Make some noise! NHL goals celebrated with horns that evoke yachts, trucks and trains

From the scratch of skates on the ice to the howl of fans, there is perhaps no other sound more ubiquitous in professional hockey than that of the ear-splitting goal horn.

The roaring tradition dates back to the 1970s

Each hockey club in the NHL has their own unique horn blast. In Edmonton, fans celebrate to the sweet sound of a locomotive whistle. (NHL)

From the scratch of skates on the ice to the howl of fans, there is perhaps no other sound more ubiquitous in professional hockey than that of the ear-splitting goal horn.

Whether a high-pitched, ear-shattering siren scream or a mellow baritone bellow, each of the 30 National Hockey League teams has its own unique blast.

The Edmonton Oilers have a Nathan Airchime two-tone, a locomotive whistle often used on monster trucks. Triggered by a click of the computer mouse, the horn rattles the rafters of Rogers Place arena every time Connor McDavid and company get a puck in the net. 

Detroit's year-old Little Caesars Arena plays a canned recording of the real reed horns formerly used Joe Louis Arena to celebrate a Red Wings goal.
This trumpet-style horn, manufactured by Kahlenberg Industries, is similar to ones used in NHL rinks across North America. (Kahlenberg Industries)

Steve Edgar, game presentation manager for the Calgary Flames, said the southern Alberta has always used the same horn — a Buell plastic four-chime airhorn.

He loves hearing it blast out over the Saddledome.

"Our goal horn is a truck horn, four of them, powered by four compressors that sit above our scoreboard, and there is a switch in our game presentation booth that is pushed after every Flames goal," Edgar said.

"It's manually pushed by me most of the time."

Acoustic obsession

Edgar claims to have an ear for these things. After decades of watching hockey games, he can identify each team's unique victory call.

"It's something that teams take a lot of pride in," Edgar said.  "It's kind of a neat thing that each team can own, and that's pretty cool."

Edgar isn't alone in his obsession. Goal horns have come to fascinate hockey fans.

Entire websites are dedicated to cataloguing the history of each arena's distinct horn blast and ranking each one for its acoustic qualities.

On wejustscored.com, goal-deprived fans can listen to any club's horn blast. Some aficionados have compiled YouTube mash-ups.

Freight-train refrain

The Ottawa Senators have, for decades, relied on a broken bell. Only two out of three of the manifolds on the team's Airchime M3H are functioning.

When the Sens score, the bell strikes a sequence of chords in D minor — two longs, two shorts and a long.

The horn was salvaged from a VIA Rail train and installed in the old arena in 1992, the Senators' first season.

The bell is no longer triggered by the pull of a train lever but the weathered chime, mounted in the rafters above centre ice, is still being used today in the Canadian Tire Centre.

In online forums dedicated to debating such things, the Senators' bell is often bashed for being the most annoying of the lot, but to former VP of communications, Randy Burgess, the freight-train blast is the perfect refrain.

It represents the ultimate celebration.- Randy Burgess

"It's a sound that you could picture in the distance as you're walking in the country on a winter's night and it's dark and you hear in the distance, a train horn blowing," Burgess said. "And as it gets closer, it gets louder and louder. That's what it's like inside the arena.

"It represents the ultimate celebration."

Burgess helped install the horn. He said Bruce Firestone, the original owner of the Sens, wanted something "super loud and real" — not canned — to shake up the fans and intimidate the competition.

The team happened to have a partnership with the passenger rail company at the time.

"The marketing guy at Via Rail said, 'I've got exactly what you need' … so he found an out-of-commission train in Montreal and got us the horn from that," Burgess said. "One day he comes into the office and is like, 'Here you go.'

"It was quite a moment when we first heard it. Boy."  

Montreal was the first team to be rattled by the ear-splitting sound of an opponent's goal horn, during the 1973 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

It all started with Hawks owner Bill Wirtz, who liked the sound of the horn on his personal yacht so much he decided to have one installed in Chicago Stadium.

Within a decade, horns were being installed in NHL rinks across North America.

 Every one of them that's out there, when I hear it, I know it's ours.- Erik  Kahlenberg

Erick Kahlenberg's uncle Karl sold Wirtz the yacht horn and now supplies dozens of NHL teams with their own customized horn blasts.

Kahlenberg Industries supplies horns and emergency sirens for large boats, aircraft carriers and other large industrial operations. Their foray into professional hockey was an accidental boon, said Kahlenberg, the company's vice-president.

"At last count, 27 out of 31 NHL teams have our horns," he said.

"Every one of them that's out there, when I hear it, I know it's ours." 

Depending on the model, goal horns cost between $700 and $2,000. Most of the horns sold to hockey teams were originally designed for large yachts or naval ships.

Hearing them wail out during a game is always music to Kahlenberg's ears.

"I probably most often hear our horns on television, during hockey games."

'Adrenaline rush' 

Kahlenberg said the popularity of goal sirens continues to grow beyond the hockey stadium. Professional football and baseball teams have started taking an interest.

The San Francisco 49ers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots and a slew of American high school football clubs are among his latest clients.

"People have started to associate this great sounding horn with scoring a goal in hockey but they're also starting to associate it also with a touchdown or a home run."

After more than 30 years in the goal horn business, Kahlenberg has a theory why people get such a thrill from the big game buzzers.

"You actually physically get an adrenaline rush from loud sounds," he said.  

"If your team scores a goal, that's exciting enough but now you've set off this loud horn at the same time and it really lights the place up. I think other sports are recognizing that, too."


Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca