Bell Centre – Montreal Canadiens
With 24 Stanley Cups that date all the way back to 1916, there may be no team in any sport that is more legendary than the Montréal Canadiens. Founded in 1909 and one of the vaunted “Original Six” of the NHL, the Canadiens have a resume that is envious to most. Commonly referred to as the “Habitants” in French or the Habs for short, the Canadiens are the pride and joy of French Canadian culture and have a rabid following that is unlike any other. Having employed a who’s-who of hockey royalty, the Canadiens are currently owned by the Molson Family and Geoffrey Molson and continue to put a product on the ice that has Canadiens fans screaming for more.
In 1996, the Canadiens closed down the venerable Montréal Forum after 72 years of service and built the Centre Bell. Originally known as the Molson Centre, Centre Bell is currently the largest hockey arena in the NHL and boasts a sellout streak that seems to go on forever. Centre Bell was built with private money and is currently also owned by the Molson Family. In Montréal, the Canadiens are more than just hockey and hockey is more than just a sport. A perfect example of this was on St. Patrick’s Day in 1955 when hysterical Canadiens fans took to the streets to riot after the suspension of Maurice Richard during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Richard was suspended by Commissioner Clarence Campbell for the rest of the season and playoffs after hitting a linesman during a fight. The riot would become part of Canadian history and outline some of the Anglophone-Francophone tensions that have speckled Canadian history.
Food & Beverage 3
As compared to other NHL venues, concessions at Centre Bell are rather pedestrian. All of the expected arena items are available at Centre Bell including hot dogs ($4.57), popcorn ($6.31), nachos, chips, peanuts, chicken, pizza ($5.44), fries and pretzels. Some other items that may be of interest include pulled turkey sandwiches, wraps, salads, mixed nuts or the Montréal staples smoked meat sandwiches and poutine.
Soft drink options are mainly Coca-Cola products in either fountain ($4.57/$5) or bottle ($4.78). Other soft drink options include water, energy drinks, coffee, juice, sparkling water and vitamin water. There is a decent beer selection in either draft ($7.61/$10.65/$14.79) or cans and bottles ($7.39/$10.44). Some of the offerings include Molson Export, Molson Canadian, Molson Dry, Coors Light, Coors Banquet, Heineken, Dos Equis, Rickards, Molson 67 and Sol. Wine and other alcoholic beverages are also available.
The combination of a legendary team and a solid NHL facility are together in Montreal. Centre Bell’s exterior combines a healthy dose of glass, brick and siding to make for an appealing exterior. Before the game, heading to north side of the arena is the place to be at La Cour Rio Tinto. It is in this square where the greatest Canadiens are honoured outside of the arena. Small plaques for each of the 18 Canadiens with their numbers retired are here. Honoured players include Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Emile Bouchard, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Guy Lapointe, Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Dickie Moore, Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Elmer Lach, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy. Also, there are plaques along the Centre Bell fascia there are memorials for each of the 24 Stanley Cup championships earned by the Habs. However, it is the four massive bronze statues which are the highlight of La Cour Rio Tinto. Each player represents a different era and are the creme de la creme of the Canadiens greats. Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur are honoured in smooth, action poses.
Upon entering Centre Bell fans are not blown away by a huge entrance or atrium or anything like that. The concourses are not over the top special in any way. For fans bringing children to the game, heading to the Youppiville Museum on the bottom floor is a good spot to stop. Displays and activities surrounding the former mascot of the Montréal Expos and current mascot of the Canadiens are available for kids of all ages. It is a little off the beaten path. Right above Youppiville is the display for the Canadiens whose numbers are retired. Smart plaques with explanations and timely pictures are in the background.
Upon entering the seating bowl, fans are greeted with a plethora of banners hanging from the rafters. The 18 retired numbers hang along with a banner honouring the retired numbers of Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson of the Montréal Expos. Also hanging among the great players are Stanley Cup banners from 1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986 and 1993. It is impossible not to be impressed. Among all of the banners is a very nice video board. It is not one of the massive boards which are becoming more and more common, but it is more than large enough and crystal clear. All of the seats in the lower seating area and 200 level are red, while the 300 level are grey and the 400 level are blue. Behind the blue seating is the Canadiens Ring of Honour which includes all members of the Canadiens who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. This includes everyone from Georges Vezina and Howie Morenz to Mark Recchi. This includes 63 players, builders and broadcasters.
The game day presentation is surprisingly modern. Youppi travels the arena interacting with fans and the lighted drums move from section to section leading the cheers. Pregame is almost the exclusive domain of the classic hockey organ music, but the modern music makes its way once the warmups begin. The light show on the ice is solid and after the national anthems are complete a “Go Habs Go” banner is unveiled in the crowd. The Canadiens goal song is pretty original and very catchy.
