Category Archives: Bobby Hull

R.I.P. Red Fisher

Red Fisher, the man we all knew had the best job on the planet, has died at age 91.

Red covered the Habs for the Montreal Star and Montreal Gazette, beginning in 1955 and ending in 2012, when he was 85-years old. He became one of the boys, part of the players’ and coaches’ inner circle, winning or losing money on card games while the trains took to the team to other big league cities.

His first hockey assignment was, amazingly enough, the night of the Richard Riot (March 17, 1955) at the Forum.

It had to have been an incredible time for Red, covering those Stanley Cup teams over the years and doing so in such fine and unique fashion, and at this time my thoughts go out to Red’s family and friends.

I can only add a bit of a personal story about Red.

In the early 1960s I was a kid at an exhibition game in Peterborough, Ontario between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks, and I approached Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, who were standing by the boards, for autographs. Hull was more than happy to oblige, but Mikita was surly and miserable. I’ve always maintained that he told me to go to hell (or worse) but over the years I began to hope that he didn’t really get that harsh, that it was just me, because I was young, making too much of something.

I would like to say this… In no way is this to be taken that Stan Mikita was a bad person. In the beginning he was a little rough, but as the years went by, Mikita became a fine, friendly gentleman, a class act, and a legendary and deserving Hall of Famer.

After this incident in Peterborough, I wrote a letter to Red Fisher at the Montreal Star about it, and this is his reply back to me.

Far Away Habs Eatery

I wrote about this place not long ago, but I just found the photos.

The lovely ladies, who don’t look too thrilled about having their picture taken with me, are waitresses. But not just any waitresses. These ladies worked at the Montreal Canadiens Restaurant, deep in the heart of Russia.

It didn’t stay open long, this place. Maybe a year or so. And maybe because it was an independent business with no legal links to the Habs organization. It was also just too pricey for most Russians.

I’d heard about it in 1999 and found it on a dark street in the core of St. Petersburg, and we ate there and drank vodka and looked at the gigantic mural of the city of Montreal as singers and dancers sang and danced on the nearby stage. It wasn’t a sports bar by any stretch of the imagination. More like cabaret meets hockey pucks.

The walls were lined with players’ images, Frank Mahovlich smiles behind us, and you could buy a Habs puck and a couple of other Hab-related things in the cloakroom. The manager showed us a stick signed by a bunch of NHL oldtimers like Bobby Hull and Guy Lafleur when they had played in St. Petersburg and had enjoyed a closed party after the game in this restaurant, and he was extremely proud and held it like the Holy Grail.

But this eatery was really expensive and it might have taken off in 2010 but ten years prior there just wasn’t a lot of extra money for the majority of Russians.

But it was nice to know that so far away, the Montreal Canadiens have an impact on people, and this place paid excellent homage to the team and city. Even with the Russian folk songs. It’s just too bad it didn’t make it.

Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

It’s Me Of Course

It bothers me like crazy that people think this is Bobby Hull on the farm in Point Anne when it’s obviously me just a handful of years ago, shoveling coal in the Empress of England boiler room.

It was hot work, but an important job nonetheless. How would people sail to England and back if I didn’t feed the furnace?

And basically, the only differences between then and now is slightly less hair, probably a bigger stomach, possibly thinner arms and narrower shoulders, a couple of wrinkles instead of bulging veins, and I never wear white pants anymore.

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London Calling!

LondonA couple of months ago my brother called and asked if I had any plans from the 15th to the 24th of November. Then he left it like that for me to scratch my head and wonder.

A few days later he  told me what he was up to, which was an offer to buy me a plane ticket to London, England as a late birthday present. Now that’s a brother. And today’s the day we leave.

I’m gonna walk across Abbey Rd. Then there’s those great seats at the hit musical Sunny Afternoon, which is about one of my all-time favourite bands the Kinks. The massive flea market on Portobello Road is gonna be explored I hope.  And of course the pubs, because we’ll be thirsty from crossing streets and stuff.

