Ain’t it grand when a photo of the Punch Line – Richard, Lach, and Blake…..
…..becomes a cool piece of art for an old Export cigarette ad.
I think it’s terrific.
Shown often on Facebook, other websites, and on TV before and during game one of the Habs-Bruins series was the iconic photo of Rocket Richard and Sugar Jim Henry shaking hands after one of the greatest playoff goals ever scored.
It even hangs on the wall of the TD Garden in Boston.
I have some slight connections regarding that famous photo that was taken by La Presse photographer Roger St. Jean, but first, a brief look back at the story behind it.
It was the second period of the seventh game of the 1952 Cup semi-finals between Montreal and Boston, on April 8th at the Forum, when the Rocket collided with rugged Bruins d-man Leo Labine, followed by a headfirst plunge into Bill Quackenbush’s knee.
Richard lay motionless on the ice, folks in the building thought his neck may have been broken, and blood flowed from his forehead.
Richard was taken to the infirmary in the Forum where he was applied stitches and probably smelling salts. Slowly he came around, and in the third period he got up from the table against the doctors’ wishes and made his way back to the bench.
On the bench, Elmer Lach told him the score was tied 1-1 with four minutes to go, Rocket told coach Dick Irvin that he was okay, and Irvin sent him out.
Rocket then proceeded to take the puck in his own end, ducked by the first forechecker, eluded the two other Bruins’ forwards, held off Quackenbush with his left arm as he swooped in, fooled the other defenceman Bob Armstrong, and came in on Sugar Jim Henry, who himself had suffered a broken nose and two black eyes earlier in the game.
Henry dove, Rocket pulled the puck aside and blasted it home, which won the series for the Canadiens.
It was just after, when players were shaking hands, that the photo was taken.
Back in the dressing room, Rocket sat unsmiling and quiet, and suddenly broke down. The doctor put a needle in his arm, and it was two hours before he was in shape to get up and finally leave.
Rocket had scored that series-winning goal while being semi-conscious.
I decided, when I was 13, that I needed an 8 x 10 glossy of the Rocket and Sugar Jim Henry so I went right to the top. I wrote a letter to La Presse and it ended up on the desk of editor-in chief Gerard Pelletier.
And who is Gerard Pelletier, you might ask? Well, aside from being editor at the Montreal French-language daily, and according to Wikipedia, he, his buddy Pierre Trudeau, and Jean Marchand were recruited by Prime Minister Lester Pearson to help derail the rising Quebec separatist movement.
Later on, Pelletier would become a cabinet minister in the Trudeau government, and would eventually take the role of ambassador to France, and then ambassador to the United Nations. He was also awarded the Order of Canada.
So as you can see, he was quite a big shot.
I think it was mighty nice of him to write to me, considering his paper had been on strike. And yes, he did pass my letter on to the sports department, because at some point, my 8 x 10 glossy showed up at my house.
Indirectly related to the goal –
One of my 75 Group two, 1944-64 Montreal Canadiens Bee Hives, Paul Masnick, who played a part, sort of, in that picture.
Paul Masnick was a journeyman centre who was with the Canadiens from 1950 to 1954 before going to Chicago and then Toronto.
In total, he played 161 games with Montreal. And it was because of him, indirectly, that there is the famous photograph.
In game six of the 1952 semi finals, it was Masnick who scored the winner on Sugar Jim Henry off a Doug Harvey rebound. This led to game seven, when the Rocket, coming back on the ice after being bloodied and knocked unconscious, scored the big goal which eliminated Boston and got Montreal into the finals against Detroit.
And it was after this Boston series that Masnick helped win, that the famous photo was taken.
And today –
Have a look at that huge framed picture behind Rocket and a couple of fellows at his appliances shop, the one of Rocket and Sugar Jim Henry.
That very picture, which measures 34″ x 44″, now hangs on a wall in my office!
Circa 1954 Canadiens’ players, wives and girlfriends get together at Butch Bouchard’s Cabaret to enjoy some pops and chuckles.
Bouchard (in glasses), Maurice and Lucille Richard, Ken Mosdell, Doug Harvey, Elmer Lach and the rest of this happy bunch let off some steam during those glorious days when the Habs were close to embarking on five straight Stanley Cups.
