Tag Archives: Brian McFarlane

Glass Breaker

glass

This old photo, which is in my scrapbook, shows the Rocket in the late-1940s breaking the plexiglass at Maple Leaf Gardens as Vic Lynn looks on in disbelief.

A couple of neat stories that go with this photo that I learned from reading Brian McFarlane’s book “True Hockey Stories: The Habs”.

The photo has been credited to Nat Turofsky, one of two brothers, both of whom shot reams of legendary pictures in Toronto, (You can see their Alexandra Studios name on the left of the photo).

But this one was taken by a kid apprenticing for the Turofskys, who was lucky enough to have been sent to the other end of the ice from where Nat was, and where the glass-breaking happened.

Best of all, sitting just behind the glass when it broke and having pieces of it falling on them were the two salesmen who had sold the plexiglass to the Gardens in the first place, and who had claimed that it couldn’t be broken!

Here’s the picture in my scrapbook.

scrapbook

Howie’s Obit Added

I came across the old Toronto Star obituary for Howie Morenz after he’s passed away in a Montreal hospital bed in 1937 and I’d like to add it to a post I did last summer after wandering around Montreal.

First, the truly beautiful obituary witten by Andy Lytle in the Toronto Star, (from Brian McFarlane’s book “True Hockey Stories: The Habs”), followed by my post done last summer.

“Like a tired child dropping softly to sleep, Howie Morenz died in a Montreal Hospital last night.

Morenz, the flashing meteor of the ice lanes, the little man who proved that “they do come back from the valley of regret and disillusion,” ate a light supper, smiled at his nurse and then turned his head wearily on the pillow as though to fall asleep.

The watching nurse, noting the strange pallor settling over his face, called a doctor. But before the medical man arrived the turbulent soul of one of the greatest figures that ever laced on skates had found eternal peace.

It was his heart that gave out, the experts said sorrowfully. To those who knew the strong vein of sentimentality that surged in the make-up of this remarkable athlete it was if the fibre of the man slowly disintegrated as he faced the uncertainty of a hockeyless future.

A crestfallen Morenz had come back to the Canadiens this season after a season on foreign ice with Chicago and then the Rangers.
In a few months he had re-scaled the heights. Was once more the flashing, dashing Morenz, the streak of Stratford, the beloved of the hockey gods who sit in silence or roar like maddened souls during the progress of the games in Montreal.

Then a quick twist, a fall on the ice and Morenz was carried away, his leg broken in two or three places.

As he recovered slowly, Morenz held court in his hospital ward. His friends were legion, his admirers more. They called to see him, to talk, to commiserate and to secure his autograph.

Howie again broke under the strain and the excitement of this renewed adoration. Last weekend the doctors belatedly clamped on the lid. No more visitors, no more chats. He was, the experts said, on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown. The strain was too great.

And then, a few days later, as his friends looked confidently forward to his complete recovery, with the unexpectedness of a bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky, the weary, exhausted figure heaved a tired sigh and turned his face to the wall.

A moment later, to a startled world and to his agonized people, the tragic words were spoken – “Howie Morenz is dead.” It was his brave heart that had given suddenly, tragically out, his doctors said.

Morenz is survived by Mrs. Morenz and three children. Howie Jr., 10, skating mascot of the Canadiens, Donald, 4, and Marlene, 3.”

Morenz

It was mostly driving around Montreal today instead of walking, and I have to say, the pavement sucks almost everywhere.

Bumpy streets. I’m hoping my shocks hold up.

I avoided joggers and bike riders at Mount Royal Cemetery, and visited Howie Morenz and his son Donald. As you can see, Donald died when he was only six. Howie and Donald are buried with Mary Morenz’s family members.

Howie

I don’t know what caused Donald’s death at six years old, and I’m not sure where Howie’s wife Mary is. She doesn’t seem to be there with the rest of the gang.

If my research is correct, it seems Mary remarried in 1939 (to Georges Pratte), just nine days after young Donald Morenz passed away.

And just for the record, Herbert McKay and Wilhelmina Stewart on the headstone are Mary Morenz’s mom and dad.

