Place Bell – Laval Rocket
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Place Bell 1950 Rue Claude-Gagne Laval, QC H7N 0E4
Year Opened: 2017 Capacity: 10,062
L’Éclat Rouge des Rocket
In 2015, Hamilton Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer sold his AHL franchise to the Montréal Canadiens. The Bulldogs had been the affiliate of the Canadiens from 2002 and would immediately and temporarily relocate to St. John’s, Newfoundland to be rebranded as the St. John’s IceCaps. However, the long view of the NHL franchise was to have their American Hockey League affiliate much closer. In 2017, the IceCaps relocated to Laval, Québec, just north of the Island of Montréal and their brand new facility, Place Bell. The IceCaps were immediately rebranded as the Laval Rocket, a tribute to the most popular Canadien ever, Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Laval followed the lead of the former QMJHL team the Montréal Rocket, who played out of Aréna Maurice-Richard in Montréal and eventually moved to Prince Edward Island.
Place Bell was built by the City of Laval with the Canadiens affiliate in mind. Place Bell opened its doors in 2017 at a cost of $200 million. As of 2022, it is the second newest venue in the AHL and provides a very different environment than the other AHL venues or the cross town parent club.
Food & Beverage 4
Concession options at Place Bell are pretty decent. The biggest issue with concessions is that patrons will have to maneuver the French menus. Lafleur hot dogs and Pizza Pizza slices are easily recognizable. Poutine, fries, chocolate, candy and cotton candy are all readily available. The soft drink of choice is Coca-Cola and coffee and other hot beverages are also available. What looks like a fairly pedestrian menu gets a bump up with the presence of Montréal Smoked Meat sandwiches and a wide variety of alcoholic beverages beyond just the popular Molson Export beer. A little Google Translate may be in order, but getting through the menu is possible.
Approaching Place Bell, fans will immediately be struck by its exterior. As the newest AHL facility at the time of this writing, Place Bell has a presence in the neighborhood and is not inconspicuous. The venue is highlighted by a large, white upper exterior that, for the moment, looks clean and sharp. The entrance to the main facility is well below the white facade and features a glass entrance into a very small entryway. To the west end of the building are the other parts of a larger complex, including an Olympic sized ice surface with room for over 2,000 spectators.
Entry into the concourses at Place Bell lead to a fairly attractive breezeway with plenty of red accents. The relatively short history of the Rocket becomes painfully obvious as the murals along the concourse walls do not share historic moments for the club but their American Hockey League schedule, franchise map and up to date standings. A small area featuring promotional games, picture opportunities with the Rocket mascot Cosmo and cornhole games can be found in the east concourse.
Entry into the seating bowl assaults fans with the stark contrasts Place Bell offers. The ceiling seats and walls are all very dark and for pregame, the lights are turned low. A platform on the southeast corner is the spot for the local DJ and intermission act for the concert series. A smoke machine works in the area to give the arena an eerie feel. The four sided videoboard at centre-ice is brand new and crystal clear. On the south side of the videoboard are flags as well as the Canadian Division Champions banner for 2021. The seating bowl features a single bowl with an upper deck equating to a capacity of 10,062. One of the most curious features of Place Bell is the lighting, which does not hang over the ice but around the upper perimeter similar to an outdoor facility.
The gameday production is bold for sure.
There is very little that is traditional about a Rocket game. As compared to a Canadiens experience, the Rocket are significantly more French with fewer bilingual and translated items. Goals and penalties are bilingual yet promotions by the in-game host are exclusively in French. The production is much more like a nightclub rather than a traditional hockey game. French hip hop music is dominant and the in house DJ mashes much of the musical selections. The lighting is also treated like a club with strobe-like effects on the pregame and moving spotlights like one would find at a concert. It is different for sure and is probably more divisive than what hockey fans are used to.
Place Bell is located north of the Prairies River, in the Laval-des-Rapides neighbourhood, close to retail and education. Centre Laval and Quartier Laval offer large scale shopping options within walking distance of the arena. Montmorency College is right across the road as well as a Université de Montréal campus. Not as flashy as a big city, downtown area, Laval does offer some spots, both local and chain, for pre and post game food. La Belle Province is a local favourite and there are plenty of Italian restaurants in the area including Restaurant Terracina and Lugano’s.
For other sporting options, fans will have to head south, into Montréal for the Canadiens, Alouettes, or CF Montréal. University sports are well represented also with the McGill Redbirds, Concordia Stingers, Montréal Carabins and UQAM Citadins. Fans could also head north for some QMJHL hockey with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Fans looking for other cultural experiences in the immediate area could go to the Musée de la santé Armand-Frappier, a local science centre, or head back into Montréal for all it has to offer. Le St-Martin Hotel, Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn are all close for accommodations.
Averaging between 4,000 and 6,000 fans, the Laval Rocket find themselves smack dab in the middle of the AHL attendance rankings. Attendance has shrunk a bit since the opening of Place Bell, however the coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with crowd sizes all over the place and it will be interesting to see where the Rocket settle in. Fans are generally more boisterous than your average Canadian fans, however they are not nearly as committed or loud as fans of the parent Canadiens.
Place Bell is located in the Laval-des-Rapides neighbourhood of Laval. Laval is essentially a suburb of Montréal, north of the island. Montréal traffic is as much an issue as any other big city and getting into Laval depends on where a fan is coming from. Place Bell is located immediately east of Autoroute 15 and south of Autoroute 440. There is plenty of parking around the arena at the campus of Montmorency College. For fans wanting to head to the game taking public transportation, there are a number of options and a major Metro Station is within a few steps of Place Bell. The Gare de la Concorde Train station is a few blocks east of the arena. Fans should check the Société de Transport de Montréal or Société de Transport de Laval websites for fares, maps and schedules.
Getting around the arena is not difficult at all and the washroom facilities are adequate for the crowd at hand. With the coronavirus pandemic protocols and security protocols are constantly changing. Stadium Journey emplors fans to consult the Place Bell and Laval Rocket websites to get the most up to date security and protocol information possible.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets for the Laval Rocket go from $19 through $49 in advance of gameday. Excellent seats can be had from $33 down and the excellent sightlines gives Rocket fans the opportunity to enjoy the game from just about anywhere for a very reasonable price. Parking will cost a few dollars for fans arriving by car and, of course, the Metro or other public transportation would also cost a few dollars. Concession prices are about what one would expect and the product on the ice is good. Laval is not as established an AHL club as one would find on the east coast, but they are finding their niche as a cheaper alternative to the parent Canadiens.
An extra mark for the continued honouring of Montréal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard, probably the most popular Canadien of all time, with the naming of the team.
An extra mark for the Rocket attempting to create a very different sporting experience.
As one of the newest AHL franchises, the Laval Rocket are establishing their niche in the Montréal sports market. Place Bell is shiny and new and central to the Laval community and fans will enjoy a trip to see some hockey there.