Of course the ladies loved him. Even when he was kid, as you can see in the background of the third picture.
We’re back from Quebec City where we had such a fine and outstanding time. A trip we’ll remember with great fondness.
Although when we were leaving Quebec it was minus-1 with snow and two hours south in Montreal it was plus-12 and sunny.
Below, the Colisee, scene of many a Jean Beliveau triumph with the Aces and Guy Lafleur with the Remparts, and the annual International Peewee Tournament held each February where 11 and 12-year olds sometimes play in front of more than 10,000 fans.
And of course the intense and often vicious Habs-Nordiques rivalry that existed from 1979 to ’95.
The unfinished building next door is the New Colisee, or Quebecor Arena, or whatever it’s going to be called, being built for a possible NHL team coming back in the near future. This place will hold 18,482 while the Colisee seats 15,176.
We’ve always heard that Jean Beliveau took his time leaving the Quebec Aces to play for the Habs because he had it made in Quebec.
In Quebec he was making as much or more than most NHL players, was given new cars to drive, and he was in no hurry to leave. Jean Beliveau was indeed was the toast of the provincial capital.
But wait – another story from Brian McFarlane’s book “True Hockey Stories: The Habs”.
In the early-’50s a Quebec provincial cabinet minister told the Canadiens that if they took Beliveau out of Quebec City before the Colisee had been paid for, the Montreal Forum would be condemned because it didn’t meet fire-regulation standards.
So Beliveau stayed in Quebec longer than normal because the big crowds he was drawing helped pay off the new arena.
It’s hard to picture Punch Imlach as anything but a hard-assed coach. But the guy who coached first the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Senior Hockey League, then the Springfield Indians in the AHL, and then became the notorious and egotistical taskmaster with the Leafs and Sabres, began as a really good player, the “best centre in the loop”, they said.
But it’s still hard not to think of him as the guy in the fedora behind the Leafs bench, playing cat and mouse with the Habs’ Toe Blake, and being so hard on Frank Mahovlich that the Big M was once hospitalized because of Punch’s daily pressure.
Although it doesn’t look like it in this picture. But things would deteriorate.
This is when he was playing for Cornwall in 1941-42.
Michel Lagace would report to the Quebec Aces training camp in 1962, as requested by Sam Pollock, and would suit up for five games, collecting one assist along the way.
Previously he had played seven playoff games for the Montreal Royals in ’59-’60 and managed 27 games with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, both of the Eastern Professional Hockey League (EPHL).
That would be it for his pro hockey career.
Making it to the American Hockey League has always required serious talent, and even though it was only for five games, I say congratulations to Mr. Lagace for getting a lot further in hockey than most of us.
I would have loved getting a letter like this. I’d show all my friends, report to camp, work harder than everybody else, and eventually get called up to the Habs in a year or two. Then I play right wing with Jean Beliveau at centre and John Ferguson at left wing. I’d be on the cover of Hockey Pictorial, make the all-star team, make more money than my dad, and eventually end up in the Hall of Fame.
But first I needed one of those letters. Like Michel Lagace got.
Before Jean Beliveau packed the Quebec Colisee as the best senior hockey player in the world with the Quebec Aces, he was a star junior with the Citadelles of the Quebec Junior Hockey League. This program, which I got my mitts on only recently, is from the 1949-50 season, with Le Gros Bill wearing number nine. He would have been about 18 at this time.
Here the Citadelles are playing the Verdun Maple Leafs, the junior team the Rocket once played for, and as you can see, the coach is none other than Hall of Famer Sylvio Mantha, who starred for the Canadiens from 1923 to 1937, and was captain of the team for much of that time. Sylvio’s younger brother Georges was also a great Hab from 1928 to 1941.
It’s training camp in the late 1950’s. Of course it was nearly impossible to crack a spot in a lineup like this, with Hall of Famers and Stanley Cups oozing out of the woodwork, but Bill Hicke became a regular in 1959 and Ralph Backstrom the season before. But when you have a team with the Rocket and Pocket, Beliveau, Moore, Geoffrion, Harvey, Plante, Johnson, etc, there just wasn’t much room left.
All in all, the roster was basically set before anyone even stepped on the ice at training camp, and many of these players in this photo would soon depart to the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, Montreal Royals, Quebec Aces, Cleveland Barons and others.
Below is an original letter I bought on ebay for eighteen bucks.
It’s an invitation from Sam Pollock to Michel Lagace to attend the Quebec Aces training camp in 1962 and signed by Pollock’s secretary. I guess Sam was busy being Sam.
Lagace made the team that year, played five games and recorded one assist. That’s all I know about the guy.
Under the letter is Lagace’s stats where you’ll see he had a cup of coffee in the EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League) with both the Montreal Royals and Hull-Ottawa Canadiens. And although he didn’t exactly have a stellar hockey career, he accomplished more than most of us and should be proud. Don’t forget, the Canadiens and their farm system were stacked at this time.
I would have loved to have gotten a letter like this. All I’d get were phone calls from my Byer’s Bulldozers Orillia Midgets coach telling me to show up and could my dad drive some players to the game in Collingwood or Huntsville.
Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion is well-remembered for many things – His slaphot he worked on when he was nine years old at a time when slapshots weren’t invented yet; His nickname “Boom Boom”, which came about when a Montreal Star sportswriter named Charlie Boire asked Geoffrion if he could call him that after hearing the puck leave his stick and then boom against the boards; His boisterous and good-natured singing on trains and in dressing rooms which led to a few television appearances; His marriage to Marlene, daughter of Howie Morenz; His terrific Hall of Fame career playing right wing on the Canadiens, and teaming up with Doug Harvey at the point to create terror on the power play. With these two firing cannons, no wonder goalies like Chicago’s Glenn Hall would vomit before games;
And of course, the heart-wrenching retiring of his sweater, number five, on March 11, 2006, only hours after he had passed away from stomach cancer. His family stood on the ice, watching the sweater being raised to the rafters, and their tears weren’t the only tears. The Bell Centre was swept away with emotion, and so was I 3000 miles away in my living room.
