- arena acoustics
- placement of speakers vis-a-vis press box
- day of the week
- performance of team on ice (winning the game? good or bad season?)
Here's the article:
The complaint is often heard about Scotiabank Place: It is as quiet as a morgue, filled with lifeless, unexcitable fans. Rather than serving to lift the spirits of their team, they sit on hands as if they were not watching a hockey game but browsing in a library.
That may be stretching it just a bit, but anyone who has attended a game against, say, the New Jersey Devils, knows there is some truth in it. Scotiabank Place can be deathly quiet.
But is it as quiet as it is made out to be? And how does it fare against its five Canadian rivals?
The Citizen decided to find out. We bought a hand-held decibel meter and, over the course of a long road trip, measured the sound levels in each of the six Canadian buildings: Rogers Arena in Vancouver, the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Rexall Place in Edmonton, the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Bell Centre in Montreal, and Scotiabank Place.
At stake was bragging rights as the loudest and proudest Canadian arena.
And who won? No surprise, really: the Bell Centre. It has the reputation of not only being the loudest arena in Canada, but as the loudest in the National Hockey League.
It was followed by the other rinks, all roughly the same. No rink was notably louder or quieter than the other, not even the much-maligned Scotiabank Place.
To the person who is responsible for game entertainment at Ottawa games, Glen Gower, that wasn't exactly a surprise.
"I've heard it often that Ottawa is the quietest," he said. "But my response is that when the team's playing well and the fans are excited, this building is as loud as any in the league.
The players agree. Defenceman Chris Phillips loves playing in Montreal. It's so loud for the players, he says, it gives them goose bumps.
"They're cheering for Montreal when things are going well, they're booing when things aren't going well, and it doesn't seem to matter: they're just loud for the entire game," he says.
"It's always a great atmosphere."
But Ottawa has had its moments, too.
Phillips doesn't even have think to pick his loudest memory. It came on May 2, 1998, when Igor Kravchuk scored the insurance goal to clinch a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils and win Ottawa's first playoff series.
"That was, I think, by far the loudest I've ever heard it," Phillips says.
Nick Foligno's loudest memory came on April 14, 2008, in the third game of Ottawa's playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was Ottawa's first playoff game at home after the 2007 run that took them to the Stanley Cup final.
"I just remember the crowd going crazy," says Foligno.
"I was like, 'Wow, that's loud.' I had never experienced anything like that before."
While there are any number of entertainment tricks, including cheerleaders, Gower could use to pump up the crowd, that's not the team's style.
"Our focus has always been that hockey is No. 1," he says."We have a long tradition of hockey in this city, going back more than 100 years with the Senators, and with institutions like the 67's. So we always want to be respectful of the game."
In Calgary, the Flames have ice girls as part of the entertainment, but hockey also always comes first, says Geordie Macleod, who is in charge of engaging the crowd.
"Our fans wouldn't have it any other way," says Macleod.
But it is still a delicate dance to keep them happy.
"The loudness level is extremely subjective," he says.
"I know what I like, but I have to respect the fans who would like it to be quieter."
The sound volume of music and other entertainment is also adjusted for the day of the week and the intensity of the game, he says. A game in the middle of the week, which is when the Senators played the Flames, would be dialed down more than, say, a Saturday night game against conference-rival Vancouver.
To do this study, starting roughly one hour before each game, we began taking measurements, including what turned out to be a set of common measurements we could use as comparisons from rink-to-rink.
They included the sound level at the home team's arrival for the pregame skate, of the music used for the pre-game skate, of the national anthem, of the music between whistles, of the cheering for a goal by the home team, and so on.
In our measurements, the Bell Centre always seemed to be a little louder than the other rinks.
We took our measurements from the press box in each building to be consistent. That means they're not as loud as they would be if taken in the lower bowl, but Gower and Macleod said the figures are a fair representation of the sound levels in their buildings.
We also took a number of random measurements, such as the cheering of a fight, of a goal by the visitors, or a good scoring chance.
My favourite was the 83.2 reading hit at the Air Canada Centre when it was announced that Daniel Alfredsson, a hated figure among Toronto fans, wouldn't be in the Ottawa lineup.
That's just about the sound level you'd expect from a group of screaming kids, which, when you think of it, is a nice metaphor for an ACC crowd.
According to NHL guidelines, teams shouldn't exceed 95 decibels for typical game entertainment, with exceptions for big goals and plays. Occupational health and safety standards typically site 85 decibels as the safe limit of an eight-hour exposure, with a reduction by half for each three-point increase.
"You want to try to keep it at a level to create some energy and not hurt people's ears," Gower says.
That was put to a test in 2006 when William Hodgetts, a professor of speech pathology and audiology at the University of Alberta, and partner Dr. Richard Liu, an otolaryngologist, measured the sound levels during games three, four, and six of the Stanley Cup final series between the Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes.
Liu wore a noise dosimeter near his ear for every second of each game. The average turned out to be the equivalent of sitting next to a chainsaw, with the occasional blast of a jet engine.
While Liu and his wife suffered a temporary hearing loss, they recovered the next day. But it's like any loud sound, says Hodgetts: if you're exposed to it for a long time, it's going to cause problems.
"What really matters is the cumulative exposure over time," he says.
"A level of 105 could be potentially dangerous if you're exposed to it for 10 or 15 minutes, but if it's only 10 to 15 seconds, probably not."
For example, when the Habs took the ice to start the game, the level peaked at 105.2. That compared to 103.3 in Calgary, 102.6 in Toronto, 99.5 in Ottawa, 99.1 in Vancouver and 92.1 in Edmonton.
This was also reflected in the cheering at the end of the national anthem, when the buildup to the game is at a peak: 99.6 in Montreal, 93.8 in Ottawa, 91.9 in Toronto, 91.7 in Vancouver, 91.3 in Edmonton, 88.1 in Calgary.
However, what, exactly, makes the Bell Centre the loudest arena in Canada is a question that can only be partially answered. For starters, the Habs attract a young audience, with the proximity of McGill and Concordia universities and Dawson College. That means stronger lungs.
Second, it's loud because Montreal is, well, Montreal.
"Part of it is the great hockey culture they have in Montreal," says Gower.
"Every team gets as loud as Montreal when their team is playing well or when they're in the playoffs. But in Montreal every game seems to have a playoff atmosphere."
Beyond that, though, the technical side of the production must remain a mystery because the Canadiens won't reveal their trade secrets.
While every team in the league uses microphones hung from the ceiling to amplify the sounds of the game, the Canadiens, through a spokesman, said they won't discuss the way they set up their microphones and speakers.
That invariably leads to speculation of a Milli Vanilli effect -that the crowd noise is being given an artificial boost.
Or that there's a special microphone in the general manager's office and Pierre Gauthier spends the game clapping and cheering into it.
But even if there is a Milli Vanilli effect, so what?, asks Phillips.
"That's allowed, isn't it?" he says. "If it gets their fans excited and creates a great atmosphere for the game, why not? It makes it a great place to play."
Full article, plus stats and comparison of decibel readings from the six teams...