After that I drove to the Howie Morenz Arena, which wasn’t far away and I was killing time before Lester’s Deli opened. The arena’s only 35 years old for goodness sakes, with new renovations. I was hoping for something much older with more of a sweaty, tobacco/mildew smell.

But at least Howie has an arena named after him, and rightly so.

Howie arena 1

Howie arena 2

Then I went to Lester’s Deli, just as it was opening. Lester’s, a family-owned business since 1951, was fantastic, and the neighbourhood around it on Rue Bernard has this great Jewish feel to it. Some of the men walking around wore these big round hats which I’ve never seen before. Awesome hats. I want one.

Lester’s smoked meat sandwich is right up there with the best of them, that’s for sure. I was the only one there and it was fun to watch all the staff, who might be all related, go about getting ready and from time to time bitch at each other.

If I hadn’t have gone to Schwartz’s (which holds a special place in my heart) first, I would say Lester’s is the best. It’s not fancy and it’s not big, but it’s clean and nice, with a lot of funky stuff on the walls.

They didn’t ask me if I wanted lean, medium, or fatty, and I’d say it was medium that I scoffed down. And wow was it good! An awesome smoked meat. Messy as hell. I didn’t order fries because I’m worried about my complexion.

My one complaint was afterward, when I looked at the menu on the wall and I saw they have a regular sandwich for $7 bucks and a bigger one for ten, and they brought me the ten buck one automatically. But what’s three bucks, right? And I wasn’t going to say anything because I’m a Canadian.

A cool place on a cool street.

Lester's

Lester's 2

Lester's 1

Q&A With Robert L.

I recently mentioned that Robert Lefebvre has a new book out, his first, called Tales From the Montreal Canadiens Locker Room, and below is a recent chat I had with Robert regarding his thoughts behind the process. And if anyone has their own questions for Robert, feel free, as he’s agreed to answer them in the comments section.

Robert, first let me congratulate you on your new book. It’s most definitely a fine addition to anyone’s hockey library. I know you were up against a deadline, so was it an enjoyable experience, or extremely stressful?

Thanks, Dennis. Writing a book, as I’ve learned, can only be both. It’s an intrinsic thing. The conceptual writing portion is extremely enjoyable and forming that work to meet someone’s expectations then borders on the stressful. But perhaps that is as it should be. As the writer, my wish is for the book to reach as many people, as many fans, as possible. The publishing company’s goal is to have a product that will sell. I met my deadline, went over by some 20,000 words, and then came the stressful task of fitting the book to their scheme. I didn’t enjoy the editing process, quite honestly, but passing through it I recognize how it made me a better writer.

You knew there is already reams of material already written by others over the years. How did you decide on the path your book should take? How did you feel you could make it different from others?

Initially, I was solicited to fulfill the requirement for a scheduled book, that had been dropped by a previously contracted author. However, that did not play in, whatsoever, to what I felt I could bring, or wanted to write of regarding the Canadiens.

Two things crossed my mind as I considered my publisher’s offer. First and foremost, was that my mindset was already deeply imbedded into another book that I’d been researching for three years. I knew, wholeheartedly, that I would not be able to separate myself from what I’d learned. It had a lot to do, or maybe everything to do, with the Canadiens true origins as a francophone, or French-Canadian hockey club. The other was that “Tales from the Canadiens” types of books, had really been done to death.

There’s the Dick Irvin books, a few Brian McFarlane’s Habs tales things, and countless others – I grasped real quickly that you, as a fan, might not want to read such a thing again, anymore than I wanted to have to rewrite it. I am sure that you can, and perhaps any Canadiens fan whose read these books, can place themselves in my shoes. I had to write according to a predisposed book title and subtitle: “Tales From The Montreal Canadiens Locker Room – A Collections Of The Greatest Canadiens Stories Even Told.”

Now how daunting is that, to live up to?

I proposed, to my publishers, a completely different track, and to their credit, they accepted my vision. Because the title is part of their branding, they would not alter it, but to great extents, they allowed me to write the story I wished to pursue.

I was quite surprised they accepted, because truthfully, in my esteem, a first time author is a nobody until that book hits the shelves. Furthermore, for me, that “nobody,” to write a book to suit that description, seemed a loaded and disingenuous premise, given that I had never been inside the Canadiens locker room.

