Arena Impresses Former Toledo Players

By Dave Hackenberg
Sports Columnist
The Toledo Blade

TOLEDO, Ohio – Doug Mahood was a tough guy. His Toledo hockey career was measured in penalty minutes and championships. He was part of a Goaldiggers’ line that was not-so-subtly nicknamed Murder, Inc. Now 56, he still looks as if he could muck it up in the corner at the drop of a glove.

Yes, Mahood rendered many an opponent speechless, not to mention numb. One morning last week, it was his turn.

Toledo Walleye coach Nick Vitucci took former Goaldiggers Mahood and Jim McCabe along with a few others on a tour of Lucas County’s new downtown arena. Standing in the open-viewing area atop the lower bowl at the east end, Mahood got his first glimpse of the entire building and said, “Wow.”

When asked to expound, Mahood’s lips did their best to form words, but he ended up taking a deep breath and repeating, “Wow.”

I guess that says it all. Our city’s new hockey digs certainly has a wow factor, especially if memories of the now-demolished Sports Arena are etched into a slice of your soul.

The venue isn’t nearly done yet, but you can see it now. You can see the glittering sheet of ice, Vitucci pacing behind the home team bench, the 8,000 seats filled, standing-room-only fans in the east end or up in the big lounge on the west end of the suite/club seats level, the 20-foot by 30-foot video and scoreboard high on the east wall, colors dancing off the 600-foot long “ribbon-board” video stream that encircles the arena’s interior, the Zamboni gliding, a suite-holder handing out another round of cold ones, or the fans themselves becoming the cold ones between periods, braving the elements on either of the two open-air party decks.

In actuality, the seats haven’t been installed yet, clusters of wires hang awaiting light fixtures and TV monitors, technicians tune up the mechanical bowels of the building, and the floor is all sand and dirt, not ice, with small bulldozers and backhoes moving back and forth to smooth it out.

But, trust me, you can see it. Or trust McCabe, one of the most prolific scorers in Toledo hockey history, who said: “This is really impressive, really unique. I imagine a two-year layoff got fans’ appetites wetted. They’ll love this place.”

So will the players. Vitucci’s favorite part of the tour came when McCabe and Mahood worked their way down to rink level where the team rooms are located.

A goalie for three seasons who then coached the old Storm for three-plus years at 1 Main Street on the east side, Vitucci laughed when recalling one tradition.

“We used to yell, ‘Fire in the hole,’ every time we flushed a toilet so the guys in the showers knew they were about to get scalded,” he said.

The Walleye room, the largest of five locker complexes in the building, includes a players’ lounge area, a changing room for players to go from street clothes to hockey undergarments, a large main locker room, coaches offices, an area for therapy tubs, showers, a rest room, and a weight room that is accessible from both the hockey room and the adjacent locker room for an arena football team.

“Oh, my God,” was McCabe’s reaction. “That [changing room] is the size of our whole room at the old arena, including the showers.”

Later, Vitucci said, “Did you see Doug and Jim’s eyes when we walked in that room? That was neat. I know that old arena meant a lot to many of the fans and to the old players. It meant a lot to me. It was a special place with some special memories.

“That arena should not be forgotten by any means. And neither should the guys who left so much blood and guts there. They’re the reason Toledo’s a good hockey town and they’re as responsible as anybody for the bricks going up on the new place.

“But we have a new opportunity for our kids and grandkids to make their own memories. That wasn’t going to happen at the old place. The new arena is everything I thought it would be and, for sure, more. I’ve been with it since the blueprint stage, so I can’t say I’m surprised. But every time I walk in I’m in awe.”

He wasn’t alone.

Mahood admitted he did not go to many games in the final couple years at the Sports Arena.

“It just wasn’t enjoyable,” he said. “I’m going to have to come back to hockey now because this place will be enjoyable. We’re going from the outhouse to the penthouse. It’s just awesome.”