Category Archives: Frank Selke

Retired New Brunswick Columnist Shares Some Great Habs Stories

Eddie St. Pierre, retired columnist for the Moncton Times and Transcript, started writing sports in 1950 and over the years had many connections with the Montreal Canadiens. He shares some great stories here;

“During my long reporting career with this newspaper (I’ve just begun my 60th year of affiliation with the paper, having joined on Dec. 4, 1950) I had the honour of interviewing or meeting many of the team’s top stars who played on one or more of the team’s 24 Stanley Cups, including the “big three” of Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, as well as Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, Bobby Rousseau, Danny Grant, John Ferguson, Yvan Cournoyer, 91-year-old Elmer Lach, Doug Harvey, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and others along with coaches Hector (Toe) Blake, Scotty Bowman, Jean Perron, Jacques Demers, Guy Carbonneau and current coach Jacques Martin plus front-office personnel such as Sam Pollock, Floyd Curry and others.

* The Rocket, who passed away May 27, 2000 in his 79th year, made the biggest impact on me. I saw him play for the first time at Canadiens’ intrasquad games at the old Stadium in 1954. (Note: Some Montreal players complained to police that they were overcharged by a cab driver. A story in the Moncton Times said that bruising defenceman Emile (Butch) Bouchard told police that he, along with four teammates, took a cab from the Brunswick Hotel to the Stadium and the taxi driver demanded $2.50. Before game time, a policeman was summoned to the Canadiens’ dressing room where Ken Mosdell told the same story. Both players said they told the cab driver to collect his fare from club officials.)

During the Canadiens’ stay here, former senior hockey player Charlie Poirier was working as the stickboy when someone broke a window in the dressing room at the Stadium during a game. The thief or thieves reached in from the outside and stole Jean Beliveau’s street pants and belongings.

Meanwhile, The Rocket and I crossed paths on many occasions afterwards, especially at charity hockey and softball games in the city. What an extraordinary individual. When he died, former NHLer Danny Grant — who, like The Rocket, had a 50-goal season (he turned the trick with the Detroit Red Wings in 1974-75) — pointed to the other, seldom-seen side of The Rocket.

“What stood out is the fact that he was such a nice person,” said Grant, who was a member of the Montreal organization at the time. “He was just a wonderful person. He was very quiet, very reserved and I don’t think he said ‘I did this’ once in his whole life. He was more interested in other people than promoting himself.”

During his career, the Hockey Hall of Famer and member of the Order of Canada set many records. Several have been broken, but many remain. In March 1944, The Rocket scored all five Montreal goals in a 5-1 playoff win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The three stars, chosen by veteran sportswriter/columnist Elmer Ferguson, who once worked for the Moncton Transcript, were announced as “Maurice Richard, Maurice Richard and Maurice Richard.” This was the one and only time that one player has been named all three stars.

He ended his career with 544 goals (82 in the playoffs) and won the Stanley Cup eight times.

Richard, whose top salary was $25,000 (equivalent to $200,000 in 2008), was suspended for the balance of the season (only three or four games remained) and the playoffs in 1955 after striking linesman Cliff Thompson during a stick battle with the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe in a game at Boston. The decision by league president Clarence Campbell led to a riot. The game was forfeited to the Detroit Red Wings. The riot outside caused $500,000 in damage.

* Hall of Famer Gordie Drillon of Moncton scored 28 goals and added 22 assists (50 points) during the 1942-43 season. He was 4-2–6 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the late defenceman, Charlie Phillips, played 17 games early in the season after being called up from the American Hockey League’s Washington Lions. Both Drillon and Phillips are deceased.

* Bill Durnan, one of the Canadiens’ top goaltenders who passed away Oct. 31, 1972 at age 56, was in town for a function several years back. A fellow co-worker, the late Paul Arsenault, was the city’s No. 1 Montreal and Rocket fan. He was in an alcohol rehab facility in the city at the time and Durnham was only too happy to pay him a visit. When Arsenault saw who I was with, emotions got the best of him. He started to cry with joy.

