Category Archives: Jacques Plante

Habs Handle Panthers, But……

There was good, bad, and disturbing in the Canadiens 4-1 win in Sunrise on Sunday, so I’ll just get down to mentioning some before I head to the 7/11 to buy a creme-filled Easter egg.

Carey Price finally nailed down his 42nd win of the season, which ties him with Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden.
Michel Therrien grabbed his 200th win as coach of the CH.
Tomas Plekanec scored his 200th NHL goal, all as a Hab.
Devante Smith-Pelly scored his first goal as a Hab after converting a nice pass from P. A. Parenteau.
Parenteau scored a dandy, going coast to coast, grabbing his own rebound, and firing.
And P.K. Subban, looking like a slick forward, sent a reasonably tough pass across to Brendan Gallagher who buried it in twine.

The bad? Carey Price was run into on about five different occasions, a couple of times having his mask was knocked off, and….this is the part that really gets me…..his teammates did next to nothing to show that this sort of thing is unacceptable. Not even one little punch to a face.

This, with the playoffs just around the corner.

And the truly disturbing? Max Pacioretty, one of the team’s rare gunners, crashed backwards into the boards in the first period after being pushed by Dmitri Kulikov, he  may or may not have a concussion which may or may not be serious, and he was gone for the game.

No payback to Kulikov, who not long ago was handed a four-game suspension for clipping the Dallas Star’s Tyler Seguin. Not one stick jammed down his throat.

We might have lost our top forward, and it wouldn’t surprise me if our Russian guys Markov, Emelin, Galchenyuk, and Gonchar went for borscht with this fellow countryman bastard afterwards.

And the half dozen or so Panthers who ran Price? They walk out of the rink with not one set of stitches or crushed nose. No teeth missing. No swollen balls from a knee to the gonads. No lesson taught about not screwing with the goalie.

A good win that halts the three-game winless streak. But not such a good win with Max possibly being seriously hurt, with Price almost hurt, and the guys on the team letting it all happen with probably only a couple of F-bombs as their big time retaliation.

The nasty injury-causing stuff is beginning, I’ve been predicting this for months, and the reaction of the Canadiens was more than disappointing. Playoff-bound teams will see this and smile and rub their hands, which is the gist of my complaint here.

Next up – Thursday, when the Red Wings visit the Bell.

Fingers crossed about Max.

The power play? One for seven.

And one last thing before I head out to get my creme-filled Easter egg. DD, will you shoot the friggin puck from time to time?

Well Whaddya Know

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I’ve been looking around my house for this Star Weekly picture for several years, and I found it.

Tucked between the pages of The Hockey News that I wrote about yesterday.

There’s a crease running across but I don’t care.

Look at the hardware parked in front – from let to right, the Norris Trophy (won by Tom Johnson), the Vezina (Jacques Plante), the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales (NHL regular season championship), and the Art Ross (Dickie Moore, NHL scoring champ).

Missing is the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, won by Ralph Backstrom (third row, left, next to trainer Hector Dubois, who’s wearing a jacket similar to one I have. Very proud of my jacket).

Scattered throughout, of course, are the Richard brothers, Beliveau, Moore, Geoffrion, Talbot, Provost, coach Toe Blake, and on and on. And the second greatest defenceman ever, Doug Harvey, is top row, third from left.

It was the club’s fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, with one more to follow. A beautiful team. One of the best ever.

It’s nice that I can now stop looking for this.

 

Another Fine Blanking!

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The Canadiens looked like they were coming off a Demerol party when they lost 4-0 to the Sharks on March 2nd in San Jose, and which kicked off the 3-game hard-to-swallow California crushing.

It had us all in a dither.

But Saturday at the Bell, the boys played hard-hitting, slick passing big time hockey as they slayed the Sharks 2-0, making it three straight wins, four of their last five, coming not long after the aforementioned California slide had us searching for the key to the liquor cabinet.

Great game by the Habs, regardless of the fact the shirtless Joe Thornton told Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson between periods that his line had been in Montreal’s end all game.

Not what I saw, Joe. And really, for the sake of us guys watching, could you please put a shirt on.

Carey Price saved the day when called upon, which could be said for just about every time he’s manned the nets this season, with this being his 9th shutout (tying M.A. Fleury for the lead), and second in a row after beating Carolina 4-0 on Thursday.

The win is also Price 40th of the season, just two back of the Habs all-time leaders Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden, which is absolutely exciting. Price has entered the Land of the Giants.

Tomas Plekanec got his team on the board in the first period, his 22nd of the year, on a great play that gave him most of a wide-open net to shoot at. The goal also came at a great time, with just 1:14 remaining in the period, and we could see that with the way they were playing, taking the lead late like that could very well spell serious trouble for The Shirtless One and his fish.

Brendan Gallagher would notch the insurance marker, his 21st, in the third with the Sharks’ net empty, and with just seconds left and the boys up 2-0, the Ole, Ole song began, with props to the singers. You sang it at the proper time for a change. When the game wasn’t in doubt.

And man, were the last few minutes tense with the goalie pulled and the score still 1-0, and with the game, and a shutout, on the line.

But the Canadiens came through, as they did all night, standing their ground, checking hard, passing well, and all in all, unless you’re a Sharks fan, a mighty fine night at the not-so-old Bell Centre.

A nice, impressive hometown win by the gang, and a tremendous thing to see, considering there’s only nine games to go and maybe, just maybe, they’re rounding into playoff form.

Random Notes:

Tom Gilbert took a puck in the mouth area during the second period and was gone for the night. Hopefully it’s only a chiclet or two and nothing more.

Props to Brandon Prust for playing a fine game, including a nice piece of business on the penalty kill late in the game.

The Canadiens have reached 99 points, tied with Anaheim for top of the heap.

Alex Galchenyuk needs just one more to reach 20 goals.

Next up – Tuesday, when the team hits Music City, U.S.A. to shut out the Predators.

 

The Sunday Book

Happy Father’s Day to fathers. Hope your kids phone you today. Or at least email you. Anything really.

Also hope you don’t mind if I make this my Sunday post. More pages from my old scrapbook. I’m in Port Hope at the moment.

The huge face of the Rocket you see 5 pictures down is from an old Vitalis advertising sign in the barbershop window in Orillia which the barber gave to me. It’s made of thick cardboard and because of its thickness, it was the beginning of the pages starting to come apart.

More Of The Book

From time to time lately I’ve been showing pages from my old Habs scrapbook. Here’s more.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record MP3, just click on the photos to make ’em bigger.

Dave Balon Battled

The following is a tremendous story published in the National Post on May 30, 2007 regarding Dave Balon, a tough and talented player for the Canadiens from 1963 to 1967.

He’d come to the Montreal from New York in a  trade that saw him, Gump Worsley, Leon Rochefort, and Len Ronson become brand new Habs and Jacques Plante, Phil Goyette, and Don Marshall going the other way.

This story was published just a day after Dave lost his battle with multiple sclerosis. I don’t know who wrote it, but it affected me.

Instead of just providing the link, here it is in full, plus a photo I have in my scrapbook of Dave and his wife Gwen.

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Dave Balon’s Silent Fight

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – She takes a handful of tissues and shuffles to her husband’s side. Her back is crooked by osteoporosis, her body beaten by a failing spine and the stroke she suffered last summer.

She looks much older than her 68 years. Her face is deeply lined, her hair thin and stringy, and her voice little more than a bullfrog’s croak, the product of a lifetime of heavy smoking.

There is a sadness about Gwen Balon as she sits next to the hockey player she married 47 years ago. She leans in close to his cheek and tenderly wipes away the stream of saliva bubbling from the corner of his mouth.

“Are you OK, hon,” she asks, gently, the words delivered with a sweetness that show she has never stopped loving theman in front of her.

“It is so hard for me to express,” she says. “They tell you there is no such thing as a soulmate, but Dave is mine. I knew right off the bat that we would get married. “He is such a kind man.”

Dave Balon’s clear blue eyes shift toward the sound of his wife’s voice and lock on to her loving gaze. “It’s been a long time for us, eh, honey?” Gwen says. “Yeah,” he whispers.

