Tag Archives: Henri Richard

Readable Shin Pads

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You can say to yourself, after looking at these pictures, that wow, skates in the 1937-38 Eaton’s catalog were only a couple of bucks,  sticks a buck or less, sweaters just two bucks or so, and  jock straps at $1.95 for top of the line Protex.

Beats those $350 sticks and $800 skates and all that.

But the average wage then hovered around fifty cents an hour and folks had just suffered through the Dirty Thirties. A buck or 50 cents was still a lot, unless your name was Babe Ruth or John Dillinger.

And instead of buying shin pads for 98 cents, more often than not, kids strapped on these Eaton’s catalogs for free and they worked just fine.

You’ll noticed that Toronto Maple Leafs star Red Horner endorsed the top of the line, $4.95 skates. Horner starred for the Buds from 1928-29 to 1939-40.

You can also see, in the second photo, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, and New York Americans sweaters, but without the crests. This kind of explains why it’s so difficult to find crested sweaters from those days. If Eaton’s didn’t sell them, who did?

Speaking of sweaters, the Canadiens are going with the laced-neck style this upcoming 2015-16 season, something the boys wore (aside from a couple of years in the mid-forties), from 1943-44 to 1974-75, after which they went with the v-neck.

Good to see these back. Maybe the boys will play like Richard, Beliveau and Harvey with them on.

Do you say ‘sweater’ or ‘jersey’? I’ve always said ‘sweater’, although my son says that’s truly uncool and old fashioned and everyone says ‘jersey’ now and I should get with the times. But I’m uncool and old-fashioned, so I’m sticking with sweater.

I scored these great catalogue pages from good old Kouli the Greek in Vancouver, a man who lists some of the coolest hockey stuff on eBay. Check him out hereKouli the Greek

One More For Tampa And Detroit

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The Canadiens must now wait for the Lightning and Red Wings to battle it out in game seven after Tampa held on for a 5-2 win in game six.

I’m not sure whom I want Montreal to face. Both teams look decent. Originally I would’ve said Red Wings after the Canadiens skunked them four games to none during the season while the Habs lost all five to Tampa. But either way is fine. Bring ’em on.

Detroit was Henri Richard and Claude Provost’s favourite place to play, although at that time it was at the Olympia, which opened in 1927 with the Detroit Cougars (and then Falcons), and closed in 1979 when the Red Wings, who played under that name from 1932 on, took over the brand new Joe Louis Arena.

When I was playing bantam or midget hockey in Orillia, our coach told us we had the choice of playing in a tournament somewhere in Ontario, or in an exhibition game at the Olympia in Detroit.

We had a vote, and the majority of the guys voted to play in the tournament. I was pissed then and I’m still now. I never understood my teammates about this. We were in lots of tournaments, but the chance to play at the Olympia was a once in a lifetime thing.

I’ll bet the guys don’t even remember the tournament. I don’t. But we’d all remember the Olympia.

Rocket’s Apology

Maurice Richard, in a 1954 ghostwritten column for a Montreal weekly, had called NHL president Clarence Campbell a dictator for the way he had penalized his brother Henri and Boom Boom Geoffrion for fights they hadn’t started.

Campbell was pissed, and Canadiens general manager Frank Selke had to persuade Richard to make a public apology and post a thousand-dollar bond. The French media was pissed as well, claiming that the NHL had forced Rocket to clam up.

A year after this particular kerfuffle, Campbell would suspend Rocket for slugging a linesman, which set off the infamous St. Patrick’s Day Richard Riot.

Rocket never liked Campbell, even after his playing days were long over. Campbell probably wasn’t crazy about Rocket either.

Here’s the letter of apology, which I found in an old scrapbook when I worked at Classic Auctions.

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Well Whaddya Know

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I’ve been looking around my house for this Star Weekly picture for several years, and I found it.

Tucked between the pages of The Hockey News that I wrote about yesterday.

There’s a crease running across but I don’t care.

