Category Archives: Georges Vezina

Heroes and Dreams

001More than a hundred years of heroes and dreams. Of men donning the sweater and hitting the ice. The years of kids watching and reading about, dreaming and becoming. From the time Didier Pitre took a pass from Jack Laviolette and slid it over to Newsy Lalonde, little boys donned the sweater, the bleu, blanc, et rouge, and they became Pitre and Lalonde and all those who came later. kids-sweater1-150x150

From the days of Georges Vezina stopping pucks for Les Canadiens, little kids wanted to stop pucks too, on lakes and ponds and old rinks throughout, and when they wore the sweater, they made the saves with people cheering them, and for all those winter nights near their homes, they were Georges Vezina.

Like magic they became Howie Morenz and Aurele Joliat, Toe Blake and George Hainsworth. They wore the sweater on nights so cold it should’ve been illegal, slapping old rubber balls into snowbanks, stopping cow pies on slews, deking friends and sisters and little kids on the pond. wearing the red or white sweater with the simple and beautiful CH crest sewn on front.004

They became the Rocket, and Lach, Bouchard and Harvey, and they saw the game in their dreams. Behind the skaters they were Durnan and Plante crouched by the net, and when the time came, they were the Boomer and Big Jean scoring on the power play. It unfolded at the Forum and the Olympia and Conn Smythe’s old barn and the outdoor rink frozen in winter at the baseball field. And kids heard them on the radio and saw them in black and white and shuffled their bubblegum cards, wearing the sweater and becoming anyone they wanted to be, just when they wanted to be. 003

The wore the sweater when the Pocket Rocket wouldn’t give up the puck, when the Boomer boomed, and when the Gumper kicked out his pads. They opened boxes at Christmas and there was one to put on right away, and they were Ken Dryden and Lafleur and the Big Bird. And their kids and kid brothers wore the sweater when Patrick Roy and Carbo and then Kovalev and Koivu graced the ice. And now, new guard is in place, and kids are becoming them too.

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They said goodbye to the Forum and to the Rocket and all those others who went when it was time and when it wasn’t time, and they wiped little drops of tears from their sweater. And they smiled and clapped and looked above as they watched the sweaters of their heroes raised triumphantly to the rafters.

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Every night now, the Bell Centre is packed with young and old, still wearing the sweater of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s been a dream for more than a hundred years. We are Georges, Howie, the Rocket and Guy. We’re Patrick and Saku and Price and Gally.

We wear the sweater whether we have a sweater or not, and we continue to hope.002

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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.”

Denis S. On The Ceiling

When I was at the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame at the Bell Centre the other day, I had a good look at all the honored members’ images on the ceiling in the lobby. They’re all in circles, so it’s kind of dizzying.

It took me a couple of days to figure out why Denis Savard is part of this. And make no mistake, I though Savard was a great player, a stickhandling demon. A guy with all kinds of slick moves. He’s a Hall of Famer because he was a great player with 17 years under his belt.

But he only played three years in Montreal, one where he scored just 16 goals. His glory years were in Chicago. It was unusual to see him lumped in with Vezina, Morenz, Richard, Harvey, Beliveau, Lafleur and the boys up there on the ceiling.

Ralph Backstrom, on the other hand, played 13 seasons in Montreal and won six Stanley Cups. But he’s not up there.

But after a couple of days, I figured it out. The Canadiens are honoring those who wore the CH and are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. So that was that.

Tony Esposito seems to be the only HOFer not on the ceiling. But he only played 13 games for the Canadiens and it’s not enough I guess. Whatever the minimum number is.

 

Moving To Montreal

Very soon it’ll be throw everything into storage, close up shop, hop into the car with Luci, Gaston, and maybe Teesha the cat, and drive 2300 miles to Montreal, where I’ll be working at Classic Auctions, which many of you know is the biggest and best historical hockey auction house on the planet.

This gig could last just a month, or many years. It’s been in the works for months, but it was difficult for both sides because of the distance. But in the end, they decided to give me a chance, and I’m honoured and excited.