I’ll never forget the time the Canadiens lost to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the winning goal was scored by Tony Leswick, a pesky forward who usually shadowed the Rocket. While driving him home early one morning, we stopped at a restaurant in Parkton. A Don Messer tune was playing on the jukebox. Sitting down on the floor, Paul banged his fist on the wood. “Anybody but that little (Lewsick),” he repeated over and over.

* The Canadiens always took care of their former players. For years, Harvey (he died on Dec. 26, 1989 at 65) battled alcoholism while suffering from bipolar disorder. The Hockey Hall of Famer who was ranked No. 6 on The Hockey News list of 100 Greatest Hockey Players in 1998, ended up homeless, sleeping in a old railway car.

When his plight became public knowledge, in 1985 he was offered a job with the Canadiens as a scout. I got a call one afternoon from then-Gazette columnist Tim Burke asking me to call him if I saw Harvey around the city. Team president Ronald Corey was very concerned. Coincidentally, I meet Bill Lee later at the Beausejour Club. He had run into Harvey in Sussex. Doug was just on a visit to the Maritimes.

* Goaltender Lorne (Gump) Worsley, one of the last netminders to play without a mask, and I became good friends. (Note: Worsley, who helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup four times, died Jan. 16, 2007. He was 77).

Worsley was doing promotional work for Imperial Oil Ltd. and their Esso stations in the off-season during the 1960s. The two of us journeyed to Bathurst once. After returning to Moncton, we stopped at the “famous” Blue Circle around 2 a.m. and Gump got a real charge out of the rough characters, who had been drinking all night at the Union Club or Carpenter’s Club. He felt right at home, cracking jokes and spinning hockey stories for an hour.

In 1965, after a Moncton Minor Football Association dinner, I went fishing around Doaktown on the Miramichi with Gump and other sports personalities. A guide and a case of beer (although Gump preferred Johnny Walker Red) sat between us. The only thing we caught was a few salmon parr, which were tossed back in. CKCW’s Earle Ross slipped off the bank into the water and needed some help. “The biggest fish caught had to be Earle,” quipped Worsley.

On another occasion, I accompanied the Dieppe Bantam Voyageurs, coached by Ray (Toughie) Steeves, to an NHL game at the Montreal Forum. I was in the dressing room chatting with Gump, who was taking short, quick drags off a cigarette in a small area in the dressing room before the game. “Eddie”! Where the hell is Toe,” he asked, referring to Hector (Toe) Blake, the no-nonsense coach who was at the other end of the room. “Let me know if he comes this way. I don’t want to pay any more $100 fines.”

* Former colleague Howie Trainor recalls a fundraising Summer Classic hockey game — East All-Stars vs. West All-Stars — at the Levesque Arena in the 1960s. We would get college, senior, junior and professionals, mostly from the Moncton area, and attempt to secure the services of National Hockey League players who were instructing at hockey schools in the province.

One year, we approached rightwinger Bobby Rousseau, then with the Habs and who was at the Université de Moncton hockey school, to play in the fundraiser for the Lewisville Minor Hockey Association. He gently turned us down, citing the newly formed NHL Players Association, which, he said, barred players from exhibition games without compensation, but he did it with a small smile playing on his lips. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, we thought, and asked him how much he needed. “A package of gum and a Coke would do it,” he replied as the smile broadened.

Then we realized he had been pulling our leg all along. Needless to say, he played and his presence bolstered attendance greatly.

* A column on the historic Canadiens wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the late Danny Gallivan, the best play-by-play announcer the Montreal team ever had. He died in February 1993 at 81.

Danny was the voice of the Canadiens, with all the hucksterism than can imply, but he was also their severest critic when individual and team performances weren’t what he felt they should be. The Canadiens teams he covered from 1952 to 1984 were among the best hockey has known, but what he saw was what his audience got. There were no “free passes” for players taking a night off.

He was the best at what he did and he loved what he did — all the more so because his colourful language was devoted almost exclusively to hockey’s best team. It was Geoffrion who had “the cannonading shot.” It was Savard who mastered “the spinerama.” Other teams tried to hire him by offering considerably more money than he was earning in Montreal, but Danny was content to stay put. Danny and I became good friends. He always had time for his follow Maritimers and would go out of his way to obtain tickets for a game at the Forum.”


