Tag Archives: Claude Ruel

Not As Much Fun In ’80-81

The late 1970s were fine years for Habs fans of course, as the Canadiens chalked up four straight Stanley Cup wins and all was well in this crazy, mixed up world.

Even after the run finished, the 1979-80 campaign saw the boys finish first in the Norris Division with 107 points, but cracks and unrest had begun to show.

Unhappy coach Scotty Bowman had left town for Buffalo after the 1978-79 season , where he assumed the role of coach and general manager after being denied GM duties in Montreal.

And as Bowman bolted, aging stars Jacques Lemaire, Ken Dryden, and Yvon Cournoyer retired.

In 1980-81, any semblance of a powerhouse team was gone and it was very sad. We were used to much better.

Difficult to stomach was the gang being swept in ’80-81 by the upstart Edmonton Oilers, with a skinny kid named Wayne Gretzky emerging as a freak of nature in the Oiler’s lineup.

Shortly after the disappointing sweep, Montreal coach Claude Ruel resigned and was replaced by the unsuccessful Bob Berry (14 different coaches have followed since).

Berry, between his three years as coach of the L.A. Kings and almost three in Montreal, would never get his teams past the first round of the playoffs, and 63 games into year three, Jacques Lemaire took over the helm.

It just wasn’t a rosy time for all concerned.

These were the days that saw a New York Islanders dynasty rise, with Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Billy Smith and company winning their own four straight.

By then, the idea of the Habs winning four in a row as they once had was only laughable. It had become painfully obvious that the dynasty wasn’t just on life support, it was officially over.

The Flower’s greatest years were behind him, his 50-goal seasons would come no more. Goaltending was shaky, and Patrick Roy was still several years away.

Steve Shutt was the team’s leading point-getter in the 1980-81 season, recording 35 goals and 38 assists for 73 points. Mark Napier was next with 71 points, while Lafleur was third with 70 points.

The goaltending duties were shared by four guys that season – Richard Sevigny, Michel Larocque, Denis Herron, and Rick Wamsley.

Doug Wickenheiser, the Habs first-overall pick, chosen over fan favourite Denis Savard, suited up in this 1980-81 season and turned out to be not quite the player the organization and fans thought they were getting.

The much maligned (and initially much heralded) centreman recorded just 7 goals and 8 assists, and often found himself a healthy scratch.

Wickenheiser had been a huge star in junior with the Regina Pats and his big body at centre ice had folks wondering if they might have a new Jean Beliveau on their hands. But he never managed to become a major impact player (115 points in 202 games in Montreal), and was finally dealt to St. Louis.

And to add salt to everyone’s wounds, including Wickenheiser’s, the shifty and bilingual Quebecer from Pointe Gatineau, Denis Savard, had become the toast of the town in Chicago.

Rough times after those glorious late-1970s, and it would be five more years after ’80-81 before the Canadiens would become champs once again.

At that time, a handful of years in Montreal without Lord Stanley was unacceptable.

Now of course, it’s a bit more than a handful.

Hey Ghosts, Break’s Over

Sent over by Mike McKim, this article in Grantland.com – Battling the Ghosts by Sean McIndoe, talks about the Habs/ Lightning series, the old Forum and it’s replacement the Bell Centre, along with the distance between the two barns in different ways.

McIndoe also notes the apparent absence of Forum ghosts who were suppose to pack up and move over when the old cathedral closed its doors, but seem to be taking their time. If they came at all.

Contrary to what many think, I believe the Forum ghosts did make their way over to the Bell Centre in 1996, but they’ve had so much fun reminiscing, with the hangovers never ending and good times just rolling along, and they simply haven’t gotten around to modern day Habs teams yet, except for some fine times against Boston.

And they were on the job in the 2010 playoffs, at least for a few magical rounds. But all in all, they’ve really slacked off.

I can’t blame the ghosts. They welcome old buddies almost non-stop, so they party hard and tell tall tales, and lately, with Jean and Gilles and Elmer and Dollard and coach Ruel moving upstairs, there’s way too much to do in just a short amount of time.

Guys have to come from all corners of heaven to meet at the rebuilt Toe Blake’s Tavern. Fedora’s have to be dusted off. Someone has to be in charge of cigars at the corner tobacco store. It’s been tradition to have music greet the new guys, so Benny Goodman or Sinatra or Elvis have to be rounded up and sent to Toe’s.

