Habs Win vs. Flames: An Evening With The Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens salute their fans
Team saluting their fans

The Habs win vs the Flames Tuesday night was an exceptional game, and I had the privilege of attending.

As this game saw me sitting closer than I ever have before, and as I don’t attend regularly (due to prohibitive pricing and a family of 4), I thought that instead of my usual game recap, I would take you inside the Bell Centre, to experience the game as I did.

Many of our readers live throughout Canada, the USA, and even around the world. And many have never even been to Montreal, much less to a Habs game. So allow me to give you an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the experience.

The tickets for this game were a gift to me and my family, from my dad, who bought them in a charity auction. The season-ticket holder who generously donated his tickets for this purpose threw in parking as well (a $25 price tag, ordinarily, IF you can get into the lot), so it really was a wondrous evening, from start to finish.

My son and I arrived first –  very early (we left early to beat the traffic in icy/snowy conditions), and were among the first inside the Bell Centre when the doors opened.

Imagine our surprise – okay, jaw-dropping-delighted surprise – when we saw that the seats were 4 rows behind the Calgary bench.

Imagine our surprise – okay, jaw-dropping-delighted surprise – when we saw that the seats were 4 rows behind the Calgary bench.

Bell Centre ice
Bell Centre ice (Lissa Albert)

When the warm-ups began, it was even better; there, just feet away from us, was our team. My son remarked on how, this being our first time seeing him in person, Shea Weber is impressive in size and presence.

Shea Weber up close
Shea Weber up close (Lissa Albert)
Carey Price stretching
Carey Price stretching (Lissa Albert)
Al Montoya and Brian Elliott
Al Montoya and Brian Elliott (Lissa Albert)

It isn’t only the visuals; if you’ve ever attended any hockey game, the sounds are key to the experience. If you’ve ever been, you’re already imagining those sounds: the blades carving up the ice, the crisp “whack” of the puck as it hits the blade of the stick, the “shushing” sound of skaters as they speed by; it’s truly a mixture of sounds like no other.

Being so close to the ice, it was even more pronounced, and we started to talk about a Habs power play; we knew we’d hear the sound of a Shea Weber shot hitting his stick before connecting with either a pad, a player, or – hopefully – no sound as it hit the back of the net.

The players finished their warm-ups, and retreated to their respective locker rooms. The Habs entered and exited through a tunnel located just to our left, so I was able to see them fairly close by – another thrill.

When the opening video was shown on the ice, we were too close to see it well; that kind of projection needs to be seen from a certain height, and we were at ice level. The only other way was to look up at the JumboTron. That presented yet another challenge: craning one’s neck to take it in without getting muscle spasms. Think of being at an IMAX theatre, and sitting in the third row. Not that I’m complaining!

But we were still able to see it, and it was professionally done – as are all Habs productions.

Then, the arena went dark,  the iconic heartbeat sound echoed through the arena, and anticipation rose sharply. The atmosphere, as always, was electrifying.

The Flames skated across the ice, and were greeted by boos throughout the arena. There were Calgary fans there – even some in our section – but they were drowned out by the cacophony of Habs fans.

Michel Lacroix – the Habs announcer – boomed out his trademark, “Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen, accueillons nos Canadiens!” The crowd roared as the Habs skated out onto the ice, their energy pumping up the already-energized crowd.

They skated for a few minutes, then the starting line-ups took to centre ice and the crowd stood for the anthem. As it was one anthem (two Canadian teams) the talented Bell Centre organist – Diane Bibeau – played while the entire arena sang, in both official languages of Canada.

And the game began.

There was a lot of action, and I experienced what I always do – in person or not – at the beginning of any game: the expectation that this game will be one of triumph and tales to tell. We were not disappointed.

That first power play (in the first period), though it yielded no goal for the Habs, we did, indeed, experience a Shea Weber rocket right in front of our eyes. Folks, we could HEAR the whooshing of air as his flexed stick released the puck in a hard shot on net. He has a formidable shot, and even moreso in person.

That first power play (in the first period), though it yielded no goal for the Habs, we did, indeed, experience a Shea Weber rocket right in front of our eyes. Folks, we could HEAR the whooshing of air as his flexed stick released the puck in a hard shot on net. He has a formidable shot, and even moreso in person.

