Category Archives: Sam Pollock

Marc Talks About Things

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin met with the press on Monday and didn’t say a lot  but mentioned the core players are maturing but the team in general isn’t mature yet like Chicago and Los Angeles are.

He said there will be more ups and downs, but the team is well on track.

Nice to hear. And we already knew all that. Ups and downs, on track, good core players.

He said Dale Weise was allowed to return and play after getting thumped by John Moore because all the tests looked to be normal, and it wasn’t until the next day that they realized he was concussed.

He looked pretty concussed to me on the TV screen. Wobbly and goofy, just like George Parros, Travis Moen, and Michael Bournival looked when they got clocked. PK had to give him a bear hug to hold him up.

If the test machines said he was fine, I’d be looking to buy new test machines. If the doctors and trainers said he was fine, I think Weise paid them off.

One of the guys Bergevin did single out as playing hard was Brian Gionta, which must be some sort of sneaky ploy. Make Gionta feel wanted and want to stay, and then cut the salary in half. Or something like that.

He played hard, he just didn’t make much of an impact. I’d rather have an impact guy. Put me in a uniform and I’d play hard too. Harder than anybody. I wouldn’t get anything done and I might fall down a lot, but I’d play hard.

For me though, it’s much different about Gionta. I think either Gionta should go, or if he stays it’s for a bargain rate and the captain’s ‘C’ comes off.

Why do I want the ‘C’ off? I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s a great captain. I don’t care about that. I don’t want a non-productive wee little guy leading my team.

If I’m going to have a small captain that I can be proud of, I want one like 5’7 Henri Richard or 5’7 Yvon Cournoyer. Guys who play with burning fire and also produce.

Otherwise, I want a bigger captain. Crazy eh?

Really though, at this stage of the game, I think the one big change I’d make sooner than later would be the announcing of the new assistant to the assistant to Head Equipment Manager Pierre Gervais.

Stick boy.

The Habs Let Orr Slip Away

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.

Bobby Orr

 

 

 

 

Briere A Hab

5’10″, 181 pound free agent Daniel Briere has signed a two-year deal with the Habs and I suppose it’s possible this could be fine as he’s been a bit of thorn in the Habs’ side over the years. Scored the odd big goal against my team. Made me curse at my T.V. screen several times.

Now he’s on our side. I hope I won’t be cursing him for completely different reasons.

He had a chance to become a Canadien a few years back but wasn’t interested, even though he’s a good Quebec boy. And since he was recently unemployed and hoping a team would have him, now he’s happy to be coming to Montreal. It kinds of burns my ass slightly.

Does he have much of a downside? Not really, other than he’s a shrimp and the team needs to get bigger, not smaller. And he’s almost 36 years old. And he’s not the player he once was.

But other than these few things, it’s all upside.

Prime Time Sports talk show host Bob McCown wrote in his book “100 Greatest Hockey Arguments” that hockey is probably the only sport where three fans can watch the same game at the same time and all three can disagree with what they saw. And the same holds true for speculation involving players coming to teams.

You can disagree with me completely on this, but I don’t like this signing. The same as I wasn’t crazy about the prospect of Vincent Lecavalier coming to Montreal. I don’t want guys on their way out, even if they did burn the Habs in a big way over the years. Because much of their former burning has been snuffed out with a wet blanket owned by Mother Nature’s old man, Father Time.

Of course I hope I’m wrong and you call me on it seven or eight months from now when Briere shows he’s the perfect fit and Marc Bergevin once again looks like Sam Pollock. But for now, I feel the Canadiens already have their quota of small forwards, and adding another, who happens to be almost 36 years old, isn’t going to make me run down the streets of St. Hubert whooping and hollering.

A Letter For Michel Lagace

002

Michel Lagace would report to the Quebec Aces training camp in 1962, as requested by Sam Pollock, and would suit up for five games, collecting one assist along the way.

Previously he had played seven playoff games for the Montreal Royals in ’59-’60 and managed 27 games with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, both of the Eastern Professional Hockey League (EPHL).

That would be it for his pro hockey career.

