Monday, April 4, 2011

A fond farewell . . .

A look at the Moose Jaw Civic Centre from a scout's vantage point. This photo
was taken by Wade Klippenstein, the assistant GM and director of player
personnel for the Prince George Cougars, while attending a recent playoff game
between the Warriors and Kootenay Ice.

(Photo courtesy Wade Klippenstein)
(The Moose Jaw Civic Centre — aka Crushed Can — was home to its final hockey game Sunday night. The Moose Jaw Warriors will move into a new downtown multiplex in time for next season. Matthew Gourlie of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald wrote a feature on the old girl and has graciously allowed it to be used here. We thank him for that.)

Moose Jaw Times-Herald
MOOSE JAW — Architect Joseph Pettick was trying to find a cost-efficient modern solution to the problem of heating a hockey arena — he felt a low, concave roof would keep the ice cool and the fans warm by funneling the heat upwards.
The design was meant to channel heat, but it ended up creating it, too — even on nights when you could see your breath inside the building. With its quirky bounces, small ice surface, steep stands and a ceiling that trapped noise and energy, Pettick had unwittingly designed a powder keg of a hockey rink.
“The fans are so close to the action,” offers Peter Loubardias of Rogers Sportsnet, who once was the radio voice of the Regina Pats so is quite familiar with the building. “When they’re involved in Moose Jaw, it’s loud. You’re right on top of the kids and I think the kids really, really feed off it. They can feel it. Almost everybody in that whole building is so close to the ice surface no matter where you are. With the roof the way it is — being so close to the ice — the noise just stays in there.”
The Moose Jaw Civic Centre played host to its final hockey game on Sunday night. But when it is talked about — and surely the old Crushed Can will be talked about by nostalgic hockey fans for years to come — the concave roof and the noise level in the building won’t ever be forgotten.
“When people walk into the place, they say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ But that’s part of its charm. That’s why the legend will never die. It is so outrageously different,” says Kelly Remple, who was the Moose Jaw Warriors’ marketing director for two seasons and was the chair of the Trans-Canada Clash alumni games.
Different. Often derided. More often beloved. The Crushed Can is a Picasso in a hockey arena landscape being taken over by paint-by-numbers.
Brian Costello, the senior special editions editor at the The Hockey News, has never been in a coffin, but he imagines the experience might be similar to being in the Civic Centre.
“You feel like you can reach up and touch the ceiling wherever you were sitting. It’s a weird feeling,” says Costello, who covered the Swift Current Broncos for the Swift Current Sun in the late ’80s.
It’s a building that makes a strong first impression.
Current Warriors captain Spencer Edwards recalls being a 16-year-old rookie with the Red Deer Rebels when he first set foot in the rink. After a long bus ride, the Rebels unloaded their gear through a darkened concourse and down the side stairs.
“I hadn’t really seen the rink yet,” Edwards remembers. “We went straight to the dressing room. A lot of people don’t know it, but the visiting dressing room is pretty nice here. It’s a lot nicer than some of the newer buildings in the league.
“We put away all of our gear and walked out to the rink and I was shocked. I had never seen anything like it in my life.”
There may, in fact, be nothing like it.
Pettick was inspired by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright to become an architect.
With the angles and curves of the Civic Centre and the SaskPower building in Regina, Wright’s inspiration is evident in some of Pettick’s most iconic work. When it opened, the arena looked modern and space-aged — like a tail fin on a ’59 Cadillac.
The sloped roof is the rink’s most notorious feature, but it’s far from its only quirk. The ice surface is officially listed as 194 feet long — only six feet short of regulation — but it’s hard to find anyone who really believes the listed 85x194 dimensions.
Along with the cozy confines came the lively boards and erratic bounces. Rare is the rink that has a personality, but there were nights when it felt like the Crushed Can was trying to help the home side.
In last season’s playoffs, a Chad Suer dump-in took a hard left turn off a stanchion without losing speed. The shot had a CGI quality to it as it made a beeline for Calgary goalie Martin Jones, hit him and ended up in the net.
In the Warriors’ first home game after the 2006 car accident in which forward Garrett Robinson was so badly injured, Warriors defenceman Jesse Zetariuk watched one of his dump-ins take a friendly hop into a vacated net.
Once the playoffs started and the days grew longer, the setting sun would even peek into the building, bathing the lower seats on the east side in sunlight.
Of all of the mythical qualities of the rink, none was as pronounced as the way momentum would rapidly build.
Earlier this season, the Pats had quited the local crowd with three early goals. The Warriors promptly scored four goals in less than five minutes to grab the lead before the end of the first period.
“It’s the momentum. With the atmosphere and the fans behind you, that momentum is easy to keep building upon,” explains Mark MacKay, the original Warriors captain. “On the other end, it’s hard for the opposing team. It pushes them down.”
Loubardias says in his five seasons calling games with the Pats, he frequently saw a superior Pats team fall victim to a seven- or eight-minute run of Warriors momentum and lose in the Civic Centre.
“When that team gets going in that building and they get on a roll, they are no fun to deal with — and they’ve never been any fun to deal with,” says Loubardias.
