The most unique building in the National Hockey League was originally known as the Pittsburgh Civic Arena but was also known by its more popular name, “The Igloo,” home of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1967 to 2010. The name “Igloo” came from the construction of the dome roof supported by a 260-foot long cantilevered arm on the exterior of the building. It was the first retractable roof major-sports venue in the world.
The building was constructed in 1961 for use by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera at a cost of $22 million, which would equal $171 million in 2012 dollars. The hydraulic jacks never functioned properly so the roof was kept permanently closed after 1994.
The Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League played in the arena from 1961 to 1967, when the Penguins became part of the NHL expansion. The Penguins first game was played on October 11, 1967, a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. It was the first game played between an expansion team and a member of the “Original Six.” On October 21 of that year, the Penguins became the first expansion team to beat an “Original” NHL franchise as they beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2.
The Los Angeles Kings played their first game at The Igloo on October 28, 1967, and beat the Penguins, 5-3. That Kings roster featured players such as Eddie “The Jet” Joyal, “Cowboy” Bill Flett, and goaltender Terry Sawchuck. My first broadcast in the building was on January 16, 1974, as the Kings won 2-0.
One of my most fond memories of games in “The Igloo” was of listening to their popular Organist Vince Lascheid. In the early years of the arena, the organ was located just to my left in the press box, so I had a full view of Vince as he played. He would play songs designed to get under the skin of opposing teams. In our games, when the Kings would come from their dressing room, Vince would be playing the song, “Send in the Clowns,” and he would time it perfectly so that when the first Kings player stepped on the ice Vince would play the line “Don’t bother they’re here.” I would always smile and give Vince a thumbs-up sign for his impeccable timing. Lascheid was the Penguins Organist from 1970 to 2003, in the era when the organ was the instrument of choice for music at all hockey games, and in my opinion was so much better than the loud canned music of today. Vince Lascheid is in the Penguins Hall of Fame and passed away in 2009 at age 85.
We always had fun in Pittsburgh and I remember one night, December 14, 1993, after the Kings beat the Penguins, 4-2, a group of us went to a Karaoke bar. A group of Penguin fans recognized some of us and asked, ‘Are you guys with the Kings?’ When we said yes, they began to boo. I told them, ‘I am going to get up and sing a song in honor of the Penguins defense.’ Then they started to cheer and asked, ‘What are you going to sing?’ I said I was going to sing ‘Blue Bayou.’
The greatest player I ever saw play at the Igloo was Mario Lemieux, who could control a game like no other player. He was almost unstoppable on the power play. My good friend, the late coach Bob Johnson, whom I met while I was broadcasting University of Wisconsin hockey, led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 1991. His favorite phrase was, “It’s a Great Day for Hockey.” After he passed away, that phrase was on the ice at The Igloo, and it always had special meaning for me each time I worked in the building.
In later years the arena became known as Mellon Arena, named for Mellon Financial, which had naming rights. The Penguins played their final game at Mellon Arena on May 12, 2010, losing to Montreal, 5-2, which eliminated them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Penguins now play in their sparkling new home, the Consol Energy Center, which is located right across the street from the old arena. The Civic Arena, Mellon Arena or The Igloo, whichever name you preferred, was demolished between September 2011 and March 31, 2012.