Tag Archives: Jacques Lemaire

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.

Turk Says Dryden’s Overrated

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In Derek Sanderson’s 2012 book “Crossing The Line” that I got at the St. Hubert Library, he says Ken Dryden was overrated, which we’ve all heard from time to time. At least I have.

Sanderson talked about how the Bruins were the better team against Montreal in 1971, but they shot themselves in the foot. Boston didn’t take the Canadiens seriously. He didn’t really talk about Dryden’s accomplishments, he only mentioned that the young goalie had arrived on the scene, had only six games under his belt before the playoffs began, and proceeded to somehow get his body in the way.

He sort of mentioned that the Habs eliminated Boston, but he didn’t go near the Habs winning the Cup after beating Chicago in the finals, and Dryden being awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. We wouldn’t expect him to. The book’s not about the Habs.

When you put it all together though, it’s a magical piece of hockey lore. Maybe not so much for Bruins fans I guess. They probably hate the story.

Turk Sanderson says this: “Dryden was highly overrated, in my opinion, but he was the first big goaltender. He covered the top of the net so well, and when he dropped and spread, he covered a lot of ground in the bottom part. You’d turn to shoot, and he would have that area covered because of his size. It took us a while to get used to that. It created problems we had never seen before.”

Sanderson goes on to say, “Dryden didn’t provide the stellar goaltending everybody continues to talk about. You could score on Dryden. He wasn’t that good; he was just different.”

Sanderson is saying that Dryden wasn’t a good goalie, he was just a big goalie. But Sanderson was a Bruin for many of the years when they played against each, and he might still have Habs/Bruins issues.

Dryden was in goal for game 8 when it was for all the marbles so Harry Sinden must not have thought he was overrated. And Sinden coached Sanderson. Dryden also collected 6 Stanley Cups during those days, but maybe a much lesser goalie might have too considering the team up front with Lafleur, Robinson, Lemaire et al.

Like I said, I’ve heard various people say over the years that Dryden was overrated but I tend to not think much about it. I just wonder if there are many other players who played against him, like Sanderson did, who also feel he was overrated. And if lots do, does that mean he was?

As an aside, Sanderson also says Cam Neely was the greatest right winger to ever play the game.

 

Dryden’s always had a bit of a reputation for not being overly-enthusiastic about signing autographs, and here’s a great exampleWindsor Star.

The Habs Let Orr Slip Away

Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe were the Canadiens’ Big Three defencemen in the 1970s. Three of the best, all on one team.

Then imagine having Bobby Orr in the mix. The Big Four.

With those four taking care of the blueline, with Ken Dryden in goal, and with Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Yvan Cournoyer and the gang up front, it just wouldn’t have been fair.

Orr as part of the powerhouse Habs of the ’70s. It boggles the mind. And it could have happened.

Stephen Brunt, in his 2006 book “Searching for Bobby Orr” writes about that historic first sighting of Orr, when Wren Blair and other Bruins brain trust went to a bantam tournament in Gananoque, Ontario in 1961 to have a look at a couple of players, and soon forgot about the two they’d come to see because a little 12-year old blond-haired kid from Parry Sound was skating rings around everybody.

It’s magical hockey lore, one of the game’s great stories, forever to be told. Until global warming melts the rinks permanently.

But Blair and his gang weren’t the only NHL people in the Gananoque rink that day. Scotty Bowman, the Montreal Canadiens young head scout for eastern North America, was sent by Sam Pollock to Gananoque to have a look at not only the two players everyone else was watching, Doug Higgins and Rick Eaton, but to also check out a kid named Orr that the Canadiens had gotten wind of through an old friend of Frank J. Selke.

Bowman watched the little kid, wearing number 2 for Parry Sound, and was impressed. “He was dominating,” Bowman says in Brunt’s book. “But he was very small – much smaller than all of the other guys. He could really skate and fly around. I’d never seen a guy that good at that young age.”

Soon after, Bowman visited the Orr home in Parry Sound, but it was mostly just a social call. The Habs had nothing to offer, they weren’t in the practice of handing out signing bonuses then, and they wouldn’t commit to a kid still in grade school. And as soon as Scotty learned that Doug and Arva Orr had no intentions of Bobby leaving home, Scotty left it at that.

When Bobby got a little older and was more prepared to join the Junior Canadiens in Montreal, then maybe they could continue their chat. Just not at that time. He was too young.

Wren Blair of the Bruins didn’t give up, though. He diligently courted the Orr’s and finally got the papers signed. Orr joined the Oshawa Generals and not the Junior Canadiens, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just think how it might have turned out. He might not have damaged his knees. Put him in a Canadiens uniform, and Montreal certainly wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in ’69-’70, which they did because although they were tied with New York for the fourth and final playoff spot, they had scored two less goals.

