Category Archives: Montreal Canadiens

R.I.P. Gordie

Howe and Rocket

When I was a kid in the schoolyard, the conversation with my buddies would go something like this:

Rocket’s better.
Nope, Howe’s better.
No way. Rocket’s better.
Howe’s better.
Take off, hoser.
No you take off.
Shut up and your mother wears army boots. (Or words to that effect).

That’s what it was. Always the same thing. Rocket and Howe. Two completely different players, but Howe was the enemy and Rocket was my hero, so I won. And I’ve  known now for years that Howe was the better all-round player, but I didn’t then and I wouldn’t have admitted it even if I did.

In the 1990s I had breakfast with the legendary goalie Glenn Hall, who was in Powell River for the Allan Cup. Glenn was a teammate of Gordie’s in the 1950s with Detroit, and played against him while with Chicago and St. Louis.

Glenn had also faced the Rocket and Orr during his Hall of Fame career, and because he lived near Edmonton and still involved in hockey in various ways, was as familiar with Wayne Gretzky as practically anyone.

I asked who he thought was the greatest ever and he didn’t hesitate. Howe, he answered, because he could do it all, and the others couldn’t.

I didn’t tell Glenn his mother wore army boots.

But Howe could do it all. His wrist shot was something to behold, his passes pinpoint, his deft scoring touch like few others, his unequaled on-ice intelligence, the unparalleled respect he rightfully earned from other players.

And tough? You want tough?

My friend and former co-worker Gilles Gratton was a backup goalie during the 1974 WHA Canada-Russia Summit Series, and he told me about the time Gordie’s son Mark was leveled by a Soviet defenceman in dastardly fashion, so much so that an unsteady Mark initially skated to the wrong bench and had to be steered to the right one by Soviet players.

Not long after, Gordie just happened to skate by the player who nailed Mark, and the guy just happened to end up with a broken arm and was gone for the series.

You didn’t mess with Gordie or his kin.

Players in the NHL, WHA, or Russia didn’t go in the corners with Gordie. They timidly poked their sticks at the puck and then got the hell out of there before one of those famous elbows crushed their faces.

He did it all, legally or not. There was absolutely no one like him.

Several years ago Howe came to Powell River for an autograph signing and the prices charged for his signature were incredibly outlandish. Way higher than normal, maybe because Powell River is fairly isolated.

I was astonished at these abnormal prices and I wrote a column about it for the local newspaper in which I wasn’t very nice, coming down hard on him and the grocery store where the signing was held.

I regret that I did that. Extraordinary prices or not (and they were), this was a fine and friendly fellow, a legendary man, possibly the greatest hockey player to ever play the game,  and he was there trying to make a buck. What an asshole I can be sometimes.

Now he’s gone and it’s a sad day for me and you and millions of others. I can almost hear angels in heaven’s schoolyard: “Rocket’s better”. “No, Howe’s better.” “Take off, hoser”.

Gordie & Rocket

Perry And The Old Boys

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Habs greats Henri Richard, Dickie Moore, Claude Provost and Jean Beliveau show their hipness as they pose with legendary crooner Perry Como.

For those of you who are too young or just not up on your music history, Perry Como went from being a barber to an international singing sensation in the 1940s and ’50s mostly. He was as relaxing as they come. So relaxing that I’m falling asleep just talking about him.

SCTV did a really funny bit on Como where he (played by Eugene Levy), sang while in bed and on the couch and chair, which you can see below.

My mother and father liked him, he was definitely a big talent, but I preferred a bit more up-tempo stuff. Heck, almost anything was livelier than Perry’s music. Elevator music is heavy metal compared to him.

But these Habs legends seemed like they liked him. And I’ll even go as far as saying that the Pocket, Moore, Provost and Beliveau might have even made out with their wives sometimes to Perry Como’s soothing voice.

The Dream Is Dead

About this year’s Montreal Canadiens?

I don’t wanna be stick boy anymore.

My idea of doing just that for one game only, thought up when I was a kid and kept alive all these years because I’m an idiot, is now dead. This team doesn’t deserve my stick boy skills.

I don’t want to ride around as a passenger on the Zamboni or be a flag boy anymore either, regardless of the fact that these things seem to be reserved for kids.  I always thought the kid thing was unfair and a slap in the face to old bastards like me.

Molson beer sucks, although it’s neither here nor there because I’ve given up drinking. But if I still drank, it wouldn’t be Molson. If I walked in to a bar and they only served Molson, I say gimme some prune juice, it’ll do the same job.

The Bell Centre sucks too, and I wouldn’t care if it sank into one of Montreal’s medium size sinkholes. There’s no memories there, maybe just the 2010 postseason, and it happened mainly because of a Slovak goaltender named Jaroslav Halak.

The Bell rocked that spring. But so would’ve the parking lot of Mundell’s Funeral Home in Orillia if the games were played there.

I’d like to say I wouldn’t care if it burned to the ground but concrete doesn’t burn well. And I’d hate to see Jean Beliveau’s old seat get torched.

