Partying at Butch’s

Circa 1954 Canadiens players and their ladies get together at Butch Bouchard’s Cabaret in Montreal to enjoy some pops and chuckles.

I love this photo. It took some digging to find the names of some of the wives, and I’m not sure who some of the couples are.

Otherwise, around the table are Doug and Ursula Harvey in foreground, Bouchard (in glasses with wife Marie-Claire), Elmer Lach, Gerry and Theresa McNeil, Bernie and Marlene Geoffrion (being served by the waiter), Ken and Lorraine Mosdell across from the Geoffrions, and Maurice and Lucille Richard up by the Harveys.

A happy bunch letting off steam.

 

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At The Good Old Hockey Game

From a book called Liquor, Lust, and the Law (Aaron Chapman), which is a look at the old Penthouse nightclub and strip joint in Vancouver.

Penthouse owners hired these ladies to streak the Pacific Coliseum in 1974 during a game between the Canucks and New York Islanders.

It was a good idea, I suppose. Thousands of people would’ve been talking about Penthouse for days after. Hopefully all the kids shut their eyes.

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Thanks Rocket

On March 11, 1996, following a game between Dallas and Montreal, the Canadiens and fans said goodbye to the Montreal Forum. The lights were dimmed, and Montreal Canadien captains from over the years – Emile Bouchard, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Pierre Turgeon, and of course, number nine, Maurice Richard – all walked onto the Forum ice.

A torch was lit and passed to Butch Bouchard, who then passed it to the Rocket, and the emotional fans in the beautiful old building, the wondrous Forum, erupted in an explosion of cheers, tears, and memories to the greatest Hab ever.

Fans weren’t only saying goodbye to the old building, they were also saying thank you to the Rocket, who had done so much to create the mystique that is the Montreal Canadiens, a man whose deeds, fire, passion, and humility continues to make all Montreal fans, young and old, proud of the team, and a man the emotional Quebec Habs fans embraced and clung to through rocky political and cultural times in the province.

The Rocket was my boyhood hero and remains my hero today. I met him once, but that’s a story for another day.

The 1996 standing ovation left most in tears. And Rocket wasn’t even sure why there such an outpouring of emotion. Because, as he said, “I’m just a hockey player.”

 

‘Thumbs Up’ To Chuvalo And Orr

When I was ‘slightly’ younger I hitchhiked across much of Canada three times. There was never any money for motels or hot meals in restaurants, only a few bucks for potato chips and cigarettes. Those tiring, mosquito and black fly-filled trips usually took about eight days or so.

I was always a hitchhiker, even before the cross country trips. At 14, while living with a family for a month in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec on a French-English exchange, my new buddy Normand Chaput and I stuck our thumbs out and toured a big part of the province, even camping out one night on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

When Normand came to live with us for a month in Orillia that same summer, he and I hit the road again, to Toronto, Buffalo, and also only 30 miles up the road from Orillia, where we saw two different icons in two different places, doing what they did best.

We were let off at a gas station near Gravenhurst, where a small crowd had gathered around a makeshift boxing ring, and we had a look. A look at a young George Chuvalo, then Canadian heavyweight boxing champ, sparring with a partner.

There he was, the man who would twice take on Mohammed Ali, giving and taking shots to the face and gut at a gas station parking lot.

After the fight, Normand and I carried on to Bracebridge, to the big exhibition charity game between the Orillia Pepsi’s senior club, and the newly assembled Muskoka All-Stars. And because the Muskoka All-Stars were a bit of a stacked team with several pros on it, a young, slight, blond-haired kid from the junior ranks was loaned to Orillia to help make the teams more equal.

But it wasn’t equal at all. The blond-haired kid, Bobby Orr, having just completed his first season with the Oshawa Generals, was, at 16 years old, dominating the game so much, so thoroughly, he had both the fans and the other players on the ice laughing and shaking their heads in admiration. He owned the puck, skated through the older, more experienced opponents, came back hard and broke up oncoming rushes, and controlled and dazzled. It was a major eye-opener for me, Normand, and a lot of people in the Bracebridge Arena.

