Category Archives: Toe Blake

In a Good Old Newspaper

The things you find in a January 6, 1940 Toronto Daily Star.

There’s an ad for a game at 8.30 between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens, with good tickets available at 75 cents, $1.50, $2.00, and $2.50.

There’s a nice photo of star left winger for the Canadiens, Toe Blake, and in the accompanying article, it says, “Last time Canadiens and Leafs met in Montreal it was a delirious donnybrook. If the boys resume where they left off it will be a show no fight fan can afford to miss.”

And last but not least – ‘The Letter Box’, which features some interesting letters, including this from Harry Donnelly in Toronto.

“If you would make a survey of hockey fans here in Toronto or anywhere else in the NHL you will find it 12 to one in favour of a more open game, meaning bigger score and less whistle blowing. After all, it’s the fans who keep the NHL in existence and it seems it is high time they were taken into consideration. Even if it is only to the extent of finding out if they want less whistle blowing and a more open game with more scoring. After all you must remember the sports writer’s opinions and the fan who pays are often of opposite views.
“I don’t say go back to the old seven man hockey but before the blue line was brought into effect there was some wonderful hockey played. Not all whistle blowing. Did you ever hear of a fan leaving a game that finished in a scoreless tie that felt he got his money’s worth?
Yours for whatever it’s worth.
Harry Donnelly

And then there’s this, from R.O.L.

“Well, here we are at the end of another sports year. Living as I do in “Hogtown” I glance back through the months to count the renowned trophies that are now being displayed in Hogtown. But I seem to have lost track of some of them, “or sumpin”!
“Can you help me out? Where is the Mann Cup, the Minto Cup, the Grey Cup, the Stanley Cup, the Allan Cup, the Memorial Cup, the Connaught cup, the Little League World Series trophy.
“Where, oh, where can they be?”

Well R.O.L., they just won the Grey Cup, that should be enough!

Ed Meets James Brown at the Shrine

I consider Ed Wolk a good friend of mine for sure. A great guy Ed is, we’re about the same age, and we have similar interests, including the Habs (Ed grew up a Habs fan in Montreal), he’s a long time  Beatles fan like me, and he knew John and Yoko, which I’ll talk about at a later time.

Ed has sent me a great letter from the time the great James Brown came to the Montreal Forum, and he’s also included some cool photos from the Bell Centre,

Here’s Ed’s letter from that time at the Forum in 1971 when he covered the James Brown concert.

Take it away, Ed…

“In the off season the Montreal Forum was the venue for many rock concerts and other events.

Even the Montreal Symphony had a series called “Dollar Concerts”…yes the price of admission was one dollar!…unfortunately the acoustics sucked….sorry, I digress.

Back in 1971 the Forum hosted the ‘Godfather of Soul’…James Brown!

At that time I was working at a radio station and was invited to a pre-concert press conference at the Forum…which was held at, of all places, the Montreal Canadiens dressing room.

How many times at a Habs game had I looked at the CH logo on the door of the dressing room…and there was no way that I would gain access within, until that day in ‘71.

There was probably a dozen or so media people in the room, we sat on the players benches and James Brown sat on a chair, and I  couldn’t believe it. Here I was, sitting in the inner sanctum of my favourite hockey team. My eyes did a tour of the room…the photos of Morenz, the Rocket, Toe Blake etc….

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be sitting in the ultimate Canadiens hockey shrine reading that famous quote of John McCrae..”To you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high”…I got goosebumps!

I somehow managed to return to reality and the charismatic presence of Jame Brown “in the house”.
Near the end of the press conference..Brown, who was sitting about eight feet away from me..looked me straight in the eyes and said..”Anything you want to ask me, brother?”

Stunned..my reply was very simple…”No, Mr Brown…I’m just happy to be here!”
Imagine…I’m in the Canadiens dressing room with James Brown…doesn’t get any better!”

Oh, and the concert?

“The concert was great…It was a James Brown Review ..his backup band”The Flames” opened the show with an instrumental…James would come out sing a couple of songs..then he would showcase a singer…let her  do a solo…he’d be back to do a duet with the singer…another couple of tunes….showcase another singer…Flames would be featured in another instrumental…and so on…a great show!
Saw him again a few years later at Place des Arts…a great showman!…always willing to share the spotlight on stage with others.”

Cheers
Ed

And Ed’s photos are in the inner sanctum of the Bell Centre, including the one above of him in the dressing room.

“Michael Whalen invited me to tag along while he covered the Habs practice in Brossard (for TSN),” says Ed. “It was the first time I got to see Carey Price.”

“After the practice the players were bused back to the Bell Centre to shower etc…then there was the media scrum. I asked Michael to take my photo in the dressing room, and you’ll notice it predates the ‘No Excuses’ sign!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Phoning Terry Harper

Unlike the time Bert Olmstead hung up on me, Terry Harper, the lanky, stay-at-home defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens from 1963 to 1971, was more than happy to chat, which happened almost a decade ago.