And people say, oh, the wonderful Bell Centre, soaked in atmosphere! We’re looking at an ordinary rink like all the other ordinary rinks in the league, where fans for the most part sit on their hands, empty their wallets, and put up with music so loud that people in Europe shut their windows.

Have you been to the Bell Centre? If you have, you’ve probably noticed all the old photographs lining the walls in the corridors.

Guess what, kids. Those pictures are cheap photocopies. The originals, hung with pride at the mighty Forum, were auctioned off to collectors with deep pockets. There’s even some originals left if you’re interested. Big beauties sold by Classic Auctions, ready to be hung in man caves instead of the Bell Centre where they belong.

Ownership was too freaking cheap to use the originals from the Forum. Another kick in the groin to passionate fans.

Management of course sucks. Coach Michel Therrien needs to steal a propaganda poster from a North Korean hotel, and the only thing I can think of that Marc Bergevin has done well was buy out Scott Gomez.

I was proud of Bergevin that day. But you or I could’ve bought out Scott Gomez with Molson money too, so it’s not that big a deal I guess.

And I know I’ve shown the letter below a half dozen times or so, but it’s sort of related to the story and maybe some of you haven’t seen it. So I’m just going ahead and posting it because I don’t care.

And this was centre ice at the Forum, before the league mandated that all centre ice circles have the rink name wrapped around the circle to remind us where we are in case we forget.

Forum above

Below, a smaller Montreal sinkhole.

hi-Montreal-sinkhole-852

 

 

Quarry Night

The Habs allowed three shorthanded goals during their tiresome 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, and I don’t want to talk about it.

How about a historic acid party at a limestone quarry outside of Orillia in the late-1960s instead?

A party where we climbed the flat sides of the place in the dark with water and rocks 50 feet below, whoopin’ and hollerin’, with brains soaked with mind-bending chemicals, probably never considering even once that we could kill ourselves.

It was a grand party, just me and the rest of The Boys, doing what we did best. Partying. In fact, we were such good partiers that some teenagers in town weren’t crazy about us showing up at their doorsteps. Something about them trying to keep their parents’ house nice.

A few didn’t mind, I guess. At least I like to think so.

Yes, the quarry party was a beauty, taken to a new level when we saw the lights of cars coming in, cars filled with people a few years older than us, who had brought their own drugs and music, and we all bonded in a fuzzy sort of way.

I won’t go into too many details. There was that time when one of my friends saw a guy wander off, and when he came back, my buddy checked where he’d been and found a bag of pills that we all shared when the older bunch weren’t looking.

A couple of us sat in the back of an older guy’s convertible and listened to the first (and newly-released) Led Zeppelin album on his fancy 8-track car stereo, and after about the third listening, the guy yanked the tape out and we swore mightily.

We calmed down when he inserted Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, also a new release, and I fell in love with that album so much that when someone asked me if I wanted to go to town with them to get some MDA, I said no, Bob Dylan’s bringing me my MDA.

And just recently I found out from one of my buddies that a girl there that night with the older guys, the girl with the cowboy hat, was Cathy Evelyn Smith, who later on would serve time in California for injecting drugs into actor John Belushi, which killed him.

Me and the other Boys still talk about the quarry from time to time. And years after the fact, I entered a contest at CHEZ 106 in Ottawa, with a free CD of the choosing to those with good stories about the 1960s.

I told the quarry story, and they sent me Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.

One final note; that quarry was where the limestone came from to build the old Catholic church in Orillia. The church where I was an altar boy. And where, as an altar boy, I set myself on fire lighting candles.

And when I look closely at my picture below, I sure have a long finger.

altar boy

me (2)

 

 

Bob Hill’s Rocket Riot Tune

From 1955, Bob Hill and his Canadian Country Boys sing about the Rocket and the events leading up to and during the Richard Riot on March 17th of that year.

It’s called Saga of Rocket Richard, and his 78 rpm record sells for several hundred clams now if one could find it.

But if you click right here you can listen to it for free on the Museum of Canadian Music site. (Just scroll down below the info and you’ll see ‘tracks.’)

It’s a fine little ditty, and I hope it makes you smile.

Because I like it when you smile.

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Saga of Rocket Richard

In this great game of hockey,
To which we do play,
There are heroes near and afar.
But the mightiest name in our national game,
Is Maurice the Rocket Richard.

When we need a man,
To encourage the fans,
He’ll shatter all records and more.
In fact quite the cream,
Of the Montreal team,
Is Maurice the Rocket Richard.

One evening in Boston, they struck at his head,
And cut him right over the ear.
With his temper so red and the way that he bled,
His thinking could not have been clear.

In the confusion,
Before they subdued him,
He’d struck an official I fear.
In so doing you know,
He’d trod on the toes,
Of Campbell, the man with no fear.

Says Campbell – young man,
That stick in your hand,
Has put you in trouble, by gar.
Though you needed five stitches,
You’re too big for your britches,
Just who do you think that you are.

Now you’ve done this before,
And you’ve made me quite sore,
And although you are a great star.
You’re through for the year,
Do I make myself clear,
Mr. Maurice the Rocket Richard.

