By Favorite Venues
July 23, 2008

There were ghosts in the Montreal Forum. They were in the rafters with the retired jerseys, stampeding with the fans when the doors opened before the game so they could get a good spot in the standing-room section, hanging out in the cramped corridors where they were getting two-packs-a-day's worth of second-hand smoke during intermissions, noshing on the steamed hot dogs for sustenance before heading back inside to haunt, say, the Boston Bruins.

I am not quite sure why the Forum ghosts had it in for the Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs or even the provincial-rival Quebec Nordiques. But my, they sure did. Harry Sinden, the estimable Bruins general manager, had a favorite expression: "Death, taxes and the first penalty at the Montreal Forum." There was one playoff game when the door leading to the visitor's dressing room was stuck, depriving Boston of precious minutes of between-periods respite, an incident that could have been dismissed as bad puck luck if Sinden didn't believe a more malevolent Puck, a playful spirit (without his front teeth) had Krazy-Glued the door. In the press box Sinden was apoplectic as he watched Forum maintenance workers struggle with the latch. No one could turn quite that shade of orange as Harry.

(An aside: that was the difference between the Forum and the Boston Garden. For Game 1 of the 1988 playoffs, the year the Bruins finally beat the Canadiens, a province-wide blackout plunged Quebec into darkness but the game went on uninterrupted thanks to a Forum generator. During Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final that year, the lights went out at the Garden, making it probably the only place in New England that didn't have power. The game had to be replayed in Edmonton, prompting Oilers star Wayne Gretzky to ask journalists on the flight west, "Is this Game 4A or Game 4, eh?")

After Canadiens games, the ghosts would convene by the arena exit on Atwater Avenue, a few steps from the corner of deMaisonneuve. There they would mingle with maybe 75 fans that would wait for the players to leave. The fans (and ghosts) didn't want autographs; they wanted explanations, face-to-face. If a Canadiens player had played well, or especially if he hadn't, he would hear about it. In 2008 every hockey coach on the planet blathers about accountability, but the Forum provided it in its purest form. Is it any wonder the Canadiens haven't sniffed a Cup since moving into their oversized area where players driving SUVs with tinted windows can zip out of the underground garage?

Of course, trading goalie Patrick Roy, a three-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner and the NHL's career-wins leader, might also have something to do with it, but Colorado's steal of a deal was also a poltergeist heist. I always believed if Roy had been playing in any other arena, he would have finished his career in Montreal. This is why: On Dec. 2, 1995, when coach Mario Tremblay didn't hook Roy until Detroit's ninth goal, the goaltender came back to the bench, turned to Canadiens president Ronald Corey, who was sitting directly behind it, and demanded a trade. In another arena there would have been protective glass between the bench area and the spectators. Without direct access to the team president, Roy would have had time to simmer down.

I guess the ghosts hated glass. It interfered with their eavesdropping.

2. Gjovik Cavern, Gjovik, Norway, 1994 Olympics: This was the ultimate engineering marvel, a hockey rink blasted into a mountain cavern, ideal for a sport with a caveman mentality.

3. Dodgertown, Vero Beach. Fla.:Spring training as it ought to be -- relaxed and charming without a plethora of chain link fences separating fans from players. Hurry, the Dodgers are moving to Arizona next spring.

4 Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Queens, N.Y:A cozy yet never constricting grass-court complex that offered a grand tennis smorgasbord in the early round -- without either the fan hysteria or the prices of the National Tennis Center colossus.

5. Boston Garden:Parquet floor and halftime organ music plus Bill Russell and John Havlicek, Sam Jones and Larry Bird. Perfect.

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