Look at the hardware parked in front – from let to right, the Norris Trophy (won by Tom Johnson), the Vezina (Jacques Plante), the Stanley Cup, the Prince of Wales (NHL regular season championship), and the Art Ross (Dickie Moore, NHL scoring champ).

Missing is the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, won by Ralph Backstrom (third row, left, next to trainer Hector Dubois, who’s wearing a jacket similar to one I have. Very proud of my jacket).

Scattered throughout, of course, are the Richard brothers, Beliveau, Moore, Geoffrion, Talbot, Provost, coach Toe Blake, and on and on. And the second greatest defenceman ever, Doug Harvey, is top row, third from left.

It was the club’s fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, with one more to follow. A beautiful team. One of the best ever.

It’s nice that I can now stop looking for this.

 

The Sunday Book

Happy Father’s Day to fathers. Hope your kids phone you today. Or at least email you. Anything really.

Also hope you don’t mind if I make this my Sunday post. More pages from my old scrapbook. I’m in Port Hope at the moment.

The huge face of the Rocket you see 5 pictures down is from an old Vitalis advertising sign in the barbershop window in Orillia which the barber gave to me. It’s made of thick cardboard and because of its thickness, it was the beginning of the pages starting to come apart.

Dave Balon Battled

The following is a tremendous story published in the National Post on May 30, 2007 regarding Dave Balon, a tough and talented player for the Canadiens from 1963 to 1967.

He’d come to the Montreal from New York in a  trade that saw him, Gump Worsley, Leon Rochefort, and Len Ronson become brand new Habs and Jacques Plante, Phil Goyette, and Don Marshall going the other way.

This story was published just a day after Dave lost his battle with multiple sclerosis. I don’t know who wrote it, but it affected me.

Instead of just providing the link, here it is in full, plus a photo I have in my scrapbook of Dave and his wife Gwen.

Balon

Dave Balon’s Silent Fight

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – She takes a handful of tissues and shuffles to her husband’s side. Her back is crooked by osteoporosis, her body beaten by a failing spine and the stroke she suffered last summer.

She looks much older than her 68 years. Her face is deeply lined, her hair thin and stringy, and her voice little more than a bullfrog’s croak, the product of a lifetime of heavy smoking.

There is a sadness about Gwen Balon as she sits next to the hockey player she married 47 years ago. She leans in close to his cheek and tenderly wipes away the stream of saliva bubbling from the corner of his mouth.

“Are you OK, hon,” she asks, gently, the words delivered with a sweetness that show she has never stopped loving theman in front of her.

“It is so hard for me to express,” she says. “They tell you there is no such thing as a soulmate, but Dave is mine. I knew right off the bat that we would get married. “He is such a kind man.”

Dave Balon’s clear blue eyes shift toward the sound of his wife’s voice and lock on to her loving gaze. “It’s been a long time for us, eh, honey?” Gwen says. “Yeah,” he whispers.

Balon used to talk in torrents. Words would pour out of his mouth so fast, and so softly uttered, that the hockey writers who hung around the dressing rooms in New York, Montreal, Minnesota and, at the sad end of his 13-year National Hockey League career, Vancouver, would scribble madly or risk missing what Balon had to say.

“Gosh,” “holy cow” and “guldurn” were among his favourite expressions, folksy terms spoken by an earnest, friendly, hard-working forward from the farm country of northern Saskatchewan.

The words do not come easily any more. They started to come less and less about four years ago, when the multiple sclerosis that has gradually transformed Balon’s once-athletic physique into a withered coffin of flesh and bone began its assault on his voice.

Everything below his neck is intact, but gone, really, a victim of the progressive strain of an incurable disease that affects the central nervous system. It first appeared just as Balon was enjoying his most productive seasons as a pro.

Squeeze his arm and Balon feels the pressure of your fingers, though his body is unable to respond. He takes Tylenol to ease a persistent low-grade ache and muscle relaxants to prevent his deadened limbs from twitching involuntarily

What remains alive for the man inside the broken body is his own bright mind, and a wife and a daughter, Jodi, who love him, care for him and continue to stand by him, even while somany others no longer do.

