Tag Archives: Howie Morenz

Hockey’s Golden Age Is When?

Isn’t it funny that no matter what decade we’re in, many retired players and older fans always insist that the game isn’t as good as it used to be, when they played or watched.

It’s only natural that they feel this way. The present game, of any decade, just doesn’t have the romance it did for them. And hockey always changes, whether it’s the way players shoot, or pass, or even their size.

Ken Dryden, when asked when he thought the golden age of hockey was, answered that it’s whenever we were young.  It is for me. The 1950s and 1960s were my golden hockey years. They were magical years, with road hockey, collecting cards, digging pucks out of snowbanks, outdoor rinks and frozen toes,  and a six-team NHL. And I had the Rocket, Beliveau, Howe, Hull, Plante, and Sawchuk to watch.

But for men who played in the 1930s and ’40s, those 1950s and ’60s years sucked. And for those who played in the 1910s and ’20s, the next few decades after them simply didn’t cut it.

It’ll always be like this. Ken Dryden was right. It all depends on when you were born.

Here’s some examples.

Cyclone Taylor, one of hockey earliest stars, talking about the game in 1968:

“I don’t think I’d like to play the game now. I was used to going on at the start of the game and playing to the finish. I think any man between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t play 60 minutes of hockey – well, he just doesn’t want to play, that’s all.”

Newsy Lalonde, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1910, talking hockey in 1970.

“Never did I use the slapshot the way you see it used in the NHL now, with the curved sticks and all. With us there was no other shot to use but the wrist shot. When a man makes a slapshot today it’s more powerful than a wrist shot, but you can’t place it in the same way. The modern player just shoots the puck in the general direction of the net and that’s it. We knew where the puck was going and didn’t have to look twice.

And if you think hockey is a tough game nowadays, you have no idea what toughness is all about.”

Bill Durnan, star goalie for the Habs from 1943 to 1950, talking about the NHL in 1969.

“It’s a changed game, no doubt about it. Now it’s congested and half the time you don’t know how the puck went into the net. Thy just don’t have the plays we had; they simply shove the puck in the corner, then there’s a wild scramble, with three or four guys behind the bloody net. The puck comes out and somebody bangs it in. At that point, even the announcers who are supposed to know what happened start guessing.

And the players have changed, especially their attitudes, though at least until recently there were a few honest skaters left. John Ferguson, who played for the Canadiens, is an example. I was at a party with him a few years ago and somebody asked him why he was such a stinker on the ice and a nice guy off it. Ferguson replied. “When I’m on the ice, I’m at work!”

Now that’s the kind of answer we oldtimers would give.”

Cooper Smeaton, NHL referee before and after World War 1, interviewed in the 1970’s.

“Those were the golden days of hockey when you had fellows like Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, and Georges Vezina. They talk about Bobby Hull’s speed, but Morenz would whip around his net like a flash and be up the ice before you could blink your eyes.

Take a goal scorer like Stewart. In today’s game he’d score 100 goals. And in the old days if a team was a man short it would stickhandle the puck until time expired. Now they just heave it down the ice. You don’t have to pay a guy $400,000 to do that.

We had a more appealing game game with lots of stickhandling and nice passing. Now it’s all speed. But one thing remains the same though – the referees never seem to please the coaches or managers or owners. To this day, nobody is perfect.”

Joliat and Dryden Signed The Books

I drank a beer or two with Aurele Joliat at the old Prescott Hotel in Ottawa, sometime in the mid-1980s, and drove him home afterwards. I knew he’d be there because he showed up each week with his bowling team. We got along splendidly, even though he insisted that the Rocket couldn’t tie Morenz’s skate laces.

I brought my book, ‘The Montreal Canadiens’ by Claude Mouton, and Aurele was more than happy to sign it and mention my broken arm (although it was only a small cast on my wrist).

Ken Dryden signed his book ‘The Game’ for me by writing “I’ve had a lot of fans in my life, and you’re one of them. Happy Birthday, Dennis”.

My sister got him to write that. It was a bit of an inside joke she and I had going at the time. She said he chuckled as he wrote it.

More Lovely Habs Wives

Photos from my old scrapbook, which I still open from time time.

Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion with his wife Marlene and kids. That little gaffer is Danny, who went on to play for the Habs in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Marlene is the daughter of Howie Morenz, so she’s a hockey gal through and through. She looks beautiful, especially in that white blouse.

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Big Jean Beliveau doing the dishes with wife Elise. Elise said she had to do most of the driving when they were dating because Jean was a lousy driver.

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Jacques Plante, with wife Jacqueline and boys Michel and Richard, singing and forgetting about flying pucks that hurt when they hit the face. Plante also liked to knit, and made his own socks and toques.

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Dickie Moore and his lovely wife playing with their little baby. Such a fine looking couple. One of Moore’s daughters, and it could be the one in this photo, eventually dated one of Doug Harvey’s son. (I never heard how that worked out).

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Bert Olmstead showing his beautiful family his scrapbook. Scrapbooks were all the rage back then, and probably very cool when the scrapbook was about yourself. Years ago I looked up Olmstead in the Calgary phone book, phoned him and asked him if he’d mind talking about the old days with the Habs. He hung up on me.

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This is Maurice Richard, of course, just sitting around with his wife Lucille and the family. The kids are Maurice Jr., Hugette, Normand, Andre, and Suzanne. In the top photo, the Rocket shows his Rocket scrapbook to Normand and Andre. Most kids don’t have dads with a personal scrapbook. However, my dad was probably a much better sign painter than the Rocket.

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Henri Richard and his lovely wife Lise, being happy and healthy at home in Montreal. We would see Lise often over the years in camera shots at games with the Pocket, and she always looked great, that’s for sure.

Henri was just a little kid when his older brother was becoming a star with the Canadiens.

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One of the most important players on the Habs in the early 1960s, and a third and fourth line grinder at that – Dave Balon and his beautiful wife of whose name I don’t know. I wish I did.

Sadly, Balon passed away in 2007 from MS, and of course it was way too early because he was only 68.

Balon was one of those guys who was never a star, but was a hard worker, a checker, and he shone in playoff situations, scoring key goals, and was put out often in key situations against the other teams’ stars. For every Jean Beliveau, a team needs a Dave Balon. He wore number 20, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s never gotten enough credit for what he did for the Montreal Canadiens.

Look how happy they look, especially his wife.

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Ralph Backstrom and his wife Frances and kids.

After Backstrom’s playing days were over, he ended up coaching the University of Denver team, founded a roller hockey league in the late ’90s, and in 2003, the Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League.

Backstrom was always one of my favourite players. I even got a brush cut like his once. The guy personified the Montreal Canadien teams he played on – speedy, classy, and a beautiful skater. Like me except for most of that.

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Canadiens goaltender Charlie Hodge and lovely wife Sheila. Charlie had the unfortunate luck of being on the same team as Jacques Plante, so he was often a backup goalie with the Habs early on. But he would win the Vezina outright in 1963-64 and shared the Vezina with Gump Worsley in ’65-66. He eventually went to Oakland when expansion came into being in 1967, as each team had to surrender a goalie for the new upstarts (the original six teams were allowed to protect only 11 skaters and one goalie).

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John Ferguson with wife Jean and daughter in this really nice family photo. As much as Fergie was a bruiser on the ice, he was known as a gentle pushover at home.

Fergie and family would go back to Nanaimo BC in the off-season where he played professional lacrosse, and he also had a long-time love affair with harness racing.

 

Those Wild And Crazy Early Years

It’s listed as being 1929  and the Chicago Black Hawks on YouTube but I think it’s off by a year or two and it’s more likely 1930 or ’31. And it’s not the Chicago Black Hawks.

Howie Morenz, Eddie Shore, Ace Bailey, Aurele Joliat, Dit Clapper, Lester Patrick, and so many other all-time greats of the game roamed the ice back then, and 1930 was only a year after Wall Street crashed and women now being considered “Persons” under new Canadian law.

The Habs would win the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1930 after taking out the Boston Bruins in two games, with Howie Morenz netting the winner.

The NHL was a ten-team league at this time – Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, the Montreal Maroons, and the NY Americans in the Canadian Division, and Boston, the Rangers, the Detroit Cougars, Chicago, and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the American Division.

This minute and a half home video  features the AHA Chicago Shamrocks and possibly the St. Louis Flyers (or Duluth Hornets) and is a fascinating look at the boys back then.

