The old Boston Garden, or simply “The Garden,” was one of the most beloved and exciting venues — not just in all hockey, but in all of sports. Home ice for the Boston Bruins from 1928 until its demolition in 1995, the old Garden is still a topic of daily discussion in sporting circles. With its unique atmosphere — intimate, loud, with ocean of Bruins and Celtics championship banners hanging from the rafters — the old Garden in Boston was famous all over the world for its parquet floor, and also had one-of-a-kind quirks for hockey that threw NHL visiting teams off their game every time they came to Beantown.
The Old Boston Garden — A Truly Unique Hockey Venue
Truly Unique Hockey Venue
The old Garden in Boston opened in 1928, modeled after Madison Square Garden in New York — the original name of the arena, in fact, was Boston Madison Square Garden. The old Garden was designed by Tex Rickard, who is remembered today mainly as a boxing promoter, but was also the founder of the New York Rangers. In the 1920s, boxing was a huge, popular sport, and Rickard wanted the Garden to be an intimate arena for boxing, with seating close enough for fans — in his words, to see “the sweat on the boxers’ brows.” As a result, seating rows were steep and close to the floor.
For hockey games, this intimacy made the Garden loud enough that skaters could hear (notoriously loud) fans shouting from the top rows. Fans were right on top of the action, even in the upper tier, which added to the feeling that everyone in the arena was part of the game.
For visiting teams, the old Boston Garden presented a whole host of challenges:
- Because the seats were so close to the floor, the hockey rink was considerably smaller than normal — nine feet shorter and two feet narrower. This naturally threw off the timing of the Bruins’ opponents, and led to a lot of hitting and physical contact.
- Player benches were on opposite sides of the Garden, which also took visiting teams out of their normal rhythm. If that weren’t enough, penalty boxes were set up in odd locations, adding further disruption.
- The Garden had no air conditioning, which occasionally produced fog on the ice during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- Last but not least, the visiting locker room was small, hot and generally uncomfortable. Adding it all up, the old Boston Garden was widely considered the most challenging venue for visitors in the NHL.
The Old Boston Garden — Great Moments in Hockey
- The Bruins won Stanley Cup championships at the old Garden in 1939 and 1970. In 1939, the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 by a score of 3-1.
- In 1970, it was a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues in a 4-0 sweep. “The Goal” — this game is remembered for Bobby Orr’s OT goal that won the game, where he was tripped right after taking his shot and flew through the air as the puck went into the net.
- In total, the Bruins won five Stanley Cup championships while playing at the old Garden. Besides the incomparable Orr, Bruins fans saw scores of great Bruins players over the years, including Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Cam Neely, Eddie Shore, Gerry Cheevers and Dit Clapper.
- The Bruins played for the Stanley Cup championship in 1929, kicking off the newly constructed Garden with a bang. Boston swept the New York Rangers 3-0 in the first all-U.S. Stanley Cup Final.
- Power outages in the Stanley Cup Final occurred twice at the Garden, in 1988 and 1990, both times involving the Edmonton Oilers. The 1988 episode caused the game to end in a 3-3 tie. In 1990, power was restored in overtime, with the Oilers eventually winning in triple-OT.
The old Boston Garden was in pretty bad shape by the time it was torn down — power issues (see above), view-obstructing pillars, tight seating, lack of luxury seats and other issues got the Bruins thinking about leaving town for New Hampshire. In response, Massachusetts built the new arena: TD Garden. The last game at the old Garden was in 1995, with the Bruins falling to the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a season-ending Eastern Conference quarterfinal — hardly enough to put a dent in the great memories Boston hockey fans had from 67 years of watching the Bruins in their beloved Garden.
In sports you learn to never say never, but it’s safe to say there will never be another NHL hockey venue like the old Boston Garden.
(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons)