Saturday, November 7, 2009

Those Exotic EHL Cities...

I just got back from a 2-week vacation in western Canada. It was fun passing through towns like Abbotsford (with their new AHL franchise), Chilliwack, New Westminster, Kamloops and their various hockey histories, wondering if I would spy the arena where the teams played.

It was all very reminiscent of what I remember and some of you EHL fans have told me you remember, which was the allure of those exotic EHL cities. Many of us were kids when the EHL was around (I was barely 15 when the league folded). Places like Greensboro, Charlotte, Knoxville, Nashville, Jacksonville, Salem/Roanoke, Johnstown, New Haven seemed a million miles away, yet somehow approachable, attainable. Where were these places? What were they like? Unlike NHL cities that we all knew about, we knew nothing about these towns, except maybe Nashville. I remember my first trip to any of these areas, eyes all a-bug looking for the arenas as we drove through, thrilling at seeing the town names on road signs.

I'm possibly the first person who when they went to Nashville the first time was 100 percent focused on seeing the hockey arena, or even a sign for it. With every sign that said Nashville, my heart said Dixie Flyers (I'm not sure if they were still in existence at that time). Of course, it was a family vacation, and I was a young teenager, so I couldn't exactly say "lets go see the hockey arena". Besides I didn't know what it was called, or where it was. We just passed through the north end of Nashville long enough to have lunch at a barbecue place and head west. The last time I was in Nashville as an adult, the arena for the Predators was being built, but it never dawned on me (in the 90s) to go look up the Dixie Flyers arena, which apparently is still right there in downtown.

The one that I still kick myself about is Charlotte. I had a chance to go to a Checkers ECHL game a few years back. My wife and I were exhausted from work (we were in town to do a trade show) and I was confused about where the Checkers were playing (some places said Independence Arena, some said Cricket Arena). Not being able to get a straight answer, I passed. I had no idea at the time that that was the old Charlotte Coliseum where the EHL Checkers had played, or that that was their last year there, before they tore out the iceplant.

I went to college in NC, in no small part to my fascination with the EHL cities that had been there. Having passed through the state a few times on family vacations, I always thrilled to signs that read "Greensboro" or "Charlotte", or especially both. I thought North Carolina was one of the most beautiful places I had been. On my first trip back to college after break, my mom and I stopped in Roanoke for the night. It was just off the interstate, just barely in the city limits at the Best Western, but it was very exciting just to be there. The signs to Salem and Roanoke taunted me each trip home, with no chance of talking anyone into stopping. I stayed in Roanoke once after college, but I was so car sick from driving the Skyline Drive that I didn't get out at all.

After college, I hoped to stay in NC, and even subscribed to the Greensboro, Charlotte and Winston Salem Sunday papers for awhile, looking for the right opportunity that never came. This was well past the end of the EHL, so the charm and allure of the places transcended mere hockey.

So here is my reality. I have not only never seen an EHL game outside of Cherry Hill Arena. I have also never knowingly even seen another EHL arena. (For instance, I have probably passed the warehouse that used to be Cape Cod Coliseum, but didn't know what it was. I think I also passed within a block of the Knoxville Coliseum, or even saw it, but didn't know what it was.) There's still time. Knoxville, Johnstown and Syracuse still have teams in the old arenas. Johnstown and Syracuse are the reasonable possibilities for this year, weather permitting. Still, it's Knoxville that is the one that calls to me. The one with the EHL team that was defunct by the time I saw my first EHL game; the city less likely to have a team on any given year; the one that takes the extra day's drive to get to and home from; the road less traveled; the adventure more exotic. Maybe if I factor in a Virginia Tech hockey game at Roanoke Civic Center, hmm...

1 comment:

  1. Tom T I've been pretty lucky to see every team of The EHL play with the exception of the Clinton Comets. I never got to see them play. Like I've said before I started going to The Nashville Dixie Flyer games in 1964. I've also been lucky to have seen and been inside several of The EHL arenas. I was in a music band in the 70's and we played in rinks of Greensboro, Salem, Syracuse, Knoxville and Clinton. I remember seeing pics of the teams and other things while I was there. I remember the Clinton arena being pretty small. People sat in wooden chairs and I'd heard that sometimes those chairs got thrown at the opposing teams. That's pretty wild!!!!!!!!
    We were booked in Charlotte sometime in the fall on 1975 and I found out that the Checkers were playing that night so I went to that game. They were the only team I ever saw at home other than the Dixie Flyers. I'm like you, I used to look for the old arenas in the EHL cities we played. Like I said, I've been lucky to see some the old buildings.