And the ice cleaners at the end of the clip are something to behold.

Drinking Beer With Aurele Joliat

Ottawa’s Prescott Hotel in the mid-1980s was still a classic old beverage room with a Ladies and Escorts door and a regular entrance. It was like a lot of bars back then, smelling of stale beer and cigarette smoke, and the trays of beer were served by middle-aged guys in white shirts.

It was also the Wednesday night bowling team’s bar, where the members, a bunch of young guys and one really old guy, got together after a big night out at the lanes.

I had just read in the paper about the bowling team and the really old guy, and when the next Wednesday rolled around, I grabbed my brother-in-law and we went down to the Prescott with one thing on my mind. It’s not every day that you get a chance to drink beer with Aurele Joliat, star player of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1920s and ’30s, and good buddy of Howie Morenz.

In the Prescott, I spotted Mr. Joliat right away, mainly because he was about 50 years older than the rest of the bowling team, and I went over and asked him if I could buy him a beer. He grumbled something and he might have cursed a bit, but he joined us.

For the first fifteen minutes or so, our man was fairly miserable. When I asked what he thought of the Rocket, he said the guy couldn’t lace Morenz’s skates. He complained about today’s players, saying they would would never had cut it in the old days (as most oldtimers say). He scowled and dropped a bunch of F-bombs, but truthfully, I don’t think he minded the attention.

Soon after, Joliat started to change, maybe because he could feel that I was genuinely interested in him and the hockey of his day. He became soft-spoken, and I think he came close to tearing up when talking about Morenz.

He happily signed a couple of things I had brought along, including Claude Mouton’s book “The Montreal Canadiens”, and when I was fumbling about with a cast on my wrist and trying to find the page with his picture, he grabbed the book from me, went right to it, and signed “To Dennis and his broken arm, Aurele Joliat”.

The evening had begun with a testy old man, and ended with a nice, friendly old fellow.

We drove him home (which was cool in itself), and he thanked us and said goodbye, and when I think about it, I wish he would’ve asked us in for a cup of tea. I would have liked to have met his wife (I think she was still alive), looked at some of his old photos, and maybe, if he still had it, touched that little cap he wore when he starred for the Montreal Canadiens, all those years ago.

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Howie Going For A Spin

I noticed the following picture on eBay recently.

It’s Howie Morenz as a teenager back in Stratford, Ontario circa 1920, riding in a 1902 Olds, the year he was born.

It was still a few years until he’d lace ’em up as a rookie with the Habs. The beginning of a journey that saw him as the finest player of his generation and one of the greatest Montreal Canadiens of all time.

The seller was listing this original photo at $3200.00, which…. ahem….is way out of whack but who am I to say what someone should or shouldn’t do?

If he can find a buyer who’ll pay $3200.00 for this, more power to him. But truthfully, it’s closer to the $500 range.

It’s neat though.

Morenz

 

Habs And Rangers Back A Bit

Mike Wyman posted the clip below on his Facebook page yesterday, which is a minute from a 1932 playoff game between the Canadiens and Rangers.

The title reads – The Lightning Game – Canada beats America in Play-Offs for Stanley Trophy. And in the spring of 1932, both Aurele Joliat and Pit Lepine were injured and didn’t play. So we beat the bastards that night even with key injuries.

At about the 41 second mark, you can see Howie Morenz (number 7) making one of his spirited dashes up ice. A quick sampling of the man’s talent, and so great to see. We need some of that flair on Thursday.

George Hainsworth is in goal for the Canadiens, John Roach is the Rangers netminder, and  Ching Johnson is the big, balding Rangers defenceman rushing near centre ice. Ching trips, like a Ranger should.

Roach’s nickname was “The Port Perry Cucumber”. For Henrik Lundqvist, I like “The Swedish Squash”.

Number 12 for the Habs that you see a couple of times is probably Dunc Munro, who was playing his lone season with the Canadiens, but teammate Georges Mantha, who usually wore number 6, also wore 12 at times during this era.

Toronto won the Cup that year but that’s certainly not interesting.

Howie’s Obit Added

I came across the old Toronto Star obituary for Howie Morenz after he’s passed away in a Montreal hospital bed in 1937 and I’d like to add it to a post I did last summer after wandering around Montreal.

