The connections between the Laval Rocket and the Montreal Canadiens are easy to see.
The No. 9 that Maurice Richard made so famous in Habs colours is clearly embraced in the team’s jersey and secondary logo. Their tagline is ‘history is our fuel’. The torch, perhaps made most famous by Richard holding it after the final game of the Montreal Forum, is also apparent.
“The red, white, and blue is the same as our parent club but if you look at the jerseys you wouldn’t know it was the Montreal Canadiens. You would know that it’s the Laval Rocket,” said Canadiens owner Geoff Molson.
And it is clear that while the connection between the two teams is apparent, between ownership, proximity, and the affiliation, they want this to be its own entity.
“We reached our objective by creating a logo and uniform that solidifies the historic link between the Rocket de Laval and the Canadiens, while honouring a Quebec legend, and by creating a new identity for a new generation of fans,” said Vincent Lucier, the president of Place Bell.
The unveiling took place at Carrefour Laval on Tuesday, where Molson and Lucier were joined by general manager Marc Bergevin, members of the Richard family, and Canadiens ambassadors Rejean Houle, and Yvan Cournoyer. Former Canadiens Francis Bouillon, and Patrice Brisebois - who played junior hockey in Laval, and Mathieu Darche were also in attendance.
“We love the Big R and the flame being on the jersey and the No. 9 being on the jersey,” said Molson. “No player is going to wear No. 9. It’s going to be an important number and an important part of the history of our new team.”
He is also aware that Montreal has had a tough time embracing hockey that isn’t the Canadiens.
“We can’t be positive that it’s going to work,” Molson said. “But we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that it works. That comes from a good marketing plan, a good team, good communication with the media.
“It takes a local team and we’ve hired a local team, people who actually live here and work in the community. All these things combined make us feel like we’re going to be successful but there are no guarantees. We’re going to have to work hard.”
And it started with the ticket packages. You can get season tickets for 38 regular season games and two pre-season games for as low as $15 per game, and the best seats in the arena will be $30 per game for the season.
“We did a lot of research across the American Hockey League,” Molson said. “We wanted to be at or below the average. I think that’s going to appreciated by the people of Laval and even outside of Laval who want to come to games with their kids.”
“It will be very family focused. Kid focused.”
The Canadiens organization has always been involved in the community, and in promoting youth in hockey. Lately it has led to year-round outdoor rinks for hockey that are turned into ball hockey in the summer around Montreal, their partnership with Les Canadiennes to bring their market to girls’ and women’s hockey, and now professional hockey that is accessible to families.
“Development of the youth is very important for [the long term success] of hockey and also the Montreal Canadiens,” Molson said.
The benefit of proximity
There are also practical advantages for the Canadiens to have their AHL affiliate so close.
“Just to be able to see the players more often. St. John’s has a great building and a beautiful city but, especially in Winter, it’s hard for travel. Now it will be 40 minutes by car. It will be a lot easier and more efficient,” said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.
Bergevin went on to say that the city has been great to the Habs organization, but turning the 2.5 hour flight into a 40 minute drive is easier for the scouts, assistant general manager, and even for salary cap management.
If anything were to come up, the Canadiens could now recall a player in the morning, and have them be able to make it to their 11:00 practice whereas previously, they would have had to call them up the day before or as a preventative measure.
The travel will also be better for the AHL team. Bergevin says that can help development as they will have less time travelling and more time to put in practices.
And while the market will surely rather cheer for a winning team, don’t expect the Canadiens to change their philosophy when it comes to their AHL team.
“The goal of your farm team is to develop your young players,” Bergevin said. “That’s the most important thing. Obviously we’re going to try to have a winning team, but at the end of the day we’re going to try and develop our young players to help the big team.”
Bergevin said that he is happy with the AHL coaching staff led by Sylvain Lefebvre and he doesn’t expect any changes next season. The IceCaps are currently third in their division. The top four will make the playoffs.
“They used 35 players in St. John’s this year,” Bergevin said. “With all the injuries we’ve had in Montreal, as soon as someone is recalled, it hurts the team in St. John’s.
“Sylvain and his assistants are doing a good job.”
Place Bell is scheduled to be completed in September. It will have 7,000 seats in the lower bowl, have 500 suites, and 3,000 seats in the upper bowl. It will be an NHL calibre arena in every way except for the capacity.
The arena will also hold concerts, and there will be two additional rinks that will be used by the community.
Ticket packages will go on sale to the public on February 11.