April 9, 2015
Tonight’s game was a vastly different experience than last night’s game in Washington. While the Capitals organization rolled out the red carpet for my visit to Verizon Center (my 27th stop), things were much quieter in Montreal. Interesting how social media works – in some cities, lots of media and team attention, and in some cities, not so much. No complaints, because that’s not the purpose of my trip. Raising money and awareness for Make-A-Wish is the primary goal, and seeing hockey games in all 30 NHL arenas is my “wish list” trip, a trip I’ve dreamed of taking for over 10 years.
So back to Montreal. This stop has been one of the most highly anticipated stops of my trip. While I’ve seen 3 or 4 games at Bell Centre before (and one game at the historic Montreal Forum), I was still very excited to get to Montreal. There’s no better place to watch a hockey game than in Montreal, and tonight confirmed my assertion.
I arrived early (as I have for all my rink visits so far) with hopes to get a few photos of the famous statues, but they’re in storage right now while construction (lots of it) take place around the Bell Centre. They’re hoping to re-erect these statues by next week, when the playoffs start. When entering the building, you can see the efforts which took place to preserve the history and tradition of the storied Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club. (Club de hockey Canadien.) With 24 Stanley Cups and numerous Hall of Fame players, the Canadiens are the most prolific and accomplished team in the NHL.
Before heading to my seat, I had to check out the seat where Jean Beliveau sat to watch the Canadiens play. His seat was not in a luxury suite, but a regular seat just behind the Montreal Canadiens bench. Since Mr. Beliveau’s passing late last year, the Canadiens have honoured his seat, and it remains unoccupied. Jean Beliveau was the first NHL player I idolized when I first started following hockey as a young boy. He epitomized class and grace, and in a category all on its own.
As I made my way to my seat, I snapped a photo of the most famous face-off circle in all of hockey, a pristine sheet of ice ready and waiting for tonight’s combatants. For the pre-game skate, I focussed most of my attention on two players – Carey Price and PK Subban, two key players for the Habs.
The Montreal Canadiens have a captivating countdown to the game. Utilizing 3-D graphics (similar to what I saw in Tampa Bay), the ice is turned into a video screen, and while the photos give you an idea of things, there’s nothing like seeing it live. Very very cool! Another thing they do is show the birthplace of the team’s starting line-up. Featured below (on the Jumbotron) is Brendan Gallagher, who just happens to hail from my hometown – Edmonton, Alberta.
As I have for 28 games in a row now, I took a photo of the opening face-off. Sometimes my shutter grabs the referee dropping the puck, sometimes I capture the puck between two player’s sticks, and other times, the puck is on its way to a player outside the face-off circle. In a fast-paced game like hockey, a lot of things happen in a half of a second, about the time it takes me to snap a photo.
Tonight’s game was one my favourite hockey games of the trip. Two “original six” teams, one assured of a playoff spot (the Habs), the other (the Wings) trying to make the playoffs. I’ve watched the Wings a lot this trip – once at Joe Louis Arena, and with tonight’s game, five games on the road. Interesting thing about the Red Wings is that almost all of their players shoot left-handed. Kind of reminds me of the Habs in the 70’s, when only Guy Lafleur and Mario Tremblay shot right-handed.
With lots at stake, the game was like a playoff game, and the energy inside the Bell Centre was electric. The Canadiens tied the game 3-3 with about 8 minutes to go in the third period, and Lars Eller scored in overtime to give Montreal a 4-3 win over Detroit. (Detroit earned a berth in the playoffs with the overtime loss point.)
With the game over, I expected to see throngs of fans leave the building, but almost everyone stayed to see the players salute the fans, then hear the three star selections, and thereafter, stay for an on-ice interview with the first star, Carey Price. (Price was also the recipient of a pie in the face from his teammates, and for breaking a long-standing Montreal Canadiens record for wins in a season. Price won his 43rd game of the season, passing Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden.
It’s a weeknight here in Montreal, an no one seems to want to go home after the game is over. I made my way back to my hotel (ideally located, only two blocks from the Bell Centre), and the hotel lounge and bar (as are other venues all around downtown Montreal) are filled with fans who just watched the game. Très bien Montreal!