A big thanks to my friend Ed Wolk in Ottawa for sending me these pics from the 1950 Babe Ruth comic that features the Rocket Richard story.
Ed also has an amazing John Lennon connection which I’ll talk about at a later time.
The Rocket came to Orillia in 1962 to say hello and drop some pucks at the annual Variceties event at the arena, but something behind the scenes happened. The local sports reporter from the Packet and Times, who knew that I had a Habs scrapbook, asked if he could use one of my Richard pictures for the local program they were putting out.
I let him of course, and in return the reporter gave me this original photo he’d taken of the Rocket signing the Orillia registry.
Maurice Richard coming to Orillia was a big thing for me, that’s for sure. He was my hero, which is something that’s never changed over the years.
Here’s the program, with my picture of Rocket I lent to the newspaper.
The Rocket signed it, but the pen was beginning to run out of ink.
A hockey friend of mine, Warren Howes, sent a team picture (below) from that night, with his younger brother, the goalie, in the front row.
As you can see, the entire team is wearing Habs sweaters but it appears they might have been worn to make Maurice happy. The kids had either their team sweaters underneath, or Leafs sweaters, which is what Warren thinks.
You can see the Rocket standing behind the boys. And in my pile of Habs stuff here in Powell River is a helmet identical to the one the kid in the front row, third from left, is wearing
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.”
Artwork by the great Canadian artist Franklin Arbuckle that appeared on cover of the March 28,1959 issue of Maclean’s magazine.
A bunch of kids at a Catholic hockey banquet bombarding guest Maurice Richard for autographs as the priests and dads stay in the background looking slightly bored.
It makes me smile and it used to make my mom smile too. I have both the trimmed photo, which rests peacefully in my scrapbook now, and the full magazine, which also includes a Trent Frayne article on Chicago Black Hawks coach Rudy Pilous.
I drank a beer or two with Aurele Joliat at the old Prescott Hotel in Ottawa, sometime in the mid-1980s, and drove him home afterwards. I knew he’d be there because he showed up each week with his bowling team. We got along splendidly, even though he insisted that the Rocket couldn’t tie Morenz’s skate laces.
I brought my book, ‘The Montreal Canadiens’ by Claude Mouton, and Aurele was more than happy to sign it and mention my broken arm (although it was only a small cast on my wrist).
Ken Dryden signed his book ‘The Game’ for me by writing “I’ve had a lot of fans in my life, and you’re one of them. Happy Birthday, Dennis”.
My sister got him to write that. It was a bit of an inside joke she and I had going at the time. She said he chuckled as he wrote it.
After scoring his 500th goal in 1957, Maurice Richard appeared on the long-running CBC show Front Page Challenge to answer the panels’ questions from behind their backs as they tried to guess who he was.
After the question and answer part, Rocket came out front and chatted for about ten minutes with the group who, on this night, included cranky old skinflint Gordon Sinclair, lovely Toby Robins, author and joint roller Pierre Berton, and guest Margaret Higgins.
I’ve no idea if Rocket fooled them or not.
Front Page Challenge ran from 1957 to 1995 and was as Canadian as you can get. Fred Davis was the slick moderator, and Gordon Sinclair and Pierre Berton were usually joined by Betty Kennedy, but on the night of the Rocket, Toby Robins was doing the duties instead of Betty. The show focused on world news headlines and the special secret guests all had some sort of connection to said events.
I thought it was a great show. A family show. One you would watch with ma and pa. Gordon Sinclair never failed to ask guests how much money they made (we’d laugh when he did and say, oh, there he goes again!), Berton was well-informed and talkative, and Betty Kennedy was smart and classy, and I thought she was quite hot actually.
Fred Davis was as smooth as smooth can be. He always said the right thing, was always incredibly polite with a smile on his face, he had that Mr. Nice guy aura about him, and kept the show moving in tasteful and professional manner. Surely he wasn’t that perfect at home. Or maybe he was!
When I looked up the dates and saw that it ran until 1995, I couldn’t believe it. Front Page Challenge was a long time ago. But 1995? That was only, like, yesterday.
The picture you see at the top, with the Rocket, is from my old scrapbook.
Below – Pierre, Fred, Betty, and Gordon.
This photo is like a real life version of Roch Carrier’s classic book ‘The Sweater’. I wonder if they all have number 9 on their backs.
The boy in the middle, in his street clothes, is Leo Brosseau. Leo grew up in Quebec in the 1930s and ’40s before moving west to Powell River to work in the mill and marry a local girl. He’s been here ever since.
He wasn’t able to play with his team for a while because of a broken arm so he became assistant coach to the coach/priest. That’s the priest in the back.
Leo is 84 now and long retired, he beat cancer after telling his doctors to shove their chemo, and for years has flown back to Montreal to see a game, sometimes more than once. And next February he’s off to Las Vegas to see his Habs clash with the Golden Knights!
Leo’s loved his team for almost 80 years. Another Stanley Cup would be nice.
Photos from my old scrapbook, which I still open from time time.
Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion with his wife Marlene and kids. That little gaffer is Danny, who went on to play for the Habs in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Marlene is the daughter of Howie Morenz, so she’s a hockey gal through and through. She looks beautiful, especially in that white blouse.
