LAVAL – The Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate will be just a stone’s throw away from the Bell Centre – and the Bell Sports Complex – come the fall of 2017.
On Monday, the Canadiens officially announced that the city of Laval would be welcoming an AHL franchise that would make its home at Place Bell beginning with the 2017-18 season.
Several days ago, at the AHL Annual Meeting in Hilton Head, SC, the league’s Board of Governors approved the relocation of the St. John’s IceCaps to Laval in a year’s time, paving the way for Canadiens president and CEO Geoff Molson to make the news of the future move public at the brand new state-of-the-art facility on the North Shore.
“We are very proud to be here to announce that a professional hockey team from the American Hockey League will be playing in Laval starting in 2017,” said Molson, who was joined at a press conference by general manager Marc Bergevin, Laval mayor Marc Demers, and Place Bell president Vincent Lucier. “The Place Bell is an incredible place that will light up the city of Laval. We’ve been working on this project for a long time. Now, we can finally focus on our first hockey game along with the other events that will be held there, too.”
Bergevin believes there are many advantages that come with having the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate so close to home.
“It will be really good in terms of supporting our young players. We’ll be right nearby. It will also give me the option to maybe keep a roster of just 22 players, instead of 23, depending on the waiver situation. I’ve talked to other NHL GMs who have AHL clubs close by. It’s really something that can help the organization,” mentioned Bergevin, before expanding upon some of the logistical benefits that come with relocation. “There are just two flights per day to St. John’s. Here, in 30 minutes, the player is in Brossard. When I heard that this was a possibility [of the team moving to Laval], I was very happy.”
Molson is adamant that a Laval-based AHL franchise will also serve to better prepare prospects within the organization to handle the inevitable media attention – and scrutiny – that comes with playing in a pressure-packed market like Montreal. Players will have the opportunity to experience it first-hand on a daily basis, so they'll be well-equipped to handle it effectively when the Canadiens eventually come calling for their services.
“I think that for the young guys coming to Laval, it will be closer to the reality of the NHL. They’re going to experience more stressful situations, which is good for our players. They’ll better understand what it’s like in the NHL. It’s a passionate hockey market. I’m excited to see that side of things, too,” said Molson, who is eagerly anticipating the first puck drop next year. “Marc and his management team are going to do everything they can to offer hockey fans a high-quality team. I’m very much looking forward to September 2017.”
Monday morning’s announcement took Bergevin back in time to his playing days as a youngster in Quebec. Laval, he says, was a good place to play all those years ago, and it has remained that way ever since.
“I’m going to date myself a little bit, but the last time that I played hockey in Laval was at the beginning of the ‘80s against the Laval Voisins. It’s a good hockey city, and we can expect the same thing for years to come. I don’t think it’ll be any different with our club today,” praised Bergevin, who claimed back-to-back Calder Cup titles with the AHL’s Springfield Indians in 1989-90 and 1990-91. “My hope is that players who play in Laval will live in the community, too.”
Community, according to Molson, is what Laval's AHL franchise will be all about.
“When it comes to the AHL, it’s about families heading to games together. The tickets are more affordable. More people can go and see the development of our prospects as they prepare to one day make it to the NHL. There’s a lot of talent that will be coming to Laval down the road,” explained Molson. “For the Laval community, to have a local team at the professional level, a big part of the success of the team will be the community support. We’d like the Place Bell to be full with families and young people. We want people to get involved and see their future idols develop.”
The first step in that process is inviting hockey fans in Quebec aged 18 and over – and specifically those in Laval – to submit names for the new club via www.placebell.ca beginning on Monday. The “Name The Team Contest” is divided into three separate phases, with the winning name scheduled to be announced this fall.
“This is an important day. It’s an important announcement,” stressed Mayor Demers. “Only three cities in Canada have an AHL team, so now the city of Laval will be resonating across North America. That’s big for us because hockey is a part of our society’s DNA.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Laval to welcome an American Hockey League team at Place Bell for the 2017-18 season