Classic Auctions has been around for 19 years, and is legendary for the rare, high-end items it deals with in their auctions. They sold Paul Henderson’s ’72 Summit Series game eight jersey for 1.2 million, and their lots have always blown my mind – stuff from the Rocket, Bobby Orr, Lord Stanley, Howie Morenz, the 1972 Summit Series, Georges Vezina, Jean Beliveau, and on and on and on.

It’s always amazed me, the things that end up at this Montreal-based company.

I still didn’t know if I had this job when I sent my letter to my company saying I was retiring, and Luci and I had already planned to drive across Canada, even if the job didn’t come about.

But it did come about. A new adventure. Holy smokes.

If you want to check out some of their auctions, past and present, and see some of the most amazing hockey memorabilia, just click here – Classic Auctions and have a look around.

 

Selke Pays The Program Writers

From my collection, this original accounts payable sheet is from Frank J. Selke, signed at the bottom, to various writers who had contributed stories to the Maple Leafs Gardens program in 1938.

Frank Selke, before he became the iconic GM of the Montreal Canadiens from 1946 to 1964, was an assistant and right-hand man to Conn Smythe in Toronto, from 1929 until ’46, when he moved to Montreal.

The names on this sheet are extraordinary, and when you see a payment of $40 for example, according to the Consumer Price Index, $40 in 1938 is equivalent to $642.23 today. And $25 equals $457.42.

Here they are:

Bobby Hewitson, an NHL referee from 1920 to 1934, was the very first curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was sports editor of the now-defunct Toronto Telegram, a newspaper I delivered when I was 11 or 12. I had the final edition copy for years until my ex-wife threw it out.

Bill Grimes, legendary Boston sportswriter.

Elmer Ferguson, legendary sportswriter for the Montreal Herald and Montreal Star, which spanned 39 years. Elmer was also a radio commentator for the Montreal Maroons (1933-38) and the Canadiens (1938-67). He remains one of the greatest hockey writers of all time.

Tommy Munns, assistant sports editor of the Globe and Mail.

Victor O. Jones, sportswriter for the Boston Globe.

Ted Reeves, a true legend. Played on two Grey Cup Argos teams, and became a beloved sports writer with the Toronto Telegram and Toronto Sun. There’s even an arena named after him in Toronto. He used to write these rambling sports poems, one of which I have in an old program, and his nickname was “The Moaner.”

Fred Jackson, succeed Lou Marsh as sports editor of the Toronto Star.

Hal Straight, sports editor of the Toronto Sun, a man who taught Pierre Berton the ins-and-outs of the newpaper business.

Marc McNeil, sportswriter for the Montreal Gazette.

Bill Roche, sportswriter in Sarnia and Toronto, and hockey author.

Jim Hurley, sportswriter for the New York Daily Mirror.

Harry Scott, sports editor of the Calgary Albertan, who played two seasons for the Montreal Canadiens (1913-14, 1914-15), with Georges Vezina and Newsy Lalonde as teammates.

Please note: I couldn’t find any information about Boaxil O’Meara and John Buss. If anyone can fill me in I would appreciate it very much.

George Hainsworth – Great Hab (And Leaf)

George Hainsworth, who replaced an ailing Georges Vezina in the Montreal nets in 1926, carried the torch in fine fashion until 1933. He won the Vezina trophy in 1927, 1928, and 1929, and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1930 and 1931.

He was also goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1933 to 1937, after being traded by Montreal for Lorne Chabot, and took the Leafs to the Cup finals in 1935. Eventually he would be replaced in the Leafs net by a young up-and-coming Turk Broda.

George ended his Hall of Fame career (inducted in 1961) by returning to the Habs late in the 1937 season for four games.

This must have been some kind of goalie. In the 1930 playoffs, he went 270 minutes and 8 seconds without allowing a goal. That’s four and a half games.

George Hainsworth was killed in a car crash in Gravenhurst, Ont., on Oct. 9, 1950. I didn’t know it at time. I couldn’t read the newspapers because I was only five days old.

Gravenhurst is 20 miles north of my home town, Orillia.