Category Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s Game One, And I’m Growing My Playoff Beard

  Opening round GAME 1

The idea is to get rid of Boston as quickly as possible. Smash them, dazzle them, and confuse them. Overpower them, upset them, anger them, and frustrate them. Kick them, bite them, gouge them, and stick your fingers in their eyes. (just make sure the ref’s not watching.)

Take them out in four games. Stay healthy, and get Koivu back.  Mike Komisarek, an extremely important piece of the pie, is ready to go. Not sure about Ryder and Bouillin. But these are Montreal Canadiens players, not Buffalo Sabres or Pittsburgh Penguins or Toronto Maple Leafs players. These are Habs. They wear the CH. They’ll be back, stronger than ever.

It’s three hours until game time. I’ve been growing my playoff whiskers since last night, and I won’t be shaving until….sometime tomorrow!

LIKE SOME SORT OF TIME-TRAVEL MACHINE, IT’S NOW 3 HOURS LATER, AND THE GAME HAS BEGUN. Another in a long line of Boston-Montreal matchups. Boston has the freak of nature, the behemoth Zdeno Chara. I say grab a chain saw and cut him down to a more normal size.

The dramatic beginning of the telecast, when the teams were waiting in the corridor to go out on the ice, was spine-tingling.

You don’t need me to go over the game. You saw it, or watched Sportscentre or something. The Habs got it done. They dominated.

Montreal 4, Boston, 1. Only fifteen more wins to hoist the Cup.

 Game notes: 

Bob Cole needs to be placed in an old folks home. 

 

Montreal Ends It Off In Style. Now Bring On The Playoffs And Prove The Experts Wrong

Don Cherry thinks the Ottawa Senators will do well in the playoffs but the Habs won’t. Broadcaster Bob Cole threw water on the fire every time sidekick Greg Millen started to say great things about the Habs. “Watch their power play,” Millen would say. “Watch how they never stop moving, how unpredictable they are, how hard they are to stop.”

And Bob Cole would chime in, “yeah, but they haven’t scored yet.” And throughout the game, you could feel him cheering for the Leafs. Cole needs to retire. We’ll keep Cherry around for a chuckle here and there. But he loves the Leafs too.

It’s been like this all year. The so-called elite of the hockey media, Cole, Cherry, McKenzie, McGuire, Hodge et al, just can’t bring themselves to concede that maybe, just maybe, Montreal is a serious contender.

It’s the junior members like Millen and Glen Healy who are the ones who don’t mind offering up superlatives. The old guard won’t do it.

I guess, if the television screen’s right, Montreal meets Boston in the first round after taking out Toronto tonight (April 5) 3-1 in yet another impressive performance by all concerned, including a young buck in his first game, Gregory Stewart, who nearly scored a couple of times, and got the edge in a fight with Brian McCabe at the final siren.

Stewart skated off the ice to the cheers of the faithful and the pats from his new teammates, with this amazingly proud look on his face.

But back to Cherry and Cole and the like. I suppose by the third round, these guys might concede that the Habs look good. But you can be sure that they’ll say Montreal doesn’t stand a chance against the contender from the west.

It’s going to take a Stanley Cup to shut these guys up. Bring on Boston.

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.

How Sweet It Is! Except, Of Course, If You’re A Sabres Fan

It’s times like this when I wish I still lived back east. I can feel old-time hockey atmosphere, too thick to cut, drifting out of Montreal and parts beyond, and filtering right out here to the coast.

The Habs aren’t being stopped, eliminating the Buffalo Sabres tonight in a completely convincing, except for some brief moments in the third period, 3-1 win. And they won it in style, even with injuries, even with the northeast sewn up, because, like Alex Kovalev says, “a team starts the playoffs the way they end the season.” 

And the way they’re ending it is flabbergasting. Without Koivu, Komisarek, and Bouillon, the team’s plumbers have risen to the occasion, and are not only shutting down other teams in general, but they’re shutting down other teams’ powerplays as well. And elder plumber Brian Smolinski gets a pair of big goals and once again, proves with the others that Pierre McGuire and Bob McKenzie and the rest can eat their words, and in the process, should finally give some big-time credit to the Canadiens, which they’ve yet to do.

And Alex Kovalev, at 35 and playing like 25, creates magic like no one. He could have scored about four beauties tonight, he worked like crazy, he set up others, he joined frays to help teammates, and has picked up an important role with Koivu out, showing that he’s a natural leader. My respect for Kovalev continues to grow.

