- Dave Cottenie
Bell Centre – Montreal Canadiens
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Bell Centre 1909 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal Montreal, QC H3B 5G0
Year Opened: 1996
Les Habitants Historiques
One of the most beloved works of Canadian literature is The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier. It tells the story of a young boy in rural Québec and the horror of receiving a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey sweater in error. It tells of the love for Maurice Richard and the importance of hockey. Quite possibly, Carrier provides the best explanation for the love that Quebecers have for Les Habitants. The Montréal Canadiens are the oldest team in the National Hockey League, having been in action since 1909 and they boast twenty four Stanley Cup Championships, more than any other team in the league. They are as synonymous with hockey as the New York Yankees are with baseball and the Boston Celtics are with basketball. Simply put, a trip to see the Canadiens should be at the top of any hockey fan’s bucket list.
In 1996, the Canadiens left their venerable home at the Montréal Forum to the brand new Centre Bell. Taking a little time to feel lived in and home, the Bell Centre is now as good an NHL experience as there is. In 2009, the Canadiens were welcomed back into hockey royalty as they were sold once again to the Molson Family, who remains their owner to date. With a hockey dynasty in tow as well as the Bell Centre, the Molsons have seen the Canadiens, once again, become one of the most valuable teams in the NHL.
Food & Beverage 5
Centre Bell offers a concession scene that is as good as any other in the NHL. The city of Montreal is a culinary leader with probably the most locally unique cuisine in the country. All of the expected regulars can be found at Centre Bell. Local favourite, Lafleur hot dogs are prominently featured in the arena and are joined by Pizza Pizza stands. Fans may be prepared to look for mais soufflé, frites or croustilles as opposed to popcorn fries and chips. On the main or upper levels, poutine and peanut butter brownie cheesecake will catch the attention of fans. However, the best options may be found in the sub level, where M2 Marché MTL offers a very unique culinary experience. Tex Mex, BBQ, Italian sandwiches, burgers, sushi and specialty hot dogs can all be found at five different, food court style restaurants.
Coca-Cola products are the soft drinks of choice at Centre Bell. A curious characteristic of the patrons of Centre Bell is that beer is not the overwhelming alcoholic beverage of choice as it is in most other arenas. Molson Export is the most popular beer in the arena but Coors Light, Molson Ultra and Heineken are among other varieties available. Wines, spirits and especially coolers are very popular at Centre Bell
Located in the heart of Montréal, Centre Bell is similar to other arenas in that it is almost inconspicuous due to the surrounding high rises. It is possible to be two blocks from the arena and not even know it. The exterior of Centre Bell is fine; not unattractive but not overly special either. Before the game, or even when around the arena during a non-game time, it is a must for fans to head to the east side of the arena where La Cour Rio Tinto resides. This square is a terrific meeting place and has a ton of history to it. The bronze statues of Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Howie Morenz represent distinctly different eras for the Habs. On the wall behind the Richard statue are 24 marble plaques, each for a Stanley Cup victory. On the opposite side of the statues are permanent displays for each of the retired numbers in Canadiens history including Jacques Plante, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Maurice Richard, Emile Bouchard, Elmer Lach, Howie Morenz, Bernie Geoffrion, Jean Béliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden Serge Savard, Patrick Roy, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Guy Lafleur and Guy Lapointe. The logo commemorating the history of the team and a GoHabsGo sign are also great photo opportunities. There are also a number of large bricks on the ground commemorating important moments in Canadiens history, like when Jacques Plante became the first goaltender to wear a mask. Pregame festivities are found here and muskoka chairs and propane fireplaces are put out for the perfect meeting place.
Entering Centre Bell will lead fans past a few displays. Young fans may want to hang out in Youppi’s corner featuring the former mascot of the Montréal Expos and current Habs mascot. The upper concourse has displays for all of the members of the Canadiens Ring of Honour. They are also displayed on the walls behind the seating bowl. Montreal Canadiens Ring of Honour include those whose numbers are retired and Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman, Pat Burns, Guy Carbonneau, Joseph Cattarinich, Chris Chelios, Sprague Cleghorn, Leo Dandurand, Dick Duff, Bill Durnan, Herb Gardiner, Tommy Gormon, George Hainsworth, Joe Hall, Tom Johnson, Aurele Joliat, Newsy Lalonde, Rod Langway, Jacques Laperriere, Jack Laviolette, Jacques Lemaire, Frank Mahovlich, Joe Malone, Sylvio Mantha, Hartland Molson, William Northey, Ambrose O’Brien, Buddy O’Connor, Bert Olmstead, Didier Pitre, Sam Pollock, Donat Raymond, Ken Reardon, Mark Recchi, Denis Savard, Frank Selke, Steve Shutt, Babe Siebert, Rogie Vachon, Georges Vezina and Gump Worsley. The history continues in a corner featuring the team pictures of all of the Stanley Cup winning teams and other artifacts.