Hitchhiking with Normand was just the beginning. It seemed like wherever I went, I hitchhiked. Barrie, Toronto, into parts of Muskoka, Sudbury. When I was 17  I thumbed my way to Los Angeles after taking the train to Vancouver, and after that, at 19, I began my three trips across Canada.

I don’t pick up hitchhikers now, it’s too risky of course. It was probably almost as dangerous then, but I didn’t realize it. Maybe I dodged a bullet. And it was hard work, dirty, and uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

But I got to see George Chuvalo and Bobby Orr in action, and that time in Bracebridge made the dirt and car fumes all worthwhile.

Rocket’s Banquet Speech

You can’t go wrong with a good Rocket Richard story.

After the Rocket retired in 1960, he went on the banquet circuit and was in Boston one night for a B’nai B’rith dinner. When it was his turn to speak he got up and said, “I’m happy to be back in Boston. I came here regularly in my 18 years as a player. We beat the Bruins eight or nine times in the playoffs.  We always won. Guess that’s why I like it here so much.”

Then he sat down.

Rousseau’s Blast

It was the early 1960s, and Montreal speedster Bobby Rousseau, a slapshot specialist and off-season golf pro in Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec, was awarded a penalty shot in a game against Boston.

Rousseau grabbed the puck at centre ice, took it just inside the blueline, and to the surprise of everyone, including his coach Toe Blake and Boston goalie, Bruce Gamble, wound up, fired, and scored.

Has a penalty shot or shootout goal ever been scored from so far out?

From my old scrapbook, a photo of the moment.

Don Liked His Beer

Don Cherry was almost a Montreal Canadien.

Don suited up with Montreal’s minor league affiliate Hull-Ottawa Canadiens of the EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League) before the start of the 1962-63 season, with the program here showing him in the lineup for an exhibition game against the Boston Bruins.

His tryout with Hull-Ottawa didn’t last more than a few games. Sam Pollock took him aside one day and asked him to lay off the beer. Cherry said he wouldn’t, and was promptly shipped out.

Maybe it’s why he’s never been much of a Habs fan.

 

Goalie Don Head On The Point?

Powell River’s George Stephen figured he should probably just let it go. No one had heard about it, and most didn’t believe him. I figured he had probably inhaled too many fumes from the local mill.

But George insisted he’d seen it, only now he was thinking he might be the only one on the planet who had.

George would say often that one night, more than 50 years ago on Hockey Night in Canada, the Boston Bruins, in Toronto for a game against the Leafs, were issued a delayed penalty, and something odd happened. As soon as the referee raised his arm, Bruin goaltender Don Head, instead of skating to the bench for an extra attacker, smartly skated to the blueline, goalie pads and all, and played a short shift as a defenceman until a Leaf finally touched the puck, and back to his net Mr. Head went.

What, the Bruins didn’t have a defenceman handy?

George insisted, though. When Chicago goalie great Glenn Hall came to Powell River, George asked him, but Hall had no idea what our man was talking about. A letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame garnered a reply, and all they could say was they had no idea, but if it were true, it would make a great story. George even asked Powell River resident Andy McCallum, who had played with Head for the Ontario Senior Windsor Bulldogs, and Andy said he wouldn’t be surprised because Head was such a good skater, even with goalie pads on.

There was only one last thing George could do. Ask the man himself, Don Head. If he could find him.

Through Dick Tracy-like sleuthing, George discovered that Head was alive and well and living in Portland, Oregon, and picked up the phone. After mistakenly getting a few others of the same name in Portland first, the goalie was finally tracked down, and George asked that big nagging question. Did he leave his net and become a defenceman with his goalie equipment on?

Head thought for a second, and gave an answer George wasn’t really hoping for. “I don’t remember ever doing that,” he said, and after a few more pleasantries, George politely said goodbye. He was even more convinced to just forget the whole thing.

And that should be the end of the story.

But the phone rang the very next night at George’s house, and sure enough, Don Head was on the line from Portland. “Hello George,” he said. “If I’m ever in a trivia game and need an answer, I’m phoning you.” George asked why, and Head continued. “You were absolutely right. My daughter and I went through my scrapbooks and found the write-up of me skating up the ice and playing the point on the power play. It was a Saturday night, Hockey night in Canada, and we beat Toronto 4-3. I’d forgotten all about that.”

