Category Archives: Toe Blake

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.

Ralph Backstrom Was The Guy

He was all the things I knew were good in life – he skated like the wind, had a great brush cut and a pretty wife, and he wore the sweater of the Montreal Canadiens.

What’s better than that?

This was Ralph Backstrom, and I wanted to be just like him. I knew I wasn’t going to be another Rocket or Beliveau or Geoffrion, but I thought maybe I could be like Backstrom. And I wasn’t even on drugs when I thought this.

It meant getting a brush cut and trying to look like him when I watched him on TV taking faceoffs and darting up the ice with the puck. I could do that and I did. I got the brush cut.

Ralph came out of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, a little town in northern Ontario that churned out NHL players in abnormal fashion, having produced him and Ted Lindsay, Mike Walton, Dick Duff, Mickey and Dick Redmond, Wayne and Larry Hillman, the Plagers, and many others.

About 30 in all. That’s a lot of players.

Ralph was a phenom in Kirkland Lake minor hockey, and became captain and the best of the powerhouse Hull-Ottawa Canadiens juniors before he joined the big club. He had it all, I thought. I gotta practice more, I thought.

I admired the way Ralph Backstrom played, the way he skated and was so solid both as a playmaker and a checker. And I loved the way he and rival Dave Keon of the enemy Leafs went head to head on glorious nights when the Habs and Leafs were what life was all about for Canadian kids from coast to coast.

This guy isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and when he played he sometimes got into coach Toe Blake’s bad books. But he was a great hockey player. Underrated maybe, but absolutely great.

And I wanted to be just like him and I was. I had the brush cut.

DK

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Those Were The Days

What, you say I never played for the Habs?

Then who’s that in the middle of the back row?

59-60 Habs

Yes, I remember it well. Me and Rocket and Doug sticking lit firecrackers in Boom Boom’s pajamas as he slept. Stealing Toe’s fedora and blaming it on Hicke. Putting Ex-Lax in Plante’s hot chocolate. Finding Backstrom’s paycheque and giving it to the Conservative Party.

But for all the hilarious hi-jinks, we still won plenty of games and were on top of the world. And I like to think that as a smallish-yet-shifty right winger, I did my part.

Those were the days, my friends.

Thanks to a great guy, Ed Wolk in Ottawa, for sending me this big surprise – the only known photo of me with the Habs. (I tried to stay out of the limelight).

 

Hey Ghosts, Break’s Over

Sent over by Mike McKim, this article in Grantland.com – Battling the Ghosts by Sean McIndoe, talks about the Habs/ Lightning series, the old Forum and it’s replacement the Bell Centre, along with the distance between the two barns in different ways.

McIndoe also notes the apparent absence of Forum ghosts who were suppose to pack up and move over when the old cathedral closed its doors, but seem to be taking their time. If they came at all.

Contrary to what many think, I believe the Forum ghosts did make their way over to the Bell Centre in 1996, but they’ve had so much fun reminiscing, with the hangovers never ending and good times just rolling along, and they simply haven’t gotten around to modern day Habs teams yet, except for some fine times against Boston.

And they were on the job in the 2010 playoffs, at least for a few magical rounds. But all in all, they’ve really slacked off.

I can’t blame the ghosts. They welcome old buddies almost non-stop, so they party hard and tell tall tales, and lately, with Jean and Gilles and Elmer and Dollard and coach Ruel moving upstairs, there’s way too much to do in just a short amount of time.

Guys have to come from all corners of heaven to meet at the rebuilt Toe Blake’s Tavern. Fedora’s have to be dusted off. Someone has to be in charge of cigars at the corner tobacco store. It’s been tradition to have music greet the new guys, so Benny Goodman or Sinatra or Elvis have to be rounded up and sent to Toe’s.

So much to do, and we expect them to do more? Yes we do, because we believe in a serious work ethic from our ghosts,

It’s time to get off your behinds, ghosts. The boys down below need some guidance. Morenz only took 7 years after passing before lending a helping hand. What’s going on, Rocket? What’s the holdup?

And surely Toe and Dick Sr. can get the power play in sync, although it appears they might already be working on it.

All of you. Coffee break’s over. Up and at ’em.

Toe's

 

 

 

Habs Chill At Tremblant

The Canadiens are holed up at beautiful Mont-Tremblant, a resort village nestled in the Laurentian Mountains, far from the madding crowds.

Here they’re able to bond, practice nearby, nurse wounds, put shaving cream in teammates’ shoes, and focus on one particular order of business.

Sweeping the Sens.

I just don’t know why they need to escape at all.  Habs fans and the media are a laid-back bunch who would hardly bother them at all. Right?

The Canadiens have been heading to this spectacular region at playoff time off and on for decades, and below are a couple of write ups from my scrapbook when they were preparing to do battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964.

At that time they chilled out in Ste-Marguerite Station.

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R.I.P. Elmer

Lach

Elmer Lach has died at age 97, and like the old names slowly being removed from the Stanley Cup to make room for new, Elmer’s passing is another chapter closed.

He was a junior star in Saskatchewan, invited to Toronto so the Leafs could see what he was made of, and following a practice that Conn Smythe in particular wasn’t impressed with, Elmer hopped on a train and headed back to Moose Jaw to play senior hockey.

The Leafs weren’t thrilled about Elmer bailing out, and promptly traded his rights to the New York Rangers, who wrote Elmer and told him to bring his skates and make sure they were sharpened.

But Elmer didn’t go, he became a free agent instead, and signed with Montreal, the only team he would play with (from 1940 to 1953), and where he made his mark as part of the legendary Punch Line with the Rocket and Toe Blake.

The Punch Line. Crafty elder statesman Toe Blake. Scoring machine overdosing with desire, Maurice Richard. And hard-working, never give up, aggressive, sometimes dirty, always talented playmaker Elmer Lach, who scored the Stanley Cup winner against Boston in 1953, causing a jubilant Rocket to jump into his arms and break his nose. The hardest check I ever received, said Elmer.

Elmer was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966 and his (and Henri Richard’s) number 16 hangs from the rafters at the Bell Centre. Well deserved honours for this legendary Hab.

So long, Elmer. You’re gonna have a great time meeting up with the old gang again.

 

Well Whaddya Know

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I’ve been looking around my house for this Star Weekly picture for several years, and I found it.

Tucked between the pages of The Hockey News that I wrote about yesterday.

There’s a crease running across but I don’t care.

Look at the hardware parked in front – from let to right, the Norris Trophy (won by Tom Johnson), the Vezina (Jacques Plante), the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales (NHL regular season championship), and the Art Ross (Dickie Moore, NHL scoring champ).

Missing is the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, won by Ralph Backstrom (third row, left, next to trainer Hector Dubois, who’s wearing a jacket similar to one I have. Very proud of my jacket).

Scattered throughout, of course, are the Richard brothers, Beliveau, Moore, Geoffrion, Talbot, Provost, coach Toe Blake, and on and on. And the second greatest defenceman ever, Doug Harvey, is top row, third from left.

It was the club’s fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, with one more to follow. A beautiful team. One of the best ever.

It’s nice that I can now stop looking for this.