With Orr wearing the CH they would’ve been off to the races and might not have stopped until the 1980s were in full swing. But he wouldn’t have worn number 4. A big fellow named Beliveau owned it when Orr was breaking in.

Is it crazy to think that maybe it could’ve been ten straight Stanley Cups for the Habs in the 1970s with a healthy Bobby Orr in the lineup? Maybe it’s not so farfetched. But instead, those bastard Bruins got him and that was that. And anyway, the last thing I want to do is sound greedy.

But if only Scotty Bowman had made more trips to Parry Sound. Like Wren Blair did.

And thanks to Don in Texas for sending me Stephen Brunt’s book as a gift. It was a great read for sure.

Bobby Orr

 

 

 

 

Summit ’72 “Aftermath”

Immediately following their stunning game-eight victory, Team Canada had to hit the road to Prague to play the Czechoslovakian national team the next night. This should have been better thought out by Hockey Canada, with an escape clause written into the contract. The team was both emotionally and physically spent, and it was unfair to subject them to this. It was time to go home, not play a meaningless game. They also felt it might take some of the lustre off the Russian Series, and they had absolutely nothing to gain and much to lose.

But the Prague game had to go on whether the team wanted it to or not.

Czech-born Stan Mikita, who was sent to live with an aunt in Canada when he seven, was named captain of Team Canada on this night, which was a classy and loving touch from coach Harry Sinden and others. Mikita had played just two games during the Summit, but in Prague it was his night. He was king. His mom and brothers and sisters were at the game, and Stan was given a long standing ovation.

As far as the game went, Canada pulled another one out of that, as they had shown often recently, by tying the game at three with just four seconds remaining, when Serge Savard stuffed it home.

And then it was time to come home.

Fifteen years after the fact, Team Canada and the Soviets played two games in celebration of the Summit Series, in Ottawa and in Hamilton. I was at the Ottawa game, and I remember being disappointed that the Soviets didn’t wear the same type of sweater that they had worn originally. And although both teams had the majority of original players in their lineups, Canada added Bill Barber, Gordie Howe, Mike Walton, Reggie Leach, Jacques Lemaire, and Darryl Sittler to the squad.

Six players, three from each team, have passed away. Bill Goldsworthy in 1996, Gary Bergman in 2000, and Rick Martin in 2011. The Russian bear, Alexander “Rags” Ragulin passed in 2004, and fellow defenceman Valeri Vasiliev died recently, in April of 2012.

And of course the great Valeri Kharlamov, killed, along with his wife, in a car crash outside of Moscow in 1981.

The “Father of Russian Hockey” Anatoli Tarasov, who had to step aside for the Summit Series, passed away in 1995, and his successor Vsevolod Bobrov, who coached the ’72 squad, died in 1979. Bobrov’s bench assistant Boris Kulagin checked out in 1988.

Sadly, John Ferguson, who was a force to be reckoned with not only in 1972 but throughout his career on and off the ice, left us in 2007. Fergie stayed beside Harry Sinden throughout the pressure cooker, and was a true inspiration as assistant coach. Some folks, however, might not agree with that moment in time when he advised Bobby Clarke that maybe Kharlamov needed a tap on the ankle.

Foster Hewitt signed off permanently in 1985. Sure he butchered Yvan Cournoyer’s name in the beginning of the series, but he got it right as he went along, and he did a fine job of describing the games for us in his own Foster Hewittian-way. Foster was 69 years old, had come out of retirement to call this series, and what a way to cap off a 40-plus year career, one that included coming up with such iconic catch-phrases as “He shoots, he scores!” and “Henderson scores for Canada!”

Many of the Canadian and Russian players became friends over the years, although Boris Mikhailov still might not win any popularity contests.

And say what you want about Alan Eagleson, but without him, the Russians may have gotten their way way too often, and there might not have even been a series in the first place.. Eagleson took care of business, and was the guy who got it done off-ice. Unfortunately, Eagle was later discovered to have stolen from the players association and various clients, and ended up doing six months in prison for fraud and embezzlement. He was also kicked out of the Hockey Hall of Fame, which must have been a cruel blow for the disgraced lawyer and player agent.

But he was immeasurably important for the 1972 Summit Series.

Coco And Roadrunner’s Hockey School

My friend Jerry Chan in San Jose wrote me awhile back that he had worked at a hockey school in Montreal run by Jacques Lemaire and Yvan Cournoyer, in the 1970’s, and today he sent this:

“I won a Habs radio contest and attended for 1 week in 1973.  I then worked there for 2 summers, 1977 and 1978.  I still remember a 6 or 7 year old kid the first week I worked there.  It was Jimmy Carson (main guy in Gretzky trade) from Michigan.  Even at that age, he was much better than anyone else.

