Worst loss in Bruins history? Maybe. They’ve had lots of lousy games in their often mediocre years. But this one’s a beauty.
For the last eight Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup wins, from 1971 to 1993, I managed to save the front pages and laminate them. (Although one, from 1977, is an inner page), and I did a little write up about each of those years.
And seeing how The Hockey News has chosen the Habs 1976-77 team as the greatest team ever, I thought I’d re-post that part of my series.
(THN’s other top five in order are the ’83-’84 Oilers, ’82-’82 Islanders, ’55-’56 Habs, and ’51-’52 Red Wings).
In the spring of 1977, as I was on the verge of getting married for the first time, Jacques Lemaire scored the overtime goal to give his team their second straight Stanley Cup in this late 1970’s run, and it was done with a lovely four-game sweep against Don Cherry and his Boston Bruins.
Is this one of the reasons you’re not crazy about the Habs, Don?
It had been quite a year for this dominating bunch. Montreal only lost eight times in 80 games and racked up a record 132 points. Nobody was going to beat them in the playoffs. You didn’t have to be Kreskin to figure it out. In fact, the team swept the Blues, took out the Islanders 4 games to 2, and then swept the Bruins. Fourteen games in total, and very similar to the 13 it had taken them the year before.
Guy Lafleur won the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP and managed nine goals and 17 assists throughout. But he had this to say: “It’s my third Cup and it’s always nice, but it’s not the same excitement. I don’t think I’m the best player. It’s just that everything went well for me.”
Jacques Lemaire was the quiet hero on this ride. His teammates had told him to shoot more, and on this night, he delivered with the overtime marker. “Why shouldn’t I be happy,” said Lemaire. “I’m on a holiday. I’m on a holiday starting now. It’s about time. It still is Lafleur and Shutt, except tonight. Tonight was a mistake. They said, shoot the puck, you look good.”
Coach Scotty Bowman talked about Lafleur and Shutt. “They play more like Europeans. I’m not knocking the NHL style of play, but the Europeans make more plays on the move. That’s what Lafleur and Shutt do.”
And last word to Don Cherry. “It’s hard to believe we kept outshooting them and still can’t win a game. I still say the whole thing boiled down to those three defensemen.”
In Derek Sanderson’s 2012 book “Crossing The Line” that I got at the St. Hubert Library, he says Ken Dryden was overrated, which we’ve all heard from time to time. At least I have.
Sanderson talked about how the Bruins were the better team against Montreal in 1971, but they shot themselves in the foot. Boston didn’t take the Canadiens seriously. He didn’t really talk about Dryden’s accomplishments, he only mentioned that the young goalie had arrived on the scene, had only six games under his belt before the playoffs began, and proceeded to somehow get his body in the way.
He sort of mentioned that the Habs eliminated Boston, but he didn’t go near the Habs winning the Cup after beating Chicago in the finals, and Dryden being awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. We wouldn’t expect him to. The book’s not about the Habs.
When you put it all together though, it’s a magical piece of hockey lore. Maybe not so much for Bruins fans I guess. They probably hate the story.
Turk Sanderson says this: “Dryden was highly overrated, in my opinion, but he was the first big goaltender. He covered the top of the net so well, and when he dropped and spread, he covered a lot of ground in the bottom part. You’d turn to shoot, and he would have that area covered because of his size. It took us a while to get used to that. It created problems we had never seen before.”
Sanderson goes on to say, “Dryden didn’t provide the stellar goaltending everybody continues to talk about. You could score on Dryden. He wasn’t that good; he was just different.”
Sanderson is saying that Dryden wasn’t a good goalie, he was just a big goalie. But Sanderson was a Bruin for many of the years when they played against each, and he might still have Habs/Bruins issues.
Dryden was in goal for game 8 when it was for all the marbles so Harry Sinden must not have thought he was overrated. And Sinden coached Sanderson. Dryden also collected 6 Stanley Cups during those days, but maybe a much lesser goalie might have too considering the team up front with Lafleur, Robinson, Lemaire et al.
Like I said, I’ve heard various people say over the years that Dryden was overrated but I tend to not think much about it. I just wonder if there are many other players who played against him, like Sanderson did, who also feel he was overrated. And if lots do, does that mean he was?
As an aside, Sanderson also says Cam Neely was the greatest right winger to ever play the game.
Dryden’s always had a bit of a reputation for not being overly-enthusiastic about signing autographs, and here’s a great example – Windsor Star.
Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe were the Canadiens’ Big Three defencemen in the 1970s. Three of the best, all on one team.
Then imagine having Bobby Orr in the mix. The Big Four.
With those four taking care of the blueline, with Ken Dryden in goal, and with Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Yvan Cournoyer and the gang up front, it just wouldn’t have been fair.
