Tag Archives: Bernie Geoffrion

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.

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Missed Habs/Sens Game

Couldn’t see the game, I’ve been incapacitated. I know that the Canadiens lost 4-3 in overtime but Lucy and I are in Kingston with my brother and his wife Kelly, painting the town red.

Maybe not painting the town red. But as red as you can get it when you’re an old bastard like me, dragging the other three down.

Also went to the OHL Major Junior A game between the hometown Frontenacs and visiting Belleville Bulls which saw Jordan Subban and the Bulls skate off with a convincing 4-2 win.

We sat right behind the Bulls bench, which was a fascinating experience for sure, and after Subban took a late-game penalty, his coach sent him to the dressing room like a kid to his room..

So I’ve been incapacitated. What a word. Sounds a bit like decapitated and constipated. Whatever way – incapacitated, decapitated, constipated – it’s tough to watch a game when you’re one of them.

In the meantime, because I’m incapacitated, here’s what I think is a cool photo.

It came up on eBay awhile back and I bid on it but didn’t win. Originally from the Richard family, it’s a picture of Maurice Richard at a Christmas party, looking like he’s having a fine time.

Boom Boom Geoffrion is on the far right, and although I don’t recognize the fellow in the middle, you can be assured that if he actually went through with the pouring of his drink on Rocket’s head, somebody in the house would be quickly calling for an ambulance.

Rocket and Boomer

 

More Of The Book

From time to time lately I’ve been showing pages from my old Habs scrapbook. Here’s more.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record MP3, just click on the photos to make ’em bigger.

Game Day

It’s game day, the Habs are in Tampa to meet the Lightning, and I guess I don’t really mind so much if they lose, but I at least want to see them play well while doing so. In fact, I’m praying they only blow a one-goal lead instead of the normal two.

So many nights this season, the team has been flat and soulless and uninspired, and now that it’s pretty well too late to worry about any playoffs, just seeing them give their all and battle like proud men would make it a worthwhile three hours of watching, which is time I could spend looking for my cat’s lost hedgehog toy.

But having said that, if they can win 19 straight, they’re back in the thick of things!

Also, if Scott (The Promise) Gomez can manage just 2.5263 goals per game from here on in, he’ll have 50, which would be the first time a Hab notched this many since Stephane Richer scored 51 during the 1989-90. But I’m not holding my breath. Not after buddy Andrei Kostitsyn was shipped out, which might slow down Gomez’ torrid pace somewhat. And like I said in an earlier post, The Promise will be promising big things for next year so we should just be content with that.

It seems Blake Geoffrion will be making his debut in a Canadiens uniform. I don’t mind saying that it’s going to tug at my heart strings to hear the name Geoffrion skating for the Montreal Canadiens again. Although it’ll be slightly different from “and it’s Geoffrion, over to Beliveau.”

 

When The All-Star Game Was A Serious Affair

The defending Stanley Cup champions used to line up against the best of the best of the league, and it was a serious event. The All-Stars were biting at the bit to beat the Cup champions, while it was a feather in the cap of the champs to best the all-stars.

This is much of the first two periods of 1963 All-Star game held in Toronto, and features Habs Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Henri Richard, and Claude Provost. Beliveau wears number 19, although it shows him standing at the blueline, prior to the opening faceoff, wearing number 4.

It’s quite something to see Beliveau, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Hull together as a line from time to time.

Foster’s Hewitt’s son Bill does the play-by-play.

A Tough Camp – Tougher Than Most

It’s training camp in the late 1950’s. Of course it was nearly impossible to crack a spot in a lineup like this, with Hall of Famers and Stanley Cups oozing out of the woodwork, but Bill Hicke became a regular in 1959 and Ralph Backstrom the season before. But when you have a team with the Rocket and Pocket, Beliveau, Moore, Geoffrion, Harvey, Plante, Johnson, etc, there just wasn’t much room left.

All in all, the roster was basically set before anyone even stepped on the ice at training camp, and many of these players in this photo would soon depart to the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, Montreal Royals, Quebec Aces, Cleveland Barons and others.

Fathers And Sons – A Fine Photo

Jacques and Michel Plante, Maurice and Andre Richard, Bobby Geoffrion and dad Boomer, and Toe and Bruce Blake at what I think is the 1957 Christmas party. A couple of wives and a young figure skater are over to the right.

Rocket appears to be wearing a slipper. In November of 1957, he severed a tendon on his right ankle and was on the mend.

In this photo, the Rocket still hadn’t gained that final ten pounds or so that he carried with him in his last few years. He retired after leading his team to a fifth straight Stanley Cup in the spring of 1960.

A Fine-Looking Crew Paints The Town Red

Circa 1954 Canadiens’ players, wives and girlfriends get together at Butch Bouchard’s Cabaret to enjoy some pops and chuckles. Bouchard (in glasses), Maurice and Lucille Richard, Ken Mosdell, Doug Harvey, Elmer Lach and all the rest of this happy bunch let off some steam during those glorious days when the Habs were close to embarking on five straight Stanley Cups.

Just behind Bouchard and to the left of Elmer Lach is Gerry McNeil with wife Theresa. At the back, being served by the waiter, appears to be Bernie Geoffrion (with Marlene).

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Bernie Geoffrion Was Born To Play, Sing, And Laugh. But Not To Coach

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Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion is well-remembered for many things – His slaphot he worked on when he was nine years old at a time when slapshots weren’t invented yet; His nickname “Boom Boom”, which came about when a Montreal Star sportswriter named Charlie Boire asked Geoffrion if he could call him that after hearing the puck leave his stick and then boom against the boards; His boisterous and good-natured singing on trains and in dressing rooms which led to a few television appearances; His marriage to Marlene, daughter of Howie Morenz; His terrific Hall of Fame career playing right wing on the Canadiens, and teaming up with Doug Harvey at the point to create terror on the power play. With these two firing cannons, no wonder goalies like Chicago’s Glenn Hall would vomit before games;

And of course, the heart-wrenching retiring of his sweater, number five, on March 11, 2006, only hours after he had passed away from stomach cancer. His family stood on the ice, watching the sweater being raised to the rafters, and their tears weren’t the only tears. The Bell Centre was swept away with emotion, and so was I 3000 miles away in my living room.

Geoffrion was one of the greatest Habs ever. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t a great Habs coach.

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Geoffrion had been promised the Canadiens coaching job after he retired by owner David Molson. Molson asked him to consider coaching Montreal’s farm team in Quebec for two seasons, then move up to the the Habs. It was all untrue. Molson simply wanted Geoffrion to move aside to make room for a youngster named Yvon Cournoyer. Geoffrion said later the coaching offer sounded good, but if he had known what was really going on, he would’ve stayed and made Cournoyer beat him out of a job fair and square. 0062

Geoffrion went up to Quebec and led the Aces to two first-place finishes, and was promptly fired. And Molson told him there was no room with the big club because Toe Blake wasn’t going anywhere. So he unretired himself and found himself playing for the New York Rangers and eventually coached there for half a season before calling it quits because of an ulcer acting up. Later on, he joined the Atlanta Flames and coached there for slightly more than two years.

And this is where the story of Geoffrion coaching the Habs begins.

When Scotty Bowman left Montreal to begin a new life in Buffalo, Montreal’s GM Irving Grundman picked up the phone and called Geoffrion. It was the offer Geoffrion had been waiting for for 15 years. But after only 30 games behind the bench, he called it quits. “I had three guys telling me what moves to make,” he explained. “Toe Blake, Claude Ruel and Irving Grundman. How can you coach like that?”

Geoffrion had other things to say too: “I’m sick and tired of them. Guys coming in at two or three in the morning, laughing and joking around. They’re not acting like professional athletes. I’m not going to stick around and let everyone in Montreal blame me for what’s happening.”

“(Pierre) Larouche walking through the airport, smoking a cigar, acting like we won the Stanley Cup when we’d lost a game. And I thought Savard would help me. But he’s more interested in his horses.”

But the players had their own thoughts: “He flunked out in New York,” replied Steve Shutt. “he flunked out in Atlanta. Why would he come here, where the fans are so demanding?” Another player said, “You’ve got 17,000 assistant coaches, and the fans are right behind you, win or tie.”

Larry Robinson admitted they came to came to camp out of condition and they knew, with Bowman gone, they wouldn’t be reprimanded for it because Geoffrion, as the new guy, was just trying to fit in. “Geoffrion didn’t want to push us,” said Bob Gainey, “but we needed it.”

“He was a lot more friendly than Scotty,” said Pierre Larouche, “and we took advantage. He just wasn’t made for the job.”

Geoffrion went back to Atlanta, a city he loved, to be with his kids and grandkids, make some funny Miller beer commercials, and to enjoy life. Claude Ruel replaced him behind the bench in Montreal, and the planet continued to spin on its axis as usual. 

 Bernie Geoffrion just wasn’t meant to coach. But he sure was meant to play. He was one of the greatest Habs ever. Number five with the big shot. The guy who loved to sing and laugh and keep his teammates loose. To coach in the NHL one probably has to be a bit of a rotten son of a bitch, and Geoffrion wasn’t that at all. He was simply just a great player. And fans said thank you for that when his sweater went up to the rafters.

Boomer And Mr. Selke Make A Fine Couple

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Two legendary members of the Montreal Canadiens, Frank Selke Sr. and Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion pose in the old Montreal Forum in the early 1960’s.

Frank Selke left his longtime boss Conn Smythe and the Toronto Maple Leafs to join the Canadiens as managing director in 1946 and stayed with the Habs until his retirement in 1964. He was the one who wanted Jean Beliveau so much when the young star was playing for the Quebec Aces, that he bought the entire league to ensure he’d get him. He was in the thick of things during the Richard Riot in 1955, and urged the Rocket to go on radio and plead to the crowds to stop the nonsense on the street. And he was at the helm when the great Canadiens won five Stanley Cups between 1955 and 1960. But the organization didn’t lose a beat when Selke called it quits, as a young Sam Pollock would replace him in the top job.

The autograph you see pasted on his picture was obtained by me. My dad took me to the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition grounds, and in the crowd were many legendary figures. Besides Selke’s autograph, I also got Clarence Campbell’s, Foster Hewitt’s, Conn Smythe’s, and several others.

Boom Boom Geoffrion was one of the Canadiens true greats, a real character with a big shot, and the right winger was used by Toe Blake on the right point on the power play. So imagine, Montreal’s big line on the power play consisted of Beliveau at centre, Dickie Moore on left wing, the Rocket at right wing, with Doug Harvey and Geoffrion on the points. And behind them was Jacques Plante. It’s no wonder they won five in a row, and actually came very close to winning six or seven in a row.