Tag Archives: Dick Duff

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.

DK

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Fergy Left His Steak And Walked Out

To help take your mind off the wacky world of this year’s Habs, at least for a few minutes, I thought I’d mention a couple of tidbits about good old number 22, John Ferguson, that I found while re-reading my book Breakaway by Charles Wilkins.

First, an autograph I got from him in the mid-60’s.

Fergy was sitting in a restaurant with teammate Dick Duff, ready to tackle a steak, when Eddie Shack of the Leafs walked in. Duff, who had played with Shack in Toronto, struck up a conversation with his old friend. Fergy was so disgusted that a teammate would socialize with the enemy that he got up and walked out, leaving his uneaten steak.

Henri Richard was given the captaincy after Jean Beliveau retired, but Pocket Rocket wasn’t the Habs’ first choice to wear the C. It was Fergy. Fergy had decided to retire in 1971 and GM Sam Pollock offered him the honour of being captain if he would stay longer. But Sam was turned down.

John ended up resenting the Canadiens organization. He was in the hospital having surgery on a bone below his eye, a very serious operation, and he said that not once did a member of the team’s ownership, management, or coaching staff come to visit him. And only one them phoned – Toe Blake – but just once.

The Hall of Fame committee had Fergy’s name on the ballot and it went through, but for reasons unknown, they changed their minds and he was never inducted.

Ferguson was asked by Harry Sinden to play for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series but declined. His reasoning was that there was so much talk about Bobby Hull not being able to play because the Golden Jet had bolted to the new WHA, he felt it would be too much of a distraction to accept the offer, considering he’d been retired for a year. He became assistant coach instead.

Ferguson laid a beating on Chicago’s Eric Nesterenko during the 1965 Stanley Cup finals that changed the momentum of the series, and caused Nesterenko to live with the memory of it for years to come. Nesterenko even became the subject of a novel “The Drubbing of Nesterenko” by Hanford Woods, and although the fight was an absolute disaster for the Black Hawk, it only added to the legend of Fergy.

Here’s the fight:

 

 

 

Hit ‘Em When They Least Expect It; “Coins” Makes A Sudden Return

Like Cassius Clay landing a big blow to Sonny Liston’s nose and then quickly landing another, I respond just one day after the debut of  “The Coin Collection” with a quick one-two and do it again.

Can’t let people get too comfortable or set in their ways. Gotta keep em on their toes.

I’ve checked and checked, got the magnifying glass out, and it’s not there. I’ll probably check again in a few years to see if it suddenly decides to appear.

If this 1936 Canadian penny had a little dot under the date, I might be lighting cigars with twenty dollar bills right now. There are only three or four known, and at auction could sell for several hundred thousand bucks.

The 1936 dot penny was actually made in 1937, but a King thing happened and threw everybody off guard. Edward Vlll abdicated the throne so he could marry an American gal, Wallis Simpson, and so at the beginning of 1937 there was no King’s image to go on the penny. So they continued putting 1936 on the new ones, only with a dot below the date.

When King George Vl was finally made King, the mint melted these dot pennies and they did a good job of it because like I say, there’s only a few around anywhere.

The Habs of 1936-37 were a good but not great team, and although they won the Canadian division, lost in the semi-finals to the Detroit Red Wings. 1936 was the year Howie Morenz made his emotional return to Montreal after playing in Chicago and New York, but in January of 1937, just around the time the Canadian Mint was making 1936 dot pennies, Morenz got a foot caught on the boards and fractured his leg and would eventually pass away on March 8, 1937 from reasons ranging from medical complications to a broken heart.

Morenz would be gone just two months before George Vl’s coronation and the Mint making 1937 pennies for real.

Montreal Canadiens born in 1936 include the great Henri Richard, plus Andre Pronovost, Ab McDonald, Ted Harris, and Dick Duff, along with Claude Laforge who played five games for the team in 1957-58, and Reg Fleming and Murray Balfour who played three and five games before they were shipped to Chicago where they blossomed into stars.

Others born in 1936 – Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, actors Burt Reynolds and Dennis Hopper, and one of my favourites, right-handed pitching ace Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There He Was Again – Ralph Backstrom

He had all the things I knew were good in life – a big talent and one who could skate like the wind, a great brush-cut, a lovely wife, was a heralded phenom when he was a kid, and he wore the sweater of the Montreal Canadiens. What could be better than all that?

He was Ralph Backstrom, and I wanted to be Ralph Backstrom. I knew I wasn’t going to be another Rocket or Beliveau or Geoffrion, so I thought I’d be Backstrom instead. I started by getting a brush-cut and posing on the ice like I’d seen Backstrom do in pictures, even when I was supposed to be concentrating on playing. My coaches must have wondered what the heck I was doing.

He had come out of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, a little town in northern Ontario that seemed to churn out hockey players the way General Motors churns out cars, having produced Ted Lindsay, Mike Walton, Dick Duff, Barclay, Bob and Bill Plager, the Hillman brothers, Mickey Redmond and others, and especially Backstrom. He was a star in minor hockey, as most pros once were, and was captain and the best of the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens junior squad before he joined the big club.