Orr as part of the powerhouse Habs of the ’70s. It boggles the mind. And it could have happened.
Stephen Brunt, in his 2006 book “Searching for Bobby Orr” writes about that historic first sighting of Orr, when Wren Blair and other Bruins brain trust went to a bantam tournament in Gananoque, Ontario in 1961 to have a look at a couple of players, and soon forgot about the two they’d come to see because a little 12-year old blond-haired kid from Parry Sound was skating rings around everybody.
It’s magical hockey lore, one of the game’s great stories, forever to be told. Until global warming melts the rinks permanently.
But Blair and his gang weren’t the only NHL people in the Gananoque rink that day. Scotty Bowman, the Montreal Canadiens young head scout for eastern North America, was sent by Sam Pollock to Gananoque to have a look at not only the two players everyone else was watching, Doug Higgins and Rick Eaton, but to also check out a kid named Orr that the Canadiens had gotten wind of through an old friend of Frank J. Selke.
Bowman watched the little kid, wearing number 2 for Parry Sound, and was impressed. “He was dominating,” Bowman says in Brunt’s book. “But he was very small – much smaller than all of the other guys. He could really skate and fly around. I’d never seen a guy that good at that young age.”
Soon after, Bowman visited the Orr home in Parry Sound, but it was mostly just a social call. The Habs had nothing to offer, they weren’t in the practice of handing out signing bonuses then, and they wouldn’t commit to a kid still in grade school. And as soon as Scotty learned that Doug and Arva Orr had no intentions of Bobby leaving home, Scotty left it at that.
When Bobby got a little older and was more prepared to join the Junior Canadiens in Montreal, then maybe they could continue their chat. Just not at that time. He was too young.
Wren Blair of the Bruins didn’t give up, though. He diligently courted the Orr’s and finally got the papers signed. Orr joined the Oshawa Generals and not the Junior Canadiens, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Just think how it might have turned out. He might not have damaged his knees. Put him in a Canadiens uniform, and Montreal certainly wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in ’69-’70, which they did because although they were tied with New York for the fourth and final playoff spot, they had scored two less goals.
With Orr wearing the CH they would’ve been off to the races and might not have stopped until the 1980s were in full swing. But he wouldn’t have worn number 4. A big fellow named Beliveau owned it when Orr was breaking in.
Is it crazy to think that maybe it could’ve been ten straight Stanley Cups for the Habs in the 1970s with a healthy Bobby Orr in the lineup? Maybe it’s not so farfetched. But instead, those bastard Bruins got him and that was that. And anyway, the last thing I want to do is sound greedy.
But if only Scotty Bowman had made more trips to Parry Sound. Like Wren Blair did.
And thanks to Don in Texas for sending me Stephen Brunt’s book as a gift. It was a great read for sure.
The rosters for Saturday’s Habs-Leafs tilt have been announced, and as you can see, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle is suiting up. It can’t hurt.
What a team the Habs had, eh?
This is from the 1977-78 season, a season that saw the Canadiens finish with 129 points, take home the Prince of Wales for finishing first, and end with their third straight Stanley Cup.
The Vezina went to Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque; the Hart, the Art Ross, and the Lester B. Pearson trophies were collected by Guy Lafleur; the Conn Smythe was awarded to Larry Robinson; and Bob Gainey won the Selke.
Peter Mahovlich would be sent to Pittsburgh after 17 games, in exchange for Pierre Larouche.
It’s the magical combination of Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin as the Habs and Flyers battle on May 16, 1976. Montreal would win 5-3 on this night, sweeping the Flyers to win their 19th Stanley Cup.
Period one (30 min.) and period three (42 min) are included here, and we see the Cup awarded. Just wonderful, and thanks to my old buddy Rugger for sending it along.
My friend Jerry Chan in San Jose wrote me awhile back that he had worked at a hockey school in Montreal run by Jacques Lemaire and Yvan Cournoyer, in the 1970’s, and today he sent this:
“I won a Habs radio contest and attended for 1 week in 1973. I then worked there for 2 summers, 1977 and 1978. I still remember a 6 or 7 year old kid the first week I worked there. It was Jimmy Carson (main guy in Gretzky trade) from Michigan. Even at that age, he was much better than anyone else.
“These photos are from the 1974 brochure. I worked there in 1977 and 78 when Lemaire was no longer a partner.
“No player can get better attending a hockey school for a week or 2. There were guys that worked with me who were serious players and these guys would improve since they got ice time 3 hrs a day for 8 weeks. We had about 6 counselors for about 40 kids ( there were about 160 kids per week) and we would actually have quarrels not to go on the ice. It just got tiring to put on skates 3 times a day. If one didn’t go on, one slept in the dressing room. Cournoyer would show up regularly. There was a scrimmage the last day of camp in which the parents returned and Cournoyer would always be there.
