Tag Archives: Ralph Backstrom

Ralph Signed

We’re going back to Montreal today after a tremendous handful of days in Ottawa with my brother and his family.

In the meantime, something from before because I need to load up the car, get to the gas station, slip in a CD, and head on down the highway.

Before NHL players had any sort of union or any kind of say in their matters, owners and management did pretty well whatever they damn well felt like doing. Management had all the power, and many players came from impoverished families with hockey as their only way out. They didn’t want to work in mines or mills or farms like their fathers, and the men in suits upstairs knew it.

Back then, especially as the 1950′s unfolded, it was common practice for owners to give management a certain amount of money and tell them to sign players for as little as they could and keep what was left over.

So of course management were cheap bastards.

The following story was told by Ralph Backstrom to Susan Foster, and was included in her fascinating book, The Power of Two. In this, I’m paraphrasing.

When Ralph was a 17 year old hockey phenom in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, the Canadiens sent Ken Reardon, a man who had graduated to Montreal management once his playing days were over, to the Backstrom home in Northern Ontario in the hopes of signing the kid. At the Backstrom kitchen table, Reardon sat with Ralph and Ralph’s parents and he placed five $100 bills on the table which would be the Backstroms to keep if Ralph signed on the dotted line.

Ralph told Susan that at that time, neither he or his parents had ever seen even one $100 bill, let alone five, and Ralph signed the paper, making him part of the Canadiens family.

As Reardon was leaving, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another five $100 bills, waved them in Ralph’s face, and told him he’d been authorized to pay twice as much for Ralph’s signature if need be. Then he put the 500 bucks back in his pocket.

Friday’s Washington Game

Couldn’t see all of the Friday night Habs-Washington tilt, I’m in Ottawa at a family reunion,, and all I know from glancing back and forth from time to time was that Alex Galchenyuk looked good playing on the right side with Morenz at centre and Joliat on left wing.

I also thought the pairing of P.K. Subban and Doug Harvey on the blueline was a good fit, especially on the power play when Harvey outsmarted three Capitals, sent it over, and PK blasted one home.

Max Pacioretty, playing on a line with Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard, dinged more than one biscuit off the post and apparently enjoyed a fine night all round. Playing with Le Gros Bill and Rocket seems to really agree with Patches, and I hope Toe Therrien keeps them together.

I also hope Toe sticks with the Lach, Bournival, and Lafleur line as well. I see good chemistry there. And anytime now I’m expecting the Steve Shutt, Lars Eller, and Brendan Gallagher triumvirate to finally break out of the doldrums.

The problem is, neither Peter Budaj in the first two periods and Jacques Plante, who replaced Budaj in the third, could handle Alex Ovechkin, who had the two netminders’ numbers in a big way. And it certainly didn’t help when John Ferguson was sent to the box for goalie mugging and shortly after, Brandon Prust for tripping, and it was left to Claude Provost and Tomas Plekanec to kill unnecessary and ill-timed penalties.

Although I must admit, I enjoyed seeing Sprague Cleghorn coldcock the obnoxious Mikhail Grabovski, even though it put us behind the eight-ball once again.

The team really has to get it together. Bobby Orr and the big, bad Bruins are well ahead in first place, and Tampa Bay continues to play well. And if Phil Kessel and Dave Keon continue their torrid goal scoring pace, Toronto’s going to be tough.

Habs get it done/not done in Washington Friday night. And they’ll have their hands full when the Penguins come to town on Saturday.

It’ll be nice when Cournoyer finally gets back.

1974 Team Cyrillic

The picture below was sent to me from a friend in Leningrad in the mid-1980s.

Team Canada 1974, stars from the rival WHA, taking on Kharlamov, Mikhailov, and Tretiak two years after the big one. (results at the bottom).

Rick Ley, second in the top row, was a boyhood friend growing up in Orillia, who knocked my front tooth out by accident when throwing a baseball. And he borrowed my hockey gloves and never gave them back.

Five players suited up at one time or another with the Habs – JC Tremblay, Rejean Houle, Ralph Backstrom, Marc Tardif, and Frank Mahovlich.

Three players on this Team Canada ’74 squad also played in the historic 1972 Summit Series before bolting to the WHA  – Paul Henderson, Mahovlich, and Pat Stapleton.

1974

Down the left side are coaches Billy Harris, Bobby Hull, and Pat Stapleton.

Top row left to right – Don McLeod, Rick Ley, J.C. Tremblay, Mike Walton, Rejean Houle

2nd row – Brad Selwood, Andre Lacroix, Tom Webster, Gordie Howe, Marty Howe

3rd row – Mark Howe, Ralph Backstrom, Tom Harrison, Rick Smith, Paul Shmyr

4th row – Paul Henderson, Serge Bernier, Bruce MacGregor, Marc Tardiff, John McKenzie

5th row – Al Hamilton, Frank Mahovlich, Gerry Cheevers

USSR Wins Series 4-1-3

New Old Sports Illustrated

My brother gave me some old Sports Illustrated that he says are mine and who am I to argue?

Here’s a sampling of them, a little thing I like to call Maurice Richard Bob Hope JFK Volvo Casey Stengel Ralph Backstrom Dodge Dart Black Hawks Plaid Suit Marlboro Man.

(Only 28 more days. Habs-Leafs)

cover

Rocket in SI

bob hope

012

casey

backstrom

013

hawks

plaid

marlboro

Scouring The Countryside

004

Joe Delguidice was a Montreal Canadiens scout in Northern Ontario from the early 1950s until the mid-sixties.

I wonder if he had anything to do with Kirkland Lake’s Ralph Backstrom joining the Canadiens organization.

$250 wasn’t much, but most of these guys had normal jobs and scoured the area only in the evenings or on weekends. Their honorariums would cover gas, coffee and hot dogs, and yes, they were expected to drive to see hotshots like Backstrom regardless of winter storms and such.

Of course the odd perk would come along, like a free team jacket, or tickets to the Forum, but all in all, I think it was done mostly out of love of hockey.

My friend Gary Lupul was a full-time scout for the Vancouver Canucks, up until his passing almost six years ago, and he would drive from town to town throughout much of Ontario, living on junk food and spending most of his days either on the road or in arenas. He loved it but it wasn’t something he wanted to do for a long time.

It’s not a glamorous job, but an important one. They’re the ones who keep the league stocked.

I can remember when I played bantam and midget hockey, and from time to time we’d hear rumours that scouts were in the stands. Of course this is when I’d play like a bum and could barely stand up.

More Long Weekend Hockey Coin Stuff

Ditto to yesterday’s post Long Weekend Hockey Coins, where the key words were “exhausted, 1961-62, Shirriff, and 140%.” And maybe “couch.”

Today, replace 1961-62 with 1962-62, and definitely include the words exhausted and 140%.

Hockey coins back then were a big success. I personally bought so many bags of Shirriff potato chips to get them, I probably paid for one of their new fancy potato slicing machines.

Below, my nice 60-coin 1962-63 metal set from Shirriff.

Burp.

The previous two years to this, coins were plastic.

The whole idea of hockey coins, along with with car coins, baseball coins, airplane coins etc, that came out during these years, was just fantastic. We had so much fun with these, at school and flipping against walls, and trying to get them all. Beautiful.

013

014

017

Two Habs And A Bruin

Players over the years have sometimes fraternized with fierce rivals, even John Ferguson.

Here, Ferguson and Ralph Backstrom reminisce with an unidentified Boston Bruin player about that time when the Bruins thought they were almost as classy as Montreal. Hilarity ensued for several minutes until Fergy had had enough and punched the Bruin player’s lights out..

Ralph and John

A Night At The Station

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone. On this day you’re an Irishman no matter what your roots are, and that’s a good thing. Except for the hangover you might have tomorrow morning.

I’ve talked many times about the Richard Riot that took place on March 17, 1955, and today, instead of going on about what you already know, I’d like to show a recent comment here from a fellow named Eric Buch.

Here’s what he wrote. It’s just one sentence, but it’s a beauty.

“The first game that my brother ever went to see at the Forum at the age of nine (March, 1955) featured the “Richard Riot” – tear gas, cars turned over and store windows smashed for many blocks down Ste. Catherine Street.”

I felt that was so fantastic. Imagine, the first time you go to an NHL game and you find yourself in the middle of history being made.