And to that end, the very first thing I asked of my publishers, and was granted, was that I could write in the prologue, a little disclaimer of sorts, that addressed all the above issues.

Once they said “Yes” I was more than prepared, hell bent, and caution to the wind, to deliver a different kind of historical Montreal Canadiens retrospective.

As you weave your way from the beginning of the Canadiens’ existence to the present day situation, you explore the various myths that have cropped up over the years including the territorial rights in Quebec that many fans of other teams have always claimed was unfair, and how Sam Pollock managed to secure Guy Lafleur, using the talents of Ralph Backstrom, which strays slightly from the story most of us have heard over the years. I found this all very interesting, and the territorial rights explanation can be used by Habs fans from here on in. Did you have in mind the setting of records straight before you wrote your first word?

To address the last question first, that exact thing became my mandate from day one. Mandate is probably too strong a word. What I wanted to achieve, was a book that considered Canadiens history differently, than all the usual tributes to their legend and tradition, that are misleading in my eye.

Think about this: In over a hundred seasons, there were 24 Cups won. That means that for more than 75 seasons, they didn’t win. The Canadiens haven’t always been great – that’s not a news flash! So what popped up, was how does all that losing fit into all that winning. There was a story there.

Dennis, I don’t know about you, but from my seat, going on twenty years from the last Stanley Cup win – having Habs tradition, glory, legend and myth shoved down my throat, doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. I wrote about it for so long at Eyes On The Prize, that what finally became most interesting to me was the cracks in the stories. There were just too many things, that to my eye, no longer added up. All those things – the tradition, the glory, the legend, the myth – they truly cannot help the Canadiens win again. If one adds in all the francophone controversy stuff, it in

From my perspective, this book has three very distinct phases or contexts. The first begins with the very first game played by a French-Canadian side of seven players in 1909, that caused the Canadiens creation. It arose from a mindset that French players born in Quebec were inferior to their English counterparts – which was very true. Their challenge was to become their English rival’s equals, which did not happen for thirty years, until the Rocket came along.

The second phase is the Original Six years, wherein the Canadiens became hockey’s greatest team. The context then takes on the outsider’s perception, that the club were unfairly advantaged by specific “French” player rules that never truly existed as they were reported. It is here that much of the Canadiens legend is formed, mostly inaccurately. It was at that moment, that words such as tradition entered into equation, but as you have read and noticed, that also has been greatly misrepresented. Reports always had, and do until this day, qualify the Canadiens’ greatest wins as having come from the benefits of the misappropriated “French Rule,” while the truest reason they won so steadily remains that they were able to harvest a winning mentality in which both the French and English shared in equally. That is the true lost story of Canadiens glory.

The third phase, and the final context under which the book moves forward, has all to do one particular quote made by Sam Pollock regarding winning tradition. No one who has followed in Pollock’s wake has gotten it. Not to give those chapters away, I’ll suffice to say that those who’ve manned the Canadiens since he’s left, see but the recipe to spite the ingredients.

To go back to your original question, yes indeed, and absolutely, I tried my hardest to bring in factual details that would lead to setting the record straight. I had more, but I did not have the space. You say that the details of the Lafleur acquisition shed new light. These details aren’t new – they are ancient, but the story that gained legendary status followed the “Trader Sam” myth, as opposed to what really happened, which was far less “sexy” to headline hunters of the day.

Same for the French territorial rights thing. Let it all anger others – it sells tickets and creates rivalries. Explain it outright, and with precision, and it’s not so defining. Or maybe now, after all these years, another analysis is more intriguing.

That’s a common thread of my book – bringing new arguments to the plate, based on more complete research and a less mythologized angle.

Other sections of your book deal with wonderful lighthearted moments, like the antics of Jean Pusie and the Jacques Demers casket story to name two. You created a fine balance between telling the story of the team along with inside tales, all within 200 pages. Was this enough space, or would you have preferred to write twice as much?

Limited space and time was this book’s enemy. But those are the givens, right? The legend of Jean Beliveau – I had two very amazing stories – could not be fit in. It’s very unfortunate, because I really hoped to include them.

