Tag Archives: Scotty Bowman

Big Years, Yes They Were

For the last eight Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup wins, from 1971 to 1993, I managed to save the front pages and laminate them. (Although one, from 1977, is an inner page).

Using info from the papers, here’s a couple of my recaps, first from 1976, and then 1977.

It was their 17th Stanley Cup, a beautiful, delicious four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers. How sweet is that? Sweeping the Broad St. Bullies, the goons who had slashed and punched their way to the two previous championships. But this time, real hockey prevailed over thuggery.

All in all, it was the Canadiens plumbers who helped made things happen in a big way. Bob Gainey, Jim Roberts, Doug Jarvis, and Doug Risebrough proved just how important blue-collar guys can be. The team had Lafleur and Shutt and the boys, but the lesser-lights shone. “Really, the plumbers did the job for us in this series,” said Steve Shutt. “But when we needed the goals, the two big guys (Lafleur and Perter Mahovlich) came through.”

Lafleur and Mahovlich weren’t having a sensational series up until the final game and the plumbers stepped up. But both Lafleur and Mahovlich scored goals in the third period to ice the thing and to prove that singer Kate Smith, the Flyers’ lucky charm, wasn’t such a lucky charm after all.

Kate was there in person that night to sing the anthem, usually it was a recording, but even her live and in colour wasn’t enought for the thugs from Philly. And in the dressing room, the Habs sung God Bless America in a good-natured jibe to the singer.

It had only taken Montreal 13 games from start to finish in these 1976 Stanley Cup playoffs, sweeping Chicago, taking out the Islanders in five games, and then the four-game dismissing of the Flyers.

Some Flyers fans thought it might have been different if their team had been healthy. Rick MacLeish didn’t suit up, and Bobby Clarke and Orest Kindrachuk played but weren’t 100%. And Wayne Stephenson was between the pipes instead of number one, Bernie Parent. But even coach Fred Shero admitted that his team, although they might have prolonged it slightly, would have lost anyway. “If we’d had everybody healthy, I suppose we might have lasted longer, we might have made it close, at least.” said Shero. “But on the other hand, I imagine that if we had been able to play better, Canadiens might have played better too. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they could.”

And to make all Habs fans giddy, Shero also went on about how good the Habs actually were. “These are guys you can’t ride off the puck. They’re immune to normal forechecking. You put pressure on most defences and they fall apart. They cough up the puck or throw it away. These fellows never panic. They just won’t give up the puck. They’re always in control.”

And Shero wasn’t finished being nice. “And my God, they’re all like forwards besides. That’s what you’ve got to have on your defence in the NHL today. You can put Robinson, Savard or Lapointe up front and they don’t look out of place at all.”

The last word goes to Bobby Clarke. “We were beaten by one great hockey team, the best in many years.”

And now, 1977

In the spring of 1977, as I was on the verge of getting married for the first time, Jacques Lemaire scored the overtime goal to give his team their second straight Stanley Cup in this late 1970’s run, and it was done with a lovely four-game sweep against Don Cherry and his Boston Bruins. Is this one of the reasons you hate the Habs, Don?

It had been quite a year for this dominating bunch. Montreal only lost eight times in 80 games and racked up a record 132 points. Nobody was going to beat them in the playoffs. You didn’t have to be Kreskin to figure it out. In fact, the team swept the Blues, took out the Islanders 4 games to 2, and then swept the Bruins. Fourteen games in total, and very similar to the 13 it had taken them the year before.

Guy Lafleur won the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP and managed nine goals and 17 assists throughout. But he had this to say: “It’s my third Cup and it’s always nice, but it’s not the same excitement. I don’t think I’m the best player. It’s just that everything went well for me.”

Jacques Lemaire was the quiet hero on this ride. His teammates had told him to shoot more, and on this night, he delivered with the overtime marker. “Why shouldn’t I be happy,” said Lemaire. “I’m on a holiday. I’m on a holiday starting now. It’s about time. It still is Lafleur and Shutt, except tonight. Tonight was a mistake. They said, shoot the puck, you look good.”

Coach Scotty Bowman had this to say about Lafleur and Shutt. “They play more like Europeans. I’m not knocking the NHL style of play, but the Europeans make more plays on the move. That’s what Lafleur and Shutt do.”

