Category Archives: Conn Smythe

Gentlemen, Start Your Skates

Carey Price is under the weather and may not play in the season opener Thursday night in Toronto. C’mon Carey, shape up. Up and at ’em. Eat six raw eggs and drink a half pint of cod liver oil.

Or if all else fails, smoke a doobie. But not too close to game time.

Finally, after all these months, hockey returns for real. And the schedule maker may have other issues, but having the Habs and Leafs go at it in game one is very good. 

It goes without saying that Habs and Leaf fans love when these two play each other. The rivalry between teams is an old one, a great one, and for those who don’t know, many years ago, many, many years ago, the Leafs were a force to be reckoned with.

I know. I read it somewhere in the Old Testament.

I have my mom’s diary beside me that she wrote when she was a teenager, and the entry for April 18th, 1942 is: “The Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup tonight for the first time in years.” She was right. It had been ten years since they’d won it before that, in 1932. Overall though, the team in blue has captured the hardware 13 times, which is better than anyone else except our guys, of course. (Detroit has won it 11 times, the Bruins five).

And imagine the Stanley Cup playoffs ending on April 18th.

My mom knew the Leafs’ Bucko McDonald when she was growing up in Sundridge, Ontario, where he’s from, and it’s entirely possible she liked the Torontonians as a young girl. Maybe all those times she helped me type letters to the Montreal Canadiens at the kitchen table, she was secretly a Leaf fan and never mentioned it. (Bucko is known for another reason too: he coached Bobby Orr in nearby Parry Sound when Orr was a wee lad and McDonald can certainly claim some responsibility for helping Orr grow as a player in his formative years).

As a hockey fan, I have great respect for much of the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Conn Smythe and Frank Selke building the team in the early days; Turk Broda, Syl Apps, Hap Day, the Kid Line, Bill Barilko. Later, Tim Horton, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Johnny Bower.

The Eddie Shack – John Ferguson battles that usually led to bench-clearing brawls. Backstrom and Keon lining up for a faceoff. Punch Imlach with his fedora and arrogant smirk. Harold Ballard saying and doing the outrageous, often distastefully and lacking a certain amount of grace and decorum. But he was a fixture and mover and shaker at the Gardens for decades.

All those many nights when the Canadiens and Leafs went toe to toe at the Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens and fans got their money’s worth in spades.

The story of hockey in many ways is the story of Montreal and those dastardly Toronto Maple Leafs.

But I’m a Habs fan, and so I do what I always do – hope for a Montreal slaughter, a gigantic take-down of the boys in blue. I want a demolishing, a trouncing, a slaughtering, a one-sided embarrassment. It’s not too much to ask.

Bring ’em on. Bring on Komisarek with the bad passes and bad penalties, bring on the unlikable duo of Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel. In fact, on the subject of Grabovski, here’s a lovely little read in case you missed it; Couple sues Maple Leaf.

Random Notes:

Roman Hamrlik is still nursing his sore knee but seems almost ready. Andre Markov says it’s a secret when he’ll return, and Mike Cammalleri stays in civvies for one night only for getting down and dirty against the Islanders in pre-season. Hey, you don’t mess with Cammy.


I Was Cold (And Mildly-Warm Other Things)

Yes, I know there are wars and strife and you have your own many problems, but I just want to say that I dealt with really uncomfortable air-conditioning today and you just might start thinking that your own lives aren’t so bad after all.

The ferry was freezing, the doctor’s office was freezing, the Telus office was freezing, the restaurant was freezing, and the ride back on the ferry was freezing.

You tell me. Are your problems so bad now?

But this is a Habs blog, at least until the NHL shuts down for a year, so here’s the important Habs stuff for today:

I’m reading Net Worth which I think every hockey fan should read if you haven’t already as it deals with the corruption and greed of owners and others over the years, with Alan Eagleson getting his share of ink of course, and in a memo from Frank Selke to his Montreal owners, he described Jacques Plante as “almost a mental case in his exalted ego and we must give serious thought to a replacement as he is not very amenable to discipline.” Another star’s “I.Q” is so low that we must not let ourselves count too highly on him.” Bernie Geoffrion “can’t even check his suitcase.” Dickie Moore was a “disappointing worker at training camp and as you know I had quite a session with him at contract-signing time.”