Throughout the book, especially in the later years, you explore the mistakes that have led to the misery the team has experienced in recent years – the poor trades, the hiring of the wrong upper-management personnel, and of course the Patrick Roy-Mario Tremblay fiasco. But you never created an overall picture of doom and gloom. You pointed out the problems and show optimism for the future. Are we on the right track with Marc Bergevin and his team now, or do you think we probably have to endure many more years of futility?

Well doom and gloom is, in my opinion, as much about a reader as it is about fact. In a historical perspective, how often have fans felt the team was on track, only to learn otherwise. A personal admittance of mine from back in the day – I was all for the Habs getting rid of Roy under the circumstances, but darnit, get something akin to a cornerstone in return.

I couldn’t end the book on a downer note, because I absolutely fail to see things in that light, personally. The Canadiens are nowhere near as brutal as their record of last season shows. It was just one of those years in which everything goes inexplicably off the rails. The talent is there, obviously. The glue and grit weren’t. But honestly, I see nothing but sure values in certain current players and a pool of delicious prospects coming up the pipe. I allowed myself to penetrate the final pages, otherwise I’d have been dishonest.

That and Marc Bergevin reminds me nothing of the Pierre Gauthier of last season!

Your book is on the shelves now, signed, sealed and delivered, and it’s a job well done. Can we expect another in the near future?

By my definition of near, no! Sorry! I wish, though. I would love nothing more than to give you a timetable, trust me on that! The first book I was working on is still being worked on, slowed in the last year to my regret. I would love to be able to pump it out, but it’s one that is really close to my heart, and one that is as important to get right as much as it is for me to get it into your hands. I’ve learned lots writing the “Tales” book, and the next one will reflect that.

Brian McFarlane’s 1970′s Predictions For Hockey In The 21st Century

Here’s Toronto broadcaster and writer Brian McFarlane (writer of the very fine  http://www.ithappenedinhockey.com/) has his predictions for hockey in the year 2000 in his old 1970’s book, Hockey Annual.

“Let’s begin with the player. He’ll wear a lightweight, super plastic climate-control helmet equipped with two-way radio which receives messages from the coach. His uniform will be thermo-controlled and made from a material that gives absolute protection even though it weighs a mere five pounds. It is equipped with contact plates to register pulse, blood pressure, and, most important, fatigue rating. The skates will have impervium boots propelled by forward and retro rockets that increase the player’s natural speed about 50 per cent. In other words, they’ll move at about 50 miles an hour.

“Hockey sticks of the future will be rather unusual. The blade has a trapper pocket for puck control and a trigger on the handle propels the puck at around 200 miles per hour. This eliminates the need for goaltenders so the players shoot at a small target or goal area, and opposing players try to deflect the puck’s flight by means of an electro-magnetic repulsion force generated from their stick.

“The coach, by the way, never associates with his players because personality factors might interfere with his judgment from the coach’s bubble. The coach in this league probably never laced on a pair of rocket skates in his life.

“The referee will ride around in a hover gondola over the ice surface. Because of the terrific speed of play, offsides are recorded electronically and the play-by-play announcer is in direct radio contact with rival coaches, the benches, and the players at all times.

“The arenas will be fantastic! They’ll be geodesic dome-shaped affairs seating 100,000 fans. There’ll be no ice to play on. The players will skate on a Mylar surface, silicone treated, scratch-proof and shrink-resistant, if you like.

“There’ll be no boards. Instead, an invisible field of force will keep the puck in play. And if a player slams into this same field of force, he’ll be cuddled like a baby.

“Any fan who throws an object on the playing surface will be in for a shock because the rink is electronically geared to reject that object and deposit it right back in the thrower’s lap. So no more tomatoes. And what about the hockey fan in his moon home? He’ll see all the action on a super video screen covering one full wall in his living room, colour of course, in 3D too. Smellevision is optional at the press of a button.

“The three stars will appear in the flesh, right in your living room. They’ll be transported there by radiotonic waves after each game. That will be done by breaking down the molecular structure of the body and shooting the cells out on radiotonic waves into your living room. They’ll be duplicated and multiplied as they go along so everybody will get a two-minute chat with the three stars after every hockey game, right in the living room.

“It might take a while to perfect molecular form of transportation and a few players might be lost along the way, but then that’s progress. And that’s hockey as it might look in the first few years of the 21st century.”