Tag Archives: Doug Wickenheiser

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.

Irving Grundman Said…

You’d have to think it’s quite odd for a GM to answer some punk’s question about getting tickets. Somehow I can’t see Pierre Gauthier or Brian Burke doing this, or any GM for that matter.

It’s one last letter from the bunch I’d lost years ago and then found recently, and surprisingly, it came from Irving Grundman, who was the Habs GM at the time.

But first, a few things about Mr. Grundman.

Irving Grundman replaced Sam Pollock as GM in 1978, and it was unexpected. Most thought Scotty Bowman would be named the new boss, but it was decided that Bowman would probably be too quick on the draw in trading players, and the bowling alley magnate Grundman was brought in, mostly because of his money-handling abilities.

By all accounts, Grundman wasn’t the greatest Habs GM there ever was, although the recent few might give him a run for his money. It was he who decided to choose Doug Wickenheiser instead of Quebec star Denis Savard in the 1980 draft, whereas Wickenheiser never became the player they thought he’d become and Savard would star in Chicago. Grundman and Jacques Lemaire disagreed on things and the star forward retired and moved to Switzerland. There were also problems finding a decent replacement for Ken Dryden in nets, and three coaches were hired and fired in Grundman’s short time at the helm.

Grundman also pulled the strings on the huge Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Craig Laughlin, and Brian Engblom trade to Washington for Ryan Walter and Rick Green and it was this move that is considered most responsible for the saving of the strugging Capitals franchise. Langway would win the Norris Trophy the first two years he was in Washington.

In his defence, Grundman also drafted Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios, which were good moves, but all in all, he was considered out of his league and should have concentrated on the bowling alley business.

After he was let go by the Canadiens, he would become a Montreal city councillor, found himself charged with corruption, and sentenced to 23 months of community service and fined $50,000.00.

Almost three months to the day after Mr. Grundman wrote this letter, he was fired by the Canadiens, and Serge Savard would take his place.

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.

 

 

Jerry Talks Habs (And More) From Silicon Valley

Lately I’ve been receiving some emails from a great Habs fan named Jerry who is originally from Montreal but has been living near San Jose for many years and working for a GPS development company there. Imagine, he works for a GPS company that maybe makes the same as the one I have, with the lovely British lady telling me to go left and right while we were on a recent California road trip, and she was a voice which I have great affection for.

For the first time in my life, I enjoyed a lady telling me where to go.

I thought Jerry’s emails were so interesting, I asked and received permission from him to post some of what he said.

Here goes:

“One thing I don’t see mentioned much is about the 1980 draft when the Habs drafted Doug Wickenheiser.  I thought Sam Pollock (man, was he ever a genius) was trading to get the 1st pick in 1980 because that was the year Gretzky would have drafted if the WHA didn’t exist.  Can you have imagined 99 playing for the Habs?  The only huge mistake Pollock made was not giving his job to Scotty Bowman.

During the 1972-1973 season, there was a contest on the Habs Montreal radio broadcast.  The question was “how many goals did Jacques Lemaire and Yvan Cournoyer scored during the 1971-1972 season?” I looked at my hockey cards of Cournoyer and Lemaire and sent in the answer.  I ended up winning and the prize was 1 week at a hockey school owned by Lemaire and Cournoyer.  It was one of the best weeks of my life. 

Four years later, I saw an ad in the Montreal newspaper that the hockey school was looking for counselors.  I applied and got to work the whole summer at the school and also worked there the next summer. The camp was an overnight camp in which the students came for a week.  I worked about 5.5 days a week and got paid $50 a week the 1st summer ($75 a week the next summer). 

I still remember the 1st week I worked there and there was a 6 or 7 year kid from Michigan who was in my group.  The kid was Jimmy Carson (main guy Edmonton got in the Gretzky trade).  One of the benefits of working there was getting some sticks.  Cournoyer’s stick is the strangest stick you will ever see.  He played with a straight blade but the blade was joined to the shaft at about a 20 degree angle.  Do still remember him flying down the right wing and switching to a right hand shot? 

The most disappointing thing about working at the school was that the brochure would show almost ever member of the Habs but most would show up for only 1 day the whole summer. 

I remember Rick Chartraw showing up one day and he went straight to a bar (he also asked us to join him) after he got paid.  I remembered walking in the rink one day and seeing Guy Lafleur holding his baby in his arm.  He was by himself and I didn’t bother him.  I read in yesterday’s paper that his son (one previously in trouble) got arrested again (how sad).

“You recently wrote about Viktor Tikhonov, the coach.  Tikhonov was previously an assistant coach with the Sharks so his son (1st rd pick of the Coyoes in 2008 and plays in the KHL) spent some years in CA.  I play in an adult hockey league in San Jose and Tikhonov Jr. comes here in the summer and plays in the adult league.  Others known to play in the adult league are Owen Nolan and Jamie Baker (ex-NHLer).

Another thing I forgot to tell you is that David Maley, who played for a few years for the Habs in the 1980s, and has his name on the Stanley Cup for the 1986 win, lives in the San Jose area.  About 3 years ago I went to a hockey practice and Maley ran the practice.  I was going to talk to him about his time with the Habs but he was too busy.  He will sometimes work the Sharks radio broadcast.

I remember you writing about the Expos a couple of times.  About 4 years ago, one of my teammates (Roxy Bernstein) in an adult hockey league was the radio broadcast partner of Dave Van Horne on the Florida Marlin games.  Van Horne should make it to the Hall of Fame.  I remember going to Jarry Park as a kid and sitting in the bleachers for $1. 