He’s was a nice, friendly fellow (I’m sure he still is) who at the time of the call was living in northern California with his wife Gladys (the two have been together since high school in Regina). We talked about days gone by and even hockey today, and he even showed interest in my life, asking about places I’ve lived and live now. And he felt bad for me when I told him Sam Pollock turned me down when I asked to be stickboy way back then. “I understand Sam’s reasoning,” he laughed. “Imagine how something like that could get out of control?”

“You caught me at a good time,” he said. And he added, “If someone is still interested in what I have to say after 40 years, then I’m completely fine with it.”

Gordie Howe was the best he’s ever seen, he says. “Howe just dominated the game in every aspect, and he did so for so long. He did everything right.” But what about Bobby Orr? I asked. “Orr was fantastic but he didn’t play long enough,” he explained. “He played a transition game with his skating, which was fantastic, but for me he wasn’t even the best defenceman. Doug Harvey is the best ever. For pure defence, it’s Harvey. No one’s been better.”

Jean Beliveau? “He’s a good friend, a super person. He’s one of those who stayed with the team even today, and is a wonderful man and great for hockey.”

Toe Blake? “I really liked and admired Toe. A really thoughtful man, a deep-thinker. And I think the best coach ever.”

Sam Pollock? “Sam liked me. I was his captain for the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens and we got along well. He was a great hockey mind.”

And the game today compared to then? “Players are certainly bigger now. When I played, Jacques Laperriere, Ted Harris and myself were considered huge because players back then weren’t overly big like most are now. Even my first defence partner, Jean-Guy Talbot wasn’t big. We were a new breed.”

“Guys now don’t have harder shots than many back then. A puck can only go so fast. Bobby Hull could get up to about 105 mph, and I don’t think there’s too many who can shoot harder than that. I also don’t think players are faster now either. It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone quicker than Ralph Backstrom or Dave Keon, for example. And don’t forget, equipment now must be 15 pounds lighter at least. Same with the goalies. More pads and lighter overall.”

“Because it was only a six-team league, everyone knew everyone completely. There were no surprises. It was so tight-checking, teams weren’t allowed to make a mistake or a goal would be scored. It was more like a chess match back then. And I think players now probably have the wrong attitude. It’s mostly just about money but where would they be without the fans? It’s the fans who make them. Like you. There’s seems to be no interaction anymore between fans and players.”

Do you still have any of your old Habs sweaters, Terry? “We weren’t allowed to keep those,” he said. “The trainers were strict about that. We always had to hand them in.” (He was surprised when I told him his old number 19 would fetch several thousand at auction now.)

And one last thing. Does he follow the Habs at all now. “I don’t know the team, but I look at the standings in the paper. We don’t get a lot of hockey news here, especially about the Canadiens. We go down to San Jose from time to time to see the Sharks, and we used to make a point of going when Montreal was in town, but the way it is now, there’s years when they don’t even come. So we just go, usually around February when it’s getting important, and it could be any team visiting.”

After Harper’s days in Montreal came to an end, he joined the LA Kings and also did stints in Detroit, St. Louis, and the Colorado Rockies before calling it quits in 1981. He played a total of 19 seasons in the NHL, which is a big-time career, and at the time of this phone call, was a 69-year old, stay-at-home defenceman in his local beer league.

Terry is 77 now.

Terry, winning another of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal
Terry, winning another of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal
Harper and Jacques Laperriere take to the ice for a scrimmage at the Forum.
Harper and Jacques Laperriere take to the ice for a scrimmage at the Forum.

To The Forum, Bus Driver

Twice I saw games at the old Forum when a buddy and I took a bus charter from Orillia. This was the Forum before the renovations in 1968, when there were pillars throughout that caused obstructed views, and I remember thinking that I was glad I wasn’t sitting behind one.

The first time I went I was 13 when the Habs hosted Chicago (Feb. 22, 1964) but I remember almost nothing about this trip, including who I went with. I only know the date and my age because of my ticket stub I show here.

But the second time, with the game on February 26, 1966 against the Rangers as you can see in the other ticket stub and on the Forum marquee, was when I was 15 and I went with my friend Bernie Rivard.

I took all these pictures that also include Toe Blake’s Tavern on Ste. Catherine, which is now long gone (the tavern, not the street), McNeice’s Sporting Goods, which was located on Atwater St, at the Forum, and my two ticket stubs from both trips which are pasted in my scrapbook.

On the bus ride back to Orillia, older guys were passing booze around and when my dad picked me up at the bus station in the middle of the night, I was completely drunk. But he didn’t say one word about it.

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.

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.

The Dismal Beat Goes On

Late-’80s Claude Julien.