Head wasn’t finished there. He sent a copy of the news story to George and enclosed a little note that said: “Maybe this will convince everyone that you didn’t really inhale those fumes at the mill after all.”

It took more than 40 years, but George Stephen finally has proof that he saw what he saw. All it took was asking Don Head himself. It was true. The goalie played the point, pads and all.

Fan Favourite Fergie

John Ferguson was a lot of things.

He was one of the most popular players to ever wear the Montreal sweater, according to one who would know, Dick Irvin Jr. He was a serious lacrosse player, mostly in Nanaimo, BC. He was assistant coach on Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series. He was deeply involved in horse racing. He was coach and GM of the New York Rangers, and GM of the Winnipeg Jets.

But most of all, he was a great fighter for the Habs in the 1960s, who could also score goals. Twelve seconds into his very first NHL game with the Habs, Fergie got into a fight with Boston tough guy Ted Green and won. He was a coach’s dream.

Fergie was one those guys who would cross the street if members of the opposing team were walking his way. He avoided playing in golf tournaments if players from other teams were participating.  And he would only be involved in hockey schools if all the other instructors were Montreal players.

“We played for the sweater,” John Ferguson once said, and because he said that, he’s one of my all-time favourite Montreal Canadiens. I even saw him and Eddie Shack go at it once when I was at a game at Maple Leaf Gardens, and it brought down the house. It was one of those great, delicious bench-clearing brawls, and Shack and Fergie were the headliners, two rival gladiators with a glorious dislike for each other. They went punch for punch, Leaf fans screamed for his blood, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, right up there with Brigitte Bardot standing by the fence in  And God Created Women.

John Ferguson was one of the best. He died on July 14, 2007, at only 68.

Papa Got A Brand New Team

I’m a Habs fan, born and raised in Orillia, Ont, which is Leafs country I suppose, considering it’s only an hour and a half north of Toronto. I’m a fan and my old man had a lot to do with it.

My dad, who served in the Canadian army overseas in WWll, was a hockey fan most of his life, although his enthusiasm waned as he aged, which I understand more and more. He followed the Leafs when he was young, and once wrote a letter in the 1930s to Ace Bailey, who lay in a hospital after Boston’s Eddie Shore clubbed him over the head, ending his career, and nearly killing him.

Bailey’s wife wrote back and thanked him.

Later though, my dad began to change his mind about his team. The Toronto Star and Telegram both plastered their papers with Leafs stories and my dad would complain. It was always “Leafs, Leafs, Leafs” he used to say. Broadcaster Foster Hewitt was the definitive homer, and this rubbed dad the wrong way. And pops was a quiet fellow and wasn’t crazy about the brash, loud, and arrogant Leafs owner Conn Smythe.

In the 1950s, with television entering households, it was usually only Leafs game shown, and when the Montreal Canadiens played in Toronto, my dad liked what he saw on his TV. There was the Rocket, Beliveau, Harvey, and Plante. Magical names. Stanley Cups began to be won by the Habs on a regular basis, and the Leafs just kept plodding along. The Canadiens had something the Leafs didn’t.

When I was a boy he started a big Montreal Canadiens scrapbook for me. He helped me write fan letters to the Rocket, and at one point, Rocket sent me a Christmas card. He took me to Maple Leaf Gardens a couple of times, and once, when we were really early and stood at the gate, the Canadiens players walked right by us.

He bought me a hockey book for Christmas which he mailed to Montreal asking for autographs, and it was mailed back signed by the entire 1957-58 Habs – Richard, Plante, coach Toe Blake, Beliveau, Geoffrion etc, with Doug Harvey’s as the only signature missing. Later when we went to a game at the Gardens, he brought the book with him, took it down to the Montreal dressing room corridor, saw Toe Blake standing there, and asked Blake if he would take the book into the dressing room and get Harvey to sign it.

Believe it not, Blake did just that.

Thanks dad.

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