Category Archives: Toe Blake

Who Should Win. And The Best Things Boston Has Going For Them

    Wednesday it starts, the quest for the Cup, with Ottawa visiting Pittsburgh, the Rangers are in New Jersey, Colorado goes to Minnesota, and Calgary takes on San Jose.

On Thursday, the other four series begin, with Nashville travelling to Detroit, Dallas goes to Anaheim, Philadelphia is in Washington, and, last, but not least, the best of them all, the only one that matters, the beginning of the saga – those dastardly Boston Bruins, right now shaking in their boots, jet to Montreal whether they want to or not.

And although Toe Blake said predictions are for gypsies, I’m going to have my say about who I think will win each series. And this isn’t rocket science.

It’s not going out on a limb to say Pittsburgh will beat Ottawa.

The Devils very possibly could be taken out by the Rangers.

Minnesota should beat Colorado because I don’t trust Jose Theodore.

San Jose should wipe the floor with Calgary.

Detroit will have no problem with Nashville.

I’ve no idea who will win the Dallas-Anaheim series, but probably Anaheim will.

Washington, because they’re on such a roll, should beat Philadelphia.

And Montreal will ice an almost healthy team and spank the Bruins like they’ve never been spanked before.

The best thing’s Boston has going for them is:

Don Cherry doesn’t coach them anymore. They’re in big enough trouble already without having any ‘too many men on the ice’ penalties called against them.

Boston goalie Dave Reese no longer plays, so there probably won’t be any Montreal players getting a ten point night like Darryl Sittler did.

Fans at the Bell Centre won’t be in danger because Mike Milbury, who liked to fight up in the crowd, is only a lousy hockey anaylst now.

Eddie Shore is long gone, so Montreal players are safe from getting clubbed over the head.

And Phil Esposito’s retired, so there’ll be no trails of brylcreem all over the ice.

 

 

It Sure Wasn’t Hard Becoming A Habs Fan

I’m asked from time to time why I cheer for the Habs and not the Toronto Maple Leafs, seeing that I grew up only an hour north of Toronto, in Orillia. The answer’s easy. The Montreal Canadiens were a gift from my dad.

My dad’s 87 now, and of course, still watches hockey. He’s been a hockey fan all his life, followed the Leafs when he was young, and he once wrote a letter in the 1930’s 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 a thank-you note to my dad in return.

But slowly, my dad began to turn. The Toronto Star and Telegram both plastered their papers with Leafs stories and my dad began to wonder about the almost invisible other teams. It was always “Leafs, Leafs, Leafs” as he used to say. Foster Hewitt was the definitive homer, and this rubbed dad the wrong way. And dad, being the introverted type, cringed when he read or heard about the goings-on of brash, loud, and arrogant Leafs owner Conn Smythe.

In the fifties, with television entering households, it was 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. Stanley Cups began to be won by the Habs on a regular basis beginning in 1955, and the Leafs just kept plodding along. The Canadiens had something the Leafs didn’t.

When I was a boy, my dad started a big Montreal Canadiens scrapbook for me. He helped me write fan letters to the the Rocket, and at one point, the Rocket sent me a Christmas card. He took me to Maple Leaf Gardens a couple of times, and once, when we were early and stood at the gate, the entire 1958 Montreal team walked right by us.

He bought me a hockey book which he mailed to Montreal asking for autographs in, and it was mailed back signed by the entire 1958-59 Habs – Richard, Plante, Toe Blake, Beliveau, Geoffrion etc, and the only one missing was Doug Harvey. When we went to a game at the Gardens, he brought the book with him, took it down the 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. My son has the book now.

So of course I became a Habs fan. They’ve been magical for me, and the magic has never gone away. It’s been a lifelong love affair.

And it’s all because of my dad.

Holy Smokes! More Fascinating Facts! What A Blog!

Fascinating Fact #1.  It’s just what I always suspected. Patrick Roy is a moron.

Fascinating Fact #2.  In the early 1940’s the Montreal Canadiens were bringing in less fans than the senior league Montreal Royals. The Habs were averaging only about 1500 people in those days.

Fascinating Fact #3.  Guess what changed in Montreal? What caused fans to go from 1500 to 12,000 in only a few years?  Two words – The Rocket.

Fascinating Fact #4.  And guess what completed the growth of fan attendance, from 12,000 in the late 1940’s to regular sellouts at the beginning of the 1950’s. It was the signing of Quebec senior hockey hero, Jean Beliveau.  