Red Fisher Talks About Jacques Plante

 When Plante Wore Mask – It Changed Face of History

Tuesday, 10.27.2009 / 12:42 PM / 50 Years Behind the Mask
By Red Fisher  – Special to NHL.com

Fifty years ago Sunday night, Nov. 1, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante wore the first full-face goalie mask in a NHL game. To fete the occasion, NHL Network is airing a one-hour special, “50 Years Behind the Mask,” Sunday at 7 ET (it will also be streamed live here at NHL.com). NHL.com will join in celebrating the 50th anniversary with a week-long series of stories about Plante and the evolution of the goalie mask. In today’s installment, Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher recalls being on hand for a Canadiens-New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on that historic night 50 years ago. Red is in his 55th season covering the Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens of the late ’50s already had won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the six-team NHL–for all of the right reasons.

Maurice Richard was there. So was his brother Henri. Jean Béliveau, Bernie Geoffrion and Dickie Moore had won scoring titles. Doug Harvey, arguably the best defenseman in NHL history, was the team’s quarterback on the League’s most feared power play.

Hall of Famers all, but when they and other high-quality players of that dynasty were asked to explain why this team was so dominant, a team that would go on to win an all-time record fifth consecutive Cup in 1959-60, the name most frequently heard was that of goaltender Jacques Plante. “Jake the Snake:” the eighth member, along with Tom Johnson, of that matchless team to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Plante was not the most popular man in the Canadiens room, largely because he danced to his own music. Now and then, he would frustrate coach Toe Blake by telling him after a practice his asthma was bothering him — that he was uncertain whether or not he’d be able to play that night — yet he rarely missed a game.

He was an innovator. So it was only fitting that Plante would become the first goaltender to wear a full-face mask after suffering a savage facial cut early in a Canadiens-Rangers game on a November 1 night 50 years ago.

Those who were there can likely still see Andy Bathgate’s short shot slicing into Plante’s face, opening a deep cut running from the corner of his lips through his nostril. They can still see a pool of blood forming on the ice even as Plante was collapsing downward. They probably can still hear the buzz from Madison Square Garden fans watching Plante struggle to his feet and heading slowly toward the Rangers clinic.

What they did not see or hear was Plante, his jersey spotted with blood and now wearing the seven stitches needed to repair his ugly wound, telling coach Blake in the Canadiens dressing room he planned to return to the ice wearing his cream-colored, plexiglass mask. He had worn it several times during practices, but up to that night there was never any question about wearing it during a game. Not when two points were at stake. Blake wanted no part of a goalie mask.

“If I can’t wear it,” Plante told him, “I won’t play.”

A coach’s word always was the last word in those days. Not with Plante. Not at a time when teams didn’t have the luxury of a backup goaltender. Blake’s argument was that Plante would lose sight of the puck whenever it fell between his feet. But if, as threatened, Plante refused to play without a mask, what was Blake to do? He lost the argument to his goalie.

The teams were scoreless when the injury to Plante occurred 3:06 into the game. Play resumed after a delay of 21 minutes and, as you’d expect, Rangers players were astonished to see Plante wearing the mask. So were the Rangers. Few, if any, among them realized Plante was putting a new face of sorts on NHL history.

Players didn’t wear helmets in those years, yet here was a goaltender wearing a full-face mask–the first to do so.  For the record, Montreal Maroons goaltender Clint Benedict had worn a leather half-mask for a brief time in 1930, after a puck smashed his nose and cheekbone. But Benedict played with the half-mask for only a few games.

Nineteen seconds after referee Eddie Powers dropped the puck as the Nov. 1, 1959 game resumed at the Garden, the Rangers’ Camille Henry drew the game’s first penalty, a minor for hooking.

At 8:57, Canadiens defenseman Junior Langlois was assessed a high-sticking minor, but the game remained scoreless until the final minute of the period when Dickie Moore scored a power-play goal 62 seconds following a charging call on the Rangers’ Jim Bartlett. Maurice Richard and defenseman Johnson assisted on the goal.

André Pronovost scored early in the second period on assists from Phil Goyette and Claude Provost. Then Geoffrion beat Gump Worsley late in the period, the assists going to Béliveau and Marcel Bonin. Henry finally scored on the masked man 10:36 into the final period.  The final: Canadiens 3, Rangers 1.

