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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Hockey in Montreal has a long history. Of course, everyone knows of the legendary status of the Montreal Canadiens. Their history of over 100 years and 24 Stanley Cups remain part of the greatest dynasty in all of sport. What most do not know, is that Montreal has a long, but checkered, history in junior hockey. Since its inception in 1969, the QMJHL has seen numerous incarnations of junior hockey around Montreal. In some cases, they were found within Montreal. In many others they were found in Montreal suburbs like Laval, Longeuil, and Verdun.
In 2005, the QMJHL expanded to St. John's, Newfoundland. After a short tenure on the eastern-most tip of Canada, the Fog Devils moved to Verdun for a short life as the Montreal Junior. Now the Junior have found a new home in another Montreal suburb. For the 2011-12 season, QMJHL saw the birth of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. The Armada are now the only major junior team based in a Montreal suburb.
The Junior were purchased by a group of investors led by French-language sports channel RDS analyist, and former NHL player, Joel Bouchard. Bouchard's group includes media company Quebecor, which owns 70% of the team, and NHL players Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Ian Laperriere, and Daniel Briere. Upon moving to the suburbs north of Montreal, they were renamed the Armada and moved into the new Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau. The arena is named after Canadian hockey superstore named Pro Hockey Life in English, and was built and jointly owned by the municipalities of Blainville and Boisbriand. The Armada may have finally found their niche for junior hockey in Montreal. What they present is simple, yet inviting.
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".
The food selection is very simple here. There are only a few concession stands and they offer the same items across the board. The staple items that you would expect to find in any arena are here. Hot dogs can be found for a bargain at $2, and burgers are only $3.50. You can also find the French-Canadian staple, poutine, for $5.75. Coke products are available, and the beer is either Molson Export or Coors Light. Beer runs $5.50. The prices are very good, but the quality and selection is definitely not over the top.
Upon arriving at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau you will immediately notice how new it looks. The exterior, although not overly impressive, is nice looking, and is a step above many of the older buildings in junior hockey. Entering the building you will find that this building is more minor league than major league. In fact, it doesn't seem to be completed yet.
The entry is pretty cramped, and there is only one ticket window. At the south end of the arena is a concession area, and standing bar which seems pretty nice, however the entrance to the seating bowl is also in here. On the west side of the arena, under the stands is a Sports Rousseau store, which is possibly the biggest store focusing only on hockey equipment around.
The seating bowl is very simple. The bowl has a horseshoe design with the concourse above the seating bowl. The west side has a balcony which currently houses the press, and looks like one day will house suites. The east side has no such balcony, and as a result, this small arena has a larger feel to it. The sight-lines are pretty good, and the interior of the arena is very bright.
Since the Armada have no history whatsoever, the arena is pretty bland, with only advertising, a simple score-clock, and a couple of flags for Canada, Quebec, and the city. Being north of Montreal, you are more immersed in French culture, and you will hear a lot more French and have a harder time finding English speaking people. The public address announcer has a pretty good voice, and is definitely excitable.
The Armada have taken to the military theme a bit. Joel Bouchard welcomed members of the Canadian military at centre ice, and there was a military band that sits in the south end of the stands and plays during breaks. This is most definitely unique for junior hockey.
The Armada play at the intersection of industrial, residential, and commercial. This area of the city of Boisbriand is going through a series of large construction projects, so it is difficult to say what it will look like in the future. There are not great opportunities for pre and post game dining in the immediate walking area, but there is a shopping district about a minute away that offers numerous North American chain restaurants to choose from. Although they may not be unique, if you are a little squeamish about the French-language, then one of these may be the best choice. Old favorites like Jack Astor's and Baton Rouge are available, but if you are looking for something a little more unique, try the Aqua Restaurant Bar or Vinnie Gambini's.
The Armada are drawing just under 3,000 fans per game, which is 7th best in the QMJHL, and a few hundred above what they were drawing last year in Verdun, as the Montreal Junior. Their attendance has been growing throughout the year, and they are nearly averaging capacity crowds which is very positive. A combination of the aluminum roof and Quebecois fans leads to a very loud environment. The acoustics aren't great for the P.A. announcer, but any goal for the Armada makes you remember that this is a French-Canadian, and therefore very boisterous, crowd. Fans are EXTREMELY knowledgeable about hockey and make themselves heard throughout the game.
The Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau is located in Boisbriand in a growing area. It is practically at the junction of the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 640. It is not too hard to get to. The parking there is free, but a gravel parking lot is what you will find. The mild weather produces one heck of a muddy mess! Once inside, maneuvering is a challenge due to the design and cramped quarters. The bathrooms are not too bad, but get really plugged up during intermissions.
Armada tickets go for $15 for adults and $11 for children, which is pretty good. Concession prices are good and parking is free. If you do the math, then you get a great night of entertainment for the whole family, in a great hockey culture, and a simple, yet inviting, environment. Great value, and a great idea.
An extra point for the mini ice rink that can be found under the stands on the east side. Players use this to work on their shot during and before the warm-ups.
An extra point for honouring the Canadian military, which has a strong presence in Quebec and a station at CFB Montreal. The military band was also a great touch.
An extra point for the DEEP hockey culture found in Montreal and Quebec in general.
An extra point for the RCMP Colour Guard in full dress uniforms presenting the Canadian and Quebec flag for the national anthem.
You will not find a whole lot of bells and whistles at an Armada game. Simple. However, the product that they put on the ice is pretty good, and the atmosphere there is good as well. Don't feel that Montreal is only about Les Habitants. Check out the Armada in the suburbs the next time you are there!
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3395 Avenue des Grandes Tourelles
Boisbriand, QC J7H 0A7
3370 Avenue des Grandes Tourelles
Boisbriand, QC J7H 0A2
3305 Avenue des Grandes Tourelles
Boisbriand, QC J7H 0A7
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