Fascinating Fact #5.  Mickey Redmond, who played right wing for the Habs from 1967 to 1971, has been battling lung cancer since 2003. He says he’s feeling fine, thank God. Redmond was also a member of Team Canada during the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series.

Fascinating Fact #6.  Redmond was involved in a major deal halfway through the 1970-71 season when the Habs traded him to Detroit for Frank Mahovlich. Montreal also sent Guy Charron and Bill Collins, along with Redmond, to Detroit.

Fascinating Fact #7.   1950’s Habs grinder Marcel Bonin used to eat glass, and also wrestled bears. And once, while at raining camp in Victoria, BC, Bonin broke his thumb during some horseplay off the ice. He kept it a secret from Toe Blake, then during the next practice, pretended to hurt his hand on the ice and kept himself from getting into hot water with Blake. It worked.

Fascinating Fact #8.   Two NHL players who were notorious for treating rookies on their own teams badly were Steve Shutt and Dave Keon. Shutt’s reasoning was, “hey, it happened to me so it’s gonna happen to them too.” 

Fascinating Fact #9.   Jim Pappin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967, lost his Cup ring years ago.  It was found last year in the Gulf of Mexico when a diver using an underwater metal detector came up with it.

Fascinating Fact #10.  This is the seventh installment of Fascinating Facts. 

Fascinating Fact #11.  Did I mention that Patrick Roy is a moron?

Tony Demers Didn’t Exactly Ride The Glory Train

While myself, Mike, der Habinator, and all the good people of the world who cheer for the Habs and are stewing this very minute because of the lack of effort and coordination shown last night, I thought I’d get away from the day-to-day roller coaster ride the team takes us on and tell you about a Montreal Canadien player who didn’t exactly make the uniform proud. It’s interesting, and very, very sad.

It’s the story of a player for the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1930’s and into the ’40’s, and his name was Tony Demers. In a room in my house, I have a really nice photo of the Rocket, Elmer Lach, and Tony Demers posing as a line. 

So the guy was on his way up, I suppose.

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Demers was a guy who only played parts of five seasons in Montreal, as he bounced up and down from the minors. He scored only 20 goals total, so he was no star, not by a long shot. His short career ended in 1942, when he played one game with the New York Rangers, and that was that. Sort of. Because what came next wasn’t exactly what he probably had in mind.

In 1945, Demers was fined for an assault on a hotelkeeper. Then, the next year while playing senior hockey in Sherbrooke, he got involved in a gambling situation and was given a ten game suspension. But the suspension became the least of his problems.

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

 The court didn’t buy it.

Tony Demers was found guilty of manslaughter and was given 15 years in the maximum security St. Vincent de Paul penitentiary in Montreal. He seved eight of the fifteen before being released.

In the late 1980’s, 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 then-wife and our two kids 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 on the walls, etc. were there as they had been. It was dirty and dark and my kids got scared. In Roger Caron’s book ‘Go Boy’, he described St. Vincent’s as the meanest and most dangerous prison in Canada, and he knew because he had served most of his adult life in different institutions all across the country.

So while the Rocket, Blake, and Lach, thrilled the Forum faithful with big goals and Stanley Cups, an old teammate, one who shared the dressing room, the train rides, the restaurants, and hotels, sat in a dark cell, maybe listening from time to time on the radio as his old friends carried on. It’s all very sad, but the guy, I’m sure, deserved it.

Demers went into obscurity after his release and had nothing to do with the hockey world after that. He died in 1997.

  

Goodbye Ken Reardon. Plus, Halak Shuts out The Islanders

Ken Reardon was a rough, tough, hard-rock customer for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940’s, a rugged, aggressive and often fiery defenceman who after retirement became a high level executive for the Habs.

Ken Reardon died this morning, March 15, at 86 years old, and once again, another great Montreal Canadien from the past leaves us.  reardon.jpg

From the time Reardon joined Montreal in 1940, his life could be told in three chapters. His rugged, all-star play on the ice; his enlisting in the Canadian Army during World War 11 after only two years with the Habs, and being a main cog on the army hockey team; and his tenure as executive with the Habs, where he worked as assistant to Frank Selke and others, and was both a teammate, friend, and ultimately the boss of Maurice Richard and Toe Blake.

