IT wasn't the only noise at the rink, but it was the most reconizable. Even on AM broadcasts of games from Chicago Stadium, there was no mistaking the sound of the old Barton organ and Al Melgard. This was the instrument that stopped hooligans in the stands cold, shattered glass, and sent chills up and down the backs of fans and players alike as the strains of the national anthems rolled down from above. And I almost looked forward to the breaks in play sometimes, to hear those old melodies without names, scattered throughout the game.
ORGANS across the NHL in the 1970s even sounded different. A discerning ear could determine even over the radio, that the wheezy old Nassau Coliseum organ sounded nothing at all like the electronic version at Met Centre, which I hated. Madison Square Garden's instrument too, had a gritty, unwholesome sound to it. But the organ music heard at games at The Forum in Montreal and the Checkerdome in St. Louis had voices all their own, and added to the ambiance in those venues.
AT SOME POINT in the 1990s, stadium music directors, rather facility managers, decided that fans didn't care so much for some of the traditions found in hockey rinks. Perhaps informal surveys, or a sense of trying to sound modern, persuaded them that folks would rather listen to canned popular music during intermissions and breaks in play. The trend began in some of the relocated teams' arenas first: I do not recall ever hearing an organ play in Dallas after the north Stars moved there. The Hurricanes use very little organ music, I suspect that what is heard there comes from a CD. And I wouldn't call that ruckus coming over the speakers in the Shark Tank in San Jose music at all, but more synthesized noise, but it does at least have a local flavor, coming from Silicon Valley.
CHICAGO however clings to tradition, as many large cities do, and the new stadium does prominently feature beautiful, boisterous organ music during NHL games. Pittsburgh too has kept from changing with the times, but when the Igloo finally closes, it may mark the end of that era. And I was pleasantly surprised during the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 to hear plenty of organ music in Tampa Bay, of all places.
BUT for the most part, in order to experience the flavor of the NHL in past decades, with organ music and plain white boards, fans must use their memories. Youtube.com does have some footage of games from this era, and it is very pleasant for me to relive hockey broadcasts from a bygone time online. But today, a part of the character of NHL teams and their stadiums is gone, gone the way of the Drunken Sailor, early in the morning.