Column: Loving The Tradition And Energy In Montreal

Loving The Tradition And Energy In Montreal

This weekend was my first trip to Montreal, and if I have it my way it will not be my last.

I had a fantastic time in the city despite only essentially being in town for 27 hours. In that timeframe, I got to take part in the NBA Canada Series matchup between the Wolves and Celtics, I got to experience a Canadiens hockey game and I had a little bit of an opportunity to explore Saint Catherine and Crescent streets. I had a smoked meat sandwich that might have changed my life, and I had a taste of poutine at a local restaurant that made me question my instincts of not ordering my own.

The hospitality was fantastic, and the neighborhoods were intriguing. I didn’t get a chance to visit Vieux Montreal, but I do plan to make that part of my next trip back to the city.

But hands down the two best parts of the trip were the fans and the history living inside Bell Centre.

We got to witness the best of both worlds this weekend in Montreal: We watched an NBA preseason game in a non-NBA market, and we saw the Canadiens play a home game in front of their passionate hockey fan base. Both were extraordinary experiences in different ways. At the Wolves and Celtics game, you got a feel for just how passionate fans in the area are for NBA basketball. There were certainly a lot of Celtics fans in attendance—Boston is five hours away by car, so fans might have made the trip from New England—but the local turnout was eye-opening.

A lady at the box office the night before told me people were excited about this preseason contest, and she was right. The final tally was 20,152 in attendance, and they arrived early. It was not a fill up by the end of the first type of atmosphere. These fans were in their seats by the time the national anthems were performed in pregame, and they stayed until the very end. That alone showcases how cool the NBA Canada Series really is. Not everyone gets the chance to travel to Toronto on a regular basis, so having this game take place in Montreal helps give more fans a chance to see the game live and, in some cases, fall in love with the game for the first time.

On Saturday night, we got a chance to witness one of the finest traditions in hockey. Sitting inside Bell Centre for a Canadiens game was a real treat—a real throwback in time. The Bell Centre is a modern arena with a fantastic atmosphere, but it also has a vertical feel to it that harks back to the old Original Six venues. The house is packed with knowledgeable and passionate hockey fans, and they gasp and cheer at every bounce of the puck.

When the Canadiens score, the music played is electrifying. And the mix of French and English music and public address announcing is endearing.

This all leads into one of the best parts of the trip, and that’s the way the Canadiens showcase their proud history in the arena. It’s everywhere. On the club level, there is a framed portrait for every Canadiens team in history. Around the upper portion of the arena, all the Hall of Famers’ faces and names are proudly displayed. In the rafters, 24 Stanley Cup banners and 15 retired numbers proudly hang.

The Wolves used the Canadiens locker room as their own on Sunday night, so they were in the eye of the hurricane. Around the lockers were photos of all those Hall of Famers. Over the doorway, the words “No Excuses” were written in English and French. Outside the locker room, a display case with 24 miniature Stanley Cups proudly showcases the franchise’s rich tradition.

It was palpable, even for the Wolves players.

In pregame, Corey Brewer was part of a conversation regarding the Canadiens’ logo on the floor in the middle of the locker room. There was a piece of carpet overtop of it on Sunday night, and the tradition says no one can walk on the Habs’ logo out of respect. Brewer thought that was a cool tradition.

Kevin Love talked about the history he felt in that locker room after the game.

“You look and see all the Hall of Famers that have come through here,” Love said. “It’s a pretty special place. We know we’re kind of on sacred ground and sacred territory.”

That, for me, was one of the coolest parts of the trip. The way the history and tradition inside that building transformed from hockey to basketball over the weekend. The fans were a part of that. It was an unforgettable experience, and a big reason why the city left such a strong impression on this sports reporter.

That, and the poutine. I’ll be back for the poutine.

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