What a nasty memo. The book also details the viciousness of Detroit GM Jack Adams and naturally, good old Conn Smythe in Toronto. These people, and others, acted like children, were ruthless, cheap bastards who manipulated every person who came into their lives. They stole, lied, cheated, and connived, all for the almighty buck. 

I don’t know whether Gary Bettman looks good or bad compared to them.  

James Norris Sr, a man who virtually controlled hockey at one time, although he’s barely remembered, had a great-grandfather who injured his leg in a logging accident and amputated it himself.

I got this picture to go with my Billy Reay stick. This is the 1948-49 Montreal Canadiens – Butch Bouchard is the captain on the left just beside Bill Durnan, and that’s coach Dick Irvin over on the other side. (Give it a click, it’ll get bigger). My stick is signed by pretty well everybody in the picture. Billy Reay is three over from Irvin. I wonder if that’s my stick.

I think there should be this kind of team picture nowadays. Even if just from time to time. Players standing like that. Something different.

The New NHL Schedule And A Strange String Of Coincidences


The new 2010-2011 NHL Schedule has been released today and in honour of my brother Paul’s birthday on October 7th,, the Habs will open the season in Toronto on this big day. Paul is about 15 years younger than me and is a big Habs fan like older brother and I’m sure he’ll be thrilled that this honour is being bestowed upon him.

Paul lives in Orillia and I’d like to announce that in 1914, the Orillia junior squad beat Toronto Varsity, led by a young Conn Smythe who would later become owner of the Leafs, to win the Ontario junior finals. Varsity, with the hotshot Smythe, had eliminated the Berlin (now Kitchener) Union Jacks, managed by good old Frank Selke.

So you see? If you combine all the pieces of the puzzle – the Habs opening on my brother’s birthday, and this brother happens to live in Orillia, and Orillia beat Conn Smythe’s team which had overcome Frank Selke’s team, and Selke went on to run the Montreal Canadiens and Smythe became owner the Leafs, the team the Habs meet on October 7th, not to mention that I saw Blind Faith featuring Eric Clapton at the old Varsity Stadium, a stadium where Smythe probably watched football and yes indeed, the same Varsity which had a hockey team that lost to Orillia, my hometown.

When you add everything up – it was only by some strange twist of fate that didn’t see me become a Montreal Canadien.


Jim Thomson Was Another Rebel With A Cause


Previously I wrote about Ted Lindsay and how the Detroit Red Wings traded him to the lowly Chicago Black Hawks because he was of the movers and shakers involved in creating the first players’ association.

Here’s another of the ringleaders, Jim Thomson, who absolutely infuriated Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner Conn Smythe by his union actions and therefore, Thomson, who had played 12 seasons in Toronto, was also banished to the basement dwelling Chicago Black Hawks.

This photo is another I had clipped from the Toronto Star’s “Star Weekly” from back then, and it’s obvious that although Smythe said and did what he wanted in the NHL, he had no control over what the Toronto papers printed. Because if he did, I’m sure there’d be no way he’d allow such a traitor to have his coloured photo printed for all to see.

Or, could it be possible Smythe was happy that people saw Thomson in a Hawks uniform? That way, he could get his message across more firmly that if you messed with league management, this is what happens to you.

Howie Feels The Habs Are………….

There is someone very interesting living across the water from me, just over on Vancouver Island, and I wanted to find out what he thought about a couple of things, including the Habs.

So I phoned him.

Howie Meeker played eight years in the NHL, between 1946 and 1953, and all eight were with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He beat out Gordie Howe for rookie of the year, and although he played with and against legendary and mighty warriors during the golden age of hockey, he says he doesn’t dwell on the past. “That was then and this is now,” he says. I don’t think about it.”

 After Howie retired he coached the Leafs for a season, became a Member of Parliament, and probably his biggest claim to fame was the gig he found himself in when hecame an outspoken and much-talked-about Hockey Night in Canada analyst in the 1970’s and 80’s. He also sounds the same now as he did then.

My little phone call with Howie wasn’t exactly award-winning, because I’m no Peter Mansbridge or Ron MacLean or George Stroumboulopoulos. I just tried to shoot the breeze with him and I think he got bored with me quite quickly. He doesn’t know me, I was interrupting his day and his oyster shucking, and I understand that. But it thrills me when I can chat with someone from back then.

I asked what he thought of this year’s Habs. “A lot of heart,” he said, “but too small.” But, I countered, is small such a bad thing? “You bet,” he said. “Small guys have to play the game of their lives every single night. They must be number one stars all the time.”

