Category Archives: Montreal Canadiens

Thanks Rocket

On March 11, 1996, following a game between Dallas and Montreal, the Canadiens and fans said goodbye to the Montreal Forum. The lights were dimmed, and Montreal Canadien captains from over the years – Emile Bouchard, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Pierre Turgeon, and of course, number nine, Maurice Richard – all walked onto the Forum ice.

A torch was lit and passed to Butch Bouchard, who then passed it to the Rocket, and the emotional fans in the beautiful old building, the wondrous Forum, erupted in an explosion of cheers, tears, and memories to the greatest Hab ever.

Fans weren’t only saying goodbye to the old building, they were also saying thank you to the Rocket, who had done so much to create the mystique that is the Montreal Canadiens, a man whose deeds, fire, passion, and humility continues to make all Montreal fans, young and old, proud of the team, and a man the emotional Quebec Habs fans embraced and clung to through rocky political and cultural times in the province.

The Rocket was my boyhood hero and remains my hero today. I met him once, but that’s a story for another day.

The 1996 standing ovation left most in tears. And Rocket wasn’t even sure why there such an outpouring of emotion. Because, as he said, “I’m just a hockey player.”

 

Rocket’s Banquet Speech

You can’t go wrong with a good Rocket Richard story.

After the Rocket retired in 1960, he went on the banquet circuit and was in Boston one night for a B’nai B’rith dinner. When it was his turn to speak he got up and said, “I’m happy to be back in Boston. I came here regularly in my 18 years as a player. We beat the Bruins eight or nine times in the playoffs.  We always won. Guess that’s why I like it here so much.”

Then he sat down.

Rousseau’s Blast

It was the early 1960s, and Montreal speedster Bobby Rousseau, a slapshot specialist and off-season golf pro in Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec, was awarded a penalty shot in a game against Boston.

Rousseau grabbed the puck at centre ice, took it just inside the blueline, and to the surprise of everyone, including his coach Toe Blake and Boston goalie, Bruce Gamble, wound up, fired, and scored.

Has a penalty shot or shootout goal ever been scored from so far out?

From my old scrapbook, a photo of the moment.

Fan Favourite Fergie

John Ferguson was a lot of things.

He was one of the most popular players to ever wear the Montreal sweater, according to one who would know, Dick Irvin Jr. He was a serious lacrosse player, mostly in Nanaimo, BC. He was assistant coach on Team Canada during the 1972 Summit Series. He was deeply involved in horse racing. He was coach and GM of the New York Rangers, and GM of the Winnipeg Jets.

But most of all, he was a great fighter for the Habs in the 1960s, who could also score goals. Twelve seconds into his very first NHL game with the Habs, Fergie got into a fight with Boston tough guy Ted Green and won. He was a coach’s dream.

Fergie was one those guys who would cross the street if members of the opposing team were walking his way. He avoided playing in golf tournaments if players from other teams were participating.  And he would only be involved in hockey schools if all the other instructors were Montreal players.

“We played for the sweater,” John Ferguson once said, and because he said that, he’s one of my all-time favourite Montreal Canadiens. I even saw him and Eddie Shack go at it once when I was at a game at Maple Leaf Gardens, and it brought down the house. It was one of those great, delicious bench-clearing brawls, and Shack and Fergie were the headliners, two rival gladiators with a glorious dislike for each other. They went punch for punch, Leaf fans screamed for his blood, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, right up there with Brigitte Bardot standing by the fence in  And God Created Women.

John Ferguson was one of the best. He died on July 14, 2007, at only 68.

Papa Got A Brand New Team

I’m a Habs fan, born and raised in Orillia, Ont, which is Leafs country I suppose, considering it’s only an hour and a half north of Toronto. I’m a fan and my old man had a lot to do with it.

My dad, who served in the Canadian army overseas in WWll, was a hockey fan most of his life, although his enthusiasm waned as he aged, which I understand more and more. He followed the Leafs when he was young, and once wrote a letter in the 1930s to Ace Bailey, who lay in a hospital after Boston’s Eddie Shore clubbed him over the head, ending his career, and nearly killing him.

Bailey’s wife wrote back and thanked him.

Later though, my dad began to change his mind about his team. The Toronto Star and Telegram both plastered their papers with Leafs stories and my dad would complain. It was always “Leafs, Leafs, Leafs” he used to say. Broadcaster Foster Hewitt was the definitive homer, and this rubbed dad the wrong way. And pops was a quiet fellow and wasn’t crazy about the brash, loud, and arrogant Leafs owner Conn Smythe.