“These photos are from the 1974 brochure.  I worked there in 1977 and 78 when Lemaire was no longer a partner.

“No player can get better attending a hockey school for a week or 2.   There were guys that worked with me who were serious players and these guys would improve since they got ice time 3 hrs a day for 8 weeks.  We had about 6 counselors for about 40 kids ( there were about 160 kids per week) and we would actually have quarrels not to go on the ice. It just got tiring to put on skates 3 times a day.  If one didn’t go on, one slept in the dressing room.  Cournoyer would show up regularly.  There was a scrimmage the last day of camp in which the parents returned and Cournoyer would always be there.

“The NHL players seldom showed up, maybe 1 day the entire summer.  The goalie teacher was Jim Corsi who was in college then.  I believe he is still the goalie coach for the Sabres and played for Italy when they tied or beat Canada (Gretzky was playing) in some tournament.  I believe Corsi was Canadian college player of the year one time and also represented Canada in soccer.

“About 1/3 of the attendees were American. There was occasionally a black kid and it was amazing the hatred toward the kid from American teenage city kids, especially the ones from Philadelphia. I never saw any problem between French and English kids and it opened up one’s eyes on racism in the U.S.”

 

 

 

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.

Shooting From The Lip

A fellow at work brought in a book for me to read called “Shooting From The Lip” (2004), which is a compilation of hockey quotes. Here’s a few of them…..

My brother Dash hit me on the head with five textbooks in a gym bag. Tie Domi, asked about the hardest hit he’s ever received

Man, is that guy ripped. I mean, I’ve got the washboard stomach, too. It’s just that mine has about two months of laundry on top of it. Shawn Burr on Eric Lindros

Every time I see you naked, I feel sorry for your wife. Jaromir Jagr to teammate Matthew Barnaby

They always try to play with our minds. But that won’t work with our club. We’ve got 20 guys without brains. Bobby Clarke in 1976 when Red Army played Philadelphia

I was young and stupid then. Now I’m not young anymore. Jyrki Lumme on his early years with Montreal

You can always get someone to do your thinking for you. Gordie Howe, during a 1970’s appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, on why hockey players always wear a protective cup but rarely a helmet

It’s about 40% technique and about 75% strength. 6’1″ Canadien Patrice Brisebois, on why he lost a fight to Theo Fleury

Everything was set for us to play a real good game. Then we left the dressing room and everything went to hell. Thrashers coach Curt Fraser

The kids just aren’t the same anymore. Canadien Doug Gilmour after asking a rookie to sneak a case of 24 beers onto the team bus and finding out he only got six cans

Only problem is I was going high on the glove side. Senator Lance Pitlick on scoring his first goal of the season with a low shot to the stick side

Guys, I don’t want to tell you half-truths unless they’re completely accurate. Canadiens coach Alain Vigneault after a loss in 1999

It’s not so much maturity as it is growing up. Bruin Jay Miller, asked if his improved play was due to maturity

Jason Arnott will be here as long as I’m here, for the time being. Oilers GM Glen Sather on Arnott trade rumours

He could rile up the Montreal fans in a hurry. God, sometimes I felt sorry for the man. He must have got a standing ovation when he went shopping. Gordie Howe on Maurice Richard

It’s always good to have the building filled, even if it’s with low-IQ Rangers fans. Islander GM Mike Milbury before a home game against the Rangers

I’m the luckiest man alive. I don’t even like the game and I’m successful at it. Brett Hull

I’d rather fight than score. Dave Schultz

Rocket had that mean look on, every game we played. He could hate with the best of them. Gordie Howe on Maurice Richard

Life is just a place where we spend time between games. Flyers coach Fred Shero

Hockey is like a religion in Montreal. You’re either a saint or a sinner., there’s no in-between. Patrick Roy

Hmmm, 600 games? What does it mean? It means I’m that much closer to getting fired. Jacques Lemaire after coaching his 600th game

Playing with Steve Guolla is like playing with myself. Shark Jeff Friesen on his teammate

What I’ve learned so far is that to win the Stanley Cup, you have to make the playoffs. Caps owner Ted Leonsis

Every time I get injured, my wife ends up getting pregnant. Blackhawk Doug Wilson

I don’t care if we lose every game for the next five years and the team goes broke and moves to Moose Jaw. I will not trade Pavel Bure. Canucks GM Brian Burke several weeks before trading Bure to to the Panthers

Brian Sutter said I looked liked Charles Manson. He called me Charlie, then it became Killer. Canadien Doug Gilmour on the source of his “Killer” nickname

 

Hey Jacques Lemaire, C’mon Home

Good old Jacques Lemaire’s name has been tossed about, most recently I think by TV guys on Hockey Central, as the one fellow who should come in and be the bilingual coach in Montreal that so many are screaming for. These men in makeup also say it could even happen, but I also realize they like to hear themselves talk quite often.