It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to hear. I wanted him to say that even though they’re small, they can win. But he didn’t. (And hey Tomas Plekanec. Howie says small guys have to play the game of their lives.)

What do you think of the Canucks playoff run so far? “They’re toast,” said Howie. “Kesler’s done nothing. The playoffs are a step faster and tougher, and Kesler hasn’t been tough. He’s called a power forward but nowadays, he’s too small to be called a power forward.”

Then came the question I like to ask of any oldtimer. What he thought of the Rocket. “I HATED THE SON OF A BITCH,” he said in his raised and good old Howie Meeker voice. “I hated the way he played. I thought he was a no good, rotten……….But I got to know him later on when I was doing HNIC, and I really got to like him.”

I also asked him something I’ve been curious about for many years. I’d always heard that Busher Jackson, part of the famous Leafs ‘Kid Line’  of Jackson, Joe Primeau, and Charlie Conacher, had a real drinking problem and had become destitute in his later years, even selling Leafs game sticks on Carlton St. outside Maple Leaf Gardens.

But Howie set me straight. “Busher was a great guy. I knew him well. And he was the best player on that line.” But what about him becoming destitute? “Not so, said Howie. “He happened to like drinking and Conn Smythe disliked him for some reason because of this, made a big deal of it, and kept him out of the Hall of Fame for years.

Howie was also one of the Leaf forwards on the ice when Bill Barilko scored his famous Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal in the 1951 finals against the Habs, and when I brought this up, he shot back, “I should have scored it. I hit the post. And then big dum-dum skates in and scores.”

And then, without warning – “Gotta go,” Howie announced. “I’m shucking oysters.” And that was that.

In the famous photo below, that’s Howie being pinned against the boards by Tom Johnson after he had passed the puck out to Barilko. (Barilko would later die that summer in a plane crash in Northern Ontario.)

You can see a couple of other retired player chats I’ve had, right here Drinking beer with Aurele Joliat and here, Shooting the breeze with Terry Harper.

I also asked Glenn Hall once about the Rocket and he said Gordie Howe was better. Another answer I didn’t want to hear.

Things You Can Read While Sitting On The Toilet

Since I began this blog, I’ve had an ongoing series called “Fascinating Facts’, which are various little tidbits and are all true. Here’s a compilation of many of them as I get ready to go to Calgary to see my kids:

I once phoned Hall of Famer and ex-Hab Bert Olmstead in Calgary just to talk about the old days with the Rocket and Stanley Cups etc. He hung up on me.

When I had my restaurant in Powell River, Frank Mahovlich and Red Storey came in. Frank told me the Montreal organization was first class and way better than the Leaf organization. We fed them a spaghetti dinner

I met the Rocket when he was refereeing an old-timers 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 a picture of him with my sister.

My dad took me to a Montreal-Toronto game back in the 1950’s. 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.

I spoke to the Habs Jim Roberts (1963-1978) when I was about 13 after a game at the old Forum, before it was renovated in 1969. 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.

My peewee coach in Orillia played 27 games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1943-44 season. He had one goal and 31 penalty minutes. AND NOT ONLY THAT:  He played alongside Punch Imlach for the Quebec Aces in the old Quebec Senior League and played against the Rocket before Richard joined the Habs. Does it get any more interesting than this?

When I lived in Ottawa, it was a known fact that Doug Harvey, the greatest defenceman of all time after Bobby Orr, lived in some kind of railway car at the race track in Hull, completely down and out, with a drinking problem. So what did I do? Nothing. Nothing at all. Didn’t go there. Didn’t bring him any smokes or a bottle. Didn’t invite him home for a turkey dinner. Nothing. Geez, this would have made an interesting story.

Conn Smythe let the Habs have Dick Irvin as their coach, even though Irvin was a good and successful coach in Toronto, because Smythe wanted his man Hap Day, a good, religious company man and supreme ass kisser, to coach. Irvin went on to coach Montreal for 15 years where he won 3 Stanley Cups and let his son, broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., sit on the players bench from time to time when junior was a kid.

I once had breakfast with old Chicago and various other teams goalie Glenn Hall (1952-1971.) when he came to town for the Allan Cup. He told me Gordie Howe (1946-1980) was better than the Rocket. Even so, I still paid for his breakfast.

