The Battle of Alberta, the century-long rivalry between the Habs and the Leafs, Vancouver’s Stanley Cup finals curse, the surprising history of Ottawa’s Stanley Cup success, the resurrection of the Winnipeg Jets – these are some of the most compelling storylines in professional sports. And of course, all of them are Canadian. Together with dozens of hockey’s best-ever players, the game’s most famous arenas (do you know which one is a National Historic Site?) and many of the game’s most famous moments, Canada’s NHL cities are the most storied in history. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are vacation destinations for hockey fans. To some, a trip to any of these cities to take in a game is the pilgrimage of a lifetime.
Those making the trip to one of Canada’s seven NHL cities want to make the most of their hockey holiday. For the best chance to bump into NHL stars, read on to find out which hotels are the most likely to host visiting teams. Check out our recommendations of restaurants for pre-game eats and nearby bars for post-game drinks. Here are the tips and insider information – seasoned with history and fun facts – hockey fans need to make the most of a Canadian NHL getaway.
Les Habitants, the Canadiens, the Habs’ – however you know them, the Montreal Canadiens are the NHL’s most successful team. To Habs fans, Montreal is the centre of the hockey universe, having won the championship 24 times. That’s nearly double than The Toronto Maple Leafs, their arch enemies and closest rival who have taken home the Stanley Cup 13 times. The Montreal Hockey Club was the first Stanley Cup winner way back in 1893, many years before there was a National Hockey League. A quarter of the players named in 2017 by the league as the top 100 NHL players of all time made their mark in Montreal. From George Vezina, who began playing in 1910 (the league’s annual trophy awarded to the top goalie is named for Vezina), to Patrick Roy, the Habs’ goalie during the team’s championship run in 1993, the list reads like a history of hockey.
Almost as well known as the hockey club itself is its home from 1926 to 1996, the Montreal Forum. The year after the Canadiens moved to the Bell Centre, the Forum was declared a National Historic Site. The two buildings are only three metro stops from each other in downtown Montreal. To hockey fans, especially Montreal supporters, making the pilgrimage from the team’s current home to the building many consider the most storied in hockey history is an absolute must.
Hotels near the Bell Centre
For the best chance to bump into NHL stars, book a room at the Marriott Chateau Champlain (adjacent to the Bell Centre) where it’s rumoured that most visiting teams stay. With its grand views of Mount Royal, the Marriott makes a great base for a hockey holiday. For hockey fans on a budget, the Novotel Montreal Centre just a couple blocks from the arena is a solid choice. After the game, you can make the five-minute walk to the Brutopia brewpub for craft beers, entertainment and tapas.
The Ottawa Senators is one of those rare sports teams successfully resurrected after many years of absence from the league. The original Senators played from 1883 to 1934 and won eleven Stanley Cups – tying them for third with the Detroit Red Wings in all-time Stanley Cup wins. In 1992, some 58 years after they folded, the Senators were reborn and have been a competitive force in the NHL ever since, last making it to the finals in 2007.
To see a Senators game, fans head to the Canadian Tire Centre in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, home to the team since they rejoined the NHL. Despite its location twenty kilometres from the city centre, the Senators regularly place in the top half of NHL attendance numbers, partly because the public transit authority provides shuttles to the arena with pickup throughout the city.
Hotels near Scotiabank Place
There’s nothing like joining a busload of Ottawa fans heading back downtown to pubs like the Senate Sports Tavern after a Senators win. Others take the short drive to the Brookstreet Hotel right in Kanata where many visiting teams are said to stay. A good budget choice in downtown Ottawa close to most other attractions like the great restaurants, shops and farmers market in the ByWard Market is the historic Rideau Inn, a 1916 Edwardian era house with tons of character and economical rates.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Q: What do you call a Toronto Maple Leaf with a Stanley Cup Ring?
A: Very old or a thief.
Leaf jokes are as common as bacteria in bad butter, as the old saying goes, a saying that captures the way Leafs fans feel about jabs at their team. Even though the team has been crowned champions 13 times, they haven’t brought home the cup since 1967. The great players from that era like Dave Keon, Ron Ellis, Norm Ullman, Tim Horton, Paul Henderson and Johnny Bower are still revered by Leafs fans to this day. They remember that it was Tim Horton who started Canada’s monumental coffee shop chain of the same name, it was Paul Henderson who scored the winning goal against the Russians in the famous 1972 series, and it is Darryl Sittler who still holds the record for most points in a single game – 10 in 1976.
The Leafs home, the Air Canada Centre at the foot of Bay Street, is as centrally located as any NHL arena. It replaced the famous Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999. Nearby is the CN Tower and Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays. For a chance at bumping into stars from visiting teams, check into the Westin Harbour Castle right on the lakefront and just across the Gardiner Expressway from the arena.
Hotels near The Air Canada Centre and The Hockey Hall of Fame
Historically, visiting teams have checked into the Royal York, and some still do (not to mention being walking distance from the Hockey Hall of Fame). This was the site of a famous Stanley Cup incident in 1940 that occurred after The New York Rangers defeated the Leafs on home ice to win the championship. Back at the Royal York, a crowd of party crashers from an adjacent room joined the newly-crowned Stanley Cup winners and celebrated with them, sticking the team’s management with a huge booze bill of $3,700 – the equivalent of over $65,000 today.