This is a special time for Habs fans, so let’s savour it. In other years, when they made the playoffs, they made it by the skin of their teeth. Not this year though. Somewhere along the line, this team became a powerhouse, and are still threatening to win the east overall.

And they aren’t sneaking in the back door this time. They’re smashing in the front door and storming in.

I’m still a little numb about what’s transpiring. I expect the Canadiens to do well every single year of course, but this year I had no idea the Kostitsyn brothers would become such a force, or Kovalev would prove he’s one of the top five players in the league in my opinion, or that Carey Price would carry the torch, or that Guy Carbonneau would mature so nicely as a coach, or that the Kostopoulos’ and the Smolinski’s and the Begins’ would do the job like they’ve never done before.

Oh, to be in Montreal at this time. To be at the Bell Centre on one of the many triumphant nights, which, dare I say it, might even rival some of the big nights at the old Forum.

Keep it going, boys. Smash the Leafs on Saturday. Don’t get hurt. Head into the playoffs full steam ahead. We’re all behind you. And we’re all proud of you.

Game Day Routine. Getting Ready For The Sabres

GAME DAY and I need to be sure I don’t stray from my regular routine that involves strict discipline as far as getting a good nap in before I eat some high carb concoction like a fettuccine dish with a baked potato. I don’t know about your habits and routines on game day, but I’m sure your way is excellent, albeit slightly different than mine.

Because the game’s on early here on the west coast, at 4:30 pm, I know I need to get my nap in early too. So I’ll head to bed about 11am and sleep until 1:00. This gives me time to have my carbs and several coffees for a quick boost and not feel too bloated by the time the puck drops.

I like to arrive at the couch early, say about 3:30, so I can fiddle with things on the coffee table, give the TV a good warm up, go over game notes such as what good shows I can flick to during commercials, and plan my strategy about how I’m going to get all the household things discussed early with my wife so she won’t be talking too much during the big game. I learned this early in my career with previous females -(mother, first-wife, daughter, sisters, etc.)

All of this takes some serious concentration and is a good example of why I’m such a good team player, and why experience is invaluable.

FINALLY, GAME TIME. It’s what I’ve been preparing myself for all day, as you can see from the routine. Montreal needs this. It’s all about first over-all and the chance to play the eighth place team, which could be Boston, Ottawa, Washington, Philadelphia, and even Buffalo, who the Habs are playing tonight.

This is why it’s a big game. This is an example of why every game for the last two months has been big. And this is why it’s necessary to have a proper pre-game routine.

Me and the boys will take care of business tonight against the Sabres, the ones with the George Jetson/Los Angeles Rams uniforms, then a couple more days and we’ll be going through the same old routines once again as we prepare for the Leafs.

It’s all part of the strict discipline and commitment that goes into being a professional Habs watcher. 

Whew! Thank Goodness There’s A Way To Tell When Spring Has Sprung

With the big game in Ottawa coming up shortly, with first place overall still not decided, and with injuries mounting, it can be tremendously stressful for Habs fans. But we’re not the only ones with problems. People in general can be stressed. You just got your lay-off notice at the factory. The mortgage is due. Your daughter has a new tattoo on her forehead. The mother-in-law’s coming. The beer fridge is empty.

But when the sun shines in spring, things have a way of looking up. A young man’s (and woman’s) fancy turns to love. And the playoffs.

And things could be worse. We could be Leafs fans.  

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Almost Good News On The Habs Hurting Front. And Tom Kostopoulos Knows What It Takes

Now that the dust has settled on just how healthy the Montreal Canadiens are, it seems  possible that only Saku Koivu might be out for awhile. But even that’s unclear.

What’s clear is that five Habs are hobbling and grimacing. Guillaume Latendresse has neck spasms and although he didn’t play in Toronto, he should play in Ottawa.

Mark Streit took a puck off the foot in Buffalo, didn’t play in Toronto, and although the team’s a bit vague, it seems he won’t be out long either.

Francis Bouillon didn’t play in Toronto either and is suffering from a right ankle injury. He’ll be back quickly though, because he’s a tough little bugger.

Mike Komisarek injured his hip (lower body injury!) in Boston but has started skating again, so this is good.