So much to do, and we expect them to do more? Yes we do, because we believe in a serious work ethic from our ghosts,

It’s time to get off your behinds, ghosts. The boys down below need some guidance. Morenz only took 7 years after passing before lending a helping hand. What’s going on, Rocket? What’s the holdup?

And surely Toe and Dick Sr. can get the power play in sync, although it appears they might already be working on it.

All of you. Coffee break’s over. Up and at ’em.

Toe's

 

 

 

The 1980-81 Gang That Didn’t Quite Shoot Straight

Below, the 1980 Habs baseball team. Even though he’s not in the photo, Maurice Richard also played on the team.

The Canadiens just couldn’t get it done in 1981, being swept by the upstart Edmonton Oilers with a skinny kid named Wayne Gretzky emerging as a freak of nature in the Oiler’s lineup. And shortly after the disappointing sweep, Montreal coach Claude Ruel resigned and was replaced by Bob Berry. (11 different coaches have followed since). It just wasn’t a rosy time for all concerned.

These were the days of the New York Islanders dynasty, with Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Billy Smith and company winning four straight. They were good, I give the bastards that. But if you think I’m going to rave about the New York Islanders, you’ve got another thing coming.

By then, the idea of the Habs winning four-straight as they did in the late 1970’s was only a pipe dream. It had become painfully obvious that the dynasty wasn’t just on life support, it was officially over. The Flower’s greatest years were behind him, his 50 goal seasons would come no more. Goaltending had cracks. And Patrick Roy was still several years away.  

Steve Shutt was the team’s leading point-getter in the 1980-81 season, recording 35 goals and 38 assists for 73 points. Mark Napier was next with 71 points, while Lafleur was third with 70 points. The goaltending duties were shared by four guys that season – Richard Sevigny, Michel Larocque, Denis Herron, and Rick Wamsley.

Doug Wickenheiser, the Habs first-overall pick, chosen over fan favourite Denis Savard, suited up in this 1980-81 season and turned out to be not quite the player Montreal thought they were getting. He had been a star in junior with the Regina Pats and his big body at centre ice had folks wondering if they might have a new Jean Beliveau on their hands. But Wickenheiser never managed to become a major impact player (115 points in 202 games in Montreal), and was finally dealt to St. Louis. And to add salt to everyone’s wounds, including Wickenheiser’s, Denis Savard had become the toast of the town in Chicago.

It would be five more years before the Canadiens would become champs, and at the time, a handful of years was unacceptable. Nowadays, my calculator can’t count how long it’s been. It’s just ridiculous. But the slump may end soon.

 

 

The Year I Paid Absolutely No Attention To My Team

003 This is my passport photo taken when I was 17. If you look closely you can see pimples.

I was getting ready to go on a big trip, which ultimately would cause me to miss almost the entire Montreal Canadiens 1968-69 season including playoffs. I’m unable to talk about Rogie Vachon and Gump Worsley in goal and rookie coach Claude Ruel winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie coaching season and most of the other details in that year, mainly because I wasn’t around.

When this picture was taken I was working in a factory, having quit school, and was saving my money. I worked for a year in this dirty, stinking old place, but on November 22, 1968, a month after I turned 18, myself and a friend took a train to Montreal, boarded the Empress of England, and sailed for seven days and seven nights until we reached Liverpool, England. My thoughts weren’t on the Habs at all. They were filled with swinging London, the Beatles, long-legged lovelies in mini-skirts, Carnaby Street, and of course the great British bands like the Stones, the Who and the Kinks. The sounds that had come out of there while I was stuck in Orillia, and all the photos which described to me a special place where kids were cooler than cool, drove me crazy until I knew I needed to go and see for myself.

From Liverpool we took a train to London because that was ground zero of all that was good and cool about England, and we took a room at the YMCA. (A few years later I also stayed at another YMCA in Sudbury,Ontario, and I don’t know about now, but I can tell you, YMCA’s aren’t the Ritz.)

I had no idea what was happening with my Habs and I’m ashamed to say it, but I suppose I didn’t really care at this time. We were in England and that was all that mattered. While Beliveau and the Pocket Rocket zigged and zagged and the team geared up for the playoff run, I ate fish and chips, looked at double decker buses, and wondered how my hair looked. And at one point we went to the Beatles’ office on Saville Row, knocked on the door, and asked a lovely young secretary lady if the boys were in. She said no, and to this day, I’ve wondered what I would’ve done if she’d said yes.

