Retired New Brunswick Columnist Shares Some Great Habs Stories

Eddie St. Pierre, retired columnist for the Moncton Times and Transcript, started writing sports in 1950 and over the years had many connections with the Montreal Canadiens. He shares some great stories here;

“During my long reporting career with this newspaper (I’ve just begun my 60th year of affiliation with the paper, having joined on Dec. 4, 1950) I had the honour of interviewing or meeting many of the team’s top stars who played on one or more of the team’s 24 Stanley Cups, including the “big three” of Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, as well as Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, Bobby Rousseau, Danny Grant, John Ferguson, Yvan Cournoyer, 91-year-old Elmer Lach, Doug Harvey, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and others along with coaches Hector (Toe) Blake, Scotty Bowman, Jean Perron, Jacques Demers, Guy Carbonneau and current coach Jacques Martin plus front-office personnel such as Sam Pollock, Floyd Curry and others.

* The Rocket, who passed away May 27, 2000 in his 79th year, made the biggest impact on me. I saw him play for the first time at Canadiens’ intrasquad games at the old Stadium in 1954. (Note: Some Montreal players complained to police that they were overcharged by a cab driver. A story in the Moncton Times said that bruising defenceman Emile (Butch) Bouchard told police that he, along with four teammates, took a cab from the Brunswick Hotel to the Stadium and the taxi driver demanded $2.50. Before game time, a policeman was summoned to the Canadiens’ dressing room where Ken Mosdell told the same story. Both players said they told the cab driver to collect his fare from club officials.)

During the Canadiens’ stay here, former senior hockey player Charlie Poirier was working as the stickboy when someone broke a window in the dressing room at the Stadium during a game. The thief or thieves reached in from the outside and stole Jean Beliveau’s street pants and belongings.

Meanwhile, The Rocket and I crossed paths on many occasions afterwards, especially at charity hockey and softball games in the city. What an extraordinary individual. When he died, former NHLer Danny Grant — who, like The Rocket, had a 50-goal season (he turned the trick with the Detroit Red Wings in 1974-75) — pointed to the other, seldom-seen side of The Rocket.

“What stood out is the fact that he was such a nice person,” said Grant, who was a member of the Montreal organization at the time. “He was just a wonderful person. He was very quiet, very reserved and I don’t think he said ‘I did this’ once in his whole life. He was more interested in other people than promoting himself.”

During his career, the Hockey Hall of Famer and member of the Order of Canada set many records. Several have been broken, but many remain. In March 1944, The Rocket scored all five Montreal goals in a 5-1 playoff win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The three stars, chosen by veteran sportswriter/columnist Elmer Ferguson, who once worked for the Moncton Transcript, were announced as “Maurice Richard, Maurice Richard and Maurice Richard.” This was the one and only time that one player has been named all three stars.

He ended his career with 544 goals (82 in the playoffs) and won the Stanley Cup eight times.

Richard, whose top salary was $25,000 (equivalent to $200,000 in 2008), was suspended for the balance of the season (only three or four games remained) and the playoffs in 1955 after striking linesman Cliff Thompson during a stick battle with the Bruins’ Hal Laycoe in a game at Boston. The decision by league president Clarence Campbell led to a riot. The game was forfeited to the Detroit Red Wings. The riot outside caused $500,000 in damage.

* Hall of Famer Gordie Drillon of Moncton scored 28 goals and added 22 assists (50 points) during the 1942-43 season. He was 4-2–6 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the late defenceman, Charlie Phillips, played 17 games early in the season after being called up from the American Hockey League’s Washington Lions. Both Drillon and Phillips are deceased.

* Bill Durnan, one of the Canadiens’ top goaltenders who passed away Oct. 31, 1972 at age 56, was in town for a function several years back. A fellow co-worker, the late Paul Arsenault, was the city’s No. 1 Montreal and Rocket fan. He was in an alcohol rehab facility in the city at the time and Durnham was only too happy to pay him a visit. When Arsenault saw who I was with, emotions got the best of him. He started to cry with joy.

I’ll never forget the time the Canadiens lost to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the winning goal was scored by Tony Leswick, a pesky forward who usually shadowed the Rocket. While driving him home early one morning, we stopped at a restaurant in Parkton. A Don Messer tune was playing on the jukebox. Sitting down on the floor, Paul banged his fist on the wood. “Anybody but that little (Lewsick),” he repeated over and over.

