Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Charlotte Checkers 5 at Laval Rocket 3 (AHL) - March 24, 2018

I wanted to get one more AHL venue in before the end of the season and Place Bell, home of the Laval Rocket, is the closest to New York. The Rocket are in their first year after moving from St. John's, where I saw them play as the Ice Caps two seasons ago. Laval is a suburb of Montreal, so I wanted to find a day that the Rocket had an afternoon game while their parent club had an evening affair. And last Saturday was just such a day.

I flew in from NYC in the morning and my buddy Sharpy drove down from Ottawa to pick me up at the airport. We made the short drive to Laval and parked the car in the Metro lot. Place Bell is next to Montmorency station, a terminus on the Metro Orange Line, which also runs past the Bell Centre. Rather than drive downtown after the game here, we planned to take the Metro. There are many free spots here, but even on a Saturday afternoon, they were all taken, so we ended up paying $7.75 to park in the underground lot. Before heading over to the arena, we picked up our Metro tickets for later that day, a smart move as the lineups after the game were quite long. Something to keep in mind if you ever plan the same excursion.

Place Bell has a bar known as Taverne 1909 Moderne, which seems to be an oxymoron. The 1909 refers to the year that the Canadiens were founded and the main branch of this eatery is in the Bell Centre. Reviews are not that great, but we found the food to be quite good with excellent craft beer options too, not to mention a huge TV above the bar. With little else around here within walking distance, this is the best spot to visit before the game, or after as they have $10 meals after 10 pm. While we were eating there, we saw Youppi!, the former Expos mascot and now the main cheerleader for the Expos, wandering around. We had no idea why he was out supporting the prospects, but found out later on.

Before entering the arena proper, check out the small Temple de la Renommee (Hall of Fame), which lists several local athletes and other notable sports figures. Mike Bossy, a Montreal native who played junior for Laval in the early 1970s, is one inductee.

Note the small window in the picture of the hall of fame above - it looks onto a short track speed skating rink, which was in use at the time.

Once inside the arena, we took a quick walk around. The concourse was somewhat narrow, but this was only a problem after the game when the crowd moved slowly toward the exit. Note that there are 5 types of garbage bin available, a sign of the progressive nature of Canadian recycling.

The highlight at Place Bell is the food, which is extremely inexpensive and quite good. A hot dog is only $3.50 (that's less than $3 US right now) but pass on that and spend $7.50 on the smoked meat sandwich. I wish every stadium had this option; it is simple but very tasty and filling.

Tickets range from $27-$47 on game day, but you might be able to find cheaper options on StubHub, keeping in mind the exchange rate. I picked up a pair in row P in one zone for $15 US, about half the going rate at the box office. Although there are two bowls of seating, the upper deck is not open for Rocket games, or at least the one I attended. As there are only five rows here, it is not a big deal and it makes sense that they don't want to clean this entire area just to please a few fans who prefer having space to themselves.

Overall, Place Bell was a great experience except for one thing. When the Rocket scored, the goal horn and song following was deafening! I hate goal horns to begin with (there is a special place in hell for the person who first came up with the idea) but this was ridiculous. Fortunately, the team only scored 3 times, with 2 coming in the last five minutes after the game was decided, so I escaped with my hearing mostly intact. Charlotte (Carolina's affiliate) potted 5 to win the game and complete a sweep of the two-game weekend series. Aleksi Saarela (Rangers 3rd-round pick in 2015) was the star with 2 goals and an assist for Charlotte, while former Leaf prospect Greg McKegg (3rd, 2010) chipped in a goal and a helper.


This was venue #775 lifetime.

I still have 5 AHL rinks to see: Charlotte (who moved from Spectrum Center to Bojangles Coliseum), Iowa, Winnipeg, Tucson, and Colorado, who will jump to the league next season from the ECHL.

So why was Youppi! visiting? Turns out that it was mascot mania on this day, with several other Montreal area mascots participating in the festivities. They played a dodge ball game during an intermission, and later were gathered in a suite just behind me. That's Cosmo, the Rocket mascot, waving on the left of the photo below, while Youppi! is fifth from the left. Most of the others seemed to be advertising logos such as the St. Hubert Chicken.



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