Some arenas are so cold it's like playing outside, like Eric Brewer did with the Oilers back in 2003. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
“There’ve been times when it’s been 30-40 degrees below, so we went outside to warm up.” – Western Conference scout
For anyone who grew up playing minor hockey, rose early to ref Saturday morning games, volunteered to coach a youth team or just stood hands-in-pockets as a spectator at many local rinks, stories of cold arenas are plentiful and still make you shiver to this day.
So while the majority of those reading these words could regale anyone willing to listen with a lifetime’s worth of frigid, ice-barn stories, if you want to turn it into a competition, hockey scouts would be the best and most objective judges.
After all, scouts see more arenas than most and spend hours perched in their bleachers, chattering teeth or not. A few areas have gained notoriety for their frigid temperatures.
“The coldest rinks in North America are in New England,” one scout said. “The prep school rinks there are cold.”
Tales of chilly rinks are endless and their roots generally spring from the days when scouts were working the junior circuit, scouring the small towns. Nowadays, major junior rinks are state-of-the-art and well-heated, so working for an NHL team is almost like scouting heaven.
But that’s not to say once you make it to the NHL ranks you’re immune to cold arena assignments. A lot of scouts mentioned Europe as the home of the coldest arenas and one Western Conference scout recalled a trip from about three years ago.
“Huttwil, Switzerland,” he distinctly remembered. “We were watching an under-18 tournament there after Christmas and it was cold; if you didn’t have your long underwear on you wouldn’t last long. In European tournaments you’ll watch back-to-back games and all they had in Huttwil was a little room where you could warm up and buy a coffee. And I think we paid three-and-a-half bucks for a cup; it’s expensive there. That’s the coldest rink I’ve visited since I’ve been in the NHL.”
Generally, the coldest arenas are the most damp. It’s not so much about how cold the temperature is inside or out, it’s how dreadfully damp the climate can be. The Toronto area, Manitoba and New England were the regions mentioned most in the conversation.
“In major junior, the coldest rinks were in rural Manitoba,” said one scout. “It would get so cold in some of those rinks the players would take tight turns and the ice would just come out in chunks. I was at one game in a place called Grunthal and they actually cancelled the game because it was minus-26 in the rink. I’ll never forget that.
“I actually remember going to those games on ski-doo with my big winter boots on because you didn’t stand out there with normal shoes on – that’d be crazy.”
A lot of the rinks have reputations that precede them, so for the most part you can come prepared. But if you don’t, as one scout said, “You only do it once.”
And when the conversation turned towards showing up to a frigid arena underdressed, one scout recalled a story about a friend of his.
“In Roseau, Minnesota – this is 20-some years ago – I went into the arena and this scout for Calgary at the time was standing up behind the net against the wall,” he laughed. “He’s got a trench coat on; like a summer-fall trench coat. He looked like one big icicle. He couldn’t move. So everybody in Roseau is looking at this guy thinking he’s an idiot.”
And when another scout was told about this story, all he could do was laugh over how familiar the plight was and agreed that Roseau was among the coldest.
“Hey, he’s right,” the scout chuckled. “Roseau and Warroad – throw Warroad in there. It’s just south of the Canadian border; I’ll tell you it’s cold. Roseau, Warroad and Grunthal, they’re all the same.”
A Scout's Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.