Balon used to talk in torrents. Words would pour out of his mouth so fast, and so softly uttered, that the hockey writers who hung around the dressing rooms in New York, Montreal, Minnesota and, at the sad end of his 13-year National Hockey League career, Vancouver, would scribble madly or risk missing what Balon had to say.

“Gosh,” “holy cow” and “guldurn” were among his favourite expressions, folksy terms spoken by an earnest, friendly, hard-working forward from the farm country of northern Saskatchewan.

The words do not come easily any more. They started to come less and less about four years ago, when the multiple sclerosis that has gradually transformed Balon’s once-athletic physique into a withered coffin of flesh and bone began its assault on his voice.

Everything below his neck is intact, but gone, really, a victim of the progressive strain of an incurable disease that affects the central nervous system. It first appeared just as Balon was enjoying his most productive seasons as a pro.

Squeeze his arm and Balon feels the pressure of your fingers, though his body is unable to respond. He takes Tylenol to ease a persistent low-grade ache and muscle relaxants to prevent his deadened limbs from twitching involuntarily

What remains alive for the man inside the broken body is his own bright mind, and a wife and a daughter, Jodi, who love him, care for him and continue to stand by him, even while somany others no longer do.

They want the hockey world to know that Dave Balon’s spirit persists, and that his life still matters. He can still experience joy. He can still hear everything. He has not stopped fighting this terrible disease. He never will, not until it kills him.

The women who love him hope an earlier generation of hockey fans have not forgotten about the bow-legged Prairie boy who helped Montreal win a pair of Stanley Cups in 1965 and ’66, played in four NHL All-Star Games, and fought for his teammates wherever he went.

Marshall Johnston remembers who Dave Balon used to be. The Carolina Hurricanes’ head of professional scouting was a teammate of Balon’s with the Prince Albert Mintos, and he has been friends with the family ever since. His duties with the Hurricanes seldom take him back to Saskatchewan, but when he gets there, he will drop in on his former junior teammate. He is one of the few that still do.

Balon’s permanent address is a private room at the Herb Bassett nursing home, a full-care facility on the outskirts of Prince Albert, not more than 15 minutes drive from the front door of the family home.

Every two weeks the staff transports him back to his real home, a tidy brick bungalow on Gillmor Crescent, where he spends the day in a reclining chair just inside the front door.

It is difficult to watch him sitting there now, motionless, in the late winter sun. He has blankets around his legs, a quilt around his shoulders and a Team Canada cap perched on his head. This picture doesn’t connect to the pictures from another time, some 50 years ago, when a handsomely rugged hayseed from the farming community of Wakaw first appeared in Prince Albert to play junior hockey for the Mintos.

Johnston remembers a brawl in Flin Flon, Man., way back when, that had Balon in the middle of it. “Dave was one tough player,” he says. “And I wasn’t very tough, and I guess that’s why I respected him so much: Because he was tough, and he could play.”

He could also charm the ladies. Gwen Gillies was a raven-haired nursing student at the Holy Family Hospital. She liked going to Mintos games. The whole town did. Balon spotted her there and thought she had a pretty smile. (He had “nice legs.”) Balon asked Gwen if she wanted to grab a Coke at the ice cream parlour sometime. “You were the prettiest groupie, mom. Come on, admit it,” Jodi says. “Thanks, Jod,” says Gwen, blushing.

They married in 1960, the season Balon skated for the New York Rangers’ farm club in Trois-Rivieres, Que. He would ship packages of fancy clothes back to Saskatchewan for his new bride. She would look forward to opening each one.

Balon broke in with the Rangers in 1962-63, but he was traded away to Montreal that summer. In his first season with the great Canadiens, Balon surprised Toe Blake, the legendary coach, by exploding for a career best 24 goals and 42 points — and 80 penalty minutes.

“I always knew he was a good checker,” Blake said then. “But he’s shown he can be a real good scorer, too.”

Montreal won Stanley Cups in 1965 and ’66. Balon drew the assist on Henri Richard’s Game 6 championship clincher in ’66, in overtime, against Detroit.