“The NHL players seldom showed up, maybe 1 day the entire summer. The goalie teacher was Jim Corsi who was in college then. I believe he is still the goalie coach for the Sabres and played for Italy when they tied or beat Canada (Gretzky was playing) in some tournament. I believe Corsi was Canadian college player of the year one time and also represented Canada in soccer.
“About 1/3 of the attendees were American. There was occasionally a black kid and it was amazing the hatred toward the kid from American teenage city kids, especially the ones from Philadelphia. I never saw any problem between French and English kids and it opened up one’s eyes on racism in the U.S.”
You’d have to think it’s quite odd for a GM to answer some punk’s question about getting tickets. Somehow I can’t see Pierre Gauthier or Brian Burke doing this, or any GM for that matter.
It’s one last letter from the bunch I’d lost years ago and then found recently, and surprisingly, it came from Irving Grundman, who was the Habs GM at the time.
But first, a few things about Mr. Grundman.
Irving Grundman replaced Sam Pollock as GM in 1978, and it was unexpected. Most thought Scotty Bowman would be named the new boss, but it was decided that Bowman would probably be too quick on the draw in trading players, and the bowling alley magnate Grundman was brought in, mostly because of his money-handling abilities.
By all accounts, Grundman wasn’t the greatest Habs GM there ever was, although the recent few might give him a run for his money. It was he who decided to choose Doug Wickenheiser instead of Quebec star Denis Savard in the 1980 draft, whereas Wickenheiser never became the player they thought he’d become and Savard would star in Chicago. Grundman and Jacques Lemaire disagreed on things and the star forward retired and moved to Switzerland. There were also problems finding a decent replacement for Ken Dryden in nets, and three coaches were hired and fired in Grundman’s short time at the helm.
Grundman also pulled the strings on the huge Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Craig Laughlin, and Brian Engblom trade to Washington for Ryan Walter and Rick Green and it was this move that is considered most responsible for the saving of the strugging Capitals franchise. Langway would win the Norris Trophy the first two years he was in Washington.
In his defence, Grundman also drafted Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios, which were good moves, but all in all, he was considered out of his league and should have concentrated on the bowling alley business.
After he was let go by the Canadiens, he would become a Montreal city councillor, found himself charged with corruption, and sentenced to 23 months of community service and fined $50,000.00.
Almost three months to the day after Mr. Grundman wrote this letter, he was fired by the Canadiens, and Serge Savard would take his place.
Good old Jacques Lemaire’s name has been tossed about, most recently I think by TV guys on Hockey Central, as the one fellow who should come in and be the bilingual coach in Montreal that so many are screaming for. These men in makeup also say it could even happen, but I also realize they like to hear themselves talk quite often.
It’s not that he’s too old. Lemaire is 66 and albeit no spring chicken, but neither am I and I’m quite confident, thank you very much, that I can be just as swift and efficient a stick boy as any other stick boy. He’s a Montrealer who used to bleed Habs colours, maybe still does a little, and he came out of retirement last year at Christmas and did, as the TV guys gushed, an outstanding job with the New Jersey Devils.
Habs owner Geoff Molson has already thrown Randy Cunneyworth under the bus, saying there will be a bilingual coach sometime soon, so I’ve decided I want Lemaire as the new coach if Mr. C can’t learn French in a hurry. However, Lemaire said last year that the only connection he feels with Montreal now is when he comes back to visit his niece. But maybe he’s an old jokester and is just pulling our leg.
For me it’s a nice thought. Old-school Hab, once a great player with the bleu, blance, et rouge, respected and experienced as a big-league coach, coming in and turning this club around and making Habs fans happy again. Politicians would sit quiet, players would come alive, and the team would begin a steady climb up the standings, this year and for years to come. All because a 66 year old came back home.
Nice to dream sometimes.
Over the years, card companies like O-Pee-Chee and Topps have slipped up in various ways, putting the wrong name on someone’s card or incorrect information listed and such, which hasn’t really affected the collecting aspect, but simply became conversation pieces more than anything else.
Both Bob Gainey and Serge Savard in different years had Doug Risebrough’s name listed below the photos. On Guy Lafleur’s rookie card, his name is spelled “La Fleur” and in another year Guy was listed as a defenceman. And in one of the most notorious examples of card error, Jacques Lemaire somehow managed to have a Buffalo Sabres uniform on when he never once played for the Sabres.
But the practice of screwing up dates way back, as you can see on this 1940’s gumball card. Toe Blake as a Chicago Black Hawk? Hah!
These weren’t normal gum cards. I believe they were dispensed from gumball machines, hence the name “gumball card.”
Here’s the other side of it.