Bell Centre: Breaking Down the NHL's Most Intense Place to Play
There are many factors that allow hockey fans to feel the intensity of their sport when they take in a live game.
It's exciting to watch the NHL in any arena, but there is nothing like watching a game at Montreal's Bell Centre. The Montreal Canadiens play their home games in front of passionate fans who often support their team religiously.
Habs fans are demanding, knowledgeable and hungry for the team's success. While the Habs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993, they are the most successful team in the history of the sport.
The intensity of their arena is felt by all fans who attend their games, even if they are in the Bell Centre's upper reaches.
Setting the Tone
The Canadiens set the tone for their fans with one of the most intense and memorable pregame shows in the league.
In many cases, the Canadiens will pick out a skater to take a torch and light up the ice as he or she skates out the team's logo. At the proper moment, the skater will lower the torch, and the sheet of ice will turn entirely into flames and ignite the fans' passion.
The Canadiens then come roaring out of the locker room with tremendous speed, creating a wind that can be be felt throughout the Bell Centre's lower bowl.
The game follows, but the pregame ceremony may be worth the price of admission on its own.
Every team in the NHL wants to come into the Bell Centre and take down the Habs. However, when its greatest rivals come into the building, it brings back memories of the team's former home, the Montreal Forum.
The Habs won every playoff series with the Bruins between 1943 and 1987, and when the Bruins finally won a series in 1988, it was as if Boston had won the Stanley Cup.
The 1979 semifinal series between the Canadiens and the Bruins is largely regarded as one of the greatest postseason series in the history of North American professional sports.
The rivalry with the Maple Leafs is nearly as intense, as these are Canada's two oldest and proudest NHL teams, and each wants to outdo the other.
The Canadiens have been more successful than the Leafs, something of which their fans are only too happy to remind their rivals.
Every time the Montreal Canadiens step on the ice, they bring their history with them.
It is a glorious one. The Habs have won 24 Stanley Cups, and no other team is close. The Toronto Maple Leafs are second with 13, if you include the Cups won by their descendants, the Toronto St. Patricks and the Toronto Arenas. (A strict count for the Maple Leafs has them at 11 Stanley Cups, the same as the Detroit Red Wings).
The Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup in 1993. They won five consecutive cups from 1956 through 1960 and took home four straight titles from 1976 through 1979. The latter group featured Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden and is often thought of as the greatest NHL team of all time.
Many of the Canadiens' greatest players will show up at their games and root the team on, and the affiliation with the team often lasts a lifetime.
We have said hockey is often akin to religion in Montreal, and that means fans have the most intimate knowledge of the game.
They have incredible loyalty to their team, but it is not blind. If they see players who are not living up to the standards of their greatest teams, they will not hesitate to boo and let them hear it.
There is no getting away with substandard effort in Montreal, and players who try to will not last long in La Belle Province.
Montreal is the toughest place to lose, but it is the best place to win, and that is proven every time the Habs take the ice. The fans appreciate the most subtle plays, but any weakness draws their ire.
The head coach in Montreal is in an exalted position.
It has been held by the likes of Dick Irvin, Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman, all legendary leaders who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Claude Julien was hired for his second tour of duty in the middle of the 2016-17 season. Julien had just been dismissed by the Bruins, and the Habs immediately fired Michel Therrien so they could bring back Julien. Therrien was also in his second stint with Montreal.
Julien had led the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup, and he was hired to do the same with the Canadiens. The pressure is always mounting on head coaches to win in the NHL, and even more so in Montreal.
The 57-year-old knew that when he was hired for the second time, and now he must deliver.
However, if he can turn the team around and win a Stanley Cup in the next few seasons, he too could become one of the team's legends.