

Key Arena

KeyArena, formerly the Seattle Center Coliseum, is first and foremost a basketball arena that was the only home that the missed and lamented Seattle Supersonics ever had. Although built in 1962, the arena was given a $75-million renovation in 1994 that was supposed to ensure the long-term future of the NBA in town, yet a short 14 years later the team was uprooted in one of the great acts of sports villainy in history, right up there with the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, the Jets leaving Winnipeg, and every time the Yankees play. Half a season later, the Thunderbirds also left, to their new, purpose-built arena in the southern Seattle suburb of Kent. While I never made it to a WHL game there, I've been told by more than one person that it wasn't a great experience, as the arena floor wasn't really big enough for hockey and the T-Birds never sold enough tickets to fill the place. KeyArena is today only home to the WNBA, and the city is debating the rink's long-term future.

 




Seattle Thunderbirds

Mercer Arena
Seattle, Washington
Former Home of the Seattle Thunderbirds
Built 1927

Mercer Arena



Mercer Arena is a part of the Seattle Center complex that also includes the Thunderbirds' current home, the KeyArena. Mercer was built in 1927 and was home to the Thunderbirds alongside the KeyArena (then called the Seattle Center Coliseum) in a venue-splitting arrangement similar to the one that exists in Portland, from their arrival in the Emerald City in 1977 to 1994. It was a U-shaped seating facility that held about 4,000, and until the mid-80s (after the team was renamed the Seattle Thunderbirds from the Seattle Breakers), the end boards at the open end was topped not by glass, but by chain-link fencing. The T-Birds played big games at the Coliseum, and smaller ones at Mercer. In 1994 the city of Seattle announced a major renovation to the Coliseum, and so while the NBA's Seattle Supersonics relocated for a year to the larger Tacoma Dome and the massive Kingdome, the T-Birds played their full schedule at Mercer. When the 1995-96 season opened, the Thunderbirds moved permanently into the KeyArena. Mercer Arena is abandoned today, with a plan currently before the city council to turn it into an opera house.

 




Rockets

Tacoma Dome
Tacoma, Washington
Former Home of the Tacoma Rockets
Built 1983

Tacoma Dome



The Tacoma Dome is a geodesic dome in the southern Puget Sound city of Tacoma. Designed by the legendary Buckminster Fuller, the dome seats an improbable 17,000 people for hockey. It was home to the expansion Tacoma Rockets from 1991 to 1995, before common sense prevailed and the team was moved from their geodesic home to Kelowna.

Ray Marcham says: The Tacoma Dome is the ultimate multi-purpose arena - and, frankly, not good for any sport. It hosts American football, soccer, basketball, hockey and indoor soccer. The side seats for Rockets games were horrible - the pitch was too shallow. The "front row" of seats were still 50 feet away from the ice, and the arena floor was the main concourse. There were four rows of temp seats set up along the boards to try and give it a "real" hockey feel, but it didn't work. There are no corner seats, as the seating is much like an old-style English football stadium. Except when Tacoma played Seattle, they didn't draw well. There was a reason they went to Kelowna as fast as they could.

 




Weyburn Red Wings

Weyburn Colosseum
Weyburn, Saskatchewan
Former Home of the Weyburn Red Wings
Built 1960

Weyburn Colosseum

Weyburn Colosseum

Weyburn still has a junior team called the Red Wings and they still play at the Colosseum, so calling this a "former" arena is a bit of a stretch. But for a brief period in the WHL's early history, the Red Wings were a Dub team, not an SJHL one, so here it is. It feels just like an SJHL arena today - doused in red paint and stuffed full of memorabilia and history.

 




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