Hailing the Best Arena For Hockey

UBS Arena set to open for hockey Saturday when the Islanders host the Flames. Joseph Woll tasting the Toronto crease. Cole Caufield is back with the Habs. Kim St.-Pierre is in the Hall.

Call it a hockey palace or "The Taj Mahal of the NHL,"  but whatever adjectives chosen, this much is certain: the Islanders have built the best rink for the ice game in the whole wide world.

Of course, you have to see it to believe it -- and I have, inside and out.

What's more, tomorrow night, UBS Arena in Elmont, Long Island officially will open for business as the Islanders host the Calgary Flames.

Owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky didn't miss a trick as they painstakingly designed this hockey haven from the bottom up. And I was with both of them in their early planning stages. 

What impressed me even back then was their insistence on detail, getting even the littlest things just right. But, they, of course, were not alone.

Lou Lamaoriello, who has been around hockey rinks for a long, long time, pitched in big-time. Thanks to Lou, everything from ice-making to the visitors' dressing room has emerged as state of the art-plus.

As I watched the structure grow, it brought to mind the first outstanding NHL arena that was solely dedicated to hockey.

It was Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, 1932, the year I was born, by the way. Conn Smythe was the Lamoriello of that bygone era; tirelessly working to create the best hockey arena in the world; and he succeeded. 

What was so astonishing about MLG's construction was that steam shovels moved in to excavate on June 1, 1932 and Maple Leaf Gardens was completed in five months.

In his autobiography, "If You Can't Beat 'Em In The Alley," Smythe wrote:

"Getting the Gardens up and clean, painted, well-lighted, with ice in and bands marching out on the ice before a cheering crowd, all done between June 1 and November 12 was amazing."

And it was!

Tomorrow you'll find the results of another, special rink saga,  the finest hockey building of its kind on earth -- UBS Arena.


THE JIVE: If you've heard of Ardenne Prairie, Missouri, then you're a better geographer than I am. Loosely translated from the French, Ardenne means "Land of the Turkeys."

But the only NHL player who hails from Ardenne -- goalie Joseph Woll --  is no turkey at all. In fact, the Maple Leafs -- minus their expensive Petr Mrazek -- see Woll as their netminder-of-the-future. And that's no joke any more than Ardenne Prairie is no laughing matter.

What matters is that coach Shelly Keefe gave Woll the starting assignment last Saturday against the Sabres and all Ardenne's favorite son did was beat Buffalo and become the town's first NHL hero for the night.

But since Woll hails from the Land of the Turkeys there's a neat, historic twist here because Toronto once was the land of the Turkey. After all, the greatest goalie in Leafs history -- five Cups, no less -- was Walter (Turk)

Broda, a native -- not of Ardenne Prairie -- but Brandon, Manitoba.


THE JIVE: The sky-high approval rating for UBS Arena tends to obscure the fact that Barry Trotz's stickhandlers had to pay a price for its completion. The unparalleled 13-game-five-week Islanders road trip indubitably took its toll leaving the Nassaumen with a 5-6-2 record. 

The club's uphill battle begins tomorrow; the start of a most favorable schedule with plenty of time for getting back on track. If nothing else, ownership designed UBS so that the noise level approximates that of Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. The Isles will learn soon enough if it produces the same reaction as the one did for so many dynasty years at Fort Neverlose.


THE JIVE: So speedy, so crafty and so productive was Cole Caufield in last spring's playoffs that he was considered a favorite this season to win the Canadiens first Calder Trophy since 1972. Yikes! What a downfall. Not only won't the ex-Wisconsin ace win the rookie prize, he'll be lucky to climb back to the Habs varsity and star as he did in the 2021 playoffs.

X-Raying Cole's big league collapse is a challenge since he seemed to have all the goods after making it to The Show. Maybe it was too much, too soon. Could be that the opposition figured him out. Could be any number of things. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that there's still a bright future for the plucky right wing. 