I loved the way Ralph Backstrom played, the way he skated like a blur and was so solid both as a scorer and a checker. And because he was such a fast skater, he and Henri Richard would race around the Forum ice from time to time for the fun of it because they were the team speed demons.

I hadn’t seen an image of Backstrom for years, and suddenly, during the 100th birthday celebrations at the Bell Centre, there he was, smiling and walking out to centre ice with the others. It made me happy to see him. But he doesn’t have his brush cut anymore, and that made me sad.

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Those TSN Guys Sure Can Be Kidders Sometimes.

This came out in the Edmonton Journal, written by John MacKinnon, and it’s quite amazing. Somehow, some place, the TSN gang must have got together and dropped some acid. MacKinnon’s story is entitled…

“Habs’ Dream Team Falls Flat With Imagination Shackled”  

So, in honour of the Montreal Canadiens centenary, TSN has assembled the “Ultimate Canadiens Team,” and it’s pretty much a laugh riot.

The TV folks put Jean Beliveau at centre between Dickie Moore and Maurice Richard on the first line. Fair enough. Then things got weird.

Saku Koivu between John Ferguson and Bobby Rousseau on the second line was an odd decision, and Brian Skrudland between Andre Pronovost and Jim Roberts on the ‘energy’ line, was a stretch, no offence to those splendid gentlemen, Cup-winners all.

The checking line of Guy Carbonneau between Bob Gainey and Claude Provost is OK, if you really need a checking line on a fantasy team. But the sublime Doug Harvey partnered with Mike Komisarek as the top defensive pairing? Ted Harris and Craig Ludwig as the third duo?

Michel (Bunny) Larocque backing up the incomparable Jacques Plante in goal?

Obviously, TSN was using some sort of ghost roster format to sort through 100 years of excellence. The network tried to inject a dash of realism — a questionable measure when the point is to indulge in fantasy — by limiting the number of Hockey Hall of Famers on the team to eight.

Still, an all-time assemblage of Les Glorieux with none of Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Howie Morenz, Aurele Joliat, Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard, Joe Malone, Yvan Cournoyer, Newsy Lalonde, Guy Lapointe, Chris Chelios, Jacques Laperriere, Emile (Butch) Bouchard, Tom Johnson, Sprague Cleghorn, Lorne (Gump) Worsley, Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Georges Vezina, Bert Olmstead, Dickie Duff, George Hainsworth, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Steve Shutt, J.C. Tremblay, Rod Langway, Mats Naslund and Boom-Boom Geoffrion suiting up is mighty light on glory.

So how do you get to the right answer? That’s not so easy.

In this company, 50-goal scorers Pierre Larouche and Stephane Richer, or two-time 40-goal man Mark Napier, sit far down the list.

Others who wouldn’t make the cut:

Vincent Damphousse, Kirk Muller, Bobby Smith, Hall of Famer Buddy O’Connor, who centred the Razzle Dazzle Line, on and on.

To simplify, you could go with an all-native Montrealer team and start with the Richard brothers, Geoffrion, Lemaire and Moore up front with Harvey, Savard, Bouchard and Cleghorn on the back end, and the Gumper and Jose Theodore (Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2002) in goal.

How about the entire ’59-60 team, which capped off the five-in-a-row dynasty, or the ’76-77 edition, the best of the four-straight gang of the 1970s. You wouldn’t be wrong, either way.

Selecting Fergie, Skrudland, Harris and Ludwig ahead of a busload of Hall of Famers might be a bizarre conversation starter, but sifting through the Canadiens greats is quite a discussion, no matter how you attack it. With no right answer, finally.

The Beatles And The Habs – A Winning Combination.

 On August 17th, in 1966, the Beatles played an afternoon show in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens.

I was there.

I was 15 years old and had a summer job as a highway construction slave labourer, but the boss let me go early and I went down to Toronto from Orillia with a disc jockey my sister worked with at the local radio station. She had got word to me just that morning that he was going and asked if I would like to go with him. I didn’t have a ticket, but believe it or not, the show wasn’t sold out and I got a $5.50 ticket in the very last row of the floor.

It was madness, of course. There were about six bands in the lineup, and the Beatles in the finale played for about 40 minutes with girls screaming and fainting and carrying on.

That fall, hockey season began, and the next spring, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Habs in six games to win their last Stanley Cup.

The Leafs were an old team with guys like Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower, Red Kelly, and Allan Stanley, but Montreal wasn’t that young either. Henri Richard was 30, John Ferguson 27, Claude Provost was 32, Dick Duff 30, Ted Harris 30, Jean-Guy Talbot was 34, Jean Beliveau was 35, and the goalies, Gump Worsley and Charlie Hodge, were 37 and 33 respectively.

Of course, Montreal also had the kiddies. Yvon Cournoyer was all of 22. Claude Larose was 23. Jacques Laperriere 24. And Serge Savard and Carol Vadnais were just 20.

John and Ringo were 26, Paul 24, and George 23.

The Habs have continued on over the years in mostly glorious fashion. The Beatles remain in the hearts of millions.

And the Leafs continue to suck.