In Ottawa in the 1970’s, there was a tremendous fastball team called Turpin Pontiac (maybe they still exist), who were one of the best ball teams in Canada. They had a horn-rimmed glasses-wearing pitcher named Joe Belisle who looked like Dennis the Menace’s father. He probably weighed about 140 pounds and skinny as a rake. However, his pitching arm was twice as big as his other arm, and this was a guy who pitched mostly 1 or 2 hitters, with many, many no-hitters also. The ball was only a blur when he let it go. And one of the guys who played outfield for Turpin Pontiac was a big, strapping long-ball hitting red-head named Larry Robinson, who happened to play defence for the Montreal Canadiens in the off-season.

Several years ago, my sister Carla and I used to do this silly little thing like say, “You know Carla, I’ve known a lot of people in my life —and you’re one of them. Or “You know Dennis, I’ve seen a lot of men in my life — and you’re one of them.” You get the picture. Just silly stuff. So one day, somewhere, maybe Calgary, Ken Dryden was signing his book at a bookstore and Carla bought one for me and had Ken sign it this way- “Dennis, I’ve had a lot of fans in my life, —and you’re one of them. Ken Dryden.”

Rocket Richard was never really associated with being a practical joker, but he had that streak in him. One time on the train the team was travelling on, his coach Dick Irvin Sr. had brought along a bunch of caged prize pigeons that Irvin had shown at some agriculture fair somewhere. The Rocket tried to let the pigeons out of their cages but other guys on the team stopped him.

Emile ‘Bouch’ Bouchard was a big strapping defenceman for the Canadiens in the 1940’s and ’50’s. He was their captain for a period of time. The fascinating part of this story is that he didn’t own a pair of skates until he was 16, and four years later he’d made the NHL.

Terry Sawchuk died after having a serious and drunken wrestling match on the front lawn of his house with teammate Ron Stewart. He was 40 years old.

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 ’70’s. 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. But the big news is that when we were kids, him and I would 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 worn dentures ever since.

In the late 1960’s, Rick Ley’s older brother Ron and his redneck 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 Oshawa Generals, a farm team of the Boston Bruins, 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. Amazingly enough, and this is why this thing is called “Fascinating Facts”, Bower played goal all those years with poor eyesight and rheumatoid arthritis.

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

In the early 1960’s, 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. One day, he took my buddy Ron Clarke and I to Peterborough to see an exhibition game between the Leafs and Chicago. The afternoon before the game, we had dinner at the hotel with the Leafs’ brass. The players were in an adjoining room. So Ron and I had dinner with the Monsignor, King Clancy, and Jim Gregory, who has just been recently inducted into the builder’s category of the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

In the 1950’s, New York tough guy Lou Fontinato (who later was traded to Montreal), got into a real 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.

Montreal drafted Mark Napier instead of Mike Bossy.

Scotty Bowman, when coaching the Habs in the 1970’s, would usually be a real  miserable soul after the team had won. But when the team lost, he was a nice, happy person. The general consensus was that Scotty liked to play games with his players’ heads, and it was a big reason he was such a good coach.

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 very little 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 somebody else in 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.

CBC television host George Stroumboulopoulos, is a good, solid Habs fan.

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 really, really tough.

I have a beautiful old ticket stub from Game 8 of the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series at Luznicki Arena in Moscow.

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 a sports bar/bistro in Powell River, the infamous Hanson Brothers came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, they came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.

A small scrap of paper signed by Bill Barilko, who scored the Cup-winning goal for Toronto against Montreal in 1951 and died later that year in a plane crash in northern Ontario, recently sold on ebay for $750.

When I was 12, my pee wee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers was the umpire.

Years ago, when I was about 11, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, then, because he was in a deep discussion with some other guy, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my older 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 ’60’s when I was about 13 or so, my buddy 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 us both sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester.

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.”

In the early 1940’s the Montreal Canadiens were bringing in less fans than the senior league Montreal Royals. The Habs were averaging only about 1500 people in those days. Guess what changed in Montreal? What caused fans to go from 1500 to 12,000 in only a few years?  Two words – The Rocket.

And what completed the growth of fan attendance, from 12,000 in the late 1940’s to regular sellouts at the beginning of the 1950’s. It was the signing of Quebec senior hockey hero, Jean Beliveau.  

1950’s Habs grinder Marcel Bonin used to eat glass, and also wrestled bears. And once, while at raining 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.  It was found last year 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 lttle, 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 last year, introduced me to goaltender Richard Brodeur. 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. 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 1970’s and to crack the Habs line up, you pretty well had to be a Guy Lafleur, so French decided to sign 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.