Minnesota selected Balon first overall in the 1967 expansion draft, but he was back in New York by the end of the year. Unable to have children of their own, the Balons adopted Jodi, and then a son, Jeff. New York was a happy time for the young family. Many of the Rangers were Saskatchewan boys, such as Orland Kurtenbach and Jim Neilson, and the whole crew lived in Long Beach out on Long Island.

They would get together to play cards, board games, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, laugh and share stories about their crazy new life so far away from home.

Long Beach was known as a mafia suburb back then, full of goodfellas and crime bosses. One day, there was a knock on the Balon’s front door. It was a delivery man from the Fulton Fish Market, dropping off a thank you from some shady character whose son had received a stick from Balon after practice. “I was giving fresh fish to everyone on the street,” Gwen says with a laugh. “I didn’t know where to keep it.”

On the ice, Balon was enjoying his best years. He finished 10th in NHL scoring in 1969-70 with 33 goals and 70 points. He scored 36 the following season, led the league in plus-minus — Bobby Orr came third — and won the Frank Boucher Trophy, given to the most popular Ranger in a vote by the fans.

Gwen clipped every article written about her husband, kept every hockey card, and she put it all in a scrapbook now held together by electrical tape. She noted Dave’s highlights in a neat, schoolgirl script; a four-goal game against St. Louis, a hat trick against Detroit and beating Orr in the plus-minus race.

But even as Balon was doing so well, something wasn’t quite right. “His legs and arms started feeling weak for no reason,” Gwen says. He talked to the team doctors, but all they could find was a chiselled 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete.

Balon signed with Vancouver in 1971. He was expected to score goals. He got weaker and weaker instead. Canucks management figured Balon, at 33 years old, was washed up. He jumped to the World Hockey Association, lasted for three games, and then quit for good in 1973, heading home to Prince Albert.

The Balons had always been smart with Dave’s NHL money. They owned a house, a cabin in Prince Albert National Park and a paddle-wheel boat. Balon was the captain of the 40-passenger vessel. Every summer, Saskatchewanians from the south would trek north and line up for Dave Balon’s tours of Lake Waskesiu.

“Have you ever been to Waskesiu?” Balon asks. “It is so beautiful up there.”

People started gossping about his health in the late 1970s. Balon was having trouble with his balance. There were whispers he had a drinking problem. The problem was worse than that.

Dave and Gwen had never heard of MS when the doctors in Saskatoon gave them the diagnosis in 1980. They were told there was no cure, and that it would only get worse.

But Balon took on the disease like he took on his NHL career — with fight in his belly, a capacity to suffer its worst and seldom a complaint. Sure, there were tantrums every now and again, rages where the “Holy Cows” were replaced by curses better suited to a hockey dressing room than the family dinner table.

“The odd time he got cranky,” Gwen says. “But he really fought, and we just didn’t acknowledge the disease.”

That is, until they could no longer ignore it.

Balon started walking with a cane early on, and then two canes, and then a walker. He drove a big Lincoln outfitted with a hydraulic lift. He fell getting into it 12 years ago. That was it for walking.

“Honestly,” Jodi says, “he could do everything up until that one point when he fell, and then everything fell apart.”

The Balons did their best to keep it together, though, with the help of the NHL emergency fund, Dave’s player pension and the alumni associations in Montreal and Vancouver. The Canadiens paid for a custom van. The bungalow on Gillmor Crescent was outfitted with special lifts, and an electric chair to carry Balon down to the basement, his favourite haunt.

Jodi has spent the past several months transforming the cluttered space into an orderly shrine celebrating her dad’s NHL career; decorating it with old photos, framed newspaper articles, the Frank Boucher Trophy, and the pair of skates he wore with Montreal.

It is a museum Balon will never see.

The majority of Dave Balon’s neighbours at the Herb Bassett home are elderly women. Several of them suffer from Alzheimers. Orderlies wheel the patients to a common area after meals, where they sit in front of a television set. Balon sits among them. Many of the faces there harbour blank expressions. Oprah and Montel Williams — who also suffers from MS — are Balon’s favourite daytime entertainment. But he most enjoys those nights when a hockey game is on, especially one featuring Montreal or New York. The ex-Hab still refers to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the “Laughs.”

