Verdun


Montreal Juniors

Arena Name: Verdun Auditorium
Capacity: 4,114 (3,795 seated)
Built: 1939
Address: 4110, boulevard LaSalle, Verdun, QC, H4G 2A5
Last Game: 2011
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
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QMJHL
Verdun Auditorium
Verdun Auditorium
What's the Arena Like?
A statistic for you. QMJHL franchises have failed in the Montreal area seven times. In the past forty years, teams have played downtown, Laval, Longueuil, in huge NHL arenas, in tiny community rinks, whatever. They have all failed. So when my adopted St. John's Fog Devils were purchased by a Montreal businessman who announced that the team would be moving to the Verdun Auditorium, I reacted with a little skepticism and a lot of heartache. As a long-time fan of one of the cornerstone franchises of the OHL, having my junior team move was something that I had never experienced, and with the 2008-09 edition of the Juniors still possessing two players on the roster that I watched during my year in Newfoundland (Pat O'Keefe and Matt Fillier), I really had no idea what to expect while walking down boul. de l'Église from the Metro station to attend my first Montreal Juniors game. And the surprising thing that I found - this time in Montreal, junior hockey might actually work.

The Verdun Auditorium is located right on the St. Lawrence River in a quiet, working-class residential neighbourhood. It is instantly recognizeable down the street as you exit the de l'Église Metro stop. The arena itself is on a small grounds with limited parking, and a St-Hubert restaurant virtually on the front lawn. The front of the building is covered in hideous black aluminum siding at strange angles, giving it a 60's-70's pop art feel, but if you walk around the exterior of the rink you can see the original red brick on the other three sides. A large white marquee sign announces the arena as the Auditorium de Verdun. There is also a more modern addition to the left of the main auditorium, which is the Denis Savard Arena and is a community rink.

The large lobby of the arena has ticket windows and a booth set up with the team store, which at this moment is just a pair of teenage girls and a couple card tables. Still, merchandise selection is impressive, and includes jersey t-shirts, which I haven't yet seen anywhere else in the CHL. Once past the ticket booths, there is another small concourse which includes, at least for the 2008-09 season, free pizza and pop. I instantly approved of this. From that concourse, you can either go left or right up the stairs to the top concourse, or straight ahead to the seating bowl.

Verdun Auditorium feels big. It's an old arena and only holds 4,100, but it's spacious, and the high ceiling and wide concourse on the arena floor between the seats and the glass just adds to the feeling. The concourse actually includes the players benches, which are separated from the public areas only by a chain and a security guard. The rink has recently been repainted in the Juniors' maroon and white, and it feels homey. The ice surface is surrounded by a ring of stained wooden seats, which I don't believe I've ever seen anywhere else. The slatted seats are old and uncomfortable, and most of them are claustrophobic two-man benches. The seats form a bowl around the ice, but in one end, they also extend above the top concourse to the roof. For the game I attended, those sections were closed and blocked off by a gate, which was unfortunate as I usually love sitting that high at games. Another interesting quirk of the building is that the Zamboni doors don't extend down to ice level, and so every time the ice is flooded, workers have to put a ramp in place so the Zamboni can drive down the six inches or so to ice level. It's a strange sight for sure.

Scoreboard duties are handled by a single, old centre scoreclock. There is an ancient-looking digital board in one end of the building, but it was sadly unused. Washrooms are fine, and there weren't any lines that I could see. There is a small canteen-style restaurant underneath the small upper seating area in the one end of the building, and while it's tough to compete with the free pizza down below, the food is pretty cheap. One other thing that must be mentioned - the team has shovel girls that clean the ice in stoppages wearing clothing that, shall we say, would not insulate well against the cold of said ice. While I don't object to scantily-clad women in principle, it's a shame that the Juniors feel that they need the distractions to draw people in.

As a new franchise, it's difficult to get a handle on which things are going to be a part of the Juniors' experience for years to come and which are simply trial and error, but there were a few annoyances. First, the speakers are way too loud and drown out all conversation during stoppages. Most hockey teams have figured out that no one wants them to blast the volume at rock concert levels, but the Juniors are still new at this. In addition, between the cavernous size of the arena and the old speaker system, most of the sounds come out as distortion anyway. I also would have liked to have seen Montreal's junior hockey history on display a little more. In spite of the long history of junior hockey in the city, including teams with the same "Juniors" name, there were no banners, no pictures, and no other history anywhere to be found. It would be nice to see the old Memorial Cup teams from the glory days of the Montreal Junior Canadiens honoured, in a similar fashion to the Edmonton Oil Kings banners now hanging in Edmonton. Finally, it struck me as a little odd that in spite of having the most expensive tickets in the CHL, there were no ushers anywhere to be found to enforce the seating segregation. When people can buy $15 seats and then move into the $50 seats with no hassles, they're not going to spend the $50 for long.