* The Canadiens always took care of their former players. For years, Harvey (he died on Dec. 26, 1989 at 65) battled alcoholism while suffering from bipolar disorder. The Hockey Hall of Famer who was ranked No. 6 on The Hockey News list of 100 Greatest Hockey Players in 1998, ended up homeless, sleeping in a old railway car.

When his plight became public knowledge, in 1985 he was offered a job with the Canadiens as a scout. I got a call one afternoon from then-Gazette columnist Tim Burke asking me to call him if I saw Harvey around the city. Team president Ronald Corey was very concerned. Coincidentally, I meet Bill Lee later at the Beausejour Club. He had run into Harvey in Sussex. Doug was just on a visit to the Maritimes.

* Goaltender Lorne (Gump) Worsley, one of the last netminders to play without a mask, and I became good friends. (Note: Worsley, who helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup four times, died Jan. 16, 2007. He was 77).

Worsley was doing promotional work for Imperial Oil Ltd. and their Esso stations in the off-season during the 1960s. The two of us journeyed to Bathurst once. After returning to Moncton, we stopped at the “famous” Blue Circle around 2 a.m. and Gump got a real charge out of the rough characters, who had been drinking all night at the Union Club or Carpenter’s Club. He felt right at home, cracking jokes and spinning hockey stories for an hour.

In 1965, after a Moncton Minor Football Association dinner, I went fishing around Doaktown on the Miramichi with Gump and other sports personalities. A guide and a case of beer (although Gump preferred Johnny Walker Red) sat between us. The only thing we caught was a few salmon parr, which were tossed back in. CKCW’s Earle Ross slipped off the bank into the water and needed some help. “The biggest fish caught had to be Earle,” quipped Worsley.

On another occasion, I accompanied the Dieppe Bantam Voyageurs, coached by Ray (Toughie) Steeves, to an NHL game at the Montreal Forum. I was in the dressing room chatting with Gump, who was taking short, quick drags off a cigarette in a small area in the dressing room before the game. “Eddie”! Where the hell is Toe,” he asked, referring to Hector (Toe) Blake, the no-nonsense coach who was at the other end of the room. “Let me know if he comes this way. I don’t want to pay any more $100 fines.”

* Former colleague Howie Trainor recalls a fundraising Summer Classic hockey game — East All-Stars vs. West All-Stars — at the Levesque Arena in the 1960s. We would get college, senior, junior and professionals, mostly from the Moncton area, and attempt to secure the services of National Hockey League players who were instructing at hockey schools in the province.

One year, we approached rightwinger Bobby Rousseau, then with the Habs and who was at the Université de Moncton hockey school, to play in the fundraiser for the Lewisville Minor Hockey Association. He gently turned us down, citing the newly formed NHL Players Association, which, he said, barred players from exhibition games without compensation, but he did it with a small smile playing on his lips. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, we thought, and asked him how much he needed. “A package of gum and a Coke would do it,” he replied as the smile broadened.

Then we realized he had been pulling our leg all along. Needless to say, he played and his presence bolstered attendance greatly.

* A column on the historic Canadiens wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the late Danny Gallivan, the best play-by-play announcer the Montreal team ever had. He died in February 1993 at 81.

Danny was the voice of the Canadiens, with all the hucksterism than can imply, but he was also their severest critic when individual and team performances weren’t what he felt they should be. The Canadiens teams he covered from 1952 to 1984 were among the best hockey has known, but what he saw was what his audience got. There were no “free passes” for players taking a night off.

He was the best at what he did and he loved what he did — all the more so because his colourful language was devoted almost exclusively to hockey’s best team. It was Geoffrion who had “the cannonading shot.” It was Savard who mastered “the spinerama.” Other teams tried to hire him by offering considerably more money than he was earning in Montreal, but Danny was content to stay put. Danny and I became good friends. He always had time for his follow Maritimers and would go out of his way to obtain tickets for a game at the Forum.”


6 thoughts on “Retired New Brunswick Columnist Shares Some Great Habs Stories”

  1. Because it’s what the old fellow remembers. And I’d much rather hear about Toe and Rocket than just about anybody. Even more than Sophia Loren.

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