For a spell he displayed veteran poise and seemed to make a smooth transition from the NCAA to the NHL. It turns out that the Seaway To Stardom is littered with shoals. Now it's up to Caufield to steer around the obstacles and prove that the heroics of spring were not flukes of fancy!

Thursday, Caufield was called up, but could not help the Habs, as they fell to the Penguins, 6-0.


THE JIVE: TSN is a network loaded with savvy analysts. Its Director of Scouting Craig Button is one of those savants who apparently has decided to challenge John Tortorella, currently delivering sage advice on ESPN.

Torts raised a few eyebrows recently when discussing the prolific efforts of Connor McDavid. Getting right to the point. J.T. said that while the Oilers captain is knocking 'em dead with ridiculous offense, he shouldn't expect to get away with such inflationary numbers when the cement hardens at playoff time.

Button's rebuttal is right to the point: "Connor don't change your style." Craig didn't go so far as to say, "Torts, don't put pimples on the new face of the NHL," but the inference was there. Right now, McD is having too much fun doing it his way; and who can blame him? (Not I, Sir!)


THE JIVE: Our roving columnist Rob Del Mundo in Toronto has a neat story here. Read up and I'll bet you'll agree:

Eight women have been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Team Canada gold medalist Kim St.-Pierre is the only goaltender to have achieved the honor.  Our man in Toronto Rob Del Mundo looks back on her storied career.

Kim St-Pierre learned to play hockey on the rinks and frozen ponds of her hometown Chateauguay, Quebec. Three Olympic gold medals and five world championships later, her unconventional career path has culminated with enshrinement among hockey’s greatest legends.

“It was never a goal of mine to be inducted,” St-Pierre said as she stood inside the Great Hall, fielding questions from a scrum of reporters while standing among the plaques of her predecessors such as Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Jacques Plante.  “It’s hard to dream about. I just think it happens at some point. Once it happens to you, it’s hard to realize how big it is.  But for me it’s an opportunity to talk about women’s hockey.  I’m so proud to be part of history.”

Indeed as St-Pierre was transitioning in 1998 out of boys’ junior hockey and into the crease for McGill University, her rise to international stardom was all but impossible to foreshadow at the time. But in March 1999, St-Pierre made her Team Canada debut on the world stage, backstopping her country to the first of five career World Championships.

Three years later, St-Pierre helped Canada to a gold medal victory over the United States at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City despite the visitors being victimized by one-sided officiating in the final game.  The Canadians were assessed eight straight penalties and played much of the contest shorthanded, but held off the American surge to claim gold.

“Never phased by the moment, and in a complete zone throughout that tournament, Kim had drawn a lot of confidence from the previous World Championships and was our big moment goalie that year without question,” said Cassie Campbell-Pascall who captained the 2002 women’s national team.

St-Pierre went on to capture a second Olympic gold in Torino, Italy four years later, then won the last of her five World Championship titles before a raucous home crowd in Winnipeg in 2007.

“She was just so calm, cool and collected.” Team Canada alumna and defender Tessa Bonhomme said.  “I'm thankful that I've had her as my teammate for all these years. You realize and appreciate what world class athlete she really was.” 

St-Pierre went on to win a pair of Clarkson Cup titles in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, starring between the pipes for Montreal.  She added a third Olympic gold medal to her resume at the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010.

By the time she hung up her goalie pads, St-Pierre had registered 64 wins and 29 shutouts for Team Canada; all-time records for her country.  Her 13 shutouts at the Women’s World Championships is an international record.

A mother of two boys, St-Pierre continues to advocate for the growth of women’s hockey.  

“Maybe (women) aren’t going to be making the salary we are hoping for, but I just think that we need to invest ourselves into helping the next generation of players,” St-Pierre said.  “It’s all about being role models, sharing everything about women’s hockey and just helping grow the game and helping the younger players develop to get to the next level. There’s lots to be done by everybody.”