In the last season of the Montreal Rocket, they frequently drew less than a thousand people to games at the 21,273-seat Molson Centre. There was never any reason to expect that things would be different this time around, or indeed any of the other previous six times that junior hockey has failed in Montreal. But it's also worth remembering that Montreal-based teams have won the Memorial Cup four times. That the Junior Canadiens used to sell out the Montreal Forum in the 1960's. That the Laval Titan were one of the cornerstones of the league for twenty-five years in spite of playing in a crumbling arena in the middle of a residential area, and produced stars as destined for greatness as Mario Lemieux.

Which Montreal is going to turn out for the Juniors? So far, it seems that the good Montreal might actually win out. The game I went to had 2,840 in attendance - a perfectly respectable total for an early-season game and a new team - and the crowd was knowledgeable and into the game. Juniors sweaters dotted the audience. So far, the vital signs are good. $50 is ridiculously over-ambitious for junior hockey tickets, and the Verdun Auditorium will probably need private suites, new seats, and a new scoreboard and sound system to be viable in the long-term. I am sad that the Fog Devils were lost to create the Juniors, and it was bittersweet watching O'Keefe and Fillier again in different colours. But amazingly, Montreal might actually pull it off this time. And if they do, the QMJHL will be a far stronger league for it.

Chris Jou updates:
From my visit on 30 December for Montreal v Shawinigan:
I didn't find the seats uncomfortable or tight. In fact they are on par with seats in Varsity Arena which isn't surprising because both buildings are the same age. The arena was about 90% full for the game and the section behind the north end stands was open and filled to capacity.

On the west side upper concourse, team management has built a divider to keep the media from the paying customers. The divider extends the length of the rink and the press box lit by bright, fluorescent lights (more on that later).

A very good video screen has been attached to the south wall of the building. To anyone sitting behind the net in the north end stand, the screen is blocked by the scoreboard/time clock. I suggest the team should raise the scoreboard/time clock and speaker scaffold higher so that the video screen is visible to fans in the north end stand.

The music played during intermission and during breaks in the play was a mixture of the latest top 40 music, stuff from the 50's, hits from the 80's and 90's, and Quebecois folk music. The crowd reacted more positively to the folk music more than anything else. Try doing that in an OHL building! The music was still too loud but the distortion was cleaned up.

Minor league hockey players from leagues in and around Montreal now perform ice clearing duties, replacing the half naked girls in your report. Minor hockey players also played a mini game in the first intermission and held a relay race in the second break. I'm guessing that reaching out to minor league hockey players and their families is how the Juniors are expanding their fan base.

Borrowing a page from the Montreal Canadiens, about 5 minutes before the players come onto the ice, the team dimmed the lights in the building and projected videos of Montreal Juniors' glory onto the playing surface. As the stands are only 12 rows deep, the fluorescent lights from the media boxes washed out images on the ice along the west side of the rink. Also, the projections were oriented for fans sitting along the side boards so people sitting behind the goals had to see the show on a perpendicular.

Large portions of the crowd left during the intermissions so that the arena was only about 70% full at end of the game. Montreal and Shawinigan were playing well and the game was suspenseful so I couldn't understand the between-period exodus.
Inside the Verdun Auditorium
Verdun Auditorium

How To Get There

From A-15/20: Exit at Exit 62 (boul. de la Vérendrye) and make an immediate left of rue Galt. When you reach boul. LaSalle near the river, the Auditorium should be right in front of you to the left.

Métro: De l'Église stop. (Green Line).

If you're a masochist, you can try driving to the game, but there really aren't any decent spots other than the tiny and expensive arena lot. A much better bet is to park out at the Olympic park or at a park n' ride station and then take the subway in.
Another Look Inside the Verdun Auditorium
Verdun Auditorium

What's the Arena Used For Today?

After the Juniors moved out to the suburbs, the Verdun Auditorium has been without a major tenant. It is still used for youth and recreational hockey, and as an occasionall practice facility for the Montreal Canadiens.

Feedback

If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at Email and I'll update the guide.


 

 


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Last Revised: January 3, 2010