And another thing while I’m on about London – I’ve always felt that the Queen’s chest size has been underrated for years.

I’m going to miss four Habs games though – Monday, when the Canucks visit and take a severe pounding; Thursday, when the Coyotes show up to be slaughtered; Friday, when the Canadiens clobber the Islanders in Brooklyn; and Sunday when those same Islanders come to the Bell for more punishment.

I’ll have my iPad and will see the scores and scorers, but I’ll be so busy there’s no time to talk about these four games. Lots to do in just a week.

Please feel free to mention anything about these games here if you so desire. And when I get back, I’ll show some photos of this short but sweet visit to Swinging London.

One last thing – my thoughts are with Paris. It’s difficult to understand such evil in our world, and although the timing of our trip could be better, I’m traveling without fear. No way are these sorts of threats keeping me from walking across Abbey Rd.

Bye for now. Back soon.

 

 

Lots To Read (If You Want)

I once phoned Hall of Famer and ex-Hab Bert Olmstead in Calgary (he was in the phone book), hoping to get him to talk about the old days with the Rocket and Stanley Cups etc. He hung up on me.

When I had my sports bar in Powell River, Frank Mahovlich and Red Storey came in while on an oldtimers tour. Frank told me the Montreal organization was so much better than the Leaf organization. We fed them a spaghetti dinner. That night, referee Storey, with a microphone, told the crowd that the spaghetti at Kane’s was the best.

I spoke to the Habs’ Jim Roberts after a game at the old Forum when I was about 13 , several years before it was renovated in 1968. He was nice to me and I decided to start a Jim Roberts fan club. I didn’t because I figured it was too much work and he wasn’t a good enough player.

I met the Rocket when he was refereeing an oldtimers game in Calgary. I told him he’d sent me a Christmas card when I was about 8 years old and he said he used to send out lots of cards but didn’t remember much at all about the old days. My sister took a picture of him, then the Rocket said he wanted me to take a picture of him with my sister.

My dad took me to a Montreal-Toronto game back in the 1950s. Somehow he corralled coach Toe Blake in the lobby and asked him to take my hockey book into the dressing room and get Doug Harvey to sign it. Blake did.

My peewee coach in Orillia, Jack Dyte, played 27 games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1943-44 season. He had one goal and 31 penalty minutes.  He played alongside Punch Imlach for the Quebec Aces in the old Quebec Senior League and against the Rocket before Richard joined the Habs.

When I lived in Ottawa, it was well known that a somewhat down-and-out Doug Harvey was living in a railway car (which was once used by Canadian PM John Diefenbaker) at the race track across the river in Hull. And what did I do? Nothing. Didn’t go there. Didn’t bring him any smokes or a bottle. Didn’t invite him home for a turkey dinner. Nothing. It’s a big regret.

I had breakfast with HOF goalie Glenn Hall when he came to Powell River for the Allan Cup back in the late-1990s. After breakfast I drove him around the area in my Hyundai Excel.

Butch Bouchard didn’t own a pair of skates until he was 16, and just four years later he’d made the NHL.

I grew up just down the street from Rick Ley, who was a solid defenceman for the Leafs in the late 1960’s and into the ’70s. He also played for the New England Whalers in the WHA and has his sweater retired in Hartford. He then went on to a coaching career in Vancouver and Toronto. He and I would sometimes skate on an outdoor rink before school, and in the summer, during a pickup baseball game, with him pitching and me catching without a mask, the batter tipped one of Ley’s pitches and the ball knocked my front tooth out. I’ve had plastic in my mouth ever since.

In the late 1960s, Rick Ley’s older brother Ron and his buddies threatened to take me behind the pool hall and cut my long hair.

Bep Guidolin played his first NHL game in 1942 with Boston. He’s the youngest player ever to play in the league, at 16 years old.

Floyd Curry attended his first Montreal Canadiens training camp in 1940 at just 15. He didn’t make the team but it’s still quite a feat.

Bobby Orr played for the Jr. A Oshawa Generals when he was just 14.

