Category Archives: Sam Pollock

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.

Michel Therrien Takes The Reins

Hey Michel Therrien, I just want you to know. We love, honour and respect you. Till death do us part.

Or until the first slump.

But we’re just getting to know you (it’s been ten or eleven years), and relationships take work. You don’t like the way our socks don’t match, we aren’t crazy about your line juggling and choices in the shootout. But we stick it out because that’s what people do in a commitment.

But about that second slump. Make your own dinner.

We start to win again, climb up the standings, and the players seem happy and contented. And if the kids are happy, we’re happy.

Until the third slump.

We freefall to 8th place, you seem to have lost control, your in-laws stop coming, the colour in your face is fading, and we’re not having fun like we once had. This relationship isn’t what we thought.

The kids bow out quickly in the first round. We want a divorce. It’s not you, it’s us. No, maybe it’s you.

Michel Therrien coached the Habs from 2000 to 2003, missing the playoffs in his first year, losing in the 2nd round in his second season, and was fired in his third. During his four years in Pittsburgh, he missed the playoffs, lost in the 1st round, lost in the Final, and was fired early on in his fourth campaign.

I’ve been reading some of the criticism from Habs fans regarding this hiring, and I just have to say that it’s probably a bit early to find fault. It’s only June. Give him until November at least. Marc Bergevin and Rick Dudley feel he’s a fine coach, and that’s good enough for me. I love that he has a big-time bad temper and he can be animated during games, and if you don’t like that, maybe you want Jacques Martin back.

Maybe he’ll be excellent. For those who say this is a terrible hiring, we’re going backwards, and the team is screwed, you don’t really know, do you. You’re just guessing. Up until now you thought Marc Bergevin was the second-coming of Sam Pollock. Now he’s not? Don’t forget, negativity breeds high blood pressure.

Michel Therrien is the new coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and I say welcome aboard and bon chance. We just want this relationship to work. No one likes a messy divorce.

 

 

 

From My Pile Of Old Programs

Don Cherry belonged to the Montreal Canadiens for a short time in the early 1960’s, until Sam Pollock took him aside one day and asked him to lay off the beer. Cherry said he wouldn’t and was promptly shipped to the Spokane Comets of the Western Hockey League where he played one season (68 games, 9 goals, 13 assists), before moving on to the Rochester Americans of the AHL.

This is Cherry, number 6, with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens of the EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League) in an exhibition game against the Boston Bruins before the start of the 1962-63 season. Hull-Ottawa, a farm team of the Habs, supplied many, many players to the big club in those days. Don just wasn’t one of them.

Sure, I’ll Just Ask Jean Beliveau!

Okay, I’m a bit embarrassed by this. I mean, who asks Jean Beliveau for tickets?

I guess I did, although until I found this letter the other day, I had no idea I’d even done this. In fact, I still don’t remember, and when I looked at it, all I could do was scratch my head.

As mentioned the other day, I came across some letters I’d thought were long gone, and this Beliveau one is the third I’ve posted in the past week or so. It joins Red Fisher and Gerard Pelletier from the recently-found batch, along with  Asking Sam Pollock to be stick boy and  Frank Selke Jr. that I’d posted several years ago and which sit quietly in my scrapbook.

I’ll be showing more letters in the near future if you need your attention diverted, if just for a few minutes, from this pathetic season.

Fergy Left His Steak And Walked Out

To help take your mind off the wacky world of this year’s Habs, at least for a few minutes, I thought I’d mention a couple of tidbits about good old number 22, John Ferguson, that I found while re-reading my book Breakaway by Charles Wilkins.

First, an autograph I got from him in the mid-60’s.

Fergy was sitting in a restaurant with teammate Dick Duff, ready to tackle a steak, when Eddie Shack of the Leafs walked in. Duff, who had played with Shack in Toronto, struck up a conversation with his old friend. Fergy was so disgusted that a teammate would socialize with the enemy that he got up and walked out, leaving his uneaten steak.

Henri Richard was given the captaincy after Jean Beliveau retired, but Pocket Rocket wasn’t the Habs’ first choice to wear the C. It was Fergy. Fergy had decided to retire in 1971 and GM Sam Pollock offered him the honour of being captain if he would stay longer. But Sam was turned down.

John ended up resenting the Canadiens organization. He was in the hospital having surgery on a bone below his eye, a very serious operation, and he said that not once did a member of the team’s ownership, management, or coaching staff come to visit him. And only one them phoned – Toe Blake – but just once.

The Hall of Fame committee had Fergy’s name on the ballot and it went through, but for reasons unknown, they changed their minds and he was never inducted.

Ferguson was asked by Harry Sinden to play for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series but declined. His reasoning was that there was so much talk about Bobby Hull not being able to play because the Golden Jet had bolted to the new WHA, he felt it would be too much of a distraction to accept the offer, considering he’d been retired for a year. He became assistant coach instead.

Ferguson laid a beating on Chicago’s Eric Nesterenko during the 1965 Stanley Cup finals that changed the momentum of the series, and caused Nesterenko to live with the memory of it for years to come. Nesterenko even became the subject of a novel “The Drubbing of Nesterenko” by Hanford Woods, and although the fight was an absolute disaster for the Black Hawk, it only added to the legend of Fergy.

Here’s the fight: