Tag Archives: Bill Durnan

Iced Lightning

This brought me back once again to those days when my friend Ron Clarke and I would put on our itchy wool Habs sweaters, play road hockey until the evening got dark and we couldn’t see the ball, and our moms would call us in for supper.

It reminded me of Ron and I trudging up to the arena, duffel bags over our shoulders, ready to be the Rocket and Jean Beliveau and Ralph Backstrom once again.

Hope you enjoy this great 9 minute clip from the 1940s, showing kids, older kids, girls, pros, all playing the great sport of hockey.

Below the clip, some screenshots sent by my friend Ed Wolk.

Heroes and Dreams

001More than a hundred years of heroes and dreams. Of men donning the sweater and hitting the ice. The years of kids watching and reading about, dreaming and becoming. From the time Didier Pitre took a pass from Jack Laviolette and slid it over to Newsy Lalonde, little boys donned the sweater, the bleu, blanc, et rouge, and they became Pitre and Lalonde and all those who came later. kids-sweater1-150x150

From the days of Georges Vezina stopping pucks for Les Canadiens, little kids wanted to stop pucks too, on lakes and ponds and old rinks throughout, and when they wore the sweater, they made the saves with people cheering them, and for all those winter nights near their homes, they were Georges Vezina.

Like magic they became Howie Morenz and Aurele Joliat, Toe Blake and George Hainsworth. They wore the sweater on nights so cold it should’ve been illegal, slapping old rubber balls into snowbanks, stopping cow pies on slews, deking friends and sisters and little kids on the pond. wearing the red or white sweater with the simple and beautiful CH crest sewn on front.004

They became the Rocket, and Lach, Bouchard and Harvey, and they saw the game in their dreams. Behind the skaters they were Durnan and Plante crouched by the net, and when the time came, they were the Boomer and Big Jean scoring on the power play. It unfolded at the Forum and the Olympia and Conn Smythe’s old barn and the outdoor rink frozen in winter at the baseball field. And kids heard them on the radio and saw them in black and white and shuffled their bubblegum cards, wearing the sweater and becoming anyone they wanted to be, just when they wanted to be. 003

The wore the sweater when the Pocket Rocket wouldn’t give up the puck, when the Boomer boomed, and when the Gumper kicked out his pads. They opened boxes at Christmas and there was one to put on right away, and they were Ken Dryden and Lafleur and the Big Bird. And their kids and kid brothers wore the sweater when Patrick Roy and Carbo and then Kovalev and Koivu graced the ice. And now, new guard is in place, and kids are becoming them too.

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They said goodbye to the Forum and to the Rocket and all those others who went when it was time and when it wasn’t time, and they wiped little drops of tears from their sweater. And they smiled and clapped and looked above as they watched the sweaters of their heroes raised triumphantly to the rafters.

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Every night now, the Bell Centre is packed with young and old, still wearing the sweater of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s been a dream for more than a hundred years. We are Georges, Howie, the Rocket and Guy. We’re Patrick and Saku and Price and Gally.

We wear the sweater whether we have a sweater or not, and we continue to hope.002

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Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

The Rocket And The No. 9 Thing

Recently on Hockey Night in Canada, host Ron Maclean told viewers a little story about how Maurice Richard asked to change his number from 15 to 9 during the 1942-43 season in honour of his new baby girl Hugette, who weighed in at 9 pounds.

Wikipedia also says the same thing. Along with everywhere else you look.

But the number 9 must have already held a soft spot in Rocket’s heart, because as you can see in the lineup below, he was wearing it when he was playing senior hockey, a year before he joined the big club.

Is it possible that the traditional claim from Maclean, books, and the Internet, about choosing 9 because of his baby’s weight at birth, is strictly something that took on a life of its own over the years?

Not that I want to throw cold water on the time-honoured story.

Here’s my program from the 1941-42 season in the Quebec Senior Hockey League, featuring a game between the Montreal Senior Canadiens and the Montreal Royals. Further down, the Rocket in the lineup for the Senior Canadiens, a year before he joined the Habs, and with his number 9.

Maybe he simply liked the number, and along with his 9-pound baby, convinced himself that he wouldn’t mind having it again.

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Also playing on this particular night for the Montreal Royals was Bill Durnan, who of course became a legendary goalie for the Canadiens shortly after, from 1943 to 1950, and Glen Harmon, number 12 for the senior Canadiens, who joined the Habs the following season and played for them from 1942-51.

Below, from my scrapbook, the Richard family circa 1958.

From left to right, Maurice Jr, Hugette, Lucille, dad and Suzanne, Norman (who’s my age, and whom I spoken to on the phone a couple of times), and Andre. Two others, Paul and Jean, had yet to arrive.

Lots In The Lineups

You can look at the Nov. 25, 1950 program lineups for the Habs and Leafs and see a few cool things.

This was Montreal’s 20th game of the season, and they would lose 4-1 to the Leafs in Toronto on this night. (Okay, that wasn’t so cool).

Gerry McNeil is in goal for Montreal in his rookie year after Bill Durnan retired after the previous season.

Number 5 for Toronto is Bill Barilko, who would score the legendary Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal for the Leafs in game 5, against these same Habs, to cap off the season. Barilko would be killed that summer when his plane crashed in Northern Ontario.

Hal Laycoe, number 12 for the Habs, would be traded to Boston later this season and was a major player in the 1955 Richard Riot.

Rocket Richard has ten goals at this point, more than anybody else on the team.

Habs #14 Billy Reay would eventually coach for 16 NHL seasons, two with Toronto and 14 in Chicago. I have a game-used stick of his from two years prior to this, signed by the entire Habs team.

Elmer Lach, number 16, is still playing and would play three more years after this.

Golly gee willikers, that’s Howie Meeker, number 11 for the Torontonians.

And Turk Broda, who was at the opening ceremonies for the brand new Orillia Arena that year, has one more shutout than McNeil at this point.

 

 

 

If The Gloves Fit, It Must Be It

Derry has probably solved the question of who the little tin goalie is because of the identical gloves on each hand. Bill Durnan was ambidextrous and would at times switch hands.

I had compared Durnan’s photos to the tin man yesterday and decided it wasn’t him. But I was going by the face, not the gloves. The gloves were the key. I had actually decided, from my Bee Hives, that the tin man’s face resembled Emile Bouchard’s more than anyone in my Been Hive collection. Especially the hair.

Way to go, Derry. You %$#&*^.

Now I suppose I have to buy him a beer when he shows up in Powell River next year.

This is the Beehive that made me think it wasn’t Durnan.

And this is the Beehive that made me decide that maybe it was Butch. Although it might have been even closer if he wasn’t smiling.

 

A Glimpse Of Gerry McNeil

As we await the Habs’ obliteration of the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, I thought I would give a brief intermission look at a friendly, popular, and important member of the Montreal Canadiens from days gone by. 

The photo above shows early 1950’s Habs’ goaltender Gerry McNeil playing for his St. Fidele bantam team in Limolou, Quebec circa 1939. That’s him in the Canadiens sweater wearing the pads.

Gerry McNeil began his career in the late 1940’s as a backup goaltender behind the legendary Bill Durnan, but when Durnan retired due to nerves in 1950, McNeil became the number one goalie and stayed that way until Jacques Plante took over in 1954.

McNeil was in the nets when Bill Barilko scored his famous overtime goal for the Leafs in 1951, which you can see in the clip below, and is part of one of the most famous hockey photographs of all time, the Barilko goal. But I’m sure the Habs goalie, who passed away in 2004 at age 78, would have preferred his historic photo to be under different circumstances.

(Below the video is the famous Barilko photo which I know most of you have already seen but I feel I’d be remiss in not including it).

The Old Program Sits On A Shelf

The old program sits on a shelf in my spare room (a room I’ll show you very soon), and it’s quite a program if I do say so myself.

It’s from the 1941-42 season in the Quebec Senior Hockey League featuring a game between the Montreal Senior Canadiens and the Montreal Royals, and what’s especially unique is seeing Maurice Richard in the lineup for the Senior Canadiens, a year before he joined the Habs.

You may have heard that when the Rocket joined the Habs he was wearing number 15, but when his first child Huguette was born, weighing in at nine pounds, Rocket asked if he could change to number nine in honour of his baby girl.

But the number nine must have already had a soft spot in his heart, because as you can see, he was wearing it when he was playing senior hockey.

Also playing on this particular night for the Montreal Royals was Bill Durnan, who of course became a legendary goalie for the Canadiens shortly after, from 1943 to 1950, and Glen Harmon, number 12 for the senior Canadiens, who joined the Habs the following season and played for them from 1942-51.

I Was Cold (And Mildly-Warm Other Things)

Yes, I know there are wars and strife and you have your own many problems, but I just want to say that I dealt with really uncomfortable air-conditioning today and you just might start thinking that your own lives aren’t so bad after all.

The ferry was freezing, the doctor’s office was freezing, the Telus office was freezing, the restaurant was freezing, and the ride back on the ferry was freezing.

You tell me. Are your problems so bad now?

But this is a Habs blog, at least until the NHL shuts down for a year, so here’s the important Habs stuff for today:

I’m reading Net Worth which I think every hockey fan should read if you haven’t already as it deals with the corruption and greed of owners and others over the years, with Alan Eagleson getting his share of ink of course, and in a memo from Frank Selke to his Montreal owners, he described Jacques Plante as “almost a mental case in his exalted ego and we must give serious thought to a replacement as he is not very amenable to discipline.” Another star’s “I.Q” is so low that we must not let ourselves count too highly on him.” Bernie Geoffrion “can’t even check his suitcase.” Dickie Moore was a “disappointing worker at training camp and as you know I had quite a session with him at contract-signing time.”

What a nasty memo. The book also details the viciousness of Detroit GM Jack Adams and naturally, good old Conn Smythe in Toronto. These people, and others, acted like children, were ruthless, cheap bastards who manipulated every person who came into their lives. They stole, lied, cheated, and connived, all for the almighty buck. 

I don’t know whether Gary Bettman looks good or bad compared to them.  

James Norris Sr, a man who virtually controlled hockey at one time, although he’s barely remembered, had a great-grandfather who injured his leg in a logging accident and amputated it himself.

I got this picture to go with my Billy Reay stick. This is the 1948-49 Montreal Canadiens – Butch Bouchard is the captain on the left just beside Bill Durnan, and that’s coach Dick Irvin over on the other side. (Give it a click, it’ll get bigger). My stick is signed by pretty well everybody in the picture. Billy Reay is three over from Irvin. I wonder if that’s my stick.

I think there should be this kind of team picture nowadays. Even if just from time to time. Players standing like that. Something different.

This Is A Stick-Up

Yes indeed, this is the stick. The one I just bought at auction and which I’ve mentioned before. But here it is in one of my rooms which makes the story new, sort of.

Classic Auctions describes as having “great Hall of Fame pedigree” and that in itself makes me all teary-eyed and goofy. The stick alone is a fine specimen, but what really puts it over the top are the names on it. It’s been signed by 17 members of the 1948-49 team and they are, if you don’t mind and not bored already – Elmer Lach, Ed Dorohoy, Billy Reay, Joe Carveth, Rip Riopelle, Ken Mosdell, Bob Fillion, Doug Harvey, Jacques Locas, Bill Durnan, George Robertson, Dick Irvin, Hal Laycoe, Ken Reardon, Maurice Richard, Emile Bouchard, and Murph Chamberlain.

Lach’s signature is the only one really faded and hard to see. Doug Harvey signed with a fine-point pen but is there in all its glory but you have to look for it.

Some folks get excited when they buy a new lawn mower or a nice pair of cowboy boots. Habs ‘Hall of Fame pedigree’ things like my new old stick, yellowed and well-used, is what I prefer.