A quick look up to the rafters inside the Bell Centre helps to paint a picture of what the Montreal Canadiens franchise means to the sport of hockey. From the 24 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded names of former hockey greats, stepping inside the arena means that you become part of Montreal’s most important entity. While it has been over 21 years since their last Cup, the Canadiens are back as a force in the NHL, and fans across the league have been able to see what a raucous place the Bell Centre becomes during the playoffs. Before moving in to the new arena in 1996, hockey was played in the Montreal Forum, a cathedral for many Quebecers. The Bell Centre has plenty of downfalls and is not one of the NHL’s top buildings; however, attending a game here is a must, thanks to the terrific location, great fans and wonderful displays of team history.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Overall food selection is disappointing, as concession after concession offers the same general assortment of standard items. Adding to the dissatisfaction are the menus, which list item prices without tax, so a $6.09 box of popcorn is really $7 with the 15% tax. Lots of hot dogs, french fries and snacks can be seen, while poutine (very popular in Canada) is nowhere to be found. Montreal is a great food city, but the only local item is the famous smoked meat sandwich. Though it is tasty, be prepared to feel empty-handed, as the small sandwich goes for $9. Just a few stands offer the smoked meat, and at those locations, a mystery wrap or panini can be ordered. Coca-Cola is the soda provider, as a regular drink is $5. Molson and Coors beer can be found all over, with prices ranging from a $7.50 small to a $15.50 large.
The restaurant La Cage Aux Sports is accessible both inside and outside the building, open for all ticket holders. Along with the food, there are plenty of TVs to catch other sports going on. The place does get quite packed before games.
Before we get to the awesome crowd-generated atmosphere, first the arena itself. The Bell Centre just sort of shows up in downtown Montreal, as it is a rather unattractive tall building that much more resembles a brick factory warehouse, as opposed to a sports facility. Before actually heading inside, it is worth the extra $6 to visit the Canadiens Hall of Fame (Temple de la Renommee). An excellent presentation of the team's history with displays that are well done is a great way to get the visit started. More team history can be seen in the Centennial Plaza; however, this area that was introduced in 2008 needed to be temporarily removed due to nearby outside construction. Look for a new plaza full of statues and honours in the next few years. Back inside, additional team mementos continue, not just from the rafters, but also from the concourses where Centennial Club members are displayed wonderfully. The concourse themselves are a little tight, and each upper and lower level walkway has space issues, especially since games are always sold out.
Stepping inside the rink, the first impression is size. The massive bowl is the largest in the NHL, with over 21,000 seats. Many of those red seats are in the lower deck, and if you are sitting here, the experience is decent. After a level of club seating and luxury suites, the upper 300s and 400s are really the downfall of the building. Most can't get into the highly expensive lower seats, and the general fan is stuck a mile high at the top of the building, where the ceiling obstructs the scoreboard view. It's too bad, as the center board is really decent with high quality video, and it is not obtrusively big. Railings are needed between each row of this secluded and generally dark area.
The Canadiens have mastered the pregame ceremony, and the intros are really something to see live, especially during playoff contests. Once the game gets going, the Bell Centre is great for the vibe and noise generated. Loud and passionate fans keep the interest at a high level, and the periodic "Ole Ole" chants when nearing victory are unique to Montreal.
As one of the most beautiful cities in North America, Montreal is worth more than a night's stay to see the sights and live the culture. Located along the St. Lawrence River in the southwestern part of Quebec, the cosmopolitan city embraces its European ancestry quite well, and that is no more apparent than in Old Montreal. This is about a 20-minute walk from the arena, and the tight cobblestone streets make one feel as though they have crossed the Atlantic. Dining is excellent in this section, too. Walking around and admiring the architecture is enjoyable, while a great place to stop is the Notre-Dame Basilica. Another must-see is Mont-Royal, the hill that rises just west of downtown. It includes an incredible promenade that offers sweeping views of the city. Be sure to bundle up, as most of the hockey season features snow on the ground and very cold temperatures.
Restaurants are excellent throughout Montreal and some specialty food unique to the area that is worth trying includes the smoked meat, bagels, split-pea soup and hot chicken sandwiches. With the location of the Bell Centre being downtown, there are plenty of places to stop and eat within walking distance, and nearby Saint Catherine Street (Rue Sainte-Catherine) is always hopping.