Eric also tells us about the time his teacher took the class down to the Westmount station one night to meet the Habs, and lo and behold, they all showed up.

Again, here’s Eric:

“Every year she would take the girls in her class to see the Ice Capades at the Montreal Forum and the boys to a Montreal Canadiens game. Her husband was a conductor for Canadian Pacific Rail and was able to find out which station the Habs would be leaving from to head to their next game. We went to Westmount station just before midnight (we were about the only ones there) and, sure enough, within minutes the entire Canadiens team came into the waiting room. It was Nirvana – seeing our hockey heroes, talking with them and getting their autographs – and a night that I will never forget.”

“By my calculation, it would have been January or February of 1965. Beliveau was the Captain and other players I recall meeting that night included Richard (“Pocket Rocket”), Backstrom, Rousseau, Laperriere, JC Tremblay, Cournoyer, Provost, Ferguson and ‘Gump’ Worsley. They don’t make ‘em like that any more.”

 

Gun Shy About Size

Take your mind back, back to the summer of 2009, when Bob Gainey ruined our team?

June and July of that year were when Montreal traded for Scott Gomez and brought in UFA’s Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. I was excited at the time, mainly because the Canadiens needed fresh blood, and I’ve been an optimistic bugger for pretty well every move the Habs have ever made, beginning when I was a kid. I’m always so hopeful, and maybe because I’m a Libra, I come up with all kinds of positives.

I thought fire-wagon hockey was back. I figured it would be a lightning-fast team of new Henri Richards and Ralph Backstroms, swirling around the ice and causing many a headache for lumbering forwards and defencemen of other teams. I was so hopeful

Did these three, who were immediately coined “The Smurfs,” improve the team a great deal? Hah! Montreal, in the blink of an eye, got smaller, became the laughing stock of the league, were mentioned everywhere by everyone as too small (I got so sick of that), and got pushed around in the playoffs like a grade one kid playing with grade fivers. We can only thank Jaroslav Halak for that beautiful run in the 2010 post-season against Washington and Pittsburgh.

We know how Gomez has turned out and I don’t want to get into it now. I’ve just eaten. Gionta and Cammalleri had their moments, Cammalleri shone at times, especially in those Caps and Pens games when he was a gunner-extraordinaire, and Gionta, although talented, is way too small at 5’7′ and his best days are behind him. Even more unfortunately, his best days were with New Jersey, not Montreal.

I hated that Montreal had gotten so small almost overnight. I cringed when I saw teams like Boston manhandle them. I knew that to win a Stanley Cup, it helps to be big and strong.

I say all this because I’m feeling bad. In the 1970s and 80s, I was one of Bob Gainey’s biggest fans. I loved his work ethic, his strong skating, his quiet and intelligent demeanor, his leadership, his penalty killing, his goals, his huge role in all those Montreal Stanley Cups. Never in a million years would I think I’d be joking about him, calling him down, and almost ridiculing him for what I think was basically destroying the team instead of improving it.

But I find myself doing these very things now. What was he thinking? Not just taking on the sinful Gomez contract, but making the team so small in almost one fell swoop. He played against tough Bruins squads, and the Broad St. Bullies. He knew muscle is usually needed to succeed. He learned under people like Scotty Bowman and Sam Pollock, who envisioned the proper mix of muscle and skill. But he turned the club into a laughing stock, Pierre Gauthier coming in turned the county fair into a circus, and Montreal every year remains the favourite team for predictors, along with the Leafs, to not make the playoffs.

Hopefully the black cloud is beginning to move away, everyone has woken up, and the team is now being gradually corrected under Marc Bergevin and the other new leadership boys. I know that whenever I hear that someone small, like Brendan Gallagher, is on the cusp of making the team, my heart sinks a little. Gainey has made me gun shy for the little guys, and I know I’m not right.

I admired Gainey so much as a player, and when he became management, I remember, when others were beginning to question him, my stock answer would be, “In Bob we trust.” And I did trust him. I trusted him as a player and from what I heard from him in interviews, and I saw no other reason not to when he took the reins. So I guess it comes down to two questions. What was he thinking? And what was I thinking?

Q&A With Robert L.