It’s not that he’s too old. Lemaire is 66 and albeit no spring chicken, but neither am I and I’m quite confident, thank you very much, that I can be just as swift and efficient a stick boy as any other stick boy. He’s a Montrealer who used to bleed Habs colours, maybe still does a little, and he came out of retirement last year at Christmas and did, as the TV guys gushed, an outstanding job with the New Jersey Devils.

Habs owner Geoff Molson has already thrown Randy Cunneyworth under the bus, saying there will be a bilingual coach sometime soon, so I’ve decided I want Lemaire as the new coach if Mr. C can’t learn French in a hurry. However, Lemaire said last year that the only connection he feels with Montreal now is when he comes back to visit his niece. But maybe he’s an old jokester and is just pulling our leg.

For me it’s a nice thought. Old-school Hab, once a great player with the bleu, blance, et rouge, respected and experienced as a big-league coach, coming in and turning this club around and making Habs fans happy again. Politicians would sit quiet, players would come alive, and the team would begin a steady climb up the standings, this year and for years to come. All because a 66 year old came back home.

Nice to dream sometimes.

 

 

The Two On The Bread Lines

Would you want either of the recently canned coaches, Paul Maurice or Bruce Boudreau, coaching the Habs?

Because when you look at them, it’s not exactly like bringing in Scotty Bowman or Jacques Lemaire.

Boudreau can’t even be considered an experienced NHL bench boss. Four and a half years behind the bench for the Washington Capitals. Before that, it was 15 years riding buses in the minors and eating Teenburgers, which probably helped make him the round ball of jelly he is today.

He also can’t be considered a winner, although his regular season record is excellent. It’s in the playoffs where he falls short. Four years with the Caps, losing twice in round one and twice in round two. Not spectacular showings considering he had a team many felt to be the best in the east and maybe in all of hockey.

Boudreau of course is a world-class swearer, as we witnessed on HBO’s 24/7. I haven’t heard cursing like that since the days when I would wander into Orillia’s Top Hat billiard room as a young teenager and mingle among some of Central Ontario’s finest thugs and future convicts. But swearing is a non-issue. Toe Blake was banned from the Forum pool hall for his salty language. So if Toe could let loose with expletives, then Bruce can too. (Although maybe some of those scenes on 24/7 could have been sliced for the younger viewing audience).

Anyway, I’m pretty sure there aren’t many coaches out there slated for future sainthood.

Boudreau’s problem, which Montreal doesn’t have, was Alex Ovechkin, who became, like the big star on a peewee team, a sulking child when the coach decided not to play him at certain times, like 60 minutes a game, every game. Ovechkin stopped playing, stopped being one of the two best in the world, felt hard done by and persecuted, and hopefully he still lives with his mom so she can whip up some borscht and dumplings and make him feel better.

The end came fast when Boudreau lost Ovechkin.

It’s also interesting to note that I saw it explained yesterday that it was Kirk Muller, as assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens at the time, who figured out how to stop this flashy Russian by mostly keeping him to the outside, and other teams quickly followed suit. He became predictable and remains predictable now. Ovechkin’s star is fading while Sidney Crosby’s is glistening.

Oh, and maybe I should mention – this Russian, so hard done by, is in the middle of a 13 year, 124 million dollar contract.

Paul Maurice is a much more experienced coach than Boudreau, with 14 plus years under his belt in Hartford, Toronto, and Carolina. He sniffed success just once, taking Carolina to the Cup finals in 2002 before losing 4 games to 1 to Detroit. But again, like Boudreau, there hasn’t been a lot of glorious moments in this coaching career.

He’s a likeable enough fellow, it seems, but his players, like Boudreau’s, stopped playing, even though these guys are paid a king’s ransom for half a year’s work, plus all the free meals they can eat in their home city. It’s a good job. I don’t know about yours but it’s better than mine.

My feeling is the Habs don’t need either of these guys. Get rid of Jacques Martin and promote one of the Randy’s. Or entice a winning coach from elsewhere, using Scott Gomez-like money. We know Molsons has lots of cash. My friends and I have spent a vast fortune on their beer over the years.

And maybe old and retired Sovietski Viktor Tikhonov should go to Washington to help Dale Hunter. Put the fear of the gulag in Ovechkin.