A story I like about Reardon occurred when Reardon was still a young player with Montreal, and he had this thing about looking good. One day he was getting a haircut prior to a practice, and was late getting to the Forum. He told the barber to be quick so the barber charged him only thirty-five cents instead of the regular fifty cents because it was a quick job. At the Forum, the door to the dressing room was locked so he had to knock, and coach Dick Irvin answered.  The young defenceman knew he was busted so he tried to make light of it. “I just got a haircut for thirty-five cents,” said Reardon. “No you didn’t,” replied Irvin. “You just got a haircut for twenty-five dollars and thirty-five cents.”

Tonight, Montreal, in another big game, (for about 15 teams, every game’s a big game), shut out the Islanders 3-0, with Jaroslav Halak in goal. In a week, the Habs have gone from first place to second to fifth, and now back to second again.

Big game.

Next up, the St. Louis Blues come to town, then Montreal goes to Boston on Thursday. Both are big games. Naturally.

Basking In The Afterglow Of The Big Win Against The Devils

Just for the helluvit, my wife and I are in Bellingham, Washington at this very moment basking in American northwest life. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens are basking in their tremendous 4-0 win over Martin Brodeur and his New Jersey Devils. It’s a quiet time. A nice time. It was a huge win, and a convincing win. If only the Habs had played like this against Anaheim a couple of days ago. 

It’s a long day leaving Powell River. It takes two different ferries, which means waiting and all that. But it’s warm, there’s no snow, and I don’t have to drive trucks anymore.

But from time from time, a little road trip works wonders for the soul. So now it’s Bellingham, Washington.

All I can do now, as we wait for the Senators, is pass on important hockey words, words that put it all in perpective, words from the extremely quotable and smart and colourful Toe Blake, a man I’ve quoted before and will quote again. Toe explained what hockey is.  Are you ready?

“Hockey is a very simple game,” said Toe Blake. “It’s played in two V’s – one moving away from our net, and the other moving toward theirs.”

Like Toe Blake Said, “Predictions Are For Gypsys.”

As the team comes home to Montreal after their sort-of good, two wins, two losses, California and Phoenix roadtrip, they only have a day and a half before they clash with the New Jersey Devils. So while they’re getting massages from their wives, helping with the kids’ homework, and resting those weary bones, it gives us a little time to ponder the future.

Have a look at the standings and see if we can kind of figure out just who might play who in the playoffs, which are coming up fast. First though, notice how many goals Montreal has scored? It’s fire wagon hockey! (Cont’d after stats)

GP W OT Pts GF GA Home Away L10
1 New Jersey Devils* 69 40 23 6 86 180 159 22-12-1 18-11-5 7-2-1
2 Montréal Canadiens* 70 38 23 85 223 197 16-12-5 22-11-4 6-4-0
3 Carolina Hurricanes* 71 37 29 79 216 221 21-12-3 16-17-2 7-2-1
4 Pittsburgh Penguins 70 39 24 85 206 192 19-10-5 20-14-2 5-3-2
5 Ottawa Senators 70 38 25 83 223 209 20-12-3 18-13-4 3-5-2
6 New York Rangers 69 36 24 81 183 169 22-13-1 14-11-8 8-0-2
7 Boston Bruins 69 36 25 80 183 191 18-13-4 18-12-4 6-2-2
8 Philadelphia Flyers 69 35 26 78 212 197 16-13-4 19-13-2 5-2-3
9 Buffalo Sabres 69 32 27 10  74 209 201 17-13-4 15-14-6 4-4-2
10 Washington Capitals 70 32 30 72 203 209 17-15-3 15-15-5 4-4-2
11 Florida Panthers 71 32 31 72 190 200 14-13-7 18-18-1 5-3-2
12 New York Islanders 70 32 31 71 170 204 17-16-3 15-15-4 4-6-0
13 Toronto Maple Leafs 70 30 30 10  70 196 216 16-14-5 14-16-5 6-3-1
14 Atlanta Thrashers 70 30 32 68 186 230 17-15-3 13-17-5 1-5-4
15 Tampa Bay Lightning

Anyway, if New Jersey, for example, keeps playing stingy hockey and Martin Brodeur continues his great goaltending, they stand a good chance to finish first. If Montreal finishes second, they’d play Boston.

However, Boston’s been faltering lately and Philadelphia could overtake them.  Pittsburgh’s coming on strong. The Rangers are heating up. Montreal, of course, is in the thick of it, could very possibly end up in first, and I’m mighty proud. Ottawa could get back on track at any time.