I recently mentioned that Robert Lefebvre has a new book out, his first, called Tales From the Montreal Canadiens Locker Room, and below is a recent chat I had with Robert regarding his thoughts behind the process. And if anyone has their own questions for Robert, feel free, as he’s agreed to answer them in the comments section.

Robert, first let me congratulate you on your new book. It’s most definitely a fine addition to anyone’s hockey library. I know you were up against a deadline, so was it an enjoyable experience, or extremely stressful?

Thanks, Dennis. Writing a book, as I’ve learned, can only be both. It’s an intrinsic thing. The conceptual writing portion is extremely enjoyable and forming that work to meet someone’s expectations then borders on the stressful. But perhaps that is as it should be. As the writer, my wish is for the book to reach as many people, as many fans, as possible. The publishing company’s goal is to have a product that will sell. I met my deadline, went over by some 20,000 words, and then came the stressful task of fitting the book to their scheme. I didn’t enjoy the editing process, quite honestly, but passing through it I recognize how it made me a better writer.

You knew there is already reams of material already written by others over the years. How did you decide on the path your book should take? How did you feel you could make it different from others?

Initially, I was solicited to fulfill the requirement for a scheduled book, that had been dropped by a previously contracted author. However, that did not play in, whatsoever, to what I felt I could bring, or wanted to write of regarding the Canadiens.

Two things crossed my mind as I considered my publisher’s offer. First and foremost, was that my mindset was already deeply imbedded into another book that I’d been researching for three years. I knew, wholeheartedly, that I would not be able to separate myself from what I’d learned. It had a lot to do, or maybe everything to do, with the Canadiens true origins as a francophone, or French-Canadian hockey club. The other was that “Tales from the Canadiens” types of books, had really been done to death.

There’s the Dick Irvin books, a few Brian McFarlane’s Habs tales things, and countless others – I grasped real quickly that you, as a fan, might not want to read such a thing again, anymore than I wanted to have to rewrite it. I am sure that you can, and perhaps any Canadiens fan whose read these books, can place themselves in my shoes. I had to write according to a predisposed book title and subtitle: “Tales From The Montreal Canadiens Locker Room – A Collections Of The Greatest Canadiens Stories Even Told.”

Now how daunting is that, to live up to?

I proposed, to my publishers, a completely different track, and to their credit, they accepted my vision. Because the title is part of their branding, they would not alter it, but to great extents, they allowed me to write the story I wished to pursue.

I was quite surprised they accepted, because truthfully, in my esteem, a first time author is a nobody until that book hits the shelves. Furthermore, for me, that “nobody,” to write a book to suit that description, seemed a loaded and disingenuous premise, given that I had never been inside the Canadiens locker room.

And to that end, the very first thing I asked of my publishers, and was granted, was that I could write in the prologue, a little disclaimer of sorts, that addressed all the above issues.

Once they said “Yes” I was more than prepared, hell bent, and caution to the wind, to deliver a different kind of historical Montreal Canadiens retrospective.

As you weave your way from the beginning of the Canadiens’ existence to the present day situation, you explore the various myths that have cropped up over the years including the territorial rights in Quebec that many fans of other teams have always claimed was unfair, and how Sam Pollock managed to secure Guy Lafleur, using the talents of Ralph Backstrom, which strays slightly from the story most of us have heard over the years. I found this all very interesting, and the territorial rights explanation can be used by Habs fans from here on in. Did you have in mind the setting of records straight before you wrote your first word?

To address the last question first, that exact thing became my mandate from day one. Mandate is probably too strong a word. What I wanted to achieve, was a book that considered Canadiens history differently, than all the usual tributes to their legend and tradition, that are misleading in my eye.

Think about this: In over a hundred seasons, there were 24 Cups won. That means that for more than 75 seasons, they didn’t win. The Canadiens haven’t always been great – that’s not a news flash! So what popped up, was how does all that losing fit into all that winning. There was a story there.