I am seeing the comments from Quebec politicians criticizing the Habs for lack of French Canadians.  Two French Canadian players that the Habs should have gone after are Daniel Biere (after he was put on waivers by the Coyotes) and Marc Savard (after he was a free agent from Atlanta).   There is something wrong with the Quebec development system and Quebec Major Junior League.  I read there were more kids that were raised in California drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 NHL draft than raised in Quebec.

I wasn’t totally sure when I wrote that Sam Pollock was targeting Gretzky in the 1980 draft so I did a little research.  Gretzky’s birthdate is Jan.26, 1961.  I looked at the birthdates of players drafted that year and Moe Mantha’s  (23rd pick in the draft) birth date is Jan.21, 1961 (pretty close to Wayne’s) so I guess if the WHA didn’t exist that Habs would have drafted the Great One.  Hab fans always mention the 3rd pick in the draft, Denis Savard,  but I didn’t realize that Paul Coffey was the 6th pick in the draft.  Can you have imagined the Big 3 with Coffey? 

An interesting thing you may not know about Denis Savard was that he played on a line in junior with 2 guys also named Denis (Cyr and Tremblay) and they were all born on the same date. 

Below is what I found David Maley is doing these days.  I read previously that his sister lives in California and that may be one of the reasons he moved here.  I didn’t realize he won a NCAA championship.  If he had won an Olympic gold, he would have been one of the few players to win NCAA, Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold.  I believe that Ken Morrow and some other player are the only ones to win all 3.”

David Maley – President, Silver Creek Sportsplex

David Maley is currently the President of Silver Creek Sportsplex in San Jose. The Sportsplex is a multi-faceted sports, fitness and entertainment destination featuring 240,000 square feet of state-of-the-art facilities and professional expertise. In 1996 Maley founded Rollin’ Ice, the Bay Area’s premier inline hockey facility, which recently moved into the Silver Creek Sportsplex.

In his 12-year NHL career, Maley played for five teams including the San Jose Sharks, and won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens. Early in his hockey life, he captained his high school team to the Minnesota State Championship and also won an NCAA Championship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

He has been President of the San Jose Sharks Alumni since 2003, playing an integral part in raising funds for the San Jose Sharks Foundation. Maley serves on the board of the Police Activities League (PAL), and recently founded the Dream On Foundation, both of which give youth a chance to participate in sports that they could otherwise not afford.
David has lived in San Jose since 1992. He and his wife Karin have three children, Michaela, Ryan, and Shae.

Doug Wickenheiser Showed What Real Life Is

wickhenheiser_doug

Doug Wickenheiser was going to be the next big centreman for the Montreal Canadiens. Sort of like Jean Beliveau in a way, but of course that was an unfair expectation. There was only one Beliveau.

But Wickenheiser was going to be a beauty, that’s for sure. In his three years with the WHL Regina Pats, the big guy had tallied 37 goals, then 32, and finally, in his final year, a whopping 89 goals and 81 assists. The Montreal Canadiens were rubbing their hands with glee.

The Habs could’ve gone with the slick Quebecois fan favourite Denis Savard, but he was small, and the sight of 6’1″, 196 pound Wickenheiser erased any other ideas from the Habs brass. It was going to be Wickenheiser, they said. And thoughts of a new Jean Beliveau swirled around their heads.

But for some reason, Wickenheiser struggled in Montreal. Not only wasn’t he the new Jean Beliveau, but he was also just another struggling player, totalling just 7, 12, 25, and then 5 goals in his four years in Montreal before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. Fans longed for Denis Savard and couldn’t believe the massive mistake made by the Canadiens brass, especially head scout Ron Caron, who was promptly fired for this poor choice of a draft pick.

In the meantime, Savard, picked third by the Chicago Blackhawks, (flashy defenceman Dave Babych went second) lit it up nightly, and in his brilliant ten years in Chicago, averaged 31 goals a year, including three years where he popped 47, 40, and 44 goals. It was no contest. Everyon agreed Montreal should have chosen Savard, a fire-wagon sparkplug from Pointe-Gatineau, Quebec.

Wickenheiser moved on to St. Louis, and never lit it up there either. It was obvious he was one of many players who were big stars in junior, but found the NHL a completely different story. The player everyone thought was going to make it big eventually bounced around after leaving the Blues, from Vancouver to the Canadian National team to the minors, Europe, and a ten other stops in between. It was just another story in along list of hockey player stories. Most have short careers in too many different cities. The stars are the ones we hear about, the ones who are good enough and fortunate enough to have more than a half-dozen years or so in the bigs.

In retirement, everything was going great. Wickenheiser had opened a nursery and frozen custard business in St. Louis, and his wife Dianne was expecting. But then, only eight days from Dianne delivering twins, a cyst on Wickenheiser’s wrist proved to be cancerous. There was talk of amputation. But the tumor was successfully removed and he was able to hold his new twin girls. 

For three years, all was well for Doug Wickenheiser. All he had to was wait out that magic five-year period to be proclaimed cancer-free. It wasn’t to be. Doctors found he had a rare form of lung cancer, but Wickenheiser, showing true greatness, and kept his head held high.  “I know I’ve got it,” he said. “I know I’ve got to deal with it. It’s part of life. People get sick. People get disease. I really just try to stay positive and pray everything goes well. I think it’s really harder on my wife.”

“I don’t think they (the twins) really know what’s wrong,” he said. “But they have their own prayer every night. They say, “Baby Jesus, please help Daddy’s boo-boo get better.”

Doug Wickenheiser passed away on January 12, 1999. He was only 37.

An arena in his home town of Regina bears his name.