When you walk in and around the Claude Robillard Sports Complex, you’re struck by how many different sports are around.
There’s a tennis court outside. There is a football field, there are soccer fields. There’s an outdoor - and an indoor - track and field facility. There’s a pool that hosts swimming and diving events. There are also multi-purpose gyms inside that can host anything from track, to gymnastics, to indoor tennis. There’s even a beach volleyball court.
So it makes sense that Les Canadiennes unveiled their new home, the Michel Normandin arena, on Saturday during an event that showcased 40 different sports all over the facilities.
And the team will get to benefit from the surroundings. They have access to the gym in the Claude Robillard Sports Complex. The Complex will also provide the Canadiennes with a full home base. The coaches will have a large office, and the players will have a lounge with couches where they can hang out and relax before and after practices. Both rooms are in the corner of the arena with lots of windows and natural light.
“We’re often at the rink so to have a place that we can go and just relax and have some fun is nice,” said Canadiennes forward Katia Clement-Heydra. “We were well treated and everything went well at [the Etienne-Desmarteau arena, their previous home] but we’re excited to get a new place.”
“This is a great solution and a great place for us to evolve over the next couple of years especially as a training facility because it has all the stuff our players will need,” said Canadiennes general manager Meg Hewings.
The team is partnering with the Excellence sportive de l’île de Montréal (ESIM) whose mission is to “contribute to the development of high performance sport and to the exposure of the island of Montreal” by developing athletes, attracting national and international sporting events, and grouping everyone involved in high performance sport on the Island together.
“All the young athletes in Montreal that are aspiring to be at the highest level are all here and that’s fun because that’s what we’re here to do - to inspire them,” said Hewings. “They’re excited to have us and we’re excited to be here.”
“It’s part of our short- and long-term plan to continue to professionalize the structure of the organization and for us this an important step,” said Hewings, who mentioned that the ability to have a room where the close to 15 members of the hockey staff can meet was significant.
The arena itself can seat 600-700 people, with additional standing room at the top of the arena. The team encourages fans to buy season tickets to secure entry, and to show up early to secure a good seat.
The Michel Normandin arena is only a short-term solution for the defending Clarkson Cup champions, who expect to announce their long-term transition plan to a new home this month as the team prepares to grow into their next phase.
The Etienne-Desmarteau arena is undergoing renovations, which unfortunately is not a unique situation for Montreal-area rinks.
“Over the past 10 years, there have been renovations to almost all of the municipal facilities,” said Hewings. “Which has put a stress on not only those, but also on the private facilities so it’s very hard to find ice in Montreal.”
The team did not discuss details of their long-term plan except to say that they were looking for a facility that ideally had the ability to host 1,500 to 4,000 people, and that they would have priority in. They also looked into where their fans were coming from when making the decision.
Place Bell, which many people thought would be the team’s home once the partnership with the Canadiens was announced, can be ruled out and was never really considered.
The AHL’s Laval Rocket, justifiably, has priority on the main rink, the second rink doesn’t have enough seating for the Canadiennes, and the third, Olympic-sized, rink is going to be set up for speed skating and won’t be hockey-ready.
Additionally, the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard obviously prioritizes practices for the Montreal Canadiens. Although the Canadiennes will play games there, it does not allow for the permanent base that the Canadiennes would be looking for, nor does it have the desired capacity.
Montreal will open the season against the Boston Blades on October 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, and their first game at their new home is the next day at 1:30 p.m. The rest of the schedule has not yet been announced.
Fans of all ages are invited to bring their skates on Sunday as the team’s first “Skate with Les Canadiennes” event of the season will be held after the game. Fans are able to skate, chat, and get pictures and autographs from the team while on the ice.