In a terrible plight,
Was our Forum that night,
A riot got into high gear,
And when Campbell appeared,
He was slammed and jeered,
And his danger it soon became clear.

A fan tried to drop him,
The cops couldn’t stop him,
And a bomb made ’em all shed a tear.
As the president fled,
They cried “off with his head,”
Of Campbell the man with no fear.

Now our town has lost face,
And our team has disgrace,
But those hot-headed actions can’t mar,
Or cast any shame,
On the heroic name,
Of Maurice the Rocket Richard.

For he will return,
And his legend will burn,
In the annals of sport near and far.
There was never a name,
Of such stature and fame,
As Maurice the Rocket Richard.

Soup Riot

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When Clarence Campbell suspended Maurice Richard for the remaining three games of the season and all of the playoffs in March of 1955, he was not a popular man.

And of course Clarence wasn’t popular. His suspension of the Rocket was incredibly harsh, although Maurice did whack Bruins d-man Hal Laycoe a bunch of times with his stick after Laycoe had high-sticked him (which called for five stitches), and there was that coldcocking of linesman Cliff Thompson with a punch or two. But I digress.

Richard fans took to the streets, and as we all know, trashed shops along several blocks of Rue Ste. Catherine, which forever after became known as the Richard Riot, or the St. Patrick’s Day Riot.

But there was more than just smashing and looting. Only ordinary greaseballs just smash and loot.

One disgruntled Habs fan came up with a much more creative protest – design, print and cover Campbell’s (no relation to Clarence) soup cans with Maurice Richard labels, and for a short time after the incident, various stores sold their tomato soup this way.

 

PK Carried Off

PK

The plan was to haul my ass to the computer and talk about the blistering hot Alex Galchenyuk, who tallied two more goals (for the third straight game) in the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the visiting Buffalo Sabres.

But Chucky’s two goals (11 in the last 8 games, 25 on the season) and the Habs’ win quickly took a back seat to seeing PK Subban wrapped up in a stretcher with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, after his head and Alexei Emelin’s legs collided.

Forget the slumps and injuries and not making the playoffs and late-season Galchenyuk heroics. We wait for good news about PK.

The Big House For Tony

In almost all ways, Tony Demers, who played for the Montreal Canadiens from 1937 to 1943, was just another in a long line of players who came and went and are mostly forgotten now because they were never a Richard or Beliveau or Lafleur.

But unlike others who at one point in the lives had that cup of coffee in the bigs, Demers’ story carried a slight twist, one that is rarely discussed, and it’s a story with details that remain sketchy even today.

The beginning is about hockey.

In my house, I have a really nice photo of Demers posing with the Rocket and Elmer Lach on a line, so they gave him a shot with the big boys, I suppose. He looked like a guy poised to replace Toe Blake at some point on the Punch Line.

But Demers played parts of just five seasons in Montreal as he bounced up and down from the minors. He scored only 20 goals in total and was no star, not by a long shot. His short career ended during the 1943-44 season when he played one game with the New York Rangers, and that was that.

Sort of.

In 1945, Demers was fined for an assault on a hotel keeper. Then, the next year while playing senior hockey in Sherbrooke, he became involved in a gambling situation and was given a ten-game suspension. Things were bad up to this point, but they were about to get worse.

In 1949, Demers was hauled in to the police station regarding the death of a woman who was later revealed to be Demers’ girlfriend. The story issued was that the two had been drinking heavily, they had gotten into an argument, and that he had hit her.

Hospital officials said it was more than a simple hit, it was a thorough beating. Demers claimed she had gotten all her bruises from jumping from his moving car. And he didn’t take the unconscious woman to the hospital until the following day which was far too late, and tragically, the lady passed away.

The court didn’t buy the ‘jumping from the car’ story and Tony Demers was found guilty of manslaughter, given 15 years in the maximum security St. Vincent de Paul penitentiary in Montreal, and he served eight years of the fifteen before being released.

In the late 1980s, while I was living in Ottawa, it was announced that this notorious St. Vincent de Paul was finally closing its doors after about 100 years, and the public was invited to tour the closed prison for a dollar. So I took my family to Montreal for the day to have a look.

The penitentiary was a horrendous place. They had left the cells the way they were, so clothes, writings, and graffiti on the walls were there as they had been. It was dirty and dark and my kids were nervous. I think it might have set them on the straight and narrow from that day on.

In Roger Caron’s book Go Boy, he described St. Vincent’s as the meanest and most dangerous prison in Canada, and he knew what he was writing about because he had served most of his adult life in different institutions across the country. It was a prison that served its purpose in the most brutal of fashion..

It sure didn’t seem a fitting place for a hockey hero. While the Rocket, Blake, and Lach thrilled the Forum faithful with big goals and Stanley Cups, an old teammate, one who had once shared the dressing room, train rides, restaurants, and hotels, sat in a dark cell inside Canada’s worst prison, maybe listening from time to time on the radio as his old friends carried on.

Demers went mostly into obscurity after his release eight years later, did some youth coaching from time to time, and eventually died in 1997. It has to be one of the sadder stories in the 100-plus years of the Montreal Canadiens.

Below, Demers, Lach, and Richard.