We traveled up through the Midlands in the dead of winter, into Derby and Nottingham, hitchhiking from the other side of the road of course, and I recall sleeping standing up in a phone booth one freezing night. We also got beds at a Salvation Army shelter for the down-and-out, and it was the two of us with heavy woolen blankets over top of us, listening all night to old, homeless men snoring and burping and farting and talking drunken gibberish. But the thought of these wine-soaked, tobacco-stained creatures quickly vanished from my mind when we went to a movie house somewhere to see a young Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Women.”

We were in Swinging England! My friend bought a Victorian top hat at a flea market which he wore around when it wasn’t wet and windy. And we saw John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at a jam-packed Railway Tavern, a place that only months later would become the nightly home of a new-formed band named Led Zeppelin.  

STC1969Back home, I didn’t know it at the time but the Canadiens were rolling along to a first place finish, with big Jean Beliveau ending up second to Phil Esposito for the Hart trophy as league MVP. Yvan Cournoyer finished with 87 points, just five ahead of Beliveau, and Tony Esposito, who of course became a huge star in Chicago, was a Hab this year and replaced Gump Worsley in goal when Worsley had some sort of nervous breakdown. At least, this is what I’ve read. I don’t know because I was over there, doing my best to be cool.

And in the playoffs, the Canadiens first swept the Rangers, beat Boston in six games, and took out St. Louis in four games to win their 16th Stanley Cup.

There’s just not a lot I can tell you about this season. I was busy.

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Habs Stomp On Bruins To Kick Off The Next 100 Years

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007It began with heart-warming moments. Onto the ice in full uniform came Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Pete Mahovlich, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Steve Shutt, and a host of others. It was like seeing a 1976 pre-game warmup.

And the best was yet to come. Others were introduced, and for me personally, seeing Ralph Backstrom, Bobby Rousseau and Terry Harper come out were special moments. I wanted to play like Backstrom and couldn’t, so instead I got a brush-cut like him. I wanted to shoot like Bobby Rousseau but few could, and anyway, I had a nice brush-cut like Backstrom. And I recently had a friendly and interesting chat on the phone with Terry Harper, who also had a brush-cut when he played.

But it was great seeing all the players. A whole cross-section of those from different decades, like the 1940’s Bob Fillion, Elmer Lach and Emile Bouchard, right up to modern times with guys such as Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon and Mike Keane. Coaches were there – Scotty Bowman, Claude Ruel, Jean Perron, Jacques Demers. And crusty old trainer Eddie Palchak came out in his trainers jacket and threw a couple of pails of pucks on the ice, like he did so many times in the past.

Next in line was seeing Lach and Bouchard finally have their numbers 16 and 3 sent up to the rafters. And as a capper, Ryan O’Byrne gave up his number three forever when he took it off and presented it to Bouchard, and O”Byrne is now number 20.

And then, to top everything off, the Habs trounced Boston 5-1, with Mike Cammelleri scoring three times. The team was solid, although a few less penalties would’ve been nice. And Carey Price was terrific, turning back 37 shots fired at him and looking like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, who surely were pulling in a big way for the youngster from their private box.

Such a turnaround after the zombie-like performances against Toronto and Buffalo. But I suppose when you’re playing in front of all those legendary figures up above watching, you need to bring your ‘A’ game. And they did and it was the best birthday present the team could give themselves. And us.

Ken Dryden said it perfectly, as he always does. When he speaks, it’s like he’s writing a book, his words flow with grace and smarts. Dryden said the 2009-10 team can never be the team of the 1950’s or 1970’s or any other year. For the players, it’s now their team, their century, and it’s up to them to create their own history.

The team of today must have heard Dryden, and they came out with a huge win on a huge night. The birthday party is ending, and a new team is born.

Random Notes;

Along with Cammalleri’s three goals, Glen Metropolit and Jaroslav Spacek also lit the lamp.

Gordie Howe came out carrying a Maurice Richard jersey. This is very poignant because they were never friends and Howe said many times he wasn’t crazy about the Rocket, even long after both had retired.

Philadelphia’s in town Monday. This is a team in slight disarray and it would be an excellent time to take advantage of their fragility.

Nice to see wooden sticks the old players carried, and Dryden’s mask.

I’m thinking about getting a brush-cut.

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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.