Tag Archives: Montreal Voyageurs

Three Orillia Guys

Getting pinned at an Orillia tournament.

Teammate John French was our best player and went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies, was drafted by Montreal, and skated with the AHL Montreal Voyageurs where his goalie was Ken Dryden.

After moving to the Baltimore Clippers for one season, John signed with the New England Whalers of the brand new World Hockey Association and became teammates with his old friend from Orillia, Rick Ley. He also played for The San Diego Mariners and Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, and ended his career with the AHL Springfield Indians.

In the late 1970s my first wife and I bought an old desk in a second-hand store in Ottawa, and in the drawer was a John French WHA hockey card.

Ron Clarke, on the left, got smashed so hard into the boards one night in Collingwood they had to remove a kidney. Ron’s one of my oldest friend, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, and we still keep in touch. It’s always a good day when I get to see Ron, who now lives in Kitchener.

Cover Boy

Several times I’ve talked about John French, who was an old hockey and baseball teammate of mine while growing up in Orillia, our little town also known as Mariposa from Stephen Leacock’s “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town,” and seeing the fellow on a program cover recently finds me going on about him again.

John and his family moved to Toronto when he was in his mid-teens, and I remember when he came back with his new big city team for an important tournament in Orillia. In a sensational moment in time, the slick forward scored five goals in the championship game and was voted tourney MVP.

He had come through in a huge way in his first appearance back in his home town, and myself and his other old teammates sitting in the stands were truly impressed.

French was an excellent hockey player, much better than the rest of us, and he would eventually play Junior A for the Toronto Marlies before being picked by the Habs 52nd overall in the 1970 draft. John would play for the Montreal Voyageurs of the AHL, with Ken Dryden and Wayne Thomas as his goalies, and not long after it was onward to the World Hockey Association.

Years ago I bought a used desk at an Ottawa second-hand shop, opened the drawer, and found a John French hockey card inside. And recently I noticed an old New England Whalers program, and there he was on the cover.

 

Damn Fine Hockey Player

That’s me at the very top, resting my weary head on my hand and stick. But more importantly, over on the left with black toque with pointed end is John French, who was the best player in our age group in Orillia and in the top three in central Ontario. John MacWilliams in Huntsville and Steve Sly in Collingwood were the only ones who would give him a run for his money.

John went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies and found himself drafted by Montreal. But after a year with the Canadiens’ AHL farm team Montreal Voyageurs (with Ken Dryden as a teammate), and then the Baltimore Clippers, he  bolted to the World Hockey Association (WHA)  and enjoyed a fine career with the New England Whalers, San Diego Mariners, and Indianapolis Racers before ending back in the AHL with the Springfield Indians.

In the late 1970’s my first wife and I bought an old desk in a second-hand store in Ottawa, and in the drawer was a John French hockey card.

You can see John’s very respectable pro career stats right here

Who WAS That Masked Man?

dryden

In May of 1971, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in Chicago, beating the Hawks 3-2 in a tough seven games. And they did it with the most improbable guy in nets – Ken Dryden.

Dryden wasn’t a cup-winning goaltender, he was a McGill law student who also played for the minor-league Montreal Voyageurs. At least up until late winter of that year, that is. But like a Disney movie, he’s called up for the last six games of the season, and at the start of the playoffs, replaces Rogie Vachon, then goes on to help Montreal beat the Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars and Chicago, providing thrills and spills and blocking shots that shouldn’t be blocked.

It’s the stuff of fairy tales and dreams. It almost makes no sense. But that was the beginning of Dryden’s Hall of Fame career, and fairy tales and dreams or not, he must have been awfully good to do what he did as a raw rookie with only six games behind him.

And to make things even more magical, this raw rookie even won the Conn Smythe trophy that spring for most valuable player in the playoffs and took home $1500 and a car for being the hero. Forget Disney, I think we’re going to need Steven Spielberg to do this one justice.

This feat was so long ago, so far removed from the politician/public speaker and the man who does what he wants, when he wants; that he even spoke for half an hour after the game to reporters, missing much of the celebration in the dressing room. Finally, the shy goalie asked, “Sir. Would you mind if we went to the dressing room? I’d like to join the other fellows.”

He also admitted that fate had lent a hand. Hawks’ players Eric Nesterenko and Jim Pappin had both hit posts, and Bobby Hull rang one off the crossbar in that seventh game. And about his team in front of him? “There’s no mystique about the Canadiens team,” he said. “The players never believe they are beaten. And as a result, seldom are defeated.”

And who believed in Dryden in the beginning, when he was a law student and the goalie for the Voyageurs? That would be Floyd Curry, who coached Dryden with the Voyageurs and in March recommended him to Habs GM Sam Pollock. “I told Sam, “Take Dryden and you’ll win the Stanley Cup,’ ” said Curry. “He’s the greatest. And don’t forget, this was his first year of pro. He played very little last year with Canada’s national team. He’ll be as good as Bill Durnam and that’s the highest praise I can give a goalie.” 

I can’t find anywhere if Curry held a second job as fortune teller.

And the final word went to Chicago’s Bobby Hull, who said after the game, “Hockey in May is a drag when you’re a loser.”

Oh, I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now

That’s me on the right during some sort of minor hockey tournament. It represented the top goal scorers from atom, squirt, and peewee. I was the peewee. All I wanted to do was grow up and become a Montreal Canadien. I wanted to be like Ralph Backstrom. Instead, I grew up and became a factory worker, a semi truck driver, and a BC Ferries worker, among many others.

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The bottom picture is of me and my buddies getting  pinned at a tournament. John French was our best player amd he went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies, was drafted by Montreal and played for the Montreal Voyageurs, and then signed with the New England Whalers of the brand new World Hockey Association where he played along side Gordie Howe and ex-Orillian Rickie Ley. He later played with the Indianapolis Racers. Ron Clarke, on the left, got smashed so hard into the boards one night in Collingwood they had to remove a kidney.

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