So what this means is, I know absolutely nothing about who’s going to play who. Even Buffalo, now out of the race, could find themselves back in it if Philly slumps and the Sabres put together a decent winning streak.

So as much as I wanted it to look like I knew how this was going to play out, I don’t know a thing. It’s too tricky, too unsure. You just never know. Toe Blake was right.

I’m going back to sleep.

Remembering Doug Harvey

The following is my column in the Powell River Peak, published March 3, 2008. doug.jpg                           

Unless you’re very young, or have never paid particular attention to hockey, you probably know who Doug Harvey is. You might know only that he was a hockey player a long time ago. But maybe you know he’s rated as the sixth greatest player of all time, and it’s between him and Bobby Orr as the game’s best defenceman ever.

He played for the Montreal Canadiens alongside Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, and the rest of the cast of iconic 1950’s characters, and he was, with the Rocket, my boyhood hero. When I was a kid, my dad even corralled coach Toe Blake one night at Maple leaf Gardens in Toronto to go into the dressing room and get Harvey’s autograph for me.

Doug Harvey’s gone now, but I still think about him, so a few weeks ago, I did what I had to do. I phoned his son in the Maritimes.

Doug Harvey Jr. is 57 years old, is proud of his dad, and he was happy to talk about him. What was it like, I asked, being the son of such a star? “It was probably just like you and your dad,” he said. “We were just a family like everyone else. Kids at school didn’t treat me any different, and when I played hockey, there were no names on the sweaters, so no one gave me a hard time at the rink. “I guess one thing that might be different was that players would come over to the house quite often – Dickie Moore, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, the Rocket a few times. When dad was building our house, most of the team helped him.”Even the kids of the Montreal Canadiens found a connection, probably because they had so much in common. “We lived near a lot of the players,” continued Doug Jr., “and I was a good buddy with Toe Blake’s son. And it’s funny too, my brother has been dating Dickie Moore’s daughter for a few years now, and dad and Dickie were best friends.”Doug Jr. remembers too how sometimes his dad’s job interfered with a family trying to have a normal life. “My mom would get upset with dad because we’d go to games on schools nights from time to time, and for an eight o’clock game, he’d be at the old Forum at 5:30 and stay for a couple of hours afterward signing autographs for people. We wouldn’t get home until after midnight and we had to get up in the morning for school.”

Doug Harvey was a genuine free spirit, a practical joker, a fun-loving guy, a kind-hearted person, and a supremely gifted hockey player. He dominated on the ice in the old ‘original six’ NHL, controlling the game, slowing it down or speeding it up, making precise passes, setting the pace, and was a leader among men.

He was a general on the ice, and won the Norris trophy for best defenceman a remarkable seven times.

Slowly though, over the years, his health began to fail, and then, in 1989, at 65 years of age, the great Doug Harvey passed away.

“I remember visiting him in the hospital and he was usually in good spirits,” said Doug Jr. “One time I was in the corridor and I heard laughter coming from his room. Inside, Bobby Orr and Don Cherry were there cheering up my dad.”

And I’m sure, after all I’ve read, and after talking to Doug Jr., the man with the big heart was cheering them up too.

Pre-Game Rituals Before The Big Game in Buffalo. And Then The Big Win Happens

It’s 2:20 pm Pacific time and the boys are in Buffalo sharpening their skates, blow-torching sticks and drinking umpteen cups of coffee and a Red Bull or two, while ticket takers and ushers and hot dog vendors slowly drift in to ready themselves for when the Habs trounce the Sabres.slum.jpg         more-slum.jpg

                                            (Here’s a couple of pictures of some of the nicer parts of Buffalo.)

I’ve got my pre-game ritual in motion too. Head over to TC’s pub for some drafts, eat lasagna for energy, and today, as an extra little ritual, laugh my head off because rental Marian Hossa got injured in his first game with the Penguins and will be out a week or longer!

Pittsburgh gave up some crazy talent (Christensen, Armstrong, and Angelo Esposito, AND A FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK!) for Hossa, who may be gone again in a couple of months because unlike Toe Blake and the boys, it’s all about money. This deal might come back and bite Pittsburgh in the ass.

4:30 Pacific time  – Game time. If all reports are correct, not one Montreal player got mugged on his way to the Buffalo rink.