Rick Ley and I sometimes skated on the big outdoor rink near us, before school. Ley also pitched a ball to me one summer which the batter fouled off into my mouth and knocked my front tooth out. 

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

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 one end. Most games I’ve gone to, however, were usually way, way up. 

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

I asked my wife who the most handsome player in the NHL is, and she said it’s a tie between Jose Theodore and Sheldon Souray.

In the early 1910’s, Lester and Frank Patrick pioneered professional hockey on Canada’s west coast, and the first two artificial rinks built in Canada were in Victoria and Vancouver.

My midget coach was a man named Jack Dyte. In 1943 he played 27 games with the Chicago Blackhawks, and that was it for his NHL career. He managed one goal and no assists during this stint. But the thing was, he chewed tobacco at our practices and spit the juice on the ice. So the surface had dozens of brown spots all over it. I always wondered how he got away with that.

I recently saw a documentary on Russian Czar Peter the Great. Peter would often go incognito to Europe, with a shaved mustache and old hat, and the documentary showed a painting of him in this mode. And lo and behold, 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.

And some 1972 Summit Series facts:

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.”

The Habs In 1986 – Getting Noses Dirty, And Winning It All

It’s certain the Montreal Canadiens of 1986 weren’t a dominant team in the league, or a great team like the Habs of other years. Heck, they weren’t even as good as several other teams in these playoffs. But they won the Stanley Cup and the rest didn’t. And they did it through a blend of old, new, and a goalie who stood on his head.

Montreal’s 1986 Stanley Cup win over the Calgary Flames was the 23rd time the team had drank from the old mug, and surprising as it was for all the armchair quarterbacks and hockey experts of the world, there were actual reasons why they were able to do this drinking.

Patrick Roy standing on his head was a very good reason. The rookie won the Conn Smythe for his performance in these playoffs, and one stop in particular may just have saved the day for the Habs. Coach Jean Perron had called a timeout with the game winding down and Montreal leading 4-3, when just 30 seconds after the timeout and only 14 seconds left, Jamie Macoun thought he had it tied when he fired and waited for the red light. But Roy pulled out the most important big stop of the series to maintain the lead. “I wasn’t on the ice when Roy made that save,” grinned Bobby Smith.  “When he made it, I was on my feet yelling: ‘Roo-ah! Roo-ah!’ This smile is going to be on my face until September.”

But Roy wasn’t the only reason the Canadiens came through. It was simply an amazing and unheralded bunch.

Ryan Walter for example, who played with a half-healed broken ankle, and played like a demon. Team doctors said with astonishment that if it was the regular season, Walter wouldn’t have even skated for another three weeks. Walter later explained, “Adrenaline is an amazing healer with a Stanley Cup in sight.”

Guy Carbonneau, playing with a serious knee injury.

Chris Nilan, who sat out the last two games with a damaged ankle, said of journeymen Serge Boisvert and Steve Rooney, who had filled in, “I’m glad it gave these guys a chance to get their names on the Cup. They deserved it because they worked like hell and never opened their mouths.”

Brian Skrudland, who was knocked out cold early in the final game, put the Canadiens ahead, 2-1, for good in the second period and never missed a shift. Later, in the dressing later, he blurted out, “You don’t know how much being a part of this means to me.  Since I can remember, I’ve always cried when the Canadiens and Saskatchewan Roughriders lost.”

Gaston Gingras, a player who was made fun of in previous years because of miscues and a big shot with no control, was a big-time player in the finals, scoring three large goals. No one made jokes about Gingras after this series was over.

Craig Ludwig, a solid defenceman, with a back so bad he could hardly get out of bed in the morning.

Claude Lemieux, the target of every player in the league, losing two teeth and creating havoc and playing like a man possessed whenever he stepped on the ice.

Rick Green, who performed so well on the blueline he was considered the best defencemen in all of the 1986 series, including those from the other teams. And Green had been a scapegoat because he and Walter had come to Montreal in an unpopular trade that saw Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Brian Engblom and Craig Laughlin sent to Washington.

Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson, thinking their time may have passed and wondering if they would ever win another Stanley Cup – and they played big and won again. 

