By HOWARD BERGER
MONTREAL (Oct. 22) – It may be an early-season game, but the buzz in the downtown sector of this city is unmistakable whenever the Maple Leafs are here on a Saturday night to play the Montreal Canadiens. Unlike Toronto, where downtown hotels are spaced hither and yon, several of the biggest hotels here are within a block of the Bell Centre, including the Marriott Chateau Champlain, Le Centre Sheraton, and the grand Queen Elizabeth. Montreal’s central train station is beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, which adds to the intimacy of tourism in the city core.
Both the Leafs and Canadiens skated at the Bell Centre this morning; the visitors taking the ice – as is custom – around 11:30 a.m. Montreal’s 15-year-old arena has the largest seating capacity in the NHL (more than 21,000); the arena bowl – much like at the old Montreal Forum – is constructed more vertically than most buildings in the league, which provides a superb ambiance when the seats are filled.
Please enjoy this photo-journey through the Leafs morning skate here today.
NORTH FACADE OF THE BELL CENTRE – THE SIDE FACING DOWNTOWN.
THE BELL CENTRE IS LARGE AND EXPANSIVE, BUT THE SEATING ANGLE IS TERRIFIC AND THE ARENA ALWAYS SEEMS MORE INTIMATE THAN ITS SIZE WOULD SUGGEST.
THERE ARE THREE LEVELS IN THE BELL CENTRE, YET NOT A BAD SEAT AMONG THEM.
HISTORY IS ALWAYS FOREMOST WITH THE CANADIENS; NAMES AND IMAGES OF FRANCHISE LEGENDS RING THE UPPER-DECK SEATS AT THE BELL CENTRE.
SHORTLY AFTER 11:30 A.M. TODAY, THE LEAFS GATHERED AROUND COACH RON WILSON ON THE ICE AT THE BELL CENTRE.
THEN CAME THE USUAL MORNING-SKATE ROUTINE.
AS IN THE OLD MONTREAL FORUM, LOOKING UPWARD IN THE BELL CENTRE (ABOVE AND BELOW) TAKES AN OBSERVER THROUGH THE GLORIED HISTORY OF THE CANADIENS FRANCHISE – WITH STANLEY CUP BANNERS AND THOSE HONORING JERSEY NUMBERS RETIRED BY THE HOCKEY CLUB. IT IS A SIGHT TO BEHOLD.
THERE IS EVEN A BANNER COMMEMORATING THE OLD MONTREAL EXPOS, EMBLAZONED WITH FOUR LEGENDARY NAMES THAT PLAYED MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL IN THIS CITY BETWEEN 1969 AND 2004.
LEAF EXECUTIVES BRIAN BURKE AND CLAUDE LOISELLE TAKE IN THIS MORNING’S TEAM SKATE AT THE BELL CENTRE.
TOWARD THE END OF THE SKATE, RON WILSON DISCUSSES STRATEGY ON BELL CENTRE ICE WITH LEAFS CAPTAIN DION PHANEUF.
WILSON IS LATER SURROUNDED BY THE ENORMOUS MOB OF REPORTERS THAT ATTEND EVERY LEAFS AND HABS MORNING SKATE IN THIS CITY. WILSON’S COUNTERPART – JACQUES MARTIN – IS SIMILARLY HELD CAPTIVE (BELOW).
LEAFS vs. HABS TONIGHT AT 7 O’CLOCK ON HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA.