Hockey isn’t just a game in Canada. It’s a cultural experience akin to American football games here where people aren’t just talking about it the next day; they’re obsessing over it (but in a good way). So if you’re a hockey fan living in America, not only were you born in the wrong country but you also haven’t lived until you’ve experienced hockey in its natural environment.
Check out the great Canadian hockey cities below and read “The Canadian Hockey Experience” in the latest issue of On the Go: A Magazine for Travelers.
The Mother of All Hockey Experiences – Montreal
Home to the Canadiens (spelled with an “e”), the Bell Centre is one of the most prestigious arenas in the NHL. It has more than 21,000 seats and welcomes more than one million spectators yearly, and for the ultimate hockey fan experience, grab a seat in the upper deck. Unlike American arenas, this venue has quasi-benches like old-time hockey arenas. It’s great for fan interaction but slightly uncomfortable since you can feel your neighbor chowing down on that chili dog.
Of course, you can always choose to dine in one of the four incredible restaurants, including La Cage Aux Sports, which attracts sports fans with two levels, accommodating more than 550 guests and entertaining them with more than 70 TVs plus four giant screens. Surrounded by sports memorabilia, it is the perfect venue for lunch or dinner with incredible game-time food.
Around the city, you can visit one of the most memorable arenas in hockey, The Forum, which has been converted into a trendy mall, or head to Olympic Stadium, which boasts 360-degree views of the city. If you’re visiting for the first—or hundredth—time, then try the DistrictMontreal app, which directs you to the city’s wonderful sites.
Here’s a taste of playoff hockey at the Bell Centre. It’s an experience even before the puck drops:
A Hockey Lover’s Pilgrimage – Toronto
Detroit may be Hockeytown, Minnesota may be the State of Hockey and the NHL may be headquartered in New York, but Toronto is the sport’s true mecca. Like Montreal, Toronto is home to one of the six original NHL teams, and for its—and the league’s—100th-year celebration during the 2017-18 season, The Maple Leafs are looking to host every major NHL event—the All-Star Game, Winter Classic, the NHL Entry Draft and the Stanley Cup Finals. Considering the Leafs’ recent struggles (and we’ll spare the Leafs’ diehard fans by making this little note the only reference to the championship drought), it may be a challenge to host a Stanley Cup Final game, but it’s not impossible. And the Leafs have been waiting to showcase their state-of-the-art Air Canada Centre, complete with a Richards Brewhouse on premises and $1 million BOSE sound equipment. Repurposed from the original Canada Post Delivery Building, this venue also has a climate-controlled walkway called the Galleria with a food court and a CentreSports retail shop.
Hockey fans will not be able to resist visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame at Brookfield Place. Here, fans can partake in fun experiences, like calling play-by-plays for hockey’s greatest goals, shooting at real-time goalies, viewing the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world, and visiting hockey’s silverware, including the prestigious Stanley Cup.
Below, see a collection of pictures from our content editor Phil Gusman’s visit to the HHOF in 2010.
The Hostess with the Mostess – Vancouver
The host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Vancouver knows how to put on a show. Rogers Arena welcomes 18,630 hockey fans with great dining options, like Captain’s Room, a member-only fine dining establishment; and the Center Ice Grill, which presents a private-table during the game. To enhance the fan experience, Rogers Arena is undergoing a massive renovation with three towers being built, which will add more bathrooms (always a plus!), expanded concourses, a new two-level Canucks’ store and a brand-new sports bar, complete with modern technology, large screens, DJ mixing tracks and the longest bar in Vancouver.
And, oh yeah…they have the Green Men, too…
Head up north to Grouse Mountain with its Skyride, which lifts guests to the Peak of Vancouver; the Mountain Ziplines, which reach incredible speeds of 50 miles per hour at 200 feet above the ground; and Bear Discovery, which brings you face to face with the native grizzlies. Also at Grouse Mountain, you can experience helicopter tours, paragliding, and lumberjack shows.
Hockey + Culture = Winnipeg
Winnipeg, like most Canadian cities, is a diehard hockey destination, so imagine the excitement there when news broke that the city would be getting a franchise back for the 2011-12 season after losing theirs to Phoenix in 1996. And when franchise owners True North Sports & Entertainment wanted to sell 13,000 season-ticket plans, with a minimum three-year commitment, to prove the location’s viability, folks in Winnipeg gladly took up the challenge, smashing the goal in all of 17 minutes (don’t worry, you can still get tickets on a single-game basis at some retailers).
The enthusiasm has hardly died down in the years since. Winnipeg is known as a tough place to play for visiting teams thanks to the passionate crowd that is not only loud regardless of the score, but creative—it’s not uncommon for Jets’ fans to regularly break into unique, impromptu chants to taunt opposing teams and their star players.
