From The Rink - Le Centre Bell
I'm not sure there's any place quite like the Bell Centre in Montreal, or if there's any real way to describe it, but I'm going to try.
There's nothing quite like going to a Habs game at the Bell Centre. You never quite know what you're going to get to be honest. I've been to a listless shutout loss to Buffalo where the place felt like a tomb, and I've been to the final game of a sweep by the Bruins where the place was so hostile by the end of the second period that a 21 year old goalie was being pelted with plastic bottles and left shaken and crying in the post mortem press conference.
But that is hockey in Montreal, there is no "okay".
In Montreal, you're either great or terrible, there are no other options available. The same feeling applies to games. Sometimes you can feel what kind of night it's going to be before it even happens, like the crowd can will the team into victory. That feeling was missing last season, replaced with a kind of tense fear of another loss.
When you find your section and cross the threshold into the stands, you feel instantly how special this place is. There are no division titles hanging in the rafters, just 24 Stanley Cup banners and 17 retired numbers of legends past. You would think that after 20 years of mediocrity that some of the magic would be gone, but all it takes is one goal and it feels like anything is possible.
Last night there was that familiar buzz in the air, that nervous electricity before the puck drops. There was the constant hum of people talking before everything fell silent when Michel Lacroix called everyone to attention.
Theres a tingle in your spine as he begins... "Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen..." And builds until you can feel it in your chest and your lungs. There's something special about Montreal that isn't replicated anywhere else.
Hal Gill once said that Montreal fans were the only ones to really appreciate what he brings to a team, and you can feel that whenever you attend a game. Every time the defensive zone is cleared, there's a rising cheer louder than most crowds cheer for goals. A blocked shot can create a standing ovation. Hockey is truly appreciated at the Bell Centre, and you don't have to be a superstar to feel the love.
It's amazing how quickly 21,273 people (not including private boxes by the way), get in sync. Every tape to tape pass produces audible excitement, and a shot that narrowly misses the net always produces an "awwww".
The nature of Habs fans is to be fickle though, and the atmosphere of a game can change on a dime. Even in winning, there weren't many oles in the stairwells last night, people were too angry about the call on Brandon Prust. The officials won't soon regret the 5 solid minutes of booing that made the air tremble like it was a motorcycle rally.
Nowhere boos quite like Montreal. I had the (mis)fortune of attending the game against Pittsburgh where Scott Gomez scored with a few seconds remaining, only to have Chris Lee invoke the "intent to blow" rule and rob the Canadiens of the tying goal. The toxicity in the air on that night was almost scary. Not that I wasn't booing along with them.
The Bell Centre is a cavernous building that feels wrong when it's empty. I don't think any other fanbase could fill it with noise the way we do, good nights and bad. Luckily for me, this night was a good one.