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Official Review by Aaron Rose, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
With a history that stretches back for more than a century, McGill has a pretty impressive alumni base. From Ken Dryden to Mike Babcock to William Shatner and Leonard Cohen, they seem to have every field covered, but I’m not sure any are as remarkable as Dr. James Naismith. The McGill grad starred on the Redmen football, soccer, and gymnastics teams before graduating in 1888. A year later he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts where he worked as a P.E. teacher at the local YMCA. After struggling to keep his class engaged in the frigid New England winters, Naismith decided to create a new indoor activity, one he named “Basket Ball.” While the rules have changed, the idea has stayed the same; get the ball in the basket. Now, 100 years later, basketball is the third biggest sport in North America, and a billion dollar industry.
But let’s go back to where it all began. Naismith may have never played on the McGill Basketball team, but that’s because he wouldn’t invent the sport for another three years! Today the McGill Redmen are perennial RSEQ favorites, winning the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons. Love Competition Hall, home of the Redmen, is certainly a stadium worth checking out if you’re in the area. The food and atmosphere won’t blow you away, but if you’re into basketball, games aren’t very long and the tickets are fairly inexpensive.
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".
Stadium food is stadium food. Love Competition Hall certainly isn't Jerryworld, the Bell Centre, or even Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, but the food is just fine. There is one concession stand located just outside the gym doors. The hot dogs here spin monotonously on metal grills while pizza sits under heat lamps. The food is nothing special but it's reasonably priced and you could easily eat for under $15. The popcorn is buttery and delicious and the beers, either Coors Light or Molson Canadian ($5.75), are cold and refreshing. Perhaps you'd be better off grabbing dinner at one of Montreal's great restaurants beforehand and just washing down some popcorn with a soda or beer while watching the game.
The Redmen are coming off consecutive RSEQ championships, although they haven't made any noise in the CIS tournament, they're still a young and talented squad. The team's 13 underclassmen are an exciting bunch to watch. While dunks are a rarity, the team has a handful of highfliers who can ignite the arena at any moment. The atmosphere may not be anything like an NCAA or NBA basketball game, but the arena can certainly be electrifying. In crunch time, 'D-Fence' rings out from both the stands and the Redmen bench while a thunderous pounding radiates from the wooden bleachers.
The PA announcer is about as dry as they come. He certainly won't impress, but he gets the job done. Marty the Martlet wanders around the stands giving out high-fives and dancing with the small marching band. The band, made up of only a handful of musicians, plays an assortment of music from the right side of the bleachers. If the McGill Martlets (women's team) finish their game early, they'll usually come back to watch the men's game from the stands with the fans. Sometimes other sports teams show up (athletes get in for free) and they certainly add to the environment, but other than that it's usually just friends, family, and some Red Thunder (The McGill 'Booster Clubs') in attendance.
If you've never been to Montreal, you NEED to go! It's widely considered one of the most fun cities in the world. The arena is located in downtown Montreal, just seconds away from McGill campus and the McGill 'ghetto' (student housing). It's a 10-minute walk to Saint-Laurent Boulevard, one of the many bar and club streets in Montreal and a great place to go with friends after the game. The only knock on the area is it can be really tough to navigate by car, especially when the snow makes driving conditions treacherous.
Fan attendance can be very unpredictable. It really depends on who the team's playing and if Red Thunder has organized an event. The season opener had 500+ in attendance, but just a week later the team just barely sold 300 tickets. When students and athletes fill the stands the stadium can become hostile for any opponent. The fans often break into hysteria when opponents step to the charity stripe, and after a player 'air-balls' or an officiating error, the fans can certainly erupt. Unfortunately there are often long stretches without any real excitement in the middle part of the game.
The one-way streets can get really annoying, especially if you're not from Montreal and don't know your way around the city. The arena is downtown, but when you get close the roads become a confusing labyrinth of one-way streets. In the snow driving can be really tough if you're not used to it, and make sure you don't turn right on a red light (only illegal in the city of Montreal). It's a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway station (McGill Station: 2055 rue University). There's a small car park attached to the building for fans driving in. The building can be tough to navigate if you're new to it, but there's always a security guard at the main entrance who's happy to assist newcomers.
Tickets are fairly inexpensive: $10 for general admission, $5 student and seniors, and free for children under 12. There's no assigned seating, so you can sit as close as you want. Considering the team is pretty good and everything is pretty cheap it's certainly worth checking out a game if you're in Montreal. I wouldn't recommend traveling to see the team play, but if you have a friend at McGill or you're staying at a hotel downtown, it's for sure worthwhile to check out a game.
If you are looking for some McGill paraphernalia or clothes, the Redbird Sports Shop is cheaper and has a better selection than the McGill Bookstore, but that's about it.
If you've never been to a Canadian collegiate sporting event and you're going to check out a Redman game, you probably won't be blown away. That being said, Love Competition Hall isn't bad for what it is, a CIS basketball arena. Attendance will never reach quadruple digits, but not many CIS events ever do. Once again, it's certainly not worth traveling to the arena unless you're in the area, but if you're with some friends, why not check out the McGill Redmen?
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