Shea Weber taking a shot
Shea Weber winds up to take a shot (Lissa Albert)

When we watch on television, we know who the players are because we can see their numbers, their names on the backs of their sweaters, and with some players, their very recognizable skating style (think: Paul Byron, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher).

But watching from such a close vantage point, it was a startling realization I had when it hit me: I was recognizing players by their faces, so visible in front of me, so close – almost bigger than life.

Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec (Lissa Albert)

I’ve experienced that at the Habs training facility, when I’ve attended practices and scrimmages, but never before in a game situation like this.

When Andrew Shaw scored the first goal, shortly before the first period ended, it was right in front of us. For the first and third periods, the Calgary net was in our end, so we saw a lot of action over the course of the game. For the second period, Carey Price was in our section of the ice, and that brought a whole other experience of watching the game.

It’s always exciting when the Habs score. If you’re in the reds, or your seats are in the highest tiers of the arena, the excitement is tangible. You feel the whole place vibrate with the cheers, the high-fives given to and from friends, to and from strangers, and the goal song (“Allez Montréal“) played and sung by all – at the top of our lungs.

When I say I’m biased, I know it’s true; the Habs are my team, the city is my home, and of course I’d be biased toward it all. But I would put our fan base against any other in the league in enthusiasm, loyalty, respect, and – most especially – decibel level of those in attendance. It is, quite simply, an emotional, and sensory experience to be at a Habs game, and if ever you do get the opportunity, grab it. It doesn’t matter where your seats are. I’ve sat mid-level, I’ve sat at the nosebleed level, and I’ve now experienced the reds at ice level; there are no bad seats at the Bell Centre, and nothing can detract from the vibe you feel even when the arena is just filling up for the start of the evening’s events.

The second period brought a different perspective: Carey Price. He was in our zone for that frame, and I found myself watching differently.

When you’re watching the game on television, you have no choice; you have to watch the action the camera gives you to see. When you’re there in person, you can take in lot more; you can watch whatever you want to see. I was blessed to be sitting in amazing seats, as never before, and I wanted to embrace every part of it, for every second of that evening’s game. I’m pretty sure I blinked a few times each period, but I was wide-eyed the entire game, drinking it all in.

So there were many times, throughout the 60 minutes, I watched other elements of the event. I watched the benches. Calgary’s bench right in front of me, the Habs to the left of them. I watched the interaction between coaches and players, even the referees. I watched refs interact with each other, players, and coaches when needed.

Catching a glimpse of Michel Therrien and Kirk Muller as they watched the action was another thrill:

Coaching team of the Habs
Coaching team (Lissa Albert)

At one point – and we weren’t quite sure what had happened – the referee and Mikael Backlund had an exchange, while Backlund was on the bench. The referee was none too pleased, and Backlund made a gesture we could see despite his back being to us.

When Jeff Petry took a penalty in the second period, for high-sticking against Matthew Tkachuk, Tkachuk was at the Calgary bench while the ref explained the penalty to the coach. Here’s what happened – and it was not Petry at all, but Tkachuk taking his own stick in the face:

Tkachuk was trying, as hard as he could, as the ref talked to the coaching staff, to convey a true injury to his lip, in hopes that it would draw a double minor against Petry. It was not only fun to watch, I was able to take this photo.

Calgary Flames Matthew Tkachuk
Calgary Flames Matthew Tkachuk (Lissa Albert)

I watched the action, but I also watched the changes as they occurred – each bench – and I watched the goaltenders.

We have heard a lot of buzz about Carey Price; is he injured? Is he slumping?

I’ve marched against the tide on that one – I haven’t seen him falter, and when he’s let in goals, he is not the only one at fault (and many times, not at fault at all; it takes a team to defend the net, not just the goalie).

But I watched him up close, and I can assure you: there is nothing ailing our goaltender. He played a beautiful (almost-perfect) game. Even when the action was in front of Chad Johnson, Price was keeping himself constantly limbered up, ready, poised, and focused. And studying him as he defended and tracked the plays close to him, anticipated those that might approach him, and made incredible saves, it gave me a deep appreciation of the skill, the strength, and the acuity he possesses.

Rest easy, Habs fans. Our goaltender is in top shape.

