MONTREAL — There’s nothing like seeing a game in the city where hockey was born. Montreal is home to loud, passionate, knowledgeable fans who pack their arena every game.
That’s why it was no surprise to discover the Sabres love playing in Bell Centre more than any other arena.
In a poll of 13 veterans Saturday, seven Buffalo players chose the home of the Canadiens as their favorite building in which to play. No other building received more than two votes.
“The atmosphere never lets you down,” forward Cody McCormick said. “It’s always going. There’s a real buzz to it.”
Another sellout crowd of 21,273 witnessed the Sabres lose to the home team, 3-2. It was the 378th straight sellout for the Habs, who haven’t had an unsold seat in their building since Tampa Bay visited Jan. 8, 2004.
The fans clad in their red jerseys cheer and chant throughout the game. An ear-splitting train whistle accompanies the Canadiens’ goals, while the in-game announcements buzz through in French and English.
“It’s like a playoff game every time,” Sabres center Tyler Ennis said. “It’s just a great atmosphere with crazy, crazy fans.”
If by chance the patrons don’t like what they see on the ice, they can look to the rafters at the 24 Stanley Cup championship banners and the retired numbers of legends such as Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante and Maurice Richard.
“This is when you know you’re in the NHL,” Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber said.
Despite the hostile atmosphere for road teams, the Sabres have made themselves at home in Montreal. They were 7-1 in their previous eight games and had won 10 of 13 in Bell Centre.
Arenas in four other cities received votes in the poll: Chicago and Philadelphia (two each), with single tallies for Toronto and Nashville.
Sabres tough guy John Scott pummeled Montreal defenseman Douglas Murray in the teams’ previous meeting, leading to speculation that George Parros would be in the Habs’ lineup to neutralize Scott.
Instead, neither guy played.
The Sabres scratched Scott and defenseman Brayden McNabb. Parros sat along with Rene Bourque and Francis Bouillon.
Though Scott-Parros would be intriguing for fight fans, Sabres coach Ted Nolan reiterated his disdain for staged fighting.
“This game is aggressive enough when you have guys battling in the corner and going at it that way,” Nolan said. “Standing at the faceoff circle and asking somebody to fight, I don’t know why they do it. I think it’s expected, but I’m expecting people to play with a certain amount of grit and energy, not to just go out and fight.”
Nolan conducted another optional morning skate, with Drew Stafford and Christian Ehrhoff electing not to participate. The coach doesn’t put much emphasis on morning workouts.
“I’m concerned when the game starts, not so much the morning of the game,” Nolan said. “Some guys are big believers in pregame skates. I’m not so much. I think as long as you’re ready to play in the evening. Sometimes when you haven’t had enough practice time it’s good, but the vast majority of the time you need the energy for nighttime.”