Some days the nursing home brings in guest performers: musicians, authors and clap-your-hands-and-sing-along groups. Balon likes some of the events, but mostly he looks forward to every second day, when he knows Jodi and Gwen will appear at the door for a visit.

He puckers his lips when he sees his daughter — and again when she gets up to leave — a ritual that leaves her near tears, even now, four years after a serious infection put her father in the home permanently.

“It was the worst day for us,” says Gwen. “The disease progressed so slow at first that we just adapted to it.”

The 69-year-old Balon has plenty of old friends living in the Prince Albert area. But few come to visit. They tell Gwen it is just too hard to see Dave like this. “Well, how hard do you think it is for dad?” Jodi says. Her brother Jeff, a handyman in Fernie, B.C., does not come around much either. “He misses his son,” Gwen says. Fans used to write letters, but not so much any more. Jodi wishes they still would. “Tell them: Just send money,” Balon whispers, his sense of humour clearly intact.

It has been a couple years since Kurtenbach, Balon’s teammate in New York, who now lives in Vancouver, has stopped by to see his friend. “Dave had changed so much,” Kurtenbach says. “It is a shock to see him.

“It’s terrible, especially the last time I was there, because it is a pretty one-sided conversation now. Dave is laying there, and you know he is not going to get up.”

Sometimes, in his dreams, Dave Balon does get up. He is a young again, and racing down the left wing of the old Madison Square Garden. He is free in these dreams. And they seem so real to him, but they aren’t. What is real is the woman who has spent a lifetime loving him.

The late afternoon sun is fading through the front window of the house on Gillmor Crescent. It has been a long day for the old hockey player.

Gwen leans in to her husband’s cheek.

“Are you OK, hon?” she asks. “That’s my guy.”

“I’m your guy,” Balon whispers back. “I’m OK.”

It’s Big And Beautiful

My dad and I started the scrapbook together when I was little and he gradually bowed out and let me carry on.

It’s old now, many of the pages are loose, and it’s battered and beat up. But it’s my treasure. I used to invite friends from the old neighbourhood over – “Hey, you wanna come over and see my scrapbook?” and they would and then we’d play road hockey and pose like the players we had just seen in the book.

Here’s the first few pages. The cover was done by my dad, who was a sign painter.

The photos enlarge when clicked on.

A Christmas card Maurice Richard sent me when I was seven sits on the inside cover at the beginning.
Inside the Christmas card
The action photo at the top shows the Rocket just seconds before his Achilles tendon was sliced, which kept him out for months. And on the right, a nice family photo of the Richard clan. Also on this page, Rocket shows sons Normand and Andre his massive scrapbook.
An autographed picture sent to me from the Rocket, Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens ticket stubs, and a photo of Rocket looking at his goals tally are part of this page.

Quebec City

We’re in Quebec City and it’s been terrific, with our hotel so perfectly situated we find ourselves only a couple of hundred feet from the Plains of Abraham.

When I was fourteen I spent a month with a French family in St. Hyacinthe on an English-French exchange, and my new friend and I hitchhiked to Quebec City and slept in sleeping bags on the Plains of Abraham. And now I’m back.

It’s Luci’s birthday and she and I celebrated at the greatest restaurant either of us have ever been in, called Parmesan, where joie de vivre reigned supreme, and where the staff was amazing, the food was excellent, and a singer and fellow with an accordion walked around and sang old Italian songs.

It was like being serenaded by Dean Martin and Perry Como.

We never stopped smiling and laughing for the two or three hours we were in Parmesan. Usually being in restaurants is fairly serious business.

We’ve already staked out a nearby Irish pub to watch the Habs-Rangers game tonight, after walking in and an employee showed us around and told us where the best TV viewing is.

And I hope I don’t sound like I’m boasting, but since my teens I’ve been saying exactly what Jacques Plante said in describing the nice time he had in Toronto when he played for the Leafs in the early-1970s:

“Maybe that’s been the trouble in our country; we just don’t get around and meet the neighbours in other provinces.”

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