They want the hockey world to know that Dave Balon’s spirit persists, and that his life still matters. He can still experience joy. He can still hear everything. He has not stopped fighting this terrible disease. He never will, not until it kills him.

The women who love him hope an earlier generation of hockey fans have not forgotten about the bow-legged Prairie boy who helped Montreal win a pair of Stanley Cups in 1965 and ’66, played in four NHL All-Star Games, and fought for his teammates wherever he went.

Marshall Johnston remembers who Dave Balon used to be. The Carolina Hurricanes’ head of professional scouting was a teammate of Balon’s with the Prince Albert Mintos, and he has been friends with the family ever since. His duties with the Hurricanes seldom take him back to Saskatchewan, but when he gets there, he will drop in on his former junior teammate. He is one of the few that still do.

Balon’s permanent address is a private room at the Herb Bassett nursing home, a full-care facility on the outskirts of Prince Albert, not more than 15 minutes drive from the front door of the family home.

Every two weeks the staff transports him back to his real home, a tidy brick bungalow on Gillmor Crescent, where he spends the day in a reclining chair just inside the front door.

It is difficult to watch him sitting there now, motionless, in the late winter sun. He has blankets around his legs, a quilt around his shoulders and a Team Canada cap perched on his head. This picture doesn’t connect to the pictures from another time, some 50 years ago, when a handsomely rugged hayseed from the farming community of Wakaw first appeared in Prince Albert to play junior hockey for the Mintos.

Johnston remembers a brawl in Flin Flon, Man., way back when, that had Balon in the middle of it. “Dave was one tough player,” he says. “And I wasn’t very tough, and I guess that’s why I respected him so much: Because he was tough, and he could play.”

He could also charm the ladies. Gwen Gillies was a raven-haired nursing student at the Holy Family Hospital. She liked going to Mintos games. The whole town did. Balon spotted her there and thought she had a pretty smile. (He had “nice legs.”) Balon asked Gwen if she wanted to grab a Coke at the ice cream parlour sometime. “You were the prettiest groupie, mom. Come on, admit it,” Jodi says. “Thanks, Jod,” says Gwen, blushing.

They married in 1960, the season Balon skated for the New York Rangers’ farm club in Trois-Rivieres, Que. He would ship packages of fancy clothes back to Saskatchewan for his new bride. She would look forward to opening each one.

Balon broke in with the Rangers in 1962-63, but he was traded away to Montreal that summer. In his first season with the great Canadiens, Balon surprised Toe Blake, the legendary coach, by exploding for a career best 24 goals and 42 points — and 80 penalty minutes.

“I always knew he was a good checker,” Blake said then. “But he’s shown he can be a real good scorer, too.”

Montreal won Stanley Cups in 1965 and ’66. Balon drew the assist on Henri Richard’s Game 6 championship clincher in ’66, in overtime, against Detroit.

Minnesota selected Balon first overall in the 1967 expansion draft, but he was back in New York by the end of the year. Unable to have children of their own, the Balons adopted Jodi, and then a son, Jeff. New York was a happy time for the young family. Many of the Rangers were Saskatchewan boys, such as Orland Kurtenbach and Jim Neilson, and the whole crew lived in Long Beach out on Long Island.

They would get together to play cards, board games, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, laugh and share stories about their crazy new life so far away from home.

Long Beach was known as a mafia suburb back then, full of goodfellas and crime bosses. One day, there was a knock on the Balon’s front door. It was a delivery man from the Fulton Fish Market, dropping off a thank you from some shady character whose son had received a stick from Balon after practice. “I was giving fresh fish to everyone on the street,” Gwen says with a laugh. “I didn’t know where to keep it.”

On the ice, Balon was enjoying his best years. He finished 10th in NHL scoring in 1969-70 with 33 goals and 70 points. He scored 36 the following season, led the league in plus-minus — Bobby Orr came third — and won the Frank Boucher Trophy, given to the most popular Ranger in a vote by the fans.

Gwen clipped every article written about her husband, kept every hockey card, and she put it all in a scrapbook now held together by electrical tape. She noted Dave’s highlights in a neat, schoolgirl script; a four-goal game against St. Louis, a hat trick against Detroit and beating Orr in the plus-minus race.

