Itinerant Fan

Bell Centre

In a hockey-mad city like Montreal, and in the home of a franchise that, thanks to 24 Stanley Cup championships, boasts as much tradition as any in the NHL, it stands to reason that the arena there would be as close to a mecca as anything in the sport.

And you’d be sort of right. Bell Centre, home of the Canadiens since 1996, is certainly a shrine, its atmosphere befits the home of a storied franchise, and its location in the heart of a beautiful and vibrant city can’t be beat. Then again, the Habs haven’t won a Cup since 1993, and thus haven’t won one as tenants of their current home, so it doesn’t exactly house a ton of fond memories for the home fans. (For more on the team’s former home, the old Montreal Forum, read on — you might be surprised to find out it’s still standing.)

Still, if you love hockey, a visit to Montreal and a game at Bell Centre is well worth the trip, for many different reasons.

  •   The Approach

    If you’ve never been to Montreal (or spent any time in Quebec or even any part of Canada, for that matter), you may find the prevalence of French, both in conversation and on signs, a little disconcerting. You’ll quickly get over it — it’s part of the fun of visiting the city, and besides, nearly every Montrealer can quickly transition to English if you need it. But you need to be aware of it, since French shows up everywhere, including on the scoreboards and ribbon boards inside Bell Centre.

    Besides, the more aware you are of all the French, the more prepared you’ll be to get to Bell Centre. If you’re visiting Montreal, you might be staying in a downtown hotel, and many of them are within an easy walking distance of the arena (unless, of course, it’s the dead of winter and freezing outside). The arena can be somewhat hidden among all the tall buildings nearby, so look for either Boulevard Rene-Levesque or Rue Peel, two major downtown streets that intersect within a couple blocks — if you can get on one of those two streets, you’ll be on the right track.

    If you’d rather not walk, or are coming from a greater distance, use Montreal’s very efficient Metro subway system, which services nearly every spot in town a tourist would frequent. For Bell Centre, use the Orange line and disembark at the Lucien-L’Allier station next door, then walk through an underground tunnel into the arena. (The Lucien-L’Allier station is also a departure/arrival point for regional trains.) If you’re on the Green line and don’t want to transfer, you can get off at Peel and walk about half a mile.

    For drivers, a major highway, Route 720 (Autoroute Ville-Marie) runs right into downtown and has an exit nearby (Exit 4, Rue de la Montagne/Rue St. Jacques). Bell Centre operates a parking structure underneath the arena that costs C$29 to enter for Canadiens games. Other options, many of them cheaper, can be found throughout the downtown area.

  •   The Build-Up

    Booking.com

    With two major hotels, Le Centre Sheraton and the Marriott Chateau-Champlain, just blocks away and many restaurants and bars on the surrounding streets, there are countless ways to pass the time before or after games. Check out this list for restaurants near the arena. If it’s your first visit, you may want to try to find a few local specialities, such as smoked meat (think pastrami, just spiced a little differently) and poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds, and sometimes other things on top).

    If you really want to live it up, head to Crescent Street, just a few blocks west of the arena, where Montreal’s best nightlife is, as well as a few good restaurants. If you’d rather wait until after the game, most of the establishments on Crescent Street stay open well past midnight.

    Farther west, at the corner of Saint-Catherine and Atwater streets, you’ll find the old Montreal Forum, home of the Canadiens from 1926 to 1996 and site of many of the franchise’s memorable moments. The building has been converted into a mall, but many mementos remain of its glorious past. The Habs operate a team store within the mall as well.

  •   The Ambiance

    If you’re visiting the home of the Habs, you owe it to yourself to spend some time taking in the team’s illustrious history, and that generally is easy to do at Bell Centre. Start at what’s called Centennial Plaza outside the arena’s east side (the plaza was moved from its original spot to make way for development), which includes statues of four Canadiens greats and numerous tributes to the team’s championships and historic moments.

    You’ll also find many artifacts and displays within the arena itself, and be sure to check out all the banners and retired numbers hanging from the rafters. Bell Centre also was home to an extensive Canadiens Hall of Fame museum, but interestingly, the team decided to close it in 2015.

    Really, the tributes to Canadiens history is what sets Bell Centre apart from its fellow NHL venues, because if you take that away, it’s just a regular ol’ arena (albeit a pretty big one capacity-wise, as hockey barns go). The squarish shape of its exterior does little to set it apart from the downtown office buildings and lofts that surround it, and once inside, the seating bowl is pretty standard (though sight lines are generally very good regardless of where you sit). The food choices are fairly uninspiring as well, but at least you can get poutine and wash it down with a Molson Canadian. Be prepared for sticker shock as well — nearly all beer options inside the arena cost more than C$10, a hefty price even if the U.S.-Canada exchange rate is unfavorable to the Canadian dollar.

    As for game presentation, well, that’s definitely something they do well in Montreal. The Canadiens have taken it to the next level in recent years as something of a pioneer of on-ice projections that are starting to become more popular around the NHL. During the game, you’ll quickly become well-versed in French hockey terms if you’re observant, as the scoreboard will flash “But” after goals and make references to “la LNH,” among other things. And Canadiens fans, despite their franchise’s history of success having dried up over the last 20 seasons, are among the most knowledgeable in the league.

The Particulars

Home Teams
Montreal Canadiens

Address
1909 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal
Montreal, QC H4B 5G0

Year Opened
1996

Capacity
21,273

Upcoming Events
All times local
La Voix Humaine - Montreal
Saturday, December 16, 2017
3:00 pm
Get tickets at SeatGeek »

La Voix Humaine - Montreal
Saturday, December 16, 2017
7:30 pm
Get tickets at SeatGeek »

Cirque du Soleil - Crystal - Montreal
Thursday, December 21, 2017
3:30 pm
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Cirque du Soleil - Crystal - Montreal
Thursday, December 21, 2017
7:30 pm
Get tickets at SeatGeek »

Cirque du Soleil - Crystal - Montreal
Friday, December 22, 2017
7:30 pm
Get tickets at SeatGeek »


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