Hockey, Sports

From the cheap seats: Laval Rocket firing on all cylinders

Like millions of other Canadians, my perfect Saturday evening consists of sitting down in front of the TV and watching Hockey Night in Canada. When I decided to attend McGill, I was excited to move to the home of the oldest and most legendary hockey team in history: The Montreal Canadiens. For many, there is no greater Montreal experience than to witness a match in person. Unfortunately, however, the Canadiens have some of the highest ticket prices in professional hockey. A back-row seat plus food and drinks at a game against a good team can cost upward of $100, which is completely unaffordable on a student budget.

Enter the Laval Rocket. The Rocket are the Canadiens’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, playing in the minor leagues, one tier below the National Hockey League (NHL). This is the Rocket’s first season in Laval, since moving from St. John’s. The team serves as a place for Habs prospects, like Nikita Scherbak, to develop their skills, and for veterans to continue playing once they are no longer fit for the NHL. Last week, I ventured out to Laval and took in a match against the Toronto Marlies.

The AHL lacks star power, so game attendance was understandably low. However, this is Montreal, so the fans who did attend were passionate and enthusiastic. They gave the arena an electric rhythm, making the game even more exciting. Even though the Rocket lost 3-0, the fans continued to cheer long after it became clear that Laval was not going to win. At many sports games, the experience is only as good as the fans—their level of enthusiasm can make or break a game. In this case, the exuberant fans certainly made the trek worthwhile.

As for the in-arena experience, Laval has done well to create a home for the newly-relocated team. La Place Bell was built for the Rocket just prior to this season, so all facilities are brand-new and in top condition. Everything was clean, and seats were inviting and comfortable. A number of concession stands in the lobby served a wide range of food and drinks—including poutine, sushi, and ice cream—all at strangely reasonable prices. Sporting events are notorious for charging exorbitant amounts for concession fare, but the prices at La Place Bell were akin to those at a standard inexpensive restaurant.

There are only a few flaws with the arena: The sparsely decorated lobby and exterior give little indication that the arena houses the Laval Rocket. There is also only one entrance to the arena, which makes finding seats on the opposite side inconvenient. Additionally, the arena is not heated, so spectators would be wise to bring a warm jacket.

Still, Laval Rocket games are very accessible to university students. My seat was just three rows behind the Rocket bench and situated near centre ice. While this kind of seat at a Habs game would cost hundreds of dollars, I paid less than $50. All seats at La Place Bell are a reasonable distance from the ice and can be priced as low as $25. Furthermore, the arena is right next to the Montmorency metro station at the end of the Orange Line that runs through Downtown Montreal, easing transportation to Rocket games—in fact, transit from McGill campus took only 45 minutes.

Overall, the Laval Rocket serve as a perfectly good entertainment alternative to the Montreal Canadiens, and they are accessible for fans of all levels. Hockey is the most Canadian of sports, but you don’t need to slash your grocery budget to see the pros—just hop on the Métro.

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