And last word to Don Cherry. “It’s hard to believe we kept outshooting them and still can’t win a game. I still say the whole thing boiled down to those three defensemen.”

Bowman Brainwave

In the latter part of 1970s the Habs were in the middle of winning four straight Cups and were in Los Angeles for a game against the Kings. The boys won easily that night, and many of them decided to go out and celebrate. They ended up drinking too much, missed curfew, and eventually wobbled back to the hotel. At the hotel, the doorman happened to have a hockey stick, and asked the players, as they staggered in, to autograph his stick.

The next morning, Scotty Bowman called out all the players who missed curfew and fined them.

And how did he know?

He’d given the doorman a stick and asked him to get the latecomers to sign it.

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.

Max Mentionings

All the way home I listened to speculation on TSN 690 about the possibility of Max Pacioretty getting traded, with the question being, for whom?

Or is it just idle gossip on a slow news day in Montreal, aside from all the ice and snow.

I don’t want Max traded. Streaky or not, he’s a big power forward who can find the back of the net.

How many others on our team can we say the same of? And how many are out there who are similar?

What, we’re going to get even smaller? If Marc Bergevin trades Max for a little guy, I’m moving to Tibet to find the true meaning of life.

Okay, I can be swayed. I’ll take either David Backes or Alex Pietrangelo for Max.

There was also talk that he and Michel Therrien don’t see eye to eye. Twenty guys on those ’70s Habs teams didn’t see eye to eye with Scotty Bowman either.

There’s probably a thousand examples. It’s part of nature. Working for the man.

Again, I don’t want Max traded.

And congratulations to him and his wife Katia for their new baby boy, Lorenzo. May Lorenzo grow up in Montreal. At least during the winter.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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?

New Kid On The Block

The Canadiens have hired former player Gerard Gallant as assistant coach Gallant Joins Habs, and another piece falls into place. Whether or not it’s a good piece remains to be seen.

But it’s another in an important line of change, a restructuring of vast proportions. New GM, new assistant GM, new director of player personnel, new coach, new assistant coach, hopefully a new stick boy. With more to come. Pretty soon we won’t recognize anybody. Is Gomez gone yet?

The hiring of Michel Therrien as head coach seems to be the one area where folks are blowing their tops. The majority hate the idea. A guy I work with said to me the other day that surely I can’t be happy with Therrien coming back, that he’s an incompetent hothead. 66% of voters at the Hockey Inside/Out poll said it was a terrible move. Marc Bergevin, who hired Therrien, has been slammed as a guy we first liked and respected and were thrilled to have, and now we see he’s a bum. I don’t think like this though. I’m waiting at least four games before I bitch about anybody.

Of course, if the Canadiens look great and jump out of the gate when the season kicks off, things will be fine and there will be an urgent need to find someone else to kick in the gonads. But if the team falters and slumps, that’s not thunder you hear, it’s a chorus of 66% of poll voters yelling “I told you so,” who knew all along and proved one thing – that Toe Blake was wrong when he said predictions are for gypsies.

Gerard Gallant doesn’t speak French and that might be slammed around for awhile. I’m sure the French media have their guns cocked, ready to aim and fire. Kirk Muller didn’t speak the language either as an assistant coach and was tabbed as the second coming, and most everyone it seemed, wanted Muller to move up to the head job.

He’s still talked about as what could could have been, as the the most brilliant bench boss material to come down the pipes since Scotty Bowman. But the Carolina Hurricanes, with Muller behind the bench, finished 12th of 15 teams in the east, just four points ahead of the Canadiens, and we’ll see if good old Kirk has the magic touch next season. I hope he does. I hope his team ends up just below the Habs.

I’ll be on the front lines in calling for Therrien to be fired if the team blows a tire and becomes as sad or almost as sad as last year’s edition. But for now I’m content with the decision to bring this guy back, and any other moves the team makes. I was at the point where anybody could have been brought in, a peewee coach from Chicoutimi or Rene Levesque’s illegitimate love child, it wouldn’t have mattered, because what we had wasn’t exactly working, which is an understatement, don’t you think?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.