Hall Of Fame goalie Johnny Bower didn’t play his first NHL game until he was 30 when he was called up from the minors to the NY Rangers. He played one season, then three more in the minors. After that he was traded to Toronto when he was 34 years old (maybe older). Amazingly enough, Bower played goal all those years with poor eyesight and rheumatoid arthritis.

Claire Alexander, who played defence for the Leafs in the mid 1970s, came into the league when he was 29. Before that, he was a milkman in Orillia, Ontario (my hometown).

In the early 1960s, when I was about 12, my parish priest, Monsignor Lee, was somehow connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs. I think it had to do with St. Michael’s College. At one point he took my buddy Ron Clarke and I to Peterborough to see an exhibition game between the Leafs and Chicago, and the afternoon before the game, we had dinner at the hotel with the Leafs’ brass. The players were in an adjoining room. Ron and I had dinner with the Monsignor, King Clancy, and Jim Gregory, who is now in the builder’s category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In the 1950s, New York tough guy Lou Fontinato (who later was traded to Montreal), got into a scrap with Rocket Richard. Fontinato got Richard’s sweater off and proceeded to rip it to shreds with his skates. A few weeks later, Fontinato received a bill from the Canadiens for $38.50.

I was a milkman in Calgary for awhile and Doug Risebrough was one of my customers. His wife, who looked after the milk situation, gave me a small tip at Christmas. Risebrough played 13 years in the NHL, with both Montreal and Calgary. When he was eating his Cheerios with the milk I had faithfully delivered, he was coaching the Flames. I remember years before, in Ottawa, when the Habs played a pre-season exhibition game at the old Civic Centre, the buzz in the papers was the new promising rookie who would be playing that night in his first NHL game. That player was Doug Risebrough.

I played on the same Midget team as Dan Maloney for one game in Barrie after our Orillia team got eliminated and three of us were loaned to Barrie. I remember he was big, and a real leader even then. We were about 16. I also spent an afternoon with him hanging out and playing pool. Dan Maloney played for four teams (Chicago, LA, Detroit, and Toronto) over 11 seasons, and eventually went on to coach. He was truly a great guy and a tough bastard.

Toe Blake’s real first name was Hector. He got the name ‘Toe’ from his younger sister who pronounced the last part of Hector as toe, as in “Hectoe.”

Turk Broda, who was the Toronto Maple Leaf goalie from 1936 to 1952, had the nickname “Turk” because as a child, his neck would turn red like a turkey when he got angry. His real name is Walter.

During the time I owned my restaurant in Powell River, the Hanson Brothers (from Slapshot) came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, two of them, the Carlson brothers, came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.

When I was 12, my peewee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers, in his early-20s at the time, was the umpire.

When I was about 11 and at the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame at the CNE in Toronto with my dad and sister, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, but because he was in a deep discussion with someone, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my sister had to get it for me.

Howie Morenz was Toe Blake’s hero when Blake was a boy. He said he even called himself Howie. Years later, in 1937, Blake played for the Habs alongside his boyhood hero Morenz. This was the same year Morenz died from complications from a broken leg.

Toe Blake used such terrible profanity, he was barred from the Forum Billiard Hall.

In the early ’60s when I was about 13 or so, my previously mentioned buddy Ron Clarke and I went to Barrie, Ont. for an exhibition game between the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons and the Rochester Americans. We were there early and somehow got talking to the Buffalo trainer, and he let us be stickboys for the game. The team gave Ron and I sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester, although I only know this from the lineup sheet I still have.

Toe Blake said “Hockey has been my life. I never had the opportunity of getting one of those million dollar contracts, but hockey was worth more than a million to me in plenty of ways.”

1950s Habs grinder Marcel Bonin would at times eat glass (probably after several pops), and also wrestled a bear or two. And once, while at training camp in Victoria, BC, Bonin broke his thumb during some horseplay off the ice. He kept it a secret from Toe Blake, then during the next practice, pretended to hurt his hand on the ice and kept himself from getting into hot water with Blake. It worked.