The seating bowl continues to drip with history. The retired banners hang proudly as well as the Stanley Cup banners for 1916, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 19523, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986 and 1993. A nice touch is the Montréal Expos banner for the retired numbers of Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. The seating bowl itself is huge with a capacity of over 21,000 red stadium seats and a press box that hangs over the seating bowl so as not to obstruct any views or take up any space.
The game day production balances traditional with modern. Traditional organ music is played during the pregame and once the warmups happen, modern music takes over. The Habs feature an original goal song to the team and Youppi can be found around the arena. Overall, this place drips history and is unlike any other. Although the Habs may feel a little in your face from a distance or when watching on television, it is hard not to get into the spirit and feel some goosebumps when you are in person.
Montréal is one of the great cities in North America. Located right downtown, Centre Bell is situated perfectly near bars, restaurants and hotels. A pregame meal at La Cage, right in Centre Bell is a great idea if planned properly. Other great options within seconds of the arena are Bier Markt, Ye Olde Orchard and Madisons. The Sheraton, Marriott and Best Western are all within walking distance, which is the best option. The Bell Centre is also two blocks from Sainte-Catherine Street, which has more options than can be listed here.
Other sporting options in Montréal include CF Montréal of Major League Soccer that play at Stade Saputo and the Montréal Alouettes of the CFL that play on the nearby campus of McGill University at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium. The McGill Redbirds also play football at Molson Stadium, as well as basketball and hockey at the McGill Sports Centre and McConnell Arena. The Concordia Stingers, UQAM Citadins and Montréal Carabins also field USports teams at a variety of campus facilities. One more must do for hockey fans in Montréal is to head to the former Montréal Forum, which now houses offices and a movie theatre, to take in a little more hockey nostalgia. There are plenty of other Montréal attractions around, including the Olympic sites from the 1976 games and the Biodome. Coming to town for the Jazz Festival or Comedy Festival may also be of interest.
Les Habitants have enjoyed some of the greatest fan support in any sport. Consistently near the top of the attendance standings with a huge capacity at Centre Bell, sellouts are a forgone conclusion for the Canadiens. Habs fans take it to a whole new level, with a noise level that rivals just about any fanbase, and a dedication that is like no other. In Montréal, hockey is like theatre. Fans do not head for the exits during play or hang out in the concourses during the game. Hockey is paramount in Montréal and everything else is window dressing. Although they have been accused of being arrogant, it is difficult to argue with the dedication that Habs fans display.
Centre Bell is located in the heart of Downtown Montréal and is not the easiest place to get to. Montréal traffic is as significant as that of its sister big cities like Toronto and Los Angeles. Centre Bell is located just north of Highway 136 and south of Highway 138. However, these are not fast moving, especially during rush hours or when fans are heading toward a game. The best ideas for the easiest traversing of Montréal traffic during game day are to either take public transit or to stay in one of the numerous hotels within walking distance of the arena. Within a few steps of Centre Bell, there are numerous public transit options including bus stops, the train station and subway stations. Fans should investigate the Société de Transport de Montréal website for fares, maps and schedules. There are a few parking garages in the immediate area, however, getting out of Downtown after the game is even more challenging than getting to the arena. Gridlock is a real issue with those garages all emptying to the narrow, Downtown Montréal streets.
Montréal Canadiens fans are unique in that the focus is much more on hockey than anything else that is part of the experience. That being said, getting around the concourses is extremely easy, during gameplay. Getting around the arena during intermissions and before or after the game is a lot more challenging. There are decent washroom facilities at Centre Bell, but expect lines during those peak times.
With the coronavirus pandemic and continuously changing security measures, Stadium Journey recommends that fans consult the Montréal Canadiens and Centre Bell websites for the most up to date security procedures and requirements before heading to the arena.
Return on Investment 3
According to the 2021-2022 NHL Fan Cost Index, the Montréal Canadiens are in the upper echelon of expensive experiences. Coming in at over $550 in the index, the Canadiens come in at 7th, almost $100 north of the league average. Although the Canadiens and their fans provide one of the greatest hockey environments in the world, it is undeniable that it is an expensive proposition. However, it remains undeniable that the Canadiens are a bucket list experience for all puckheads!
An extra mark for the epic rivalry the Habs share with the Boston Bruins, which is the true Montréal rival as opposed to the Maple Leafs
An extra mark for embracing the history and successes of the franchise more than any other team in the NHL.
An extra mark for the peppering of Français throughout the game. Fait du Bruit! Le But!
An extra mark for the experience at the old Montréal Forum, which is a great spot for some Habs nostalgia.
Without a doubt, a trip to Centre Bell to see the Montréal Canadiens needs to be near the top of any hockey bucket list. Although the arena itself is not earth shattering, the Canadiens put on a terrific product, even when the team is down. The fans add to the dynamic more than any other fanbase in the NHL. Finally, a trip to see the Habs is as much a trip through hockey history as any experience there is.