First, the truly beautiful obituary witten by Andy Lytle in the Toronto Star, (from Brian McFarlane’s book “True Hockey Stories: The Habs”), followed by my post done last summer.

“Like a tired child dropping softly to sleep, Howie Morenz died in a Montreal Hospital last night.

Morenz, the flashing meteor of the ice lanes, the little man who proved that “they do come back from the valley of regret and disillusion,” ate a light supper, smiled at his nurse and then turned his head wearily on the pillow as though to fall asleep.

The watching nurse, noting the strange pallor settling over his face, called a doctor. But before the medical man arrived the turbulent soul of one of the greatest figures that ever laced on skates had found eternal peace.

It was his heart that gave out, the experts said sorrowfully. To those who knew the strong vein of sentimentality that surged in the make-up of this remarkable athlete it was if the fibre of the man slowly disintegrated as he faced the uncertainty of a hockeyless future.

A crestfallen Morenz had come back to the Canadiens this season after a season on foreign ice with Chicago and then the Rangers.
In a few months he had re-scaled the heights. Was once more the flashing, dashing Morenz, the streak of Stratford, the beloved of the hockey gods who sit in silence or roar like maddened souls during the progress of the games in Montreal.

Then a quick twist, a fall on the ice and Morenz was carried away, his leg broken in two or three places.

As he recovered slowly, Morenz held court in his hospital ward. His friends were legion, his admirers more. They called to see him, to talk, to commiserate and to secure his autograph.

Howie again broke under the strain and the excitement of this renewed adoration. Last weekend the doctors belatedly clamped on the lid. No more visitors, no more chats. He was, the experts said, on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown. The strain was too great.

And then, a few days later, as his friends looked confidently forward to his complete recovery, with the unexpectedness of a bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky, the weary, exhausted figure heaved a tired sigh and turned his face to the wall.

A moment later, to a startled world and to his agonized people, the tragic words were spoken – “Howie Morenz is dead.” It was his brave heart that had given suddenly, tragically out, his doctors said.

Morenz is survived by Mrs. Morenz and three children. Howie Jr., 10, skating mascot of the Canadiens, Donald, 4, and Marlene, 3.”

Morenz

It was mostly driving around Montreal today instead of walking, and I have to say, the pavement sucks almost everywhere.

Bumpy streets. I’m hoping my shocks hold up.

I avoided joggers and bike riders at Mount Royal Cemetery, and visited Howie Morenz and his son Donald. As you can see, Donald died when he was only six. Howie and Donald are buried with Mary Morenz’s family members.

Howie

I don’t know what caused Donald’s death at six years old, and I’m not sure where Howie’s wife Mary is. She doesn’t seem to be there with the rest of the gang.

If my research is correct, it seems Mary remarried in 1939 (to Georges Pratte), just nine days after young Donald Morenz passed away.

And just for the record, Herbert McKay and Wilhelmina Stewart on the headstone are Mary Morenz’s mom and dad.

After that I drove to the Howie Morenz Arena, which wasn’t far away and I was killing time before Lester’s Deli opened. The arena’s only 35 years old for goodness sakes, with new renovations. I was hoping for something much older with more of a sweaty, tobacco/mildew smell.

But at least Howie has an arena named after him, and rightly so.

Howie arena 1

Howie arena 2

Then I went to Lester’s Deli, just as it was opening. Lester’s, a family-owned business since 1951, was fantastic, and the neighbourhood around it on Rue Bernard has this great Jewish feel to it. Some of the men walking around wore these big round hats which I’ve never seen before. Awesome hats. I want one.

Lester’s smoked meat sandwich is right up there with the best of them, that’s for sure. I was the only one there and it was fun to watch all the staff, who might be all related, go about getting ready and from time to time bitch at each other.

If I hadn’t have gone to Schwartz’s (which holds a special place in my heart) first, I would say Lester’s is the best. It’s not fancy and it’s not big, but it’s clean and nice, with a lot of funky stuff on the walls.

They didn’t ask me if I wanted lean, medium, or fatty, and I’d say it was medium that I scoffed down. And wow was it good! An awesome smoked meat. Messy as hell. I didn’t order fries because I’m worried about my complexion.