The Canadiens have sold every seat in the Bell Centre for over a decade, and no-shows are very limited on game nights. Just take a walk around the city and you will see that famous logo practically anywhere you go, as often the team is referred to as a religion. With undeniable support and passion, that leads to a great hockey experience in the Bell Centre. At times, the fandom is a little too much, and it has boiled over on occasion (see the 1955 Richard Riot, the occasional booing of the US anthem and the 2010 post-Game 7 trouble). The team's popularity can be spotted on the road, as many of the arenas in the NHL's Eastern Conference will feature plenty of red when the Canadiens come to town.
For anyone unfamiliar, Quebec is a French-speaking province, and the dominant language across Montreal is French. Pretty much all signs and annoucements in the building will be in that language, while most fans prefer French. Admirably, much of the city is bilingual, and English-speaking fans have no problem communicating with natives in the building. It is polite to make the effort and ask "Parlez-vous anglais?" before starting a conversation, while at the concession stand starting right out in English helps the line move faster.
Driving around Montreal's congested city can be a chore, and frequent construction also makes for some headaches. The A-720 is the main route into downtown, and with the Bell Centre located in the middle of the city, there is no dedicated parking. Drivers have to shell out a pretty penny for parking lots and garages that quickly get full closer to the arena. Definitely do some homework as to which lot to use and how to get there. A good suggestion if you do not mind the cold is to find an all-day garage and stay there while touring the city before the game in the evening. Public Transit is a decent way to go as well, with plenty of options to the Bell Centre, thanks to multiple lines and stations. There is a connection with the Lucien-L'allier Metro Station on the orange line that goes right inside the arena, meaning that fans do not even have to step outside. Fares are cheap, and the metro system in Montreal is pretty good with decent access. English-only speaking visitors may still want to drive, as it can be troublesome navigating the French signs and maps in the Metro.
The inside of the Bell Centre gets crowded quickly, and the intermission is a lesson in swimming with a sea of people. If not quick enough, reaching the washroom is a challenge, and a line is inevitable between periods.
While individual ticket prices are not as insane as nearby rival Toronto, they are still at the higher end of the league spectrum. The main issue is that they disappear as soon as they go on sale during a public lottery, and most fans are forced to go the secondary ticket route. From there, things get crazy, as the worst seats in the house often start over $60, and the better ones in the upper deck still reach triple digits. Tickets in the lower bowl (a much better viewing experience) are often over $200. It's a shame it costs a small fortune just for a sporting event. Parking and concessions are high, too. The return at least is a great experience, and even if the Canadiens are playing a weeknight weak opponent, you can still expect a fun atmosphere.
When the Montreal Expos left for Washington, the Canadiens did a great job picking up the sad void. The team adopted Youppi as a mascot, and it has been a resounding success. In addition, an Expos banner was added to the rafters in 2008. This is very classy, and it shows the organization cares about the city.
The torch is the defining symbol of the Canadiens, and inside the locker room is the line "To you from falling hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high" from the poem "In Flanders Fields." The torch can be seen in many aspects of the team, and it is most goosebump-inducing during pregame ceremonies.
Further display of the incredible attachment Montreal has with its team can be seen during the closing ceremony of the Montreal Forum, where icon Maurice Richard received an emotional, 7-8 minute standing ovation.
Finally, all of the historical touches are worthy of another point. Not many sports stadiums have their own team museum, and that almost warrants a special visit alone.
Ignoring 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.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium and Arena Visits.
After seventy-two years of play in The Forum, the Montreal Canadiens moved into a new building in March of 1996. The Bell Centre (or Le Centre Bell in French) does its' best to transfer the tradition and history of hockey's most famous and successful franchise, but there are a few things it falls short on.
In many respects, carefully applying all the finer touches of preserving the franchise's storied past is a daunting task. In so many ways, you take in these visual elements and think to yourself how the work was so well-done. In other ways, however, you wonder what the planners were thinking. Sadly, despite so many good things experienced at the game, I am left with a feeling of being cheated out of my visit to the Bell Centre. If you take away one thing from this review, take note of where not to sit at a Canadiens game.
While it did take some years, the Montreal Canadiens organization has managed the seemingly impossible feat of transporting the heart and soul of the Montreal Forum and implanting that aura into a modern day building. The Bell Centre in Montreal is an atmospheric hockey temple, replete with the excitement of the present day games as well as being enwrapped in the club's glorious past everywhere one looks. Visiting the Bell Centre for the first time becomes a day long experience, and there is an abundance to take in before game time.