Making it to the American Hockey League has always required serious talent, and even though it was only for five games, I say congratulations to Mr. Lagace for getting a lot further in hockey than most of us.

I would have loved getting a letter like this. I’d show all my friends, report to camp, work harder than everybody else, and eventually get called up to the Habs in a year or two. Then I play right wing with Jean Beliveau at centre and John Ferguson at left wing. I’d be on the cover of Hockey Pictorial, make the all-star team, make more money than my dad, and eventually end up in the Hall of Fame.

But first I needed one of those letters. Like Michel Lagace got.

 

 

Scouring The Countryside

004

Joe Delguidice was a Montreal Canadiens scout in Northern Ontario from the early 1950s until the mid-sixties.

I wonder if he had anything to do with Kirkland Lake’s Ralph Backstrom joining the Canadiens organization.

$250 wasn’t much, but most of these guys had normal jobs and scoured the area only in the evenings or on weekends. Their honorariums would cover gas, coffee and hot dogs, and yes, they were expected to drive to see hotshots like Backstrom regardless of winter storms and such.

Of course the odd perk would come along, like a free team jacket, or tickets to the Forum, but all in all, I think it was done mostly out of love of hockey.

My friend Gary Lupul was a full-time scout for the Vancouver Canucks, up until his passing almost six years ago, and he would drive from town to town throughout much of Ontario, living on junk food and spending most of his days either on the road or in arenas. He loved it but it wasn’t something he wanted to do for a long time.

It’s not a glamorous job, but an important one. They’re the ones who keep the league stocked.

I can remember when I played bantam and midget hockey, and from time to time we’d hear rumours that scouts were in the stands. Of course this is when I’d play like a bum and could barely stand up.

Dryden Quirks

Dryden

Goalies apparently are a different breed. We’ve heard that forever. So why would Ken Dryden be any different?

In Gerry Patterson’s 1978 book “Behind The Superstars,” (which I talked about a few posts back – Anne and Gordie ), Patterson writes about Dryden’s legendary unwillingness to open his wallet. (And to sign autographs).

After five hours of new contract negotiations with Sam Pollock, Patterson finally got Dryden what he was asking for. Dryden then asked to speak to Patterson privately, saying he’d decided he wanted another $10,000.

After Patterson had managed to get him his raise, plus the extra $10,000, Dryden invited Patterson to lunch and bought him a cheeseburger and coke.

Whenever Dryden phoned Patterson, whether it was from Toronto, Los Angeles, or Vienna, he always phoned collect.

One year it was decided that Dryden needed a new winter coat, so he searched second-hand stores in Montreal for a good deal.

Every time Dryden visited Patterson at his office in downtown Montreal, he always seemed anxious to leave. Patterson later learned that the goalie would always park in a no parking area to save paying for parking, and he was worried he’d get a ticket.

Dryden and his wife lived in a nice high-rise, but the apartment was furnished with card tables and folding chairs, “in case I’m traded or we have to move for some reason. It’s really very practical.”

Dryden has always hated signing autographs. “People believe that an athlete should be compelled to sign autographs. Well, I am not compelled to sign. Autographs are a complete waste of time for both parties.”

 

 

 

Gun Shy About Size

Take your mind back, back to the summer of 2009, when Bob Gainey ruined our team?

June and July of that year were when Montreal traded for Scott Gomez and brought in UFA’s Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. I was excited at the time, mainly because the Canadiens needed fresh blood, and I’ve been an optimistic bugger for pretty well every move the Habs have ever made, beginning when I was a kid. I’m always so hopeful, and maybe because I’m a Libra, I come up with all kinds of positives.

I thought fire-wagon hockey was back. I figured it would be a lightning-fast team of new Henri Richards and Ralph Backstroms, swirling around the ice and causing many a headache for lumbering forwards and defencemen of other teams. I was so hopeful

Did these three, who were immediately coined “The Smurfs,” improve the team a great deal? Hah! Montreal, in the blink of an eye, got smaller, became the laughing stock of the league, were mentioned everywhere by everyone as too small (I got so sick of that), and got pushed around in the playoffs like a grade one kid playing with grade fivers. We can only thank Jaroslav Halak for that beautiful run in the 2010 post-season against Washington and Pittsburgh.