My one complaint was afterward, when I looked at the menu on the wall and I saw they have a regular sandwich for $7 bucks and a bigger one for ten, and they brought me the ten buck one automatically. But what’s three bucks, right? And I wasn’t going to say anything because I’m a Canadian.

A cool place on a cool street.

Lester's

Lester's 2

Lester's 1

Cream Of The Crop

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Howe

Gretzky

The best ever? It’s been written and talked about forever.

I don’t care. I want to talk about it too. It’s cold and I don’t want to go out.

There’s no real definitive answer I think, but it can be broken down in stages.

Howie Morenz in the 20s and 30s. Maurice Richard’s name was added in the 40s. Gordie Howe and the Rocket in the 50s.

It was all Howe in the 1960s, although Bobby Hull’s name was tossed around by some, and Bobby Orr showed up in the latter part of the 1960s and into the 70s.

Then Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky came along and ruled the 80s and 90s.

Gretzky’s name comes up much more than Mario’s, but Mario, before he got sick, would take a back seat to no one and ended with 1723 points in 915 regular season games, including an 85-goal season in ’88-89.

Maybe Mario is underrated when it comes time to talk about the best ever. He was big and smart with hands of gold.

Sidney Crosby is great of course, but he’s not in this stratosphere. Not yet at least. I wonder if some would disagree about that.

Usually, it boils down to three guys when this topic comes up – Howe, Orr, and Gretzky.

My choice is Bobby Orr.

Although I would see Gordie Howe play a number of times over the years on television (once live at Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid-’60s), he never seemed to completely control the flow of the game the way Orr did, although I know Howe was in a league of his own in almost every department.

Orr’s two years older than me and comes from the same area of Ontario. We were worlds apart as players of course, but at least I can say I  played in many of the same barns as him, maybe against some of the same guys he played against in town like Midland and Huntsville and Gravenhurst. I feel some sort of Central/Northern Ontario connection in a way.

Bobby Orr was a minor league phenom and we were talking about him with envy when we were kids. We knew about him. We heard about his exploits. Parry Sound kids my age came down to Orillia to play and I think our teams played there too. And we watched his brother Ron when his Junior C Parry Sound team played in Orillia.

I saw Orr a few times in Orillia over the years, including a night at the Atherley Arms Hotel when he was at a table with friends and a guy with a few too many drinks in his belly came up to Bobby and was rude and vulgar, which wasn’t cool.

I also by chance walked by him and his wife Peggy in the Orillia park one day and said hi, and they both smiled and said hi back.

I saw him play when he was 16 in an exhibition game in Bracebridge. He was with the Oshawa Generals at the time, but on this night he suited up with the Orillia Terriors senior team against a Muskoka all-star senior team. Orr had the puck all night, and we could see other players – talented, grown men – laughing and shaking their heads at how good this teenager was.

Orr skated like no other defenceman, he had different bursts of speed, he charged the net and racked up points like no other defenceman, and he controlled the play like no other player on the ice. He was also strong and smart, and when it came time to drop the gloves, he could be nasty.

That’s a complete player to me. He did it all and cruelly it didn’t last long because of his bad knees (10 seasons in Boston and a short stint in Chicago). But what a player he was before his knees did him in.

Orr himself says Gordie Howe was the best ever. He played against Howe and watched Gretzky throughout 99’s career. But it’s Howe he chooses, as do many.

Howe wasn’t flashy like the Rocket, Orr and Gretzky, but every pass from him was on the tape, his shot was as hard or harder than any player in the league, he was as good or better a goal scorer as there was, and he was a mean hombre, the toughest player in the league. Punches that crushed noses.

No one dared fight him. He struck fear into the hearts of others, but they respected him. To go into the corners with him was never a good thing. His elbows were legendary.

And of course Wayne Gretzky. You need a fancy calculator and about an hour to tally his records. There’s a legion of players and fans who insist he’s the greatest ever. It’s been said often that in the heat of battle, he thought two or three plays ahead. It was ridiculous how he could rack up the points.

But I go with Bobby Orr. Orr had it figured out ahead of time like Gretzky did. It’s some sort of miraculous instinct. He was a better skater than Gretzky, there’s no comparison in toughness, and he collected reams of points even though he was a defenceman.

He also comes from my neck of the woods and from the same era, which is important to me.

The only Boston Bruin I was ever a fan of.