An inveterate Boston Bruins supporter, Trent Buhler deeply regrets that he never made the pilgrimage to Boston Garden, the iconic sports arena vacated in 1995 and demolished three years later. Faced with such a black mark against his hockey-fanatic bona fides, Buhler did what any obsessive middle-aged man would do: He built his own miniature replica of the arena.
“I had been thinking about doing it for almost 20 years,” said Buhler, speaking from Edmonton about his long-brewin’ brainstorm. “I finally started on it 2½ years ago, but I’m not sure it will ever be finished.”
Indeed, it is a laborious undertaking. Starting with a functioning table-top hockey game from the late 1970s, he’s added seating, fans, board advertising, player benches – even a tiny beer vendor for the ultimate in sudsy authenticity.
The pucky diorama is set somewhere across the 1970s and ‘80s. Boston’s Rick Middleton is on the ice, goalie Gilles Gilbert takes in the action from the bench and Derek Sanderson is in the broadcast booth.
A machine-shop jack of all trades by occupation and a musician by hobby, Buhler spends an estimated four hours a day on weekends meticulously recreating the smallest game on ice.
“Another row of fans and I’ve gone cross-eyed from painting so many tiny Bruins jerseys,” the 53-year-old tweeted recently.
The project has drawn mixed reactions from his family. His two kids can take it or leave it. “Whenever they come around to ask me for something, I force them to play a game,” Buhler says.
And his wife? “We’ve been married long enough that if I have something to keep me busy, she’s happy.”
The process of the reconstruction is complicated. Buhler uses a discontinued game brand – Coleco Game Room Hockey – that has swivelling three-dimensional player figures instead of the cheaper and more common flat pieces. After stripping the original paint, he recolours them in the uniforms of the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. For other components a 3D printer is employed.
For inspiration, Buhler uses photos taken during games at the Garden. To accurately recreate less public areas of the arena (such as the players tunnel leading to the ice), Buhler cross-checks archives found on the internet.
He’s been in touch with long-time Bruin photographer Steve Babineau, who is now immortalized in Buhler’s copy-cat arena, snapping pics from a visitor’s penalty box that also includes a mini Chris Nilan (a Montreal tough guy who gets two minutes, but not for looking so good.)
The undertaking has spawned a cottage industry for Buhler, who has received commissions to help other table-hockey enthusiasts build their own arenas. He also accepts requests from people who wish to be represented in his passion project. They’re not charged a fee to have their likenesses placed in the stands, but Buhler does ask that they pay the favour forward by performing small acts of charity and civility.
“It’s the least I can do, given what’s happening now,” he says.
For his next stadium, Buhler is considering a model Maple Leaf Gardens. But, first, there’s more work to be done on the Beantown arena. Perusing the photos Buhler posts on Instagram, one can’t help but notice that a controversial Bruins’ coach from the era is missing.
“He’s in the works,” Buhler says about a certain opinionated icon. “He’ll be behind the bench eventually, but I’m working my way up to him.”
A cherry on the top, then, for a finally finished labour of love.