We know how Gomez has turned out and I don’t want to get into it now. I’ve just eaten. Gionta and Cammalleri had their moments, Cammalleri shone at times, especially in those Caps and Pens games when he was a gunner-extraordinaire, and Gionta, although talented, is way too small at 5’7′ and his best days are behind him. Even more unfortunately, his best days were with New Jersey, not Montreal.

I hated that Montreal had gotten so small almost overnight. I cringed when I saw teams like Boston manhandle them. I knew that to win a Stanley Cup, it helps to be big and strong.

I say all this because I’m feeling bad. In the 1970s and 80s, I was one of Bob Gainey’s biggest fans. I loved his work ethic, his strong skating, his quiet and intelligent demeanor, his leadership, his penalty killing, his goals, his huge role in all those Montreal Stanley Cups. Never in a million years would I think I’d be joking about him, calling him down, and almost ridiculing him for what I think was basically destroying the team instead of improving it.

But I find myself doing these very things now. What was he thinking? Not just taking on the sinful Gomez contract, but making the team so small in almost one fell swoop. He played against tough Bruins squads, and the Broad St. Bullies. He knew muscle is usually needed to succeed. He learned under people like Scotty Bowman and Sam Pollock, who envisioned the proper mix of muscle and skill. But he turned the club into a laughing stock, Pierre Gauthier coming in turned the county fair into a circus, and Montreal every year remains the favourite team for predictors, along with the Leafs, to not make the playoffs.

Hopefully the black cloud is beginning to move away, everyone has woken up, and the team is now being gradually corrected under Marc Bergevin and the other new leadership boys. I know that whenever I hear that someone small, like Brendan Gallagher, is on the cusp of making the team, my heart sinks a little. Gainey has made me gun shy for the little guys, and I know I’m not right.

I admired Gainey so much as a player, and when he became management, I remember, when others were beginning to question him, my stock answer would be, “In Bob we trust.” And I did trust him. I trusted him as a player and from what I heard from him in interviews, and I saw no other reason not to when he took the reins. So I guess it comes down to two questions. What was he thinking? And what was I thinking?

Galchenyuk And Co. Blast Germans

It’s been two games for Germany in this year’s World Championships, and the hardest working guy so far has been the goal judge behind the German net.

First, 9-3 Canada, and today, the Americans handed the beleaguered bunch an 8-0 spanking, with Montreal’s future star Alex Galchenyuk scoring a goal and adding two assists. Galchenyuk was told a couple of months ago by Montreal brass to shoot more, it’s been working like a charm with the Sarnia Sting of the O.H.L., and it was his quick wrist shot today that bulged the twine.

By the end of the tournament, look for Galchenyuk to be at, or as close as can be, the top of the list of leading point-getters.

I can’t say anything bad about Germany. All German fans have to do is remind us of how lousy Canada’s men’s national soccer team is, while their boys are world-class. So I’d better keep my mouth shut.

Once again, you could land a helicopter in the empty seats at the Ufa arena. (If there was no roof on it, of course). Attendance for the U.S.- Germany game was 1378 in the 8250 seat joint.

The Americans have a nice young defenceman in 6’4″ Seth Jones, son of former NBA player Popeye Jones. Seth goes in the the 2013 draft, and it’s too bad Sam Pollock wasn’t around to wrangle this fellow into a Habs jersey. Maybe it’ll happen anyway! One thing’s for sure – this guy’s going to be up or around the first pick overall.

Team Canada meets Slovakia early tomorrow morning, and several hours later, Galchenyuk and the US squad take on the Russians.

Q&A With Robert L.

I recently mentioned that Robert Lefebvre has a new book out, his first, called Tales From the Montreal Canadiens Locker Room, and below is a recent chat I had with Robert regarding his thoughts behind the process. And if anyone has their own questions for Robert, feel free, as he’s agreed to answer them in the comments section.

Robert, first let me congratulate you on your new book. It’s most definitely a fine addition to anyone’s hockey library. I know you were up against a deadline, so was it an enjoyable experience, or extremely stressful?

Thanks, Dennis. Writing a book, as I’ve learned, can only be both. It’s an intrinsic thing. The conceptual writing portion is extremely enjoyable and forming that work to meet someone’s expectations then borders on the stressful. But perhaps that is as it should be. As the writer, my wish is for the book to reach as many people, as many fans, as possible. The publishing company’s goal is to have a product that will sell. I met my deadline, went over by some 20,000 words, and then came the stressful task of fitting the book to their scheme. I didn’t enjoy the editing process, quite honestly, but passing through it I recognize how it made me a better writer.

You knew there is already reams of material already written by others over the years. How did you decide on the path your book should take? How did you feel you could make it different from others?

Initially, I was solicited to fulfill the requirement for a scheduled book, that had been dropped by a previously contracted author. However, that did not play in, whatsoever, to what I felt I could bring, or wanted to write of regarding the Canadiens.

Two things crossed my mind as I considered my publisher’s offer. First and foremost, was that my mindset was already deeply imbedded into another book that I’d been researching for three years. I knew, wholeheartedly, that I would not be able to separate myself from what I’d learned. It had a lot to do, or maybe everything to do, with the Canadiens true origins as a francophone, or French-Canadian hockey club. The other was that “Tales from the Canadiens” types of books, had really been done to death.

There’s the Dick Irvin books, a few Brian McFarlane’s Habs tales things, and countless others – I grasped real quickly that you, as a fan, might not want to read such a thing again, anymore than I wanted to have to rewrite it. I am sure that you can, and perhaps any Canadiens fan whose read these books, can place themselves in my shoes. I had to write according to a predisposed book title and subtitle: “Tales From The Montreal Canadiens Locker Room – A Collections Of The Greatest Canadiens Stories Even Told.”

Now how daunting is that, to live up to?

I proposed, to my publishers, a completely different track, and to their credit, they accepted my vision. Because the title is part of their branding, they would not alter it, but to great extents, they allowed me to write the story I wished to pursue.

I was quite surprised they accepted, because truthfully, in my esteem, a first time author is a nobody until that book hits the shelves. Furthermore, for me, that “nobody,” to write a book to suit that description, seemed a loaded and disingenuous premise, given that I had never been inside the Canadiens locker room.

And to that end, the very first thing I asked of my publishers, and was granted, was that I could write in the prologue, a little disclaimer of sorts, that addressed all the above issues.

Once they said “Yes” I was more than prepared, hell bent, and caution to the wind, to deliver a different kind of historical Montreal Canadiens retrospective.

As you weave your way from the beginning of the Canadiens’ existence to the present day situation, you explore the various myths that have cropped up over the years including the territorial rights in Quebec that many fans of other teams have always claimed was unfair, and how Sam Pollock managed to secure Guy Lafleur, using the talents of Ralph Backstrom, which strays slightly from the story most of us have heard over the years. I found this all very interesting, and the territorial rights explanation can be used by Habs fans from here on in. Did you have in mind the setting of records straight before you wrote your first word?

To address the last question first, that exact thing became my mandate from day one. Mandate is probably too strong a word. What I wanted to achieve, was a book that considered Canadiens history differently, than all the usual tributes to their legend and tradition, that are misleading in my eye.

Think about this: In over a hundred seasons, there were 24 Cups won. That means that for more than 75 seasons, they didn’t win. The Canadiens haven’t always been great – that’s not a news flash! So what popped up, was how does all that losing fit into all that winning. There was a story there.

Dennis, I don’t know about you, but from my seat, going on twenty years from the last Stanley Cup win – having Habs tradition, glory, legend and myth shoved down my throat, doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. I wrote about it for so long at Eyes On The Prize, that what finally became most interesting to me was the cracks in the stories. There were just too many things, that to my eye, no longer added up. All those things – the tradition, the glory, the legend, the myth – they truly cannot help the Canadiens win again. If one adds in all the francophone controversy stuff, it in

From my perspective, this book has three very distinct phases or contexts. The first begins with the very first game played by a French-Canadian side of seven players in 1909, that caused the Canadiens creation. It arose from a mindset that French players born in Quebec were inferior to their English counterparts – which was very true. Their challenge was to become their English rival’s equals, which did not happen for thirty years, until the Rocket came along.