Winnipeg Jets fans have taken their city’s nickname back. The term “Winterpeg” is a mildly sarcastic dig by outsiders about harsh weather. Today, it’s a point of pride for Jets fans. After all, hockey is a winter sport. Calling themselves the True North – in reference to Canada’s national anthem – fans dress in white and wave white towels, turning the arena into what looks like a snowy landscape. According to some Jets players, this fan “white-out” feels like an extra player on the ice.
Winnipeg fans are known as some of the loudest in the league, mostly because they’re so grateful to have a hockey team in the city again. For 15 long winters, there was no NHL hockey in the Peg. The original Winnipeg Jets entered the league in 1979, but were sold and moved to Phoenix in 1996. In 2011, the NHL franchise from Atlanta moved to Winnipeg to become the current Jets organization. When season tickets went on sale that year, they sold out in hours. When the waiting list for season tickets reached 8,000 in just two hours, the team capped the list.
Hotels near Rogers Arena
When they have to subject themselves to a white-out, visiting teams usually stay at the Fairmont Winnipeg less than a kilometre from the Jets arena, Bell MTS Place. The Fairmont is attached to the arena through an underground concourse. Even closer to the arena and a budget choice to boot is the funky Alt Hotel Winnipeg. An outlet of the Shark Club Sports Bar and Grill chain is a block from the arena where the true sports fan will find multiple large screens and an extensive pub menu, including hot and tasty post-game snacks.
When longtime Calgary Flames fans think of their team, they might picture a huge red moustache. The owner of that fantastic facial feature, Lanny McDonald, wasn’t the Flames all-time leading scorer or even the longest-serving player, but his tenure with the club from 1981 to 1989 was Calgary’s golden era. In his final year, at age 36, McDonald captained the team to its only Stanley Cup championship. He even scored in the final game. The flamboyant, talented McDonald was the soul of the Calgary Flames throughout the 80s and is possibly the team’s all-time most popular player. The year after Calgary’s cup win and McDonald’s departure, the Flames retired his number nine jersey.
The Alberta rivalry between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers is one of the greatest in hockey, and perhaps only the century-long clash between Toronto and Montreal runs deeper. The Oilers easily have the better playoff record with five Stanley Cups, but historically the balance of regular season wins tilts in the Flames’ favour. Between 1982 and 1990, that classic period in the rivalry, the Flames and Oilers finished first and second in their division six times. Visiting teams would dread a road trip through Alberta, which they referred to as hockey’s Death Valley.
Hotels near The Saddledome
Today, those visiting teams usually stay at the Westin Calgary, though it’s rumoured that the Ottawa Senators prefer the Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire. Both are centrally located in the downtown core. The Hotel Arts is easier on the wallet and closer to the Flames home arena, appropriately named in cowboy country, The Saddledome. Within a 15-minute walk, the hotel prides itself on its refreshing design with a dash of whimsy. Equal distance from the Sheraton and Hotel Arts is the Rooftop Bar at Simmons. It’s perched above Charbar – a top Calgary restaurant – and offers panoramic views of the Bow River and one of the best menus in the city.
The Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s are considered hockey’s last great dynasty, winning five Stanley Cups in seven seasons, many of those championships under the leadership of Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky. Some consider the mid-80s Oilers the best team in hockey history. In the 1983-84 season, the Oilers finished the year with 119 points, fifteen ahead of the second place New York Islanders. That season, the team set a record as the first with three players to score fifty goals – Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Glen Anderson. The team’s 446 goals that season remains an NHL record.
Stats aside, the 80s Oilers played what some considered a new brand of hockey, favouring speed and skill over toughness and defence. The team was a marvel to watch, but have since had a major drop off in success. Despite the comings and goings of stars like Taylor Hall, the post-dynasty Oilers have languished as one of the worst in the league. Only recently, after the addition of phenom Connor McDavid in 2015, have the Oilers started seeing success again.
Hotels near Rogers Place
Not far from the brand-new Rogers Place, home arena of the Oilers since 2016, is the preferred hotel for visiting teams, the Westin Edmonton, home of the award-winning Share Restaurant. Around the corner from the Westin is the highly rated budget boutique hotel, the Union Bank Inn. Recently and beautifully renovated, the stately stone building first opened as a bank in 1910.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, the Vancouver Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup, though they’ve played in the finals three times since they entered the league in 1970. They lost to the New York Islanders in 1982, the New York Rangers in 1994 and most famously to the Boston Bruins in 2011. After being up in the series against the Bruins three games to two, Boston won at home and then took game seven in Vancouver, sparking riots in the streets, repeating the aftermath of the 1994 game seven loss.
But to think of the Vancouver Canucks only for these two incidents is unfair, especially since 2000 when the Swedish Sedin twins – Daniel and Henrik – joined the team. With the twins, the Canucks were a joy to watch. The Sedins played their full 18 seasons exclusively with the Canucks, nearly always on the same line. Fans marvelled at their creative playmaking, often confounding opponents with the fluidity and unpredictability of their style. Daniel is the Canuck’s all-time leading goal scorer and Henrik their all-time leader for goals and assists combined. They retired – together, of course – at the end of the 2018 season.
Hotels near Rogers Arena
When playing against the Canucks at Rogers Arena, visiting teams stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel overlooking Vancouver Harbour adjacent to the city’s famous landmark, Canada Place. Closer to the arena is the aboriginal hotel and gallery, Skwachays Lodge, a unique combination of boutique hotel units, shelter-rate apartments, social enterprises and art. Ask about the rooftop sweat lodge and the smudge room used for spiritual purposes for a truly west coast experience.