Plante was the best goaltender of his time and perhaps of any time. No goaltender of that era knew more about the game. Nobody knew the opposition’s strong and weak points as well as he did. Nobody analyzed a game better–or even as well. Plante was aware that the fewer shots he faced in a game, the better he had to be. And he was.

This one-of-a-kind goaltender was this good: Canadiens GM Frank Selke Sr. had seen enough of Harvey, the NHL’s best defenseman, after the Canadiens fell short of winning a sixth consecutive Cup in 1960-61. Selke traded him to the Rangers for tough guy Lou Fontinato.

In New York, player-coach Harvey not only led the team to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but also won the Norris Trophy a seventh time. It was a trade that stunned everyone. All of them, that is, except Plante, who was pelted with questions about the move prior to the start of the 1961–62 season.

“Now that Harvey is gone, how are you going to do without him?” he was asked.

“I don’t have to tell you what Doug meant to the team while we were winning all those Stanley Cups,” Plante promptly replied. “He was by far the best in the league and still is. Tell you what, though: I’m gonna win the Vézina this season without Harvey.”

Even without Harvey, the Canadiens went on to finish first in the six-team NHL with 98 points, 13 ahead of Toronto and 23 more than third-place Chicago. But the Canadiens were eliminated in a stunning, first-round upset by the Blackhawks in six games. But, as promised, Plante won the Vézina in his first full season wearing a mask.

Scotland, Sergei, And The Man Who Would Be Coach

Is it just me or did the Hamilton Bulldogs just leave for Scotland and now they’re back again? Was that the fastest return trip overseas in the history of overseas trips? Or is time going so fast I’ll be dead soon?

Did anyone think to bring back a souvenir from Scotland for new teammate Sergei Kostitysn? Maybe a tartan kilt, or a jar of Haggis?

Will Sergei finally wake up, mature overnight and return to the big club a changed man and ready to go? A small part of me says no.

Is Jacques Martin more of a hard-ass than we thought?

Now that Vesa Toskala has let in eight goals in Toronto’s final pre-season game, will they start Jonas ‘Monster’ Gustavsson against the Habs Thursday night, even though his total NHL experience is three pre-season periods?

Thursday’s coming fast and I want to slide this important little ditty in before things get down and dirty:

Roger Leger showed up at my door the other day. No, not the person – he’s dead and has been for 44 years; the Bee Hive photo, a hard-to-get Beehive. All it took was tremendously hard work, diligence, superior sleuthing, and 22 bucks, to secure this little ducat.

And like most of these unheralded Habs players in the Bee Hive photos, there’s a story to go along with it, because surprising enough, this guy could’ve been coach of the Habs instead of Toe Blake!

When it came time to find a replacement for Habs coach Dick Irvin in 1955, Toe Blake wasn’t everyone’s first choice. GM Frank Selke wasn’t crazy about Blake because Blake, while coaching Valleyfield in the minors, rubbed Selke the wrong way many times. For example, Blake thought the Montreal Royals always got the best home dates at the Forum. “Tell the Forum to go fuck themselves,” Blake once said, and it was this kind of attitude that Selke didn’t appreciate.

To replace Irvin, who was basically asked to step down, Selke preferred Joe Primeau, once a member of the famed Kid Line in Toronto along with Busher Jackson and Charlie Conacher. Habs owner Donat Raymond wanted ex-Hab Billy Reay. Ken Reardon, who worked in the front office, wanted Blake.

And the French press pushed for Roger Leger.

Leger was a defenceman for the Canadiens from 1946 to 1950, and a very ordinary one at that. But he had leadership skills and that’s why he was in the running to coach the Habs instead of Toe Blake.

In the end, Blake got the job of course, and won five Stanley Cups in a row. What would Leger have done? Maybe the same. After all, half the team in those days ended up in the Hall of Fame. But the dynamics certainly would have been different, and maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t have been the same team at all.

Something to think about. Roger Leger as coach of the Montreal Canadiens instead of Toe Blake.