Geoffrion was one of the greatest Habs ever. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t a great Habs coach.
Geoffrion had been promised the Canadiens coaching job after he retired by owner David Molson. Molson asked him to consider coaching Montreal’s farm team in Quebec for two seasons, then move up to the the Habs. It was all untrue. Molson simply wanted Geoffrion to move aside to make room for a youngster named Yvon Cournoyer. Geoffrion said later the coaching offer sounded good, but if he had known what was really going on, he would’ve stayed and made Cournoyer beat him out of a job fair and square.
Geoffrion went up to Quebec and led the Aces to two first-place finishes, and was promptly fired. And Molson told him there was no room with the big club because Toe Blake wasn’t going anywhere. So he unretired himself and found himself playing for the New York Rangers and eventually coached there for half a season before calling it quits because of an ulcer acting up. Later on, he joined the Atlanta Flames and coached there for slightly more than two years.
And this is where the story of Geoffrion coaching the Habs begins.
When Scotty Bowman left Montreal to begin a new life in Buffalo, Montreal’s GM Irving Grundman picked up the phone and called Geoffrion. It was the offer Geoffrion had been waiting for for 15 years. But after only 30 games behind the bench, he called it quits. “I had three guys telling me what moves to make,” he explained. “Toe Blake, Claude Ruel and Irving Grundman. How can you coach like that?”
Geoffrion had other things to say too: “I’m sick and tired of them. Guys coming in at two or three in the morning, laughing and joking around. They’re not acting like professional athletes. I’m not going to stick around and let everyone in Montreal blame me for what’s happening.”
“(Pierre) Larouche walking through the airport, smoking a cigar, acting like we won the Stanley Cup when we’d lost a game. And I thought Savard would help me. But he’s more interested in his horses.”
But the players had their own thoughts: “He flunked out in New York,” replied Steve Shutt. “he flunked out in Atlanta. Why would he come here, where the fans are so demanding?” Another player said, “You’ve got 17,000 assistant coaches, and the fans are right behind you, win or tie.”
Larry Robinson admitted they came to came to camp out of condition and they knew, with Bowman gone, they wouldn’t be reprimanded for it because Geoffrion, as the new guy, was just trying to fit in. “Geoffrion didn’t want to push us,” said Bob Gainey, “but we needed it.”
“He was a lot more friendly than Scotty,” said Pierre Larouche, “and we took advantage. He just wasn’t made for the job.”
Geoffrion went back to Atlanta, a city he loved, to be with his kids and grandkids, make some funny Miller beer commercials, and to enjoy life. Claude Ruel replaced him behind the bench in Montreal, and the planet continued to spin on its axis as usual.
Bernie Geoffrion just wasn’t meant to coach. But he sure was meant to play. He was one of the greatest Habs ever. Number five with the big shot. The guy who loved to sing and laugh and keep his teammates loose. To coach in the NHL one probably has to be a bit of a rotten son of a bitch, and Geoffrion wasn’t that at all. He was simply just a great player. And fans said thank you for that when his sweater went up to the rafters.
If I had paid a hundred bucks or so, or more, for a ticket tonight in Minnesota, I’d ask for my money back. Because even though the Canadiens won 2-1, this sad excuse for a game was a combination of sloppy play by the Habs, boring hockey by the Wild, and a never-ending amount of penalties called by the officials.
Imagine taking your new girlfriend on a first date to a game like this? She’d get up and leave with the hot dog vendor.
Montreal still hasn’t got their act together. PJ Stock was right. If they want to be a dominant team in the league, they have to start playing like one. And so far, except for the game against Toronto, they haven’t been good enough.
But at least they keep winning. That says something. But in my book, they haven’t looked great so far.
And if I could say good things about the Minnesota Wild, I could say the front office is laced with ex-1970’s Habs, starting with Doug Risebrough, the Wild’s President and GM, who I delivered milk to in Calgary when he was with the Flames and I was a door-to-door milkman.
Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lafleur’s centreman for most of the seventies, number 25 with the big slap shot, is the head coach and the inventor of boring coaching methods.
Guy Lapointe, one of the big three defencemen in the ’70’s along with Larry Robinson and Serge Savard,is the head of amateur scouting for the Wild. If you’ve read Ken Dryden’s The Game, you’ll know that Lapointe was a heck of a funny guy when he played.
And assistant coach Mario Tremblay. I’m not going to get into that.
I also don’t mind their sweater design. Reminds me of the old Quebec Aces sweater only with the colours reversed. Just plain and simple, with the round crest and laced neck. No fancy-dancy shit here.
Young Habs’ Russian prospect Pavel Valentenko, toiling in the salt mines of Hamilton, asked the Canadiens if he could go home to visit his family. Montreal said yes, then the guy turned around and signed a three year deal with Moscow Dynamo. I suppose he had simply forgot to tell Bob Gainey that his family’s name is Moscow Dynamo.
Steve Downey has been recalled by Philadelphia. After his big scare of being sent down, maybe Downey will now be the next Lady Byng winner. What do you think?
Next up: The team is in Long Island Saturday to take on the New York Islanders. After that, they’ve got five freakin days off before they play the Blue Jackets the following Friday. FIVE FREAKIN DAYS! Stay out of the bars, boys.