Located in downtown Montréal, there may be no better location in the entire NHL. Montréal is a tourist city in the old European mold. A few blocks north on rue Sainte-Catherine, fans will find a plethora of spots to eat or drink before or after the game. Some of the best that are very close include Bier Markt, 3 Brasseurs, Mckibbin’s Irish Pub, Sir Winston Churchill Pub and Reuben’s Deli & Steakhouse. La Cage Brasserie Sportive is located right in the Centre Bell also. For fans looking for the true Montréal experience, head to Mount Royal to Schwartz’s Deli, the true home of the Montréal Smoked Meat Sandwich.
There are a few other sporting options in Montréal. Although the Expos are now gone, the Toronto Blue Jays play a couple of exhibition games at Olympic Stadium that are wildly popular and sold out. Right beside Olympic Stadium is Stade Saputo, which is home for the Montréal Impact of MLS. Percival Molson Memorial Stadium is on the campus of McGill University and is the football home of the McGill Redmen and Montréal Alouettes of the CFL. McGill also fields a basketball team at the McGill Sports Centre and hockey at McConnell Arena, among other sports. Other universities in Montréal include UQAM Citadins who play basketball at Centre Sportif and Montréal Carabins who play football at CEPSUM Stadium. Also, the Concordia Stingers play football, basketball and hockey at Concordia Stadium, Victoria Gymnasium and Ed Meagher Arena respectively. Other hockey options can be found in the suburbs including the newest AHL team, the Laval Rocket who play at Place Bell and the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada who play at Centre d’Excellence Sports-Rousseau.
Other options in the area include checking out Montréal’s Jazz scene, which is the best in the country. The Upstairs Jazz Room is among many jazz bars in the area. The Biodome at Olympic Park is worth checking out. Also, tours of Olympic Park and Centre Bell can be booked. To check out a venue from an era gone past, fans can head up to rue Atwater which is the location of the former Forum de Montréal. The former home of the Canadiens is now a movie theatre among other things and houses a plethora of old seats, pictures and displays from the era of Les Habitants gone by.
There are a plethora of hotels in the area that offer walking distance to Centre Bell. The Best Western Plus Montréal Downtown Hotel Europa and Le Centre Sheraton Montréal Hotel are a couple that are pretty good.
Habs fans are some of the most ardent and loyal in sports. The Canadiens boast some of the highest attendance numbers in the league. They consistently rank in the top two with per game attendances of 21,288 in 2016 and 2017 and 22,299 in 2018. The Canadiens fans are also very strong travellers for Montréal away games. Although they may not be as loud throughout the game as one would expect, perhaps due to the poor showings on the ice as of late, there is no fan base that views sports as theatre quite like Montréal fans. Throughout the game fans are in their seats and the concourses and other areas in the arena are empty. They are glued to the action on the ice and it is a nice change of pace from fans who are consistently leaving the seating bowl during the game.
Getting to a Canadiens game can be a real challenge. Downtown Montréal is not the best place to drive and should be avoided if possible. Centre Bell is located west of Autoroute 10, but driving through the city will be a requirement. For fans who insist on driving, there is parking available in a few nearby parking garages, however it is of great importance to leave lots of time to get to Centre Bell. Public transit is the better way to go. Buses and the Metro are available near Centre Bell. Fans interested in public transit should check out the Societe de transport de Montréal website for fares, schedules and maps. Perhaps the best option is to find a hotel in the area and walk to the arena.
Getting around Centre Bell can be a bit of a challenge at times. Although concourses are fairly wide, the nature of Canadiens fans means that during intermissions and before and after the game, concourses are exceedingly crowded. Washroom facilities are decent.
Security at major sporting events is changing rapidly. It is highly recommended that fans check the Montréal Canadiens and Centre Bell websites before heading to the game for an up to date synopsis of security procedures.
Return on Investment 3
Costs for NHL games are definitely on the rise and the Canadiens is not a cheap experience. Ticket prices go from $64 all the way up to $297 per game. The cheapest priced ticket in the 100 or 200 levels is $152. Parking and staying downtown is also expensive. Overall, the Canadiens are an expensive ordeal that most fans will not do often. The return for the investment is decent, but with the Canadiens not currently being a strong team on the ice and the rising costs, the return does not match the investment as well as other experiences.
An extra mark for the Canadiana rivalry Montréal has with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It, perhaps, is best understood through the eyes of Roch Carrier’s “The Sweater” https://youtu.be/ZZyDsF-Gp3o
An extra mark for the Canadiens’ rivalry with the Boston Bruins which may be even more epic than the rivalry with the Leafs.
An extra mark for the peppering of Français throughout the game. Fait du Bruit! Le But!
As an Original Six team, the Montréal Canadiens are definitely a bucket list item. The City of Montréal is also a must do for all travellers. Therefore, fans who have not yet made it to La Belle Province for Les Habitants need to change that sooner than later.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
Best Western Plus Montréal Downtown Hotel Europa
1240 Drummond St
Montréal, QC H3G 1V7
Latest Crowd Reviews
gnoring the usually awful winter weather, Montreal is a destination that is well worth a multi-day visit. What unites the city is the Canadiens, and the fan passion always make for an enjoyable experience at the Bell Centre. While the huge arena has several downfalls, the attention to history and overall atmosphere lead to a must trip for any hockey fan.