Two NHL players who were notorious for treating rookies on their own teams badly were Steve Shutt and Dave Keon. Shutt’s reasoning was, “Hey, it happened to me so it’s gonna happen to them too.”

Jim Pappin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967, lost his Cup ring years ago. But it was found several years ago in the Gulf of Mexico when a diver using an underwater metal detector came up with it.

I saw Bobby Orr twice in my home town of Orillia. Once when I was sitting in the park down by the lake, he and his wife strolled by. He had a hockey school with Mike Walton in Orillia at this time. The other was out at one of the local beverage rooms, and he and a bunch of people I knew a little, sat near us. There’s a strong chance my table drank more beer than their table.

Gary Lupul, a great ex-Canuck and a good friend of mine who passed away several years ago, introduced me to goaltender Richard Brodeur, who was in town on an oldtimers tour. Gary told Brodeur I was a Habs fan, and Brodeur said “Oh. I don’t want to talk to you.” (He was joking. I think.)

I was also introduced to the Hanson Brothers’ manager when the Hansons came to town. I held out my hand and he asked “Do you wash your hands when you take a crap?” I said of course, and it was only then that he shook my hand.

A kid I played minor hockey with for four or five years, John French, ended up getting drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and played a couple of years with the club’s farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. But it was the early 1970s and extremely difficult to crack the Habs line up, so French signed with the New England Whalers of the newly-formed World Hockey Association instead. He played with Gordie Howe and another good Orillia boy, his old friend Rick Ley, who had played for the Leafs before jumping to the WHA.

The best seat I ever had at a game was in the first row at the Montreal Forum in the late-1970s, behind the net, just to the right of the goal judge.

The worst seat I ever had was at Edmonton’s Northland Coliseum for a game between the Habs and Oilers, and we were in the very first row behind the Oilers bench. John Muckler and his two assistant coaches stood right in front of us, so the only time we could see was when the play was down at either end.

Canada’s greatest pool player, Cliff Thorburn, is a long-time Habs fan.

The first two artificial rinks built in Canada were in Victoria and Vancouver.

From a documentary I learned that Russian Czar Peter the Great would often go incognito to Europe, with a shaved mustache and old hat, and from a painting of him shown in the doc wearing these,  he looks a dead ringer for deceased Russian hockey star Valeri Kharlamov.

When the Rocket was playing for the Verdun juniors in 1939, he took boxing lessons in the off-season. He became so good at it that he was entered into a Golden Gloves competition, but a damaging punch in the nose by his coach prevented him from participating.

Leaf star Darryl Sittler and his wife Wendy were staying at Paul Henderson’s house and looking after their three daughters when Henderson scored those big goals during the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series.

Team Canada had a six-hour stopover in Paris on the way to Stockholm. Goalie Ed Johnston said this about Paris: “What’s wrong is the same thing you find with all these European cities. Too many old buildings.”

While in Stockholm, a Swedish fellow at the press conference mentioned that maybe Bobby Orr, who was injured and didn’t play in the series, wasn’t as good as Russian Valeri Kharlamov. “He’s good in the NHL,” said the guy, “but in Europe he’d be only average.” A Canadian who overheard this said, “Put this down. Bobby Orr-healthy-would eat any Czech or Russian alive. And he’d spit out any Swede.”

In Moscow, the Canadians were seen coming back to their hotel at all hours of the night. While some of the boys were sitting around the lobby of the Grand Hotel, someone mentioned hearing that the Russians had put street crews with jackhammers outside the Canadian team’s windows in the early morning. “No problem,” said one player. “We won’t be in anyway.”

Coach Harry Sinden celebrated his 40th birthday while overseas. “Ten days ago I was 29,” he said.

Some Canadian fans who arrived in Moscow found out there were no tickets available for them. These included Maurice Richard, Punch Imlach, former referee-in-chief Carl Voss, and legendary wrestler Whipper Billy Watson. Those left out were given three options: they could take an all-expenses paid 10-day tour of Copenhagen; they could fly home and be refunded; or they could stay and take their chances on finding tickets. Most chose the third option.