The wild and crazy Montreal Canadiens were rusty and sloppy in Claude Julien’s 2017 coaching debut, and their 3-1 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets ruined what could have been a fun breakout party for the new Blind River bench boss.

Probably rusty because they had five days off. And sloppy, regardless of who’s behind the bench. Nothing new about their sloppiness. They’d probably be a mess if Toe Blake was behind them.

Was any part of this loss Julien’s fault?

If he was Kreskin, he might have plunked Nathan Beaulieu into the press box pre-game, before this mediocre defenceman could think he was Bobby Orr during a second period power play, and which quickly showed he’s no Bobby Orr.

Or Gaston Gingras for that matter.

Beaulieu decided to do some fancy stickhanding and was promptly stripped of the puck by Joel Armia, who walked in and tied it.

And because Julien didn’t have his skates on, he couldn’t be on the ice at 1:16 of the third when Emelin, Weber, Plekanec, Danault and Max decided to show their soft and tender side as Big Buff muscled his way in from the right side and found Mathieu Perreault, who notched the winner easy as pie.

Winnipeg’s third goal was an empty-netter, so I guess Julien can’t be blamed for that one either.

Wasn’t Carey Price’s fault either, as the big fellow snagged shots left and right, including lightning-quick glove hand robbery on rookie star Patrick Laine’s laser in the first period and then again in the third, plus coming up big a plethora of other times throughout.

Price was his old self, which is a good thing. So were his teammates, which is a bad thing.

Gump Worsley, manning the pipes for the New York Rangers in the late-’50s, was asked what team gave him the most trouble. Gump answered, “the Rangers”.

Price can say exactly the same thing about his teammates. Coverage means more than just car and house insurance, boys.

Random Notes:

Jets outshot the Habs 33-20.

Either the Sens or Leafs will win tonight, considering they play each other. Which means if the Sens win they’ll be within two points of Montreal, and if the Leafs pull it out, they’ll be just five back. Both teams also have games in hand on the Canadiens.

 

Sabres Stab Habs

It’s three losses in the Canadiens’ last four games after falling 3-2 in overtime to the visiting Buffalo Sabres.  Or four losses in six if you’re interested.

Yep, the boys are far from smokin’.

They held on to a thin 2-1 lead going into the third period, they were playing well and were on their way to two big points, but they couldn’t nail down the all-important insurance marker.

They couldn’t muster any killer instinct, Buffalo would tie it at 8:07 of the third, and then the Canadiens simply decided to give about 50% instead of the required 110%. It makes my blood boil, considering I always gave at least 160% wherever I worked.

Sometimes 170%. But I digress.

Well, I’m kinda mad. But not at Carey Price, who was terrific throughout and came up with two astonishing saves in the last 20 seconds of the third period to get the boys into overtime and of course that important single point.

Price got them the point, not the guys in front of him. The Sabres were allowed to fire clear shots and move in close far too many times. It’s soft hockey. Doug Harvey would be rolling in his grave. And if Larry Robinson was dead, he would be too.

Sprague Cleghorn would’ve punched Lehner, a ref, Brian Gionta, and most of his own teammates for losing a game they should’ve won, against a much-inferior squad. Toe Blake would’ve torn a strip off them and taken away the beer on the next train trip. John Ferguson would’ve punched a hole in a cement block. But that was a different time of course.

Today’s players check their investments, go to dinner with friends from the other teams, and say “obviously” a lot when interviewed.

Full marks to Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who absolutely robbed Alex Galchenyuk in overtime with a glove save on a hard shot while being screened. It’s marked for the highlight reels. His save, and Price’s glove on Rasmus Ristalainen, are two for the ages.

But alas, after Lehner’s big stop, Zach Bogosian would light the lamp and win the game and not that I’m the pessimistic type, but I’d say the Canadiens are in a bit of a mid-winter funk right now.

I’ll also say it again, it’s the wives fault and they should be rounded up and sent to Powell River until the season and playoffs come to a close. I’ll find something for them to do.

Random Notes:

Artturi Lehkonen and Philip Danault scored for Montreal, with both goals coming the middle frame.

Next up – Tuesday, when the Calgary Flames come a callin’.

 

 

Vintage Me, Non-Vintage Lyla

Along with the usual health reasons for wanting to lose weight (17 pounds so far) was the fact that I wanted to fit into my jacket again.

This old Habs team jacket from the 1950s was owned by a Northern Ontario scout named Joe Delguidice, and now belongs to me. Team photos from back then show the trainers wearing them, Toe Blake would have his on during practices, and players like the Rocket and Beliveau would sometimes be photographed wearing theirs.

I had one of my kid sweaters from the late-’50s-early’60s for Lyla to wear, but it was too itchy for her. (I remember the feeling). So she’s wearing a non-itchy number from a few decades later.

Below, Toe and the trainers wearing the same type of jacket.

 

 

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.