But even as Balon was doing so well, something wasn’t quite right. “His legs and arms started feeling weak for no reason,” Gwen says. He talked to the team doctors, but all they could find was a chiselled 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete.

Balon signed with Vancouver in 1971. He was expected to score goals. He got weaker and weaker instead. Canucks management figured Balon, at 33 years old, was washed up. He jumped to the World Hockey Association, lasted for three games, and then quit for good in 1973, heading home to Prince Albert.

The Balons had always been smart with Dave’s NHL money. They owned a house, a cabin in Prince Albert National Park and a paddle-wheel boat. Balon was the captain of the 40-passenger vessel. Every summer, Saskatchewanians from the south would trek north and line up for Dave Balon’s tours of Lake Waskesiu.

“Have you ever been to Waskesiu?” Balon asks. “It is so beautiful up there.”

People started gossping about his health in the late 1970s. Balon was having trouble with his balance. There were whispers he had a drinking problem. The problem was worse than that.

Dave and Gwen had never heard of MS when the doctors in Saskatoon gave them the diagnosis in 1980. They were told there was no cure, and that it would only get worse.

But Balon took on the disease like he took on his NHL career — with fight in his belly, a capacity to suffer its worst and seldom a complaint. Sure, there were tantrums every now and again, rages where the “Holy Cows” were replaced by curses better suited to a hockey dressing room than the family dinner table.

“The odd time he got cranky,” Gwen says. “But he really fought, and we just didn’t acknowledge the disease.”

That is, until they could no longer ignore it.

Balon started walking with a cane early on, and then two canes, and then a walker. He drove a big Lincoln outfitted with a hydraulic lift. He fell getting into it 12 years ago. That was it for walking.

“Honestly,” Jodi says, “he could do everything up until that one point when he fell, and then everything fell apart.”

The Balons did their best to keep it together, though, with the help of the NHL emergency fund, Dave’s player pension and the alumni associations in Montreal and Vancouver. The Canadiens paid for a custom van. The bungalow on Gillmor Crescent was outfitted with special lifts, and an electric chair to carry Balon down to the basement, his favourite haunt.

Jodi has spent the past several months transforming the cluttered space into an orderly shrine celebrating her dad’s NHL career; decorating it with old photos, framed newspaper articles, the Frank Boucher Trophy, and the pair of skates he wore with Montreal.

It is a museum Balon will never see.

The majority of Dave Balon’s neighbours at the Herb Bassett home are elderly women. Several of them suffer from Alzheimers. Orderlies wheel the patients to a common area after meals, where they sit in front of a television set. Balon sits among them. Many of the faces there harbour blank expressions. Oprah and Montel Williams — who also suffers from MS — are Balon’s favourite daytime entertainment. But he most enjoys those nights when a hockey game is on, especially one featuring Montreal or New York. The ex-Hab still refers to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the “Laughs.”

Some days the nursing home brings in guest performers: musicians, authors and clap-your-hands-and-sing-along groups. Balon likes some of the events, but mostly he looks forward to every second day, when he knows Jodi and Gwen will appear at the door for a visit.

He puckers his lips when he sees his daughter — and again when she gets up to leave — a ritual that leaves her near tears, even now, four years after a serious infection put her father in the home permanently.

“It was the worst day for us,” says Gwen. “The disease progressed so slow at first that we just adapted to it.”

The 69-year-old Balon has plenty of old friends living in the Prince Albert area. But few come to visit. They tell Gwen it is just too hard to see Dave like this. “Well, how hard do you think it is for dad?” Jodi says. Her brother Jeff, a handyman in Fernie, B.C., does not come around much either. “He misses his son,” Gwen says. Fans used to write letters, but not so much any more. Jodi wishes they still would. “Tell them: Just send money,” Balon whispers, his sense of humour clearly intact.

It has been a couple years since Kurtenbach, Balon’s teammate in New York, who now lives in Vancouver, has stopped by to see his friend. “Dave had changed so much,” Kurtenbach says. “It is a shock to see him.