Which leaves us to Saku Koivu. He took a puck on the foot in Buffalo (like Streit), didn’t play in Toronto, and left Toronto on crutches. His foot is swollen and they’re not sure if it’s fractured or just badly bruised.  If it’s broken, he could be out until sometime in the second round of the playoffs.

When Koivu got the stick in the eye a couple of years ago against Carolina, the team went poof, like air going out of a balloon. But Montreal’s much better now, much deeper, more talented, and much more-rounded, and so although it would hurt to lose him, the boys can still get the job done. But let’s just hope it’s just badly bruised.

I also want to mention something about Tom Kostopoulos. This is guy who was a healthy scratch many times this year. He usually plays only on the fourth line, and he doesn’t get a lot of ink in the papers. But here’s the kind of guy he is:  Mike Komisarek said that when he was being treated in Boston for his hip injury, Kostopoulos was brought in after a fight in which half his face was blackened and his one eye was closed shut. But all Kostopoulos kept saying was to get him an ice pack and hurry because he needed to get back on the ice.

Now I have new-found respect for Tom Kostopoulos. This is old school, old time hockey. This is what separates men from boys. This is a guy who wanted to help his team and his teammates. He’s bounced around the minors, never really winning a job. This is the kind of guy who’d play for free. And players like him don’t disappear in the playoffs.     

Montreal Was In A Coma Saturday Night In Toronto. And Who The Heck Is Anton Stralman?

Why am I not surprised that MontreaL, leading the eastern division, waltz’s into Toronto to take on the sad-sack Leafs who won’t be in the playoffs, and comes out flatter than a pancake. Montreal had no drive, no spirit, not much of anything, as they lost 4-2 Saturday night to Toronto, and some unheard of Leaf named Anton Stralman scores two goals that Jaroslav Halak should have stopped.

I think we might see Carey Price every night from here on in.

Why am I not surprised? This kind of thing has been going on for 40 years. If Toronto played Montreal 82 times a year, they’d be the greatest hockey team in the history of hockey. In reality, of course, Toronto stinks most of the time. But certainly, on this night, Montreal did the stinking.

This is the kind of thing that really plays with my head. For example, what if Montreal loses to Ottawa on Tuesday, then again against Buffalo, then closes the season against these dreaded Leafs. It could mean they lose four straight headed into the playoffs.

It’s just my paranoia talking here. I shouldn’t be thinking like this. But I can’t help it.

And still on the subject of feeling shitty, all Habs fans are waiting to see just how hurt are Saku Koivu and Mark Streit. Both were injured blocking shots in Buffalo.

The team’s been remarkably healthy all season, and now with the playoffs arriving, possibly three key players (with Komisarek), could be on the shelf.

Again, it’s my paranoia casting its’ spell.

Montreal’s rebounded all season from losses that would keep a lesser team down. They’ve surprised everyone. This is why Guy Carbonneau should be a strong contender for Coach of the Year. So I’m gonna say right now that they’ll come out like gangbusters on Tuesday night.

It’s Only Been 41 Years Since The Leafs Didn’t Suck

Regardless of the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs have basically stunk every year since 1967, they still manage to somehow play well against the Habs. Who knows why? Maybe Conn Smythe instilled a voodoo hex on Frank Selke Sr. for leaving the Leafs and joining the good guys at the Forum. Maybe Toronto wants so much to be like the Canadiens that they turn in these weird efforts that they can’t muster against anybody else. habs-too.jpg     leafs.jpg

So a Montreal-Toronto tilt is usually a good, interesting tilt, for whatever reason. And there also would have been big interest in a Montreal-Toronto playoff series which could have happened if Toronto didn’t suck quite so badly this year and had sneaked into eighth place by the skin of their teeth.

A series between these two might even have brought back the oldtimers who say they lost interest in hockey after expansion, fights, the price of beer, less attractive rink chaperones, watered-down product, the Broad Street Bullies, Osama Bin Laden, shopping on Sundays,  the ozone layer, and the downhill slide of Shopsy hot dogs.

Yes, it would’ve been a good series. Even though Montreal would’ve kicked their asses all the way up Yonge Street, possibly all the way to Orillia.

The two teams meet again tonight and at this moment,  game time is still hours away. Leaf fans will now be gearing up, selecting their finest Yorkville ensembles, and preparing for when the Habs take the ice and memories come flying back from when the oldtimers still liked hockey and George Armstrong, even though he was the Leaf’s captain, was still learning to skate.

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?