Dennis, I don’t know about you, but from my seat, going on twenty years from the last Stanley Cup win – having Habs tradition, glory, legend and myth shoved down my throat, doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. I wrote about it for so long at Eyes On The Prize, that what finally became most interesting to me was the cracks in the stories. There were just too many things, that to my eye, no longer added up. All those things – the tradition, the glory, the legend, the myth – they truly cannot help the Canadiens win again. If one adds in all the francophone controversy stuff, it in

From my perspective, this book has three very distinct phases or contexts. The first begins with the very first game played by a French-Canadian side of seven players in 1909, that caused the Canadiens creation. It arose from a mindset that French players born in Quebec were inferior to their English counterparts – which was very true. Their challenge was to become their English rival’s equals, which did not happen for thirty years, until the Rocket came along.

The second phase is the Original Six years, wherein the Canadiens became hockey’s greatest team. The context then takes on the outsider’s perception, that the club were unfairly advantaged by specific “French” player rules that never truly existed as they were reported. It is here that much of the Canadiens legend is formed, mostly inaccurately. It was at that moment, that words such as tradition entered into equation, but as you have read and noticed, that also has been greatly misrepresented. Reports always had, and do until this day, qualify the Canadiens’ greatest wins as having come from the benefits of the misappropriated “French Rule,” while the truest reason they won so steadily remains that they were able to harvest a winning mentality in which both the French and English shared in equally. That is the true lost story of Canadiens glory.

The third phase, and the final context under which the book moves forward, has all to do one particular quote made by Sam Pollock regarding winning tradition. No one who has followed in Pollock’s wake has gotten it. Not to give those chapters away, I’ll suffice to say that those who’ve manned the Canadiens since he’s left, see but the recipe to spite the ingredients.

To go back to your original question, yes indeed, and absolutely, I tried my hardest to bring in factual details that would lead to setting the record straight. I had more, but I did not have the space. You say that the details of the Lafleur acquisition shed new light. These details aren’t new – they are ancient, but the story that gained legendary status followed the “Trader Sam” myth, as opposed to what really happened, which was far less “sexy” to headline hunters of the day.

Same for the French territorial rights thing. Let it all anger others – it sells tickets and creates rivalries. Explain it outright, and with precision, and it’s not so defining. Or maybe now, after all these years, another analysis is more intriguing.

That’s a common thread of my book – bringing new arguments to the plate, based on more complete research and a less mythologized angle.

Other sections of your book deal with wonderful lighthearted moments, like the antics of Jean Pusie and the Jacques Demers casket story to name two. You created a fine balance between telling the story of the team along with inside tales, all within 200 pages. Was this enough space, or would you have preferred to write twice as much?

Limited space and time was this book’s enemy. But those are the givens, right? The legend of Jean Beliveau – I had two very amazing stories – could not be fit in. It’s very unfortunate, because I really hoped to include them.

Throughout the book, especially in the later years, you explore the mistakes that have led to the misery the team has experienced in recent years – the poor trades, the hiring of the wrong upper-management personnel, and of course the Patrick Roy-Mario Tremblay fiasco. But you never created an overall picture of doom and gloom. You pointed out the problems and show optimism for the future. Are we on the right track with Marc Bergevin and his team now, or do you think we probably have to endure many more years of futility?

Well doom and gloom is, in my opinion, as much about a reader as it is about fact. In a historical perspective, how often have fans felt the team was on track, only to learn otherwise. A personal admittance of mine from back in the day – I was all for the Habs getting rid of Roy under the circumstances, but darnit, get something akin to a cornerstone in return.

I couldn’t end the book on a downer note, because I absolutely fail to see things in that light, personally. The Canadiens are nowhere near as brutal as their record of last season shows. It was just one of those years in which everything goes inexplicably off the rails. The talent is there, obviously. The glue and grit weren’t. But honestly, I see nothing but sure values in certain current players and a pool of delicious prospects coming up the pipe. I allowed myself to penetrate the final pages, otherwise I’d have been dishonest.

That and Marc Bergevin reminds me nothing of the Pierre Gauthier of last season!

Your book is on the shelves now, signed, sealed and delivered, and it’s a job well done. Can we expect another in the near future?

By my definition of near, no! Sorry! I wish, though. I would love nothing more than to give you a timetable, trust me on that! The first book I was working on is still being worked on, slowed in the last year to my regret. I would love to be able to pump it out, but it’s one that is really close to my heart, and one that is as important to get right as much as it is for me to get it into your hands. I’ve learned lots writing the “Tales” book, and the next one will reflect that.