“I always loved the passion there. When the games were good and the people were really involved, it really was a special, special place to go to a game.
“What makes Moose Jaw special and what makes that building special is that that team is so important to that community. The people liked hard, physical, tough hockey and thrived on it. It will always be a real special place to me and I will be sad to see it go.”
The passion spills over from time to time as well. And that, too, is part of the building’s lore.
There was the night Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Theran Yeo was jumped by a group of fans in the tunnel as he exited the ice. And the night Pats fans knocked Puckhead, the Warriors’ mascot, to the ground. Puckhead got some quick medical attention but returned to action. One night later, the Pats’ mascot, K9, was a healthy scratch for fear of retribution.
It was a bench-clearing brawl in 1984 that kick-started the Pats-Warriors rivalry. Remple recalls being a wide-eyed 12-year-old standing at the glass, taking in all of the mayhem.
“I wish all of the new generation of fans in southern Saskatchewan could have been to a Pats-Warriors game in the ’80s,” Remple says. “It’s hard to explain to people, but the level of excitement and enthusiasm — and just the decibel level — was in a different universe than it is now.”
There are those who argue that there’s a good reason why there aren’t any other rinks like the Civic Centre. Its steep stairs are treacherous. The lineups to use its washrooms can be endless. There’s little room to move on the concourse that runs under the stands. The rink is showing its age. It can be tropical or freezing inside — sometimes in the span of the same week.
It’s not the most pleasant spectating experience for the fans, but those who played there have always loved it.
“Since I’ve been involved with the alumni, every single player I’ve ever talked to says they absolutely loved the games in there,” says Remple. “The amenities may not be quite up to par. But the 2 1/2 hours of actual hockey? They loved it.”
Of course, the Civic Centre is merely a building — concrete and steel, for the most part. MacKay believes the building is special because of the people who have spent more time in it than any player — the fans who have dutifully backed the Warriors through good times and bad.
“Any hockey player loves the fact that the people are involved. The fans are right on top of the ice. They’re loud,” says MacKay, who was a 20-year-old in the Warriors’ first season in Moose Jaw.
“We didn’t win a ton of games that year, but the ones we did win, they made it special for us. They made us feel special. Their support through hard times was so important.”
They knew how to make visiting players feel special, too, though not in quite the same way. After Regina forward Frank Kovacs declined to fight Warriors tough guy Kent Staniforth, then-Warriors head coach Lorne Molleken called out the Pats’ captain and called him “yellow” in the media.
“Molleken was no dummy,’’ Kovacs says. “He clicked into that and it was a good trade for him to have me sitting in the penalty box with Kent Staniforth.
“So I was in a tough spot. Do I fight Kent Staniforth and sit in the box or do I turn away from a fight offer? Well, I can’t win, right?”
Instead he was serenaded by the Warriors fans. Constantly. For more than a season.
“The way the rink is built, the fans are right on top of you. Everywhere you went, there were fans on top of you,” Kovacs says. “So when someone says something against you like ‘yellow! yellow!’, well, you hear it. It’s not like it’s up in Section 500 in the nosebleeds. It’s all right there. And one person says it and the whole crowd gets into it because you can hear it so easily.”
If anything, Kovacs says, he enjoyed the heckling and the odd profanity from the crowd. He says the rink was a good test for a hockey team because you had to show up every night when you played in Moose Jaw.
“You had to be ready for a good game coming in there or else you were going to get crushed,” says Kovacs. “I loved playing in Moose Jaw. It’s a great character hockey rink. That’s a great place to play.”
As hard as it was for most visiting teams to play in the Civic Centre, it could be a welcoming place, but only on the most significant of occasions.
After the Dec. 30, 1986 bus crash in which Swift Current players Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff died, the Broncos returned to the ice for the first time in Moose Jaw.
“On the way to that game it was such a sullen feeling on that bus,” recalls Costello. “When the team and the players walked in that arena, it was pretty special — especially when they came in for the pre-game warm-up and the anthem. It was quite an amazing ovation for them. You don’t see that for the visiting team — at all — anywhere.”
The Civic Centre opened in the fall of 1959 with a gala performance by legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, an event that was attended by then-Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas. It later played host to the 1983 world women’s curling championship.
With the Moose Jaw Canucks (WCHL and SJHL) and then the Warriors its primary tenants, the building became synonymous with hockey. A lot of great players passed through its doors and its rich history is in evidence on every wall with framed photos of Moose Jaw’s hockey past.
“There’s so much history,” Edwards says. “Even just walking through, you can tell that not only has it been around for a long time, but a lot of important people have walked in and played in this building.
“There’s no atmosphere like it. The noise level in the building on a playoff night or a Regina night is second to none in the league, for sure.”

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