Ok, so the title is a little romantic!
I’m from Wales in the UK, and have been an avid hockey fan since the mid 1980s, grew up watching “2-line” British hockey on Saturday afternoon television before first going to a live game in Cardiff in 1989.
From that moment on, I was hooked, and made it my goal to learn everything I possibly could about this amazing new sport i’d found. I bought trading cards, bodychecks and fights videos, subscribed to UK hockey publications and in August 1990, a season ticket to the Cardiff Devils!
My love of the sport grew and grew, and the more exposure I got to the “NHL” over in N. America, the more I read about it.
The advent of satellite TV had arrived in the early 90s, and now I got to see NHL games on Eurosport & Screensport, even live ones starting at midnight! It was here that I was first exposed to these big packed stadiums, and since then, I had always dreamt of going to watch a game at Toronto’s hallowed Maple Leaf Gardens, the Olympic Saddledome in Calgary or the Montreal Forum. It took me over 30 years to achieve this goal of mine, but it was definitely worth the wait!
These famed stadia no longer exist in their original form, have since been rehashed, rebuilt and renamed, mostly after banks. But, save the name, I was going for a “Hockey night in Canada experience” and boy did I get it!
The “Centre Bell”, or Molson Centre as I’d still called it is massive, but in the same breath, manageable. There are 3 main levels, and having entered an hour before faceoff, I had time to explore all 3, checking out sight-lines from different seats, bars and restaurants plus the numerous souvenir stalls. There is something for everyone here, and a constant buzz of activity.
From air hockey games, to cheerleaders, to organised kettledrum trios, to face painting and a kids zone, the game night experience here is second to none!
Restaurants and bars aplenty, with numerous choices of craft beers and street foods – this wasn’t just lager, hotdogs and pretzels, this was very well thought out and full-on, and I was impressed!
I went up to get a view from my game seats, and, despite being “up in the nosebleeds”, the view is still very good.
The stadium is built in such a way that everybody gets a good view of the ice, in a city where hockey is more important that anything else, this was of course a no brainer. I proceeded on down to get a few pics of the rink from a lower perspective, and the friendly cameraman present asked if I’d like his game camera light on to get the professional lighting pic! (another ✅)
I watched warmups from around the 10th row, knowing that many season ticket holders wouldn’t arrive at their seats until shortly before the anthems. You get a fantastic view of the whole ice from there, obviously, and I got some nice shots of the many stars on show that night – Presidents trophy winners the Tampa Bay Lightning were in town, Stamkos, Kucherov et al.
With faceoff nearing, I headed up to my seat, grabbing a beer and some popcorn en route. (with the numerous bars on hand, I didn’t need to queue at all pre-game)
I was eagerly awaiting “Oh Canada”, having seen it hundreds of times on tv, and wasn’t disappointed. The lights/projection show that accompanied it was brilliant, and most sang along in good voice.
At this point I must admit I was a little surprised at the many empty seats I saw, the arena was only about 2/3rds full. But, as the first period moved along, the seats filled and it was probably 90% full by the middle of the first period – I am guessing that is quite normal for a midweek game against a non “original six” team so early in the season, even in hockey mad Montreal?!
The game itself was a little bit of a damp squib, with Montreal losing 1-3 after scoring early while on the poweplay. But still, it really was great to watch these fast and highly skilled players do their thing, even if hockey isn’t as rough and tumble these days, or as “old school” as I would like it to be.
Times are changing, and with the sport being faster than ever, teams and their organisations have been forced to change with it. Or, some changed ahead of time and were ready – there isn’t a better place to watch a hockey game than at the Forum, sorry, Molson Center, sorry, you get my drift!
Kris Watkins ( @Macwilliam24 )