If you have any doubts about the passion for hockey in Winnipeg, see the video below:
Of course, Winnipeg offers other delights than just hockey fanaticism. The Manitoba Museum hosts a planetarium, eight galleries, and a science exploration. The galleries include such fantastic elements as Nonsuch replica, a giant boat that once sailed for the Hudson’s Bay Company; the Earth history display with its fossils and large marine reptiles from nearly 80 million years ago; and the urban city, a replica of “the gateway to the west” in the 1920’s.
Okay, yawn, but see how cool the Manitoba Museum looks here.
Also, a title not to be dismissed, the Slurpee Capital of the World is Winnipeg, and every year, 7-11 gives out more than 64,000 drinks to commentate, according to CTV News.
The city also is the home of such festivals Folkorama, the largest and longest-running multicultural festival in the world; the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, an independent theatre show with more than 170 companies; and The Festival du Voyageur (Festival of the Traveler), a celebration of French heritage in Western Canada.
Fire and Ice in Calgary and Banff
Calgary crafts a fan experience that begins long before the game. The Famous Red Mile on 17th Avenue is place for pre-game food and a beer with great restaurants and trendy shops. It received its name from the impromptu parties that have erupted during Calgary’s playoff runs. The Scotiabank Saddledome wows spectators when the Flames score, shooting fire into the air. For those hungry for excitement and food, The Avison Young Club hosts a bountiful buffet and is open during the larger events, though advance tickets must be purchased. The Flames also provide a grill that can be accessed before the game with great views of the ice and a sports bar.
If you’re this far north, you might as well take a detour to Banff. Only an hour and a half from Calgary, Banff National Park is the quintessential Canadian Rockies destination. With the monolith peaks and the awe-inspiring Lake Louise, you’ll want to strap on your skis in one of three resorts and experience the natural beauty of Canada’s first national park.
Kanata Ottawa, a Festival of Hockey and Winter
Though the team is called the “Ottawa Senators,” the Canadian Tire Centre, the home arena of the Senators, is actually in Kanata, a suburb of the bustling city. The Senators have yet to win a Stanley Cup in the modern era (The current franchise launched in the 1990s, but the earlier Ottawa Senators team was wildly successful throughout the 1920s), but the arena is rich in hockey history as the site of Wayne Gretzky’s last NHL game in Canada.
Bert’s, an upscale sports bar, is the official headquarters of the Sens Army® and hosts pregame meals for the diehard fans. The Canadian Tire Centre also has The Ledge Carvery and Bar, which welcomes guests before the game to eat next to the press box and look down upon the ice; and the Molson Canadian Brew Pub, which is home to the team’s game-day broadcasts.
Smack in the middle of hockey season is Winterlude, a three-week festival of fantastic snow sculptures, ice carvings, the world’s largest snow playground, and the world’s largest ice skating rink. If you’re making a weekend out of the trip, a DJ brings the party every Friday and Saturday night, and check dates for the free pancake breakfast and the Great Winter Ball.
Start your Alberta Clipper Tour in Edmonton!
The future in Canadian hockey experiences is almost here! Set to open in 2016-2017, the Edmonton Oilers’ new home, Rodgers Place, will be the keystone in the new Edmonton Arena District, which will also include a community rink where the Edmonton Oilers will practice; Winter Garden, a multi-use space which will double as a climate-controlled walkway for pedestrians; shops and restaurants; and metro hub.
Currently, the Oilers play at the Rexall Place, which is only one of three arenas in the NHL that cannot seat 17,000 fans. The arena mainly serves sport favorites, such as the hotdogs, cheeseburgers, and chicken tenders, though it does house the All-Star Lounge, which presents a prime rib and dessert buffet, along with a full bar.
While the Oilers have had their struggles in recent years, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the past eight seasons, the franchise’s place in NHL history is well solidified. The Oilers have the distinction of being the league’s last recognized dynasty, having won five Stanley Cup championships in the seven years from 1984 to 1990. Gretzky headlines an impressive list of Oilers’ Hall of Famers from that era, although it’s worth noting that Mark Messier captained the team to its last Stanley Cup in 1990 without Gretzky’s services (he had been traded to the Los Angeles Kings in August 1988).
Not far from Calgary or Banff, you can start your Alberta Clipper Tour in Edmonton. With a fly-drive, you can fly into Edmonton, drive to Banff, and then fly home from Calgary. This option is perfect for a hockey-ski vacation, and most NHL teams, especially from the east coast, sweep through and play back-to-back games with the Oilers and Flames. Sounds like a win-win situation to us! (Unless your team loses)
Winter’s coming up rapidly. Plan that hockey away game or ski vacation now. Contact your local travel agent today and ask for a GOGO Vacations’ package!