Dennis Hull, after a tour of Moscow, gushed, “I really like the place. It reminds me of Buffalo.”

 

 

 

Bobby Hull Showed Up

I’m probably not that interesting to guys like Bobby Hull. I’m shy and feel slightly uneasy. I don’t have much to say.

Although when he first came in to our offices on Thursday, I said to him, “There’s the guy who blew slapshots past Habs goalies.” And he replied, “And it was fun too.”

Bobby was an amazing player. A wonderful skater with a great shot. A guy with flair and Hollywood good looks. The ladies loved him. Hawks fans loved him. The rest of us admired him. Opposing goalies lived in fear.

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Really Big Advice Show

Friday at the big collectables show at the Pierre Charbonneau Centre in east-end Montreal, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, and Brandon Prust will be signing autographs from 6:30 to 7:30 .

And because the signings are arranged by Classic Authentics, which is an arm of Classic Auctions, the company I work for, I’ve been asked to sit at the table and make sure these players have enough pens and photos.

Kind of like being a stick boy.

I’ll be more than just a pen and photo guy though. I’m ready to give them big time advice.

I’ll only have an hour but hopefully it’s enough time to offer Max tips on how to improve his skating and shooting. Prust might need fighting tips. I’ll probably be able to advise Plekanec on how to get his shot away quicker. And I’ll try and convince Gally to endorse a better hamburger.

I’ll give them female relationship advice too if they ask.

Boxers Antonin Decarie and Sciller Hyppolite will also be there, from 8 to 9, and if I’m still around, I’ll give them a few fighting tips like I give Prust.

The following evening, an old favourite of mine, Claude Larose, along with Bobby Hull, Rogie Vachon and former MLB pitcher Claude Raymond will be there but I probably won’t. I can only give out so much advice. And they don’t need it. They’re retired.

Sunday, it’s the Canadian Olympic ladies France St. Louis, Nancy Drolet, and Kim St. Pierre. Maybe, because Max, Tomas, Brandon and Brendan won’t be listening, the ladies could give ME shot, skating, and hitting tips.

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Gilles Does It His Way

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Ex-WHA and NHL goalie Gilles Gratton in a mock arm wrestling pose with Bobby Hull.

They did it as a joke because Gilles has always been a slight fellow and Hull is Hull.

I work with Gilles and he’s a great guy who seems to enjoy talking with me about games the night before and ones coming up. The feeling is mutual. I like hearing his thoughts on things.

Gilles was considered one of the best backstoppers in the WHA and was a backup during the WHA 1974 Canada-Russia series. He didn’t play and didn’t mind at all.

Gilles gained a reputation of being somewhat of a flake when he played, sometimes making noises at opposing players, rambling on about reincarnation to teammates and coaches, and he once refused to suit up with his Toronto Toros because the moon was in the wrong part of the sky and not lined up with Jupiter, which was his way of disagreeing with his coach being fired.

Ken Dryden says in his book “The Game” that Gilles once streaked during a practice with whatever team he was on at the time, and I asked him about it. He said that was wrong. It was during a ball hockey game and the coach promised him five new sticks if he did it.

He told us this story recently. When he first arrived in St. Louis to play for the Blues, he was in an elevator and a man riding up with him asked him if he was happy to be joining his new team.

Gilles answered, “I don’t give a f*&%k about the St. Louis Blues”.

When the elevator stopped, they got out and were met by others. It turned out the man in the elevator was his new coach Gary Young.

Gilles lasted 6 games in St. Louis before he walked out. The next year he was with the New York Rangers, then a season in the minors, and that was that.

After he retired he worked as a wire service photographer at a couple of World Championships in Europe, and eventually ended up in India for several years where he learned to meditate.

Gilles’ a Montreal boy, and I once asked him if ever would have liked to play for the Canadiens.

He said he didn’t know, he’d never thought about it.