Prior to entering the building, the history of the team necessitates a visit to the outdoor concourse, which features tributes to the team's iconic stars and glorious past. On the northwest corner of the lot, photo ops await in the form of statues of hockey greats Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Howie Morenz.
There are also monuments to players whose numbers have been retired by the team as well as a seven foot square marble block listing every single player to don the Canadiens uniform in 100 seasons. The outdoor concourse is but a tease in terms of what awaits inside the building's wall. First time visitors are highly encouraged to plan a visit to the newly created Canadiens Hall Of Fame in the building's lower level as well as taking the Bell Centre tour, which brings fans high enough to have eye to eye views with Stanley Cups banners and retired numbers as well as going behind the scenes of arena, into the press and media rooms, past the team's dressing room and into the former Canadiens lounge.
Nearing game time, the building explodes to life, as fans donning the colors of each era in the team's history roam the halls gazing at the plentitude of memorabilia on its walls. Fans are encouraged to visit all levels of the building before puck drop, as each of the arena's four levels offer vivid glimpses into the team's 24 Stanley Cup championships. Canadiens history is alive and plastered everywhere one looks, and a visitor cannot help but be captivated by the sights.
A large part of the atmosphere inside the building involves the pre-game buildup. It is an incredible crescendo of sight and sound that must be felt to be truly experienced. Arriving at one's seat early is strongly advised. Between the team's pre-game warmup and the start of the game, video montages are played on the league's biggest overhead high definition screen as well as being splashed across the width of the ice surface. It is a riveting feeling, placing every first time visitor in a seventh game Stanley Cup final atmosphere, despite the consequence of the particular game at hand.
The lead-in to game time plays off a similar anticipation to that of a rock concert. Not to be missed are the starting lineup intros, the minor league players donning Habs colors and flags skating laps around the rink before the announcement of the Canadiens players follow, and the singing of the national anthems. In short, missing the pre-game buildup to a match at the Bell robs the overall experience of much of the emotional momentum.
No team in the NHL has enjoyed as much success as the Montréal Canadiens, and few cities embrace their team as much as Montréal does with their NHL franchise. Since moving from one of hockey's great temples, the Forum, the team has turned their new home into a palace of Canadiens' history. Watching a hockey game at the Bell Centre is a showcase of cultural heroes throughout hockey history, and is one of many highlights for visitors to the wonderful city of Montréal.
If you are over 5'9", your going to have a bad time. your legs literally hit the seat back and you can't move them. one of the most painful experiences ever. but getting to the game is so easy. I actually ran in to the refs and had a nice conversation with them before the game. the stadium is very historic and makes any hockey fan go crazy for the history. even if you don't speak french, you can still do well.
Pros: Pre-game presentation second to none. History everywhere. Lower level seats are steeply raked, so you're right on top even if at the top of the lowers. Great upper concourse. Multitude of food/drink in area around arena (Go somewhere on Peel or Crescent).
Meh: Food is standard stadium fare, smoked meat/poutine far inferior to what can be had 500m away at half the price. All lower washrooms are at the goal-ends, meaning claustrophobia at intermissions, though surprisingly efficient (hint: just keep walking through, you will find short lines at the very back) Disappointingly typical amount of promos/gimmicks, though the exercise break is pretty funny.
Cons: The 400s are waaayyy too high, very poorly lit, have the view of the scoreboard/banners/other side partially blocked by either the pressbox or the catwalks depending on where you are, and seem like a design afterthought. If you can get one cheap, go for it, but if you're making a trip out of it, try not to go above grey rows A and B. Lower level concourses are an overdesigned, narrow, crowded mess.
-Home fans are knowledgeable, and loud when excited, but quiet as a library when the Habs are mediocre. Always a fun time, but don't (as some do) expect a playoff atmosphere for a February game against Nashville.
-If you're in the upper level, DO NOT use the stairs while the game is underway unless you want an interesting language lesson (some seats are right on the staircase).
-Look at the subway map, and find the one next to Lucien l'allier in the direction of your destination, and use that one.
-While it may seem polite to try your grade 9 French when buying beer, there's probably 30 people behind you at the stand. Montreal convention is to just speak the language you want to use and the clerk will serve you in it. No one will judge you.
1225 Rue Crescent
Montreal, QC H3G 2B1
3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montreal, QC H2W 1L2
994 Rue Rachel Est
Montreal, QC H2J 2J3
367 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est
Montreal, QC H2T 1R1
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