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From The Mouth of Sam Pollock. Making Lots Of Sense (Except For The Russian Prediction)

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He dreaded publicity and turned red when complimented, but Sam Pollock, (1925-2007)  who was with the Montreal Canadiens from1959 to 1979 and served as GM from 1963 to 1978, deserved the publicity and compliments. He helped create dynasties, found a way to land young stud Guy Lafleur, replaced moody and difficult legends with the less difficult (eg. Jacques Plante to New York for Gump Worsley), and withstood the WHA raids in the early to mid 1970’s by replenishing lost players and not missing a beat. People like Jean Beliveau said they would knaw through a goal post for the boss. “So would I,” said John Ferguson, “and I’m working for the Rangers now.”

And he said some good stuff:

“A store owner could run my business and I could run his. Whether it’s a hockey team or a laundromat, it’s 75% the same and 25% specialties you can learn with experience.”

His philosphy about trading with other clubs: “Why hurt a guy when you might want to do business with him again?”

“You can’t pay 10 minor leaguers NHL salaries just to keep them. Giving a prospect $40,000 instead of the $25,000 he should make may not seem like much, and to some it didn’t, but 10 times $15,000 can put you in the red in a hurry.”

“Long-term contracts are useless unless a reasonable form of renegotiation is built in. Otherwise, one side is bound to be unhappy somewhere down the line.”

“Hockey used to be 15% business and 85% the game, but now it’s the other way around.”

Overtime? “The strong teams would only win more often than they do now. Believe me. I’ve been a minor league hockey promoter where we had overtime and nothing leaves a sour taste in the home town fan’s mouth than to watch each team work hard for a tie – a very reasonable outcome of a hockey game – and then lose it in overtime.”

Reduced schedule? “Makes no sense at all. The players say cut the schedule by 10% and we’ll take 10% less in salary. But wages, though the largest cost, aren’t the only overhead. The electric company and the tax people aren’t going to reduce their bills. Besides, how long before the players work their salaries back up to their original level?”

International hockey? “That’s where the future lies. As I said, more revenue is a must and it can only come from two places – the box office and television. Individual promoters have the task of selling tickets and the league must earn a share of the dollars being paid football and baseball by US networks, an undertaking which has so far failed miserably. While established, contending teams like Boston and Philadelphia have lucrative markets, the NHL can’t wedge its way into living rooms in Houston and Seattle and consequently doesn’t draw the national audiences the networks need. Ther’d be more magic for the sports fan in Des Moines if he was offered a US-Czech game instead of one between Toronto and Atlanta.”

“Not long ago, I would have considered it far-fetched to suggest the Russians playing for the Stanley Cup, but it seems inevitable.” By 1980? “Yes, that’s not an outlandish prediction.”

Here’s Sam Pollock’s bio

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.”

Boomer And Mr. Selke Make A Fine Couple

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Two legendary members of the Montreal Canadiens, Frank Selke Sr. and Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion pose in the old Montreal Forum in the early 1960’s.

Frank Selke left his longtime boss Conn Smythe and the Toronto Maple Leafs to join the Canadiens as managing director in 1946 and stayed with the Habs until his retirement in 1964. He was the one who wanted Jean Beliveau so much when the young star was playing for the Quebec Aces, that he bought the entire league to ensure he’d get him. He was in the thick of things during the Richard Riot in 1955, and urged the Rocket to go on radio and plead to the crowds to stop the nonsense on the street. And he was at the helm when the great Canadiens won five Stanley Cups between 1955 and 1960. But the organization didn’t lose a beat when Selke called it quits, as a young Sam Pollock would replace him in the top job.

The autograph you see pasted on his picture was obtained by me. My dad took me to the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition grounds, and in the crowd were many legendary figures. Besides Selke’s autograph, I also got Clarence Campbell’s, Foster Hewitt’s, Conn Smythe’s, and several others.

Boom Boom Geoffrion was one of the Canadiens true greats, a real character with a big shot, and the right winger was used by Toe Blake on the right point on the power play. So imagine, Montreal’s big line on the power play consisted of Beliveau at centre, Dickie Moore on left wing, the Rocket at right wing, with Doug Harvey and Geoffrion on the points. And behind them was Jacques Plante. It’s no wonder they won five in a row, and actually came very close to winning six or seven in a row.