Coach Jean Perron saying this 1986 team was the best defensive team in Montreal history. “When you don’t have great scorers you have to be great defensively. When we hang up that banner in the Forum, it will be screaming ‘defence…defence.’ ”

And there were others who made their mark too; Mike McPhee, Smith, Mats Naslund, Lucien Deblois and Mike Lalor to name a few, and Chris Chelios in just his second full year in the NHL.

Montreal would win again in 1993 and that would be it. Until this year, when they get solid efforts from the unexpected, and Carey Price comes through like Patrick Roy did back then.

Who WAS That Masked Man?


In May of 1971, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in Chicago, beating the Hawks 3-2 in a tough seven games. And they did it with the most improbable guy in nets – Ken Dryden.

Dryden wasn’t a cup-winning goaltender, he was a McGill law student who also played for the minor-league Montreal Voyageurs. At least up until late winter of that year, that is. But like a Disney movie, he’s called up for the last six games of the season, and at the start of the playoffs, replaces Rogie Vachon, then goes on to help Montreal beat the Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars and Chicago, providing thrills and spills and blocking shots that shouldn’t be blocked.

It’s the stuff of fairy tales and dreams. It almost makes no sense. But that was the beginning of Dryden’s Hall of Fame career, and fairy tales and dreams or not, he must have been awfully good to do what he did as a raw rookie with only six games behind him.

And to make things even more magical, this raw rookie even won the Conn Smythe trophy that spring for most valuable player in the playoffs and took home $1500 and a car for being the hero. Forget Disney, I think we’re going to need Steven Spielberg to do this one justice.

This feat was so long ago, so far removed from the politician/public speaker and the man who does what he wants, when he wants; that he even spoke for half an hour after the game to reporters, missing much of the celebration in the dressing room. Finally, the shy goalie asked, “Sir. Would you mind if we went to the dressing room? I’d like to join the other fellows.”

He also admitted that fate had lent a hand. Hawks’ players Eric Nesterenko and Jim Pappin had both hit posts, and Bobby Hull rang one off the crossbar in that seventh game. And about his team in front of him? “There’s no mystique about the Canadiens team,” he said. “The players never believe they are beaten. And as a result, seldom are defeated.”

And who believed in Dryden in the beginning, when he was a law student and the goalie for the Voyageurs? That would be Floyd Curry, who coached Dryden with the Voyageurs and in March recommended him to Habs GM Sam Pollock. “I told Sam, “Take Dryden and you’ll win the Stanley Cup,’ ” said Curry. “He’s the greatest. And don’t forget, this was his first year of pro. He played very little last year with Canada’s national team. He’ll be as good as Bill Durnam and that’s the highest praise I can give a goalie.” 

I can’t find anywhere if Curry held a second job as fortune teller.

And the final word went to Chicago’s Bobby Hull, who said after the game, “Hockey in May is a drag when you’re a loser.”

Gainey’s Been There And Wants To Be There Again.


Bob Gainey may or may not be a great general manager, it remains to be seen. I wonder sometimes why Guy Carbonneau was let go as coach, although to be fair to Gainey, the team was going nowhere with Carbo behind the bench. I’d also like to know the true story of what happened with Alex Kovalev. But even in these cases I cut Gainey some slack because who knows what really went on behind closed doors? Who knows if Carbonneau had lost the room, so to speak, or if Kovalev’s agent screwed the deal up. And was there something we’re missing regarding Saku Koivu and his departure to sunny California? 

If the team that you’ll need a program to recognize this year falls flat on its face, then maybe Gainey’s not so good and he’ll be replaced and we’re back to square one. But if they play like gangbusters, then Gainey would be allowed to say I told you so. Of course he wouldn’t, it’s not his style, but he’d be allowed to.

If we’re not sure about Gainey as a GM, we can be sure about something else. He was a great hockey player. One of the most valuable on a team loaded with stars. Gainey as a player can never be questioned or second-guessed.

He was picked eight over-all in the 1973 draft, and Montreal chose him because he was big – 6’2, 190 lbs, fast, and specialized as a checker. And that’s just what he became as a proven NHL’er –  fast and a defensive specialist. He was also dangerous around the opposing team’s net, but mostly, the big goals were left to Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt and Jacques Lemaire. They were the glamour guys.

Scotty Bowman, coach extraordinaire, said of him: “He just drives himself…past what you expect from any player. And he plays every game of the season like that, but people only notice in the playoffs. He has been given all the tough assignments…always. And still he has really improved his offence.” Bowman also added, “He’s just in great shape…great shape.”