Harvey’s in the forefront at the head of the table, and just behind Bouchard and to Elmer Lach’s left is Gerry McNeil with wife Theresa.
At the back, being served by the waiter, appears to be Bernie Geoffrion (with Marlene), and Ken Mosdell is directly across from Boomer.
That’s Tony Demers on the left, circa 1942, with a couple of youngsters named Elmer Lach and rookie Maurice Richard.
Kind of a pre-Punch Line.
But it wouldn’t become the Punch Line because (a) Toe Blake filled that role nicely, and (b), Tony Demers ended up in the penitentiary.
You can see Tony’s situation right here – Eight Years in the Big House
Tony was born and raised in Chambly, not far from where I’m living right now. He died in 1997, and if he was still alive, he’d be 96.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Induction ceremony went off swimmingly, except for the time maybe when Mats Sundin pronounced Elmer Lach’s name “Latch,” and Patrick Roy took a swipe at the Canadiens, saying they decided to trade him, which only sort of happened after Roy told Ronald Corey he’d never play another game with the team. Maybe he’s upset he wasn’t hired as coach or GM.
The speeches went smoothly, although Bill Hay’s seemed long and drawn out, but I thought Pavel Bure’s was excellent, as were the others..
And to cap off a fine night, Gary Bettman looked tired, hollow, concerned, pale, and not a happy camper whatsoever, and the women looked lovely.
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.
The Canadiens take to the ice tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, and we all know what an important game this is considering the Habs have been skydiving to earth with a flimsy parachute.
But there’s nothing I can add to what has and is being written everywhere I look. And to paraphrase that great Habs fan Bob Dylan, I’m not going to “simplify the Habs, classify them, deny or crucify them. Analyse, categorize, finalize, or advertise them. Disgrace them or displace them, define or confine them. Select them or dissect them, or inspect them or reject them. All I really want to, is baby, be fans of them.”
So having said that, and because there’s nothing I can add to what has already been said a million times, I’ll just post a couple of old Rocket Richard hockey cards I have. They’re in terrible shape but I don’t care. Because I’m not going to dissect, inspect, or reject them.
The Rocket and Elmer Lach card is from 1953-54. The other is from 1954-55.
I feel quite safe in saying that when hockey fans everywhere heard the news that the plane carrying Yaroslavl Lokomitiv had gone down, there were immediate thoughts about their own teams. Losing the Montreal Canadiens for example…. I have no words.
Shockingly, there was a moment in time when we almost did lose the Montreal Canadiens, but it wasn’t from a plane crash. Instead, it was from a train almost plunging into an icy river. And we’re talking the Rocket and Doug and Butch and Elmer and some mighty fine teammates.
The Canadiens had fallen to the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 in Toronto on December 20, 1950, and hours later were heading back to Montreal. Just 35 miles from the city, in the morning, the train began to cross the Dorion bridge high above the St. Lawrence River, but a cracked wheel bearing caused the baggage car to hop the rails. Quickly the next four cars also left the track, and I remember reading once that members of the Canadiens moved to one side of their car to try and keep it from tipping.
Finally, after a few harrowing moments, the rest of the train, with the Canadiens on it, managed to hug the ties and make it across. Barely.
Several passengers were injured although all of the Canadiens players were fine, and everyone was brought back to Montreal by another train and some buses.
But it was as close as can be to losing the entire Montreal Canadiens when their train came within a whisker of hurtling into the cold St. Lawrence below.
Is this a gruesome story or what?
Noticed this in an old Forum program I have and I thought I’d add a few words.
Elmer retired from the Canadiens after the 1954 season and spent a couple of years as a successful coach of the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Hockey League. From there, in or around 1957, he joined Maislin Transport as a sales and public relations guy.
I’m guessing this job paid way more than what he earned as a star centre with the Habs.
Maislin Transport began in 1945 and was run by seven Maislin brothers and a brother-in-law. The company eventually closed shop in 1982 but has morphed into what is now known as Maisliner, which does most of its business in the U.S.
Elmer’s fantastic career spanned 14 years with the Canadiens, beginning in 1940, and his numbers can be seen yes, right here.