In the 1950s, with television entering households, it was usually only Leafs game shown, and when the Montreal Canadiens played in Toronto, my dad liked what he saw on his TV. There was the Rocket, Beliveau, Harvey, and Plante. Magical names. Stanley Cups began to be won by the Habs on a regular basis, and the Leafs just kept plodding along. The Canadiens had something the Leafs didn’t.

When I was a boy he started a big Montreal Canadiens scrapbook for me. He helped me write fan letters to the Rocket, and at one point, Rocket sent me a Christmas card. He took me to Maple Leaf Gardens a couple of times, and once, when we were really early and stood at the gate, the Canadiens players walked right by us.

He bought me a hockey book for Christmas which he mailed to Montreal asking for autographs, and it was mailed back signed by the entire 1957-58 Habs – Richard, Plante, coach Toe Blake, Beliveau, Geoffrion etc, with Doug Harvey’s as the only signature missing. Later when we went to a game at the Gardens, he brought the book with him, took it down to the Montreal dressing room corridor, saw Toe Blake standing there, and asked Blake if he would take the book into the dressing room and get Harvey to sign it.

Believe it not, Blake did just that.

Thanks dad.

Fiery Reardon – Player and Exec

Two short stories about Ken Reardon – one good, one bad.

Ken Reardon was  a rough, tough, and often fiery defenceman for the Canadiens in the 1940s, who, after retirement, became a high- level executive for the Habs.

From the time Reardon joined Montreal in 1940, his life could be told in three chapters. His rugged, all-star play on the ice; his enlisting in the Canadian Army during World War 11 after only two years with the Habs, and being a main cog on the army hockey team; and his tenure as executive with the Habs, where he worked as assistant to Frank Selke. All in all, he’d been a teammate, friend, and ultimately the boss of Maurice Richard and Toe Blake.

A story I like about Reardon occurred when Reardon was still a young player with Montreal, and he had this thing about looking good. One day he was getting a haircut prior to a practice, and was late getting to the Forum. He told the barber to be quick so the barber charged him only thirty-five cents instead of the regular fifty cents because it was a quick job. At the Forum, the door to the dressing room was locked so he had to knock, and coach Dick Irvin answered.  The young defenceman knew he was busted so he tried to make light of it. “I just got a haircut for thirty-five cents,” said Reardon. “No you didn’t,” replied Irvin. “You just got a haircut for twenty-five dollars and thirty-five cents.”

A story I don’t like involves Reardon and Ralph Backstrom.

The following was told by Backstrom to Susan Foster, and was included in her fascinating book, The Power of Two. Here, I’m paraphrasing.

 

When Ralph was a 17-year old hockey phenom in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, the Canadiens sent Reardon to the Backstrom home in Northern Ontario in the hopes of signing the kid. At the Backstrom kitchen table, Reardon sat with Ralph and Ralph’s parents and he placed five $100 bills on the table which would be the Backstrom’s to keep if Ralph signed on the dotted line.

Ralph told Susan that at that time, neither he or his parents had never seen even one $100 bill, let alone five, and Ralph signed the paper, making him part of the Canadiens family.

As Reardon was leaving, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another five $100 bills, waved them in Ralph’s face, and told him he’d been authorized to pay twice as much for Ralph’s signature if need be. Then he put the 500 bucks back in his pocket.

Bowman Brainwave

In the latter part of 1970s the Habs were in the middle of winning four straight Cups and were in Los Angeles for a game against the Kings. The boys won easily that night, and many of them decided to go out and celebrate. They ended up drinking too much, missed curfew, and eventually wobbled back to the hotel. At the hotel, the doorman happened to have a hockey stick, and asked the players, as they staggered in, to autograph his stick.

The next morning, Scotty Bowman called out all the players who missed curfew and fined them.

And how did he know?

He’d given the doorman a stick and asked him to get the latecomers to sign it.

Canadiens Hijack Jets

A gutsy comeback by the Habs in Winnipeg, capped by Max Pacioretty’s overtime winner, and the boys glided off the ice with a nice 5-4 win.

What a difference a couple of days make. Incredibly lousy in Minnesota on Thursday night, and a hard-working, solid display on Saturday.

With Al Montoya in net.

With Andrew Shaw scoring two power play goals.

And with Hometown Hockey coming from my hometown Orillia tomorrow!

It’s elation, sort of! But they’re in Chicago after the Orillia piece, so the elation might be short lived.

The game in Winnipeg was a back and forth deal, with the Jets opening the scoring in the first, followed by Shaw’s first after he redirected Jonathan Drouin’s shot.

Shaw would strike again in the second, but after that it seemed all wrapped up for the Jets as they would soon even it up, take a 4-2 lead in the third after Blake Wheeler blew by a stumbling Jeff Petry, and we waited for the inevitable.