The second phase is the Original Six years, wherein the Canadiens became hockey’s greatest team. The context then takes on the outsider’s perception, that the club were unfairly advantaged by specific “French” player rules that never truly existed as they were reported. It is here that much of the Canadiens legend is formed, mostly inaccurately. It was at that moment, that words such as tradition entered into equation, but as you have read and noticed, that also has been greatly misrepresented. Reports always had, and do until this day, qualify the Canadiens’ greatest wins as having come from the benefits of the misappropriated “French Rule,” while the truest reason they won so steadily remains that they were able to harvest a winning mentality in which both the French and English shared in equally. That is the true lost story of Canadiens glory.

The third phase, and the final context under which the book moves forward, has all to do one particular quote made by Sam Pollock regarding winning tradition. No one who has followed in Pollock’s wake has gotten it. Not to give those chapters away, I’ll suffice to say that those who’ve manned the Canadiens since he’s left, see but the recipe to spite the ingredients.

To go back to your original question, yes indeed, and absolutely, I tried my hardest to bring in factual details that would lead to setting the record straight. I had more, but I did not have the space. You say that the details of the Lafleur acquisition shed new light. These details aren’t new – they are ancient, but the story that gained legendary status followed the “Trader Sam” myth, as opposed to what really happened, which was far less “sexy” to headline hunters of the day.

Same for the French territorial rights thing. Let it all anger others – it sells tickets and creates rivalries. Explain it outright, and with precision, and it’s not so defining. Or maybe now, after all these years, another analysis is more intriguing.

That’s a common thread of my book – bringing new arguments to the plate, based on more complete research and a less mythologized angle.

Other sections of your book deal with wonderful lighthearted moments, like the antics of Jean Pusie and the Jacques Demers casket story to name two. You created a fine balance between telling the story of the team along with inside tales, all within 200 pages. Was this enough space, or would you have preferred to write twice as much?

Limited space and time was this book’s enemy. But those are the givens, right? The legend of Jean Beliveau – I had two very amazing stories – could not be fit in. It’s very unfortunate, because I really hoped to include them.

Throughout the book, especially in the later years, you explore the mistakes that have led to the misery the team has experienced in recent years – the poor trades, the hiring of the wrong upper-management personnel, and of course the Patrick Roy-Mario Tremblay fiasco. But you never created an overall picture of doom and gloom. You pointed out the problems and show optimism for the future. Are we on the right track with Marc Bergevin and his team now, or do you think we probably have to endure many more years of futility?

Well doom and gloom is, in my opinion, as much about a reader as it is about fact. In a historical perspective, how often have fans felt the team was on track, only to learn otherwise. A personal admittance of mine from back in the day – I was all for the Habs getting rid of Roy under the circumstances, but darnit, get something akin to a cornerstone in return.

I couldn’t end the book on a downer note, because I absolutely fail to see things in that light, personally. The Canadiens are nowhere near as brutal as their record of last season shows. It was just one of those years in which everything goes inexplicably off the rails. The talent is there, obviously. The glue and grit weren’t. But honestly, I see nothing but sure values in certain current players and a pool of delicious prospects coming up the pipe. I allowed myself to penetrate the final pages, otherwise I’d have been dishonest.

That and Marc Bergevin reminds me nothing of the Pierre Gauthier of last season!

Your book is on the shelves now, signed, sealed and delivered, and it’s a job well done. Can we expect another in the near future?

By my definition of near, no! Sorry! I wish, though. I would love nothing more than to give you a timetable, trust me on that! The first book I was working on is still being worked on, slowed in the last year to my regret. I would love to be able to pump it out, but it’s one that is really close to my heart, and one that is as important to get right as much as it is for me to get it into your hands. I’ve learned lots writing the “Tales” book, and the next one will reflect that.