5:00 Pacific time – Montreal jumps out to 2-0 on goals by Pekanec and Streit. Not sure if Montreal fans who made the trek to Buffalo have started to sing the ‘olay’ song just yet. Many though, are having a riot and drinking lots of beer. 

5:07 Pacific time – Just thinking that Buffalo used to have some good teams in the days of the French Connection line with Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert. You know, it’s sad that Perreault didn’t play for the Habs. With him and Lafleur together, it would have been historic. People would still be talking about them. It could have been Morenz, Richard, Beliveau, Harvey, Lafleur, and Perreault.

6:08 Pacific time – Tomas Plekanac just scored for the third time tonight as the good guys are beating the bad guys 4-1. The ‘experts’ say there’s too many small guys on Montreal for them to be dangerous. But Plekanek, who’s only 5’10, one of those small guys, looks pretty dangerous to me.

Do you know that TSN guy Pierre McGuire picked the Rangers and Minnesota as two of the five teams he thinks will win the Cup. Montreal didn’t even get a sneeze. But McGuire and his fellow ‘experts’ like Bob McKenzie and Dave Hodge all picked Montreal to finish 14th and so far out of the playoffs you’d need a telescope to see them.

7:01 Pacific time – Holy smokes. 6-2 Montreal over Buffalo. What a big win. It was 5-1 over Atlanta, and now 6-2 in Buffalo since the Habs made Carey Price their number one goalie. And this win catapults them over Ottawa for top spot in the north-east!

I’m sure the team flies back tonight, so guys, get home, have a midnight sandwich, relax, and get ready for another big game Saturday night against the Devils. But leave your wives alone. Eddie Shore, Victor Tikhonov, Punch Imlach and Toe Blake all believed there should be no sex the night before the game. So it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for you.

Again, When You Least Expect It, More Fascinating Facts!

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Fascinating Fact # 1   I owned a sports bar for awhile in Powell River, and during this time the infamous Hanson Brothers came to town for a promotional thing at the arena. Afterwards, they came into my pub and at midnight, I locked the doors and drank beer and talked hockey with them until about 5AM.

Fascinating Fact #2  A small scrap of paper signed by Bill Barilko, who scored the Cup-winning goal for Toronto against Montreal in 1951 and died later that year in a plane crash in northern Ontario, recently sold on ebay for $750.

Fascinating Fact #3   Frank Mahovlich came into my pub after an NHL Oldtimer’s game with his niece, who lives in Powell River. I had to tell customers who clamoured all over him to cool it so the guy could eat his meal.

Fascinating Fact #4   When I was 12, my pee wee baseball team played in a tournament in St. Catherines, Ontario. For one game, goalie great Gerry Cheevers was the umpire.

Facsinating Fact # 5   Years ago, when I was about 11, I asked Foster Hewitt for his autograph. He signed for me, then, because he was in a deep discussion with some other guy, he kept my pen. I was too shy to ask him for it so my older sister had to get it for me.

Fascinating Fact #6   Howie Morenz was Toe Blake’s hero when Blake was a boy. He said he even called himself Howie. Years later, in 1937, Blake played for the Habs alongside his boyhood hero Morenz. This was the same year Morenz died from complications from a broken leg.

Fascinating Fact # 7   Toe Blake used such terrible profanity, he was barred from the Forum Billiard Hall.

Facinating Fact # 8    I collect old Montreal Canadiens kid’s wool sweaters. Not like some of the old ones in the photos above as these are extremely early Habs sweaters,  but like the one in my photo at the top right, and other’s similar to that. They’re all from the 1940’s, ’50’s, and ’60’s but I’m still looking for ones from the ’30’s and ’20’s. I saw some in old Eaton’s catalogues recently, so I know they were around at that time. But are they around now?

Fascinating Fact #9  In the early ’60’s when I was about 13 or so, my buddy and I went to Barrie, Ont. for an exhibition game between the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons and the Rochester Americans. We were there early and somehow got talking to the Buffalo trainer, and he let us be stickboys for the game. The team gave us both sticks, although I broke mine later playing road hockey. And Don Cherry played that night for Rochester.

The final Fascinating Fact goes to Toe Blake, who said this: “Hockey has been my life. I never had the opportunity of getting one of those million dollar contracts, but hockey was worth more than a million to me in plenty of ways.”

(For more delicious and delightful facts, just click on ‘Fascinating Facts’ over in the category section and get a whole bunch of stuff.)