Big Jean Beliveau doing the dishes with wife Elise. Elise said she had to do most of the driving when they were dating because Jean was a lousy driver.
Jacques Plante, with wife Jacqueline and boys Michel and Richard, singing and forgetting about flying pucks that hurt when they hit the face. Plante also liked to knit, and made his own socks and toques.
Dickie Moore and his lovely wife playing with their little baby. Such a fine looking couple. One of Moore’s daughters, and it could be the one in this photo, eventually dated one of Doug Harvey’s son. (I never heard how that worked out).
Bert Olmstead showing his beautiful family his scrapbook. Scrapbooks were all the rage back then, and probably very cool when the scrapbook was about yourself. Years ago I looked up Olmstead in the Calgary phone book, phoned him and asked him if he’d mind talking about the old days with the Habs. He hung up on me.
This is Maurice Richard, of course, just sitting around with his wife Lucille and the family. The kids are Maurice Jr., Hugette, Normand, Andre, and Suzanne. In the top photo, the Rocket shows his Rocket scrapbook to Normand and Andre. Most kids don’t have dads with a personal scrapbook. However, my dad was probably a much better sign painter than the Rocket.
Henri Richard and his lovely wife Lise, being happy and healthy at home in Montreal. We would see Lise often over the years in camera shots at games with the Pocket, and she always looked great, that’s for sure.
Henri was just a little kid when his older brother was becoming a star with the Canadiens.
One of the most important players on the Habs in the early 1960s, and a third and fourth line grinder at that – Dave Balon and his beautiful wife of whose name I don’t know. I wish I did.
Sadly, Balon passed away in 2007 from MS, and of course it was way too early because he was only 68.
Balon was one of those guys who was never a star, but was a hard worker, a checker, and he shone in playoff situations, scoring key goals, and was put out often in key situations against the other teams’ stars. For every Jean Beliveau, a team needs a Dave Balon. He wore number 20, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s never gotten enough credit for what he did for the Montreal Canadiens.
Look how happy they look, especially his wife.
Ralph Backstrom and his wife Frances and kids.
After Backstrom’s playing days were over, he ended up coaching the University of Denver team, founded a roller hockey league in the late ’90s, and in 2003, the Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League.
Backstrom was always one of my favourite players. I even got a brush cut like his once. The guy personified the Montreal Canadien teams he played on – speedy, classy, and a beautiful skater. Like me except for most of that.
Canadiens goaltender Charlie Hodge and lovely wife Sheila. Charlie had the unfortunate luck of being on the same team as Jacques Plante, so he was often a backup goalie with the Habs early on. But he would win the Vezina outright in 1963-64 and shared the Vezina with Gump Worsley in ’65-66. He eventually went to Oakland when expansion came into being in 1967, as each team had to surrender a goalie for the new upstarts (the original six teams were allowed to protect only 11 skaters and one goalie).
John Ferguson with wife Jean and daughter in this really nice family photo. As much as Fergie was a bruiser on the ice, he was known as a gentle pushover at home.
Fergie and family would go back to Nanaimo BC in the off-season where he played professional lacrosse, and he also had a long-time love affair with harness racing.
It was about ten years ago when I tried to get in touch with someone from the Buzinski family. I tried Saskatoon and Swift Current. I tried Calgary, where Steve Buzinski’s son Peter was supposed to live. But I had no luck anywhere. It’s too bad. I would’ve liked to have learned more about the man.
Steve Buzinski was the goalie for the New York Rangers on the night of November 8, 1942, when Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard scored his first NHL goal.
Of course, being scored on by the Rocket was nothing to be ashamed of. Richard scored on dozens of the poor, padded people. This Ranger rookie just happened to be the first, that’s all.
Rocket was 21 years old and wore number 15 at the time for the Habs. He had yet to change to number 9, and he was still a few broken bones away from becoming the icon he became.
Buzinski had been called up from the minors to replace the Rangers’ goalies Chuck Raynor and Sugar Jim Henry, who were both enlisted to fight in the war overseas. Buzinski’s career was only nine games, letting in 55 goals, and he had a not so great average of more than six goals a game.
The Rangers soon released Buzinski, and the youngster returned to Swift Current and worked for the federal government until his retirement.
I would have liked to have known what Buzinski thought about his Rocket connection. Was he proud of the fact? How was the goal scored? Did the Rocket scoop the puck up for a souvenir? And why did Buzinski not play in the minors after being released by the Rangers?
But I couldn’t find any of his family, so I have no idea.
I’m guessing the Habs wives are watching their hubbies on TV, and the mirror behind them, reflecting a framed image of the Rocket, makes it a definite that the party is at Maurice and Lucille’s home.
Lucille is the one in the white blouse, and Ken Mosdell’s wife Lorraine is on the far right. The others I’m not sure about.
(Thanks to Wayne Mosdell for pointing out his mom to me)
Ken and Lorraine Mosdell, Bernard and Marlene Geoffrion, and Maurice and Lucille Richard.
I’m betting it’s a Christmas party!