Carey Price in the net
Carey Price making saves (Lissa Albert)

The second period brought even more excitement: a short-handed goal by none other than Tomas Plekanec.

It was scored at the other end of the ice, but the play began in front of us. There are times – you’ve had these – when you just KNOW there is a goal about to be scored. You can see it, either from the momentum of a pass, or the breakaway, or the speed with which the team gets down to the net.

This one was palpable. Paul Byron started and facilitated the goal, and Plekanec netted it, and that intuition I had allowed to creep in turned to a (welcomed) throat-hurting shout of celebration when that shortie was scored.

Plekanec scoring short-handed (Rogers NHL Live Twitter)

Already up 3-0, the Habs came out for the third period to a crowd of very noisy, excited fans:

The third period yielded two more goals – another PPG from Radulov, and one from Daniel Carr. Again, these happened in the zone in which we were sitting, so the action was up close. And though Chad Johnson only faced 20 shots from the Habs, most of the action took place in front of his net.

Play resumed, and suddenly there was an announcement over the PA system, informing us that on Daniel Carr’s goal, Carey Price got an assist. The roar that went up from the crowd was simply deafening.

Radulov scored his second – another power-play goal – with 4 minutes left in the game, and was even close to a hat trick when he almost scored very close to the end. However, he took a penalty with less than a minute to go, so that wouldn’t happen.

When Sam Bennett, on that Calgary power play, scored with 1.1 on the clock, we didn’t even realize it was a goal, because the green light went on behind Price, and there was a lot of confusion down at that end. However, during the review, they showed it on the JumboTron, and our hearts all sank (and we all booed quite loudly) when we knew it would, indeed count.

Of course, the few Calgary fans nearby celebrated Bennett’s goal as though it were a playoff win. (I was tempted to ask, “you know your team lost, right?”)

Still, the team came out to congratulate Price, and then took to centre ice to raise their sticks in salute to the crowd.

Again, I have to stress, the Habs fan base is something special; there is a physical, tangible vibe in that building for our team, and when a game like this has ended, the smiles are universal (except for, perhaps, those Calgary fans who made their way up the stairs as the rest of us rocked the house), and there are pockets of “olé” singers throughout the arena.

As is tradition, the three stars of the game were announced, and came out to acknowledge the crowd. Carey Price, of course, was the first star, and he was interviewed on the ice, by a local TV host. I’ve been at the Bell Centre when this has happened, and I’ve been in sections where it’s easier to watch the interview on the JumboTron, because my seats have been higher up. This time, though, I was able to watch him in front of me, and listen as well (try and listen, anyway, the cheers and chants of “Ca-REY! Ca-REY!” and “We love you, Carey!” were drowning him out at times).

Here’s a partial look at that interview (please excuse the camera motions, there were people who were leaving – who leaves while the star goalie is being interviewed right in front of you? – and I was trying as hard as possible to stay still):

Closing Thoughts

If ever you’ve wanted the team to know they are appreciated, just know that Habs fans convey the hearts and thanks of all Habs fans, worldwide, each and every game. I know there are times where I watch on television, and I just want the players to feel the thanks I experience for the entertainment, the impressive displays of talent, the exhilaration of a win, or a beautiful goal, or incredible save; being on Twitter, so many of the players have accounts, so we are able to convey our feelings that way.

But being there, being able to contribute, I felt as though I was able to do my part in thanking the players on behalf of you, the fans, with my applause, my cheers, my shouts of “Go Habs GO!” and my standing ovations, hands in the air to join the crowd in visible tributes.

Believe it or not, 6 years ago I was just getting interested in the nitty-gritty of hockey, having been a Habs fan all my life but not really interested in the hows and whys of the game beyond score and standings). Since becoming a (rabid) fan of all-things-Habs, I have enjoyed the ability of attending more games in the past 6 years than ever in my life. So I can speak with authority when I assure you the players know they are appreciated here in Montreal.

When you are at a Habs game, the atmosphere is second to none. And you always hope, when in attendance, it will result in a win. Tuesday’s happened to have been a decisive win, making it that much more magical a night.

I do hope that each and every one of you, if you’ve never experienced the Habs in person, get the opportunity someday. There is nothing like it.

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