But it is also a reminder for which you have to be a certain age. And I fit that bill. Baltimore was once a big professional hockey-loving city. So much so, the American Hockey League Clippers would at times outdraw the NBA Bullets at what was then the new Civic Center. So much so, when the NHL doubled in size with the 1967 expansion, Baltimore was slated to get a team.
In the end, however, the arena’s lifelong deficiencies prompted another city to say they could do better. Philadelphia built an arena with curves and got the Flyers. Baltimore was stuck with a pure rectangle where all seats face forward. Watching play for the entire rink was neck-wrenching. In the upper level opposite where the stage was (and still is), fans would have to stand-up to look down on the goal.
In the early 1970s, Bullets owner Abe Pollin got an idea. Seeing his basketball team outdrawn by minor-league hockey, he arranged for Washington’s Channel 20 to televise some Clippers’ games. It was a test. And soon Mr. Pollin was taking his basketball franchise to the luxurious Capital Centre, later landing an NHL franchise.
Throughout the 1970s, Baltimore was considered for relocation of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a couple expansion plans along the way. But one look at the sightlines in the arena we still have made the NHL flee.
So, a couple of minor-league-franchise departures later, Baltimore is without a pro hockey team but is with an arena that even the minor leagues would find untenable.
Sure, we’d like to keep the Preakness at Pimlico (and it will never draw as well at Laurel). But Baltimore needs a modern entertainment arena more than anything except the Red Line (which, by the way, can be revived, someday). A viable arena would drive a boom to the area around it. Don’t scoff because there are several NHL franchises looking to move if the location is right. To come here, all they’d have to do is pay an encroachment fee to the Capitals.
Let’s be real, Baltimore might not be able to support both NHL and NBA franchises. But if cities like St. Louis and Cleveland can support one or the other, Baltimore surely can! A new arena would also lure NCAA tournament games and political conventions.
Baltimore, it’s time to stop all the small-thinking and second-guessing. I believe the Indy Car races were a great idea and hope they return someday, bringing with them well-to-do visitors. Why isn’t there an NHL Stadium Series game featuring the Capitals at Oriole Park or M&T Bank stadium? More importantly, the Maryland Stadium Authority should be looking at what it will take to get a new arena with naming rights for a great city.