“It’s terrible, especially the last time I was there, because it is a pretty one-sided conversation now. Dave is laying there, and you know he is not going to get up.”

Sometimes, in his dreams, Dave Balon does get up. He is a young again, and racing down the left wing of the old Madison Square Garden. He is free in these dreams. And they seem so real to him, but they aren’t. What is real is the woman who has spent a lifetime loving him.

The late afternoon sun is fading through the front window of the house on Gillmor Crescent. It has been a long day for the old hockey player.

Gwen leans in to her husband’s cheek.

“Are you OK, hon?” she asks. “That’s my guy.”

“I’m your guy,” Balon whispers back. “I’m OK.”

It’s Big And Beautiful

My dad and I started the scrapbook together when I was little and he gradually bowed out and let me carry on.

It’s old now, many of the pages are loose, and it’s battered and beat up. But it’s my treasure. I used to invite friends from the old neighbourhood over – “Hey, you wanna come over and see my scrapbook?” and they would and then we’d play road hockey and pose like the players we had just seen in the book.

Here’s the first few pages. The cover was done by my dad, who was a sign painter.

The photos enlarge when clicked on.

A Christmas card Maurice Richard sent me when I was seven sits on the inside cover at the beginning.
Inside the Christmas card
The action photo at the top shows the Rocket just seconds before his Achilles tendon was sliced, which kept him out for months. And on the right, a nice family photo of the Richard clan. Also on this page, Rocket shows sons Normand and Andre his massive scrapbook.
An autographed picture sent to me from the Rocket, Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens ticket stubs, and a photo of Rocket looking at his goals tally are part of this page.

Marc Talks About Things

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin met with the press on Monday and didn’t say a lot  but mentioned the core players are maturing but the team in general isn’t mature yet like Chicago and Los Angeles are.

He said there will be more ups and downs, but the team is well on track.

Nice to hear. And we already knew all that. Ups and downs, on track, good core players.

He said Dale Weise was allowed to return and play after getting thumped by John Moore because all the tests looked to be normal, and it wasn’t until the next day that they realized he was concussed.

He looked pretty concussed to me on the TV screen. Wobbly and goofy, just like George Parros, Travis Moen, and Michael Bournival looked when they got clocked. PK had to give him a bear hug to hold him up.

If the test machines said he was fine, I’d be looking to buy new test machines. If the doctors and trainers said he was fine, I think Weise paid them off.

One of the guys Bergevin did single out as playing hard was Brian Gionta, which must be some sort of sneaky ploy. Make Gionta feel wanted and want to stay, and then cut the salary in half. Or something like that.

He played hard, he just didn’t make much of an impact. I’d rather have an impact guy. Put me in a uniform and I’d play hard too. Harder than anybody. I wouldn’t get anything done and I might fall down a lot, but I’d play hard.

For me though, it’s much different about Gionta. I think either Gionta should go, or if he stays it’s for a bargain rate and the captain’s ‘C’ comes off.

Why do I want the ‘C’ off? I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s a great captain. I don’t care about that. I don’t want a non-productive wee little guy leading my team.

If I’m going to have a small captain that I can be proud of, I want one like 5’7 Henri Richard or 5’7 Yvon Cournoyer. Guys who play with burning fire and also produce.

Otherwise, I want a bigger captain. Crazy eh?

Really though, at this stage of the game, I think the one big change I’d make sooner than later would be the announcing of the new assistant to the assistant to Head Equipment Manager Pierre Gervais.

Stick boy.

Habs, Leafs, And Beatles

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

I was there and I’m pretty darn proud of it.

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 the DJ was going and asked if I would like to go with him.

I didn’t have a ticket, but believe it or not, they were still available when I showed up at the Gardens, and I got a $5.50 ticket in the very last row on the floor.

It was madness, of course. There were about six bands in the lineup, including the Ronettes, the Cyrkle, and Bobby Hebb, 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. Yvan 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 and Beatles remain in the hearts of millions.

The Leafs continue to suck.