At a luncheon in New York, bombastic Leafs’ owner Harold Ballard remarked, “That fellow can skate. He’s some hockey player. A big bastard too, isn’t he?” And of course, eyebrows were raised when legendary Russian coach and hockey innovator Anatoli Tarosov called Gainey “the best all-around player in the world.”

After the Habs had won their fourth cup in a row in 1979, Gainey was named the Conn Smythe winner as most valuable player to his team in the playoffs. He was given $1,500, and a new sports car from Sport magazine. Afterward, the shy forward said, “It’s hard to believe that my name will be on that trophy with some of the names on there…like Bobby Orr, and Guy Lafleur…Jean Beliveau. I just don’t know what to say.”

When the Habs won that 1979 cup, Gainey was one of the quiet ones, along with Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, who didn’t yell and pour champagne over people’s heads, including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s. It was never Gainey’s style to be boisterous like that, as you can see today as a GM. He’s a thoughtful man who chooses his words carefully. When you listen to him speak now about changes and trades and the problems of the team, he’s not shellshocked when he’s choosing his words. It’s just his style.

And it was that last of four cups in 1979 when just the slightest hint of cracks in the Habs’ dynasty began to show. When the team lost the final game of the season to Detroit, Larry Robinson felt the loss indicated they failed to to do it under pressure; failed to win a game they needed to finish first in the league, and he was apprehensive. Robinson also felt that the team played only mediocre hockey against Boston, and admitted that the Bruins could have won that series.

Serge Savard was getting older in 1979, so was Lemaire, and Ken Dryden’s future was up in the air. And Yvan Cournoyer, out with a back ailment most of the season, wanted to try again the next year but the Canadiens thought differently, thinking that maybe Yvon’s time had come. In the end, both Dryden and Cournoyer called it quits after this 1979 season

Looking back now, it was the end of an era, four cups in a row, and the team would never be the same again. And now we have what we have with the Habs of the 21st century.  Bob Gainey was through those wars in the 1970’s, played on those great teams, and he knows better than most what it takes to be a great team. So one can question and find fault with all he’s done in this off-season, tearing it down and building from almost scratch again. But he’s a winner, knows what a winner looks like, and he’s trying to fix the many problems on the Habs that were out there for all the hockey world to see.

Gainey wants a great team as much as the rest of us.

The Ass Man Won The Stanley Cup

stanley-cup-1965My sister in Ottawa sent me a May 30th newspaper clipping from the Ottawa Citizen written by Andrew Duffy. It’s about mistakes on the Stanley Cup, and frankly, in some cases, the engraver (there’s been a few of them) must have been either really rushed to get it done, drunk, or hadn’t slept in days when they were doing their engraving.

Or maybe they just had this really cool mischievous side of them

For example, when Frank Selke was the assistant manager to Conn Smythe when the Leafs won the Cup in 1945, he was engraved in shortform as “”ass man.””

Some of the names are misspelled, and one has been covered with X’s. The Montreal Maroon’s Harry “Punch” Broadbent’s name is upside down.

The engraver had trouble with Jacques Plante’s name too. It was misspelled three times as Jac Plante, Jacq Plante, and Jaques Plante. Alex Delvecchio is Alex Belvecchio. And Bob Gainey is Bob Gainy.

Turk Broda , the great Leafs’ goalie of the 1040’s, whose birth name is Walter, won the Cup in 1942 and got his name on twice for this, one as Turk, and one as Walter. Another who has his name on twice is Pete Palangio in 1938 with Chicago. His name appears correctly, and also as Palagio.

When the Leafs won in 1963, the engraver carved out TORONTO MAPLE LEAES. In 1972, the Boston Bruins became the BQSTQN BRUINS. And the New York Islanders in 1981 were the NEW YORK ILANDERS.

In 1984, Peter Pocklington , owner of the Cup-winning Edmonton Oilers, approved the list of players and officials after the Oilers had won their first cup. His father Bazil is on it, even though he had nothing to do with the club.  That’s the one that has a bunch of X’s on top of it.

Mistakes are now fixed, mainly because Colorado winger Adam Deadmarsh appeared as “Adam Deadmarch”, and the player was so upset he made noise about it and they fixed it. But, like Hockey Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard says, “If it can be corrected, it will be corrected. But if it’s Bobby Orr with three b’s, then there’s not a lot that can be done.”