In 1995-1996 the Montreal Canadiens left the famous and historical Montreal Forum which was the 2nd last remaining arena of the Original Six era. Probably no other fan-group had a harder time to transfer into the new home as the fans of the Montreal Canadiens, but the reality of the 90īs left no place for romantic feelings toward the old barn and simply asked for a venue that would enable the Canadiens to finance the NHL.
The Centre Bell (former Molson Centre) is desigend as most arenas of the new generation. More space for knee&ellbow, more concession stands for thirsty and hungry fans and at the bottom line more revenue for the owner. While fans of other teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks who had turned the old Chicago Stadium in one of the loudest and scariest places of the hockey-world (at least for visiting teams) more or less welcomed their respective moves into new arenas many fans of the Montreal Canadiens still suffer. "People just seemed to react different to the action on the ice" and "you would never see an empty seat at the Forum", an usher at the Centre Bell told me. I myself have never been able to enjoy a game at the Forum so itīs hard for me to compare the Centre Bell with the Forum and I donīt want to make some statements based on hearsay.
It is also tough to speculate wether the Canadiens would have sold out each and every game at the Montreal Forum when the Forum had had 21.273 seats as the Centre Bell, but itīs easy to see that there is a sea of empty seats at the MC these days. In 1999/2000 the Canadiens sold out less than half of their games, now, in 2000/2001 they only sell out when the Maple Leafs are in town, on other nights there are thousands of empty seats in the building and the scalpers outside the building have to read ads in the newspaper in order to find new jobs.
The arena of the Montreal Canadiens is located right near the center of Montreal and easy to reach by subway or car (subway station underneath the arena, lots of parking space around).
From the outside the arena is not really a pleasure for the eye by todayīs standards, itīs more of a pretty boring square, kind of like a warehouse. The interior is also not up to the standards of many other new buildings around the league. If you try to buy the typical overprized beverage between the periods or go for a walk to the bathrooms you might have to check your way through the concourse due to the fact that the adjective "spacious" was forgotten during the construction of those areas. While you might have considered it part of the atmosphere at the old Forum to check and crawl your way through the concourse it is definetly not what you should expect at a rather new nhl-arena and besides the pretty old Nassau Veteranīs Memorial Colisseum on Long Island I have not seen such a crowded place anywhere around the league.
But the designers saved the best for last: itīs ugly from the outside, uncomfortable
on the concourse but the main arena is definetly one of the best in the NHL. Only the
scoreboard with itīs 8 screens is not up to the best ones like in Chicago or
Philadelphia, many of the animated graphics also remind me of my kindergarten-days and are
out of place when the intention is to heat up a crowd but I guess some studies will prove
me wrong here. Maybe when the Canadiens start to play winning hockey again the
crowd-animaton on the videoscreen will be cut back a bit again, but with nothing to cheer
for on the ice on most nights they are probably hoping that at least a few people in the
crowd go home happy when they have seen themselves on the screen or when some
cartoon-figures told them to clap, dance, shout and consume (on the concourse).
Tips for visitors:
While it was really a struggle to get a hand on good tickets in Montreal a couple of years ago you will probably have a nice choice of great seats below box-office prices outside of the arena. While the season-ticket base is still pretty strong in Montreal (most companies forgot to cancell I suppose) many of the tickets go unused and end up in the hands of the scalpers. And with most games having an official attenandance between 18.000 and 20.000 there is a good chance that you will pay less if you skip the box-office and just buy the ticket on the street.
An exeption are games against Original Six-teams or all games against the Toronto Maple Leafs for that matter, even though the chances of a sellout remain slim at the moment. If you donīt want to risk anything go to the webpage of the Canadiens and order some tickets in advance, but when the opponent comes from Tampa Bay, Nashville or any other "nhl-hotbed" just walk up to the arena, the only remaining risk could be that the scalpers stayed home because they thought that nobody wanted their tickets.
Ticket-prices range from about 20 to 150 canadien dollars, you can get good seats in the lower level at around 80 dollars but due to the very steep architecture of the arena there is not a bad seat in the house. Just skip the 300er level if you are scared of heights or have bad eyes, the arena is the biggest in the NHL (at least seating-wise, Chicago sells up to 22.500 tickets but about 2.000 of those are standing-room tickets).
All in all Montreal might not be the top-adress for a hockey-vacation these years but it probably still beats most expansion markets and teams atmosphere-wise. There is a lot of hockey-history in Montreal, a pretty interesting arena-tour to go for and maybe one day even a Stanley Cup will skate around the ice, even though that might be many seasons away.
Seating-chart of the Centre Bell:
Seating-chart provided by www.eishockey.com.
Official Homepage of the Montreal Canadiens: (also tickets)
Very good coverage of the team by the Montreal Gazette: