National Sports Editors Cross Item Off Bucket List: Get to a Game at the Bell Centre

The Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, was crafted for hockey in a city that collectively breathes it. It did not take long to pick up on the energy of the building that I had only seen on television and imagined through the voice of Doc Emrick during the Canadiens’ playoff runs in a few of the

last five seasons.

Thinking of those games, and how the city radiated excitement as it hosted such thrilling competition, I rode the metro to the stadium along with red-sweater bearing Habs fans and excitedly paced through the arena-like hallways with the crowd up to the security line. I had finally made it to the Bell Centre.

As I did, almost ritualistically, for most of the New York Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum I ever went to, I arrived an hour before puck drop to watch warm-ups in this hockey heaven.

Climbing the steep steps to my seat, with my legally purchased drink in hand, I settled into the last row of section 405 and took some time to just look around. I loved what I saw.

Focusing on the sites, smells and nuanced features that, though attempted, just cannot be properly observed through any other medium, I felt enamored by the sport of hockey for the first time since my beloved Islanders left their

true home on Long Island.

I saw a beaming six-year-old kid bantering in French with his older brother, accompanied by their dad who was proudly wearing a Guy Lafleur jersey and their mom who was diligently scouting the roster of the rival for the night

(Tampa Bay Lightning), in front of me as if they were the Canadian version of myself and my own family from 15 years ago at the Coliseum.

I took in warm-ups and let my attention wander from player to player. Personality, though at times restricted during the game, can really come through in players during the time leading up to it.

I noticed nonchalant stick-handling skills on display as a skater got his legs under him and got lost in the music of the arena. I watched the nearly identical pregame routines executed precisely and with purpose on both sides of the ice and saw the progressive increase in pace.

And as pucks were tossed as souvenirs to youngsters on the glass as players exited the ice for the last time before the commencement of the first period, suddenly I looked up and the stadium was full.

The stage had been set and I was ready for whatever followed.

It took less than a minute for the Bell Centre to erupt into absolute chaos as Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi (wearing lucky Colgate 13) found the back of the net 58 seconds in.

But Tampa Bay Lightning superstar forward Steven Stamkos’ pair of goals and net-minder Andrei Vasilevskiy’s standout 34-save performances propelled the Bolts to a 4-1 win over the Habs.

Now that I’m back in the States, I will no longer be chanting “Go Habs Go,” with as much passion and sincerity, but to have been a Canadiens fan for the night was an unforgettable experience.

In the Bell Centre, and in Montreal, I remembered why I love hockey.

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