Things looked gloomy, yes they did. But Pleks, after great work by Gally down low, narrowed it to 4-3, and then Petry atoned for his big mistake by firing home the tying goal with just 4:44 left in the period.

Overtime it became, and as the clock moved toward a shootout, Max Pacioretty suddenly bulged the twine on the power play. And just like that, the Canadiens rack up four wins in six games.

Random Notes:

Habs outshot the Jets 50-23.

Brendan Gallagher has been a bright light on most nights, and Saturday was no exception. He just kept fighting, nobody works harder, and as my buddy Mike Williamson says, he should be captain.

Once again, if you get Sportsnet, tune in a half hour before game time and check out Hometown Hockey’s feature on Orillia, where I was a smallish yet shifty right winger for Byers Bulldozers midgets and bantams. A time when I had trouble focusing I guess, as I used to sing Beatles songs under my breath as I raced down the ice.

 

 

Whupped By Wild

The Canadiens fell 6-3 to the Wild in Minnesota on Thursday evening, thus ending any thoughts of a modest yet dandy three-game winning streak, or in fact, four wins in five games. It was too much to ask, three wins in a row, and we’re now forced to settle for a lousy two-game streak instead.

The 8-3 explosion over Ottawa on Monday is a distant memory, a one-night oddity, a solid destruction of the Sens. A night when the boys were on fire.

Monday was so long ago.

Fans will be upset with Carey Price again, after a mediocre night against the Wild which saw the home team jump into a first period 3-0 stranglehold, and Don Cherry will once again call Habs fans ‘frontrunners’.

Frontrunners. For me the word means ‘leading the pack’. But I guess it also describes fair-weathered fans, which is what Cherry meant. Is that what we are? I don’t see the problem.

Thursday’s game in Minny was also a boring bastard, save for late in the third frame when, after the Wild had jumped out to a ridiculous 5-1 lead, Andrew Shaw and then Brendan Gallagher (with his second of the night), narrowed things to 5-3. A quick flurry shortly after saw the gang come close, and it almost seemed that a miraculous comeback could be in the works.

And then….fizz.

An empty netter by the Wild killed that silly comeback notion.

Random Notes:

Canadiens outshot Minnesota 31-27 and were 0/1 on the power play.

Andrew Shaw netted his first of the season.

The Wild’s first two goals came 10 seconds apart in the first period, at 4:46 and again at 4:56. And at the risk of sounding like a frontrunner, Carey Price looked awkward on the first, and in giving the puck away seconds later, wasn’t able to completely regroup and just like that, it was 2-0.

If Price was on his game, both goals would never had happened.

Next up for the Habs is a visit to Winnipeg on Saturday. Then it’s Sunday in Chicago.

 

 

Killed By Kings

Things were going swimmingly for the boys on Thursday evening at the old Bell barn. They were displaying some mighty fine vim and vigour, outskating and outplaying the visiting L.A. Kings, and if the hockey gods had any decency at all, the light would be lit soon.

The light would be lit all right. Twice, within 11 seconds. By the other team.

Another loss was on the books. A 4-0 drubbing by the L.A. Kings.

Possibly due to the implosion near the end of the first frame, when the Kings beat Carey Price twice, first at the 18.59 mark, and then again seconds later.

For a team that has trouble scoring at the best of times (except when they put five past Panthers backup James Reimer on Tuesday), having two goals scored against them in 11 seconds, with a minute left to play in the opening period, and trying to come back after such a frustrating turn of events, is asking the impossible.

It’s a fragile group, these Montreal Canadiens. Maybe they need more money. C’mon people, line up for an hour to buy a couple of autographs at their next signing appearance. Tell them how great they are while you’re at it.

I feel bad for their wives and girlfriends. What can I do to cheer them up?

In the second period, the Canadiens again looked hungry, but Anze Kopitar blew a wrister past Carey Price, it was 3-0, and I was ready to turn the channel to CNN to see what kind of an ass Donald Trump made of himself in the last few hours.

In the third, it became a 4-0 rout. Time for fans to head to the exits, even though just four minutes had been played. Maybe head to the exits if the ticket was free, otherwise, suck it up and have another $12 beer.

Random Notes:

Habs outshot LA 40-27 and were 0/5 on the pp.

The Kings beat the CH 5-1 in L.A. last Wednesday.

Fans booed the team and Price was jeered whenever he made an easy save. The world is not unfolding as it should.

I pray I never see a sweater hit the ice. The crest is the crest.

Habs GM Marc Bergevin said at his recent press conference that there are elite teams, and then a bunch of good ones, which he included his team in. You’ve had five years to make it an elite team, Marc. Just being good is loser talk.

Next up – Saturday, when the Rangers pay a visit.