Tag Archives: Serge Savard

Meeting Serge

Savard

Serge Savard was at my workplace yesterday to sign a bunch of stuff, and because he was quite busy I really didn’t want to interrupt him. But I managed to chat with him a bit anyway.

I told him that not only did I follow his career through his many years as a Hab, but also during the 1972 Summit Series when he was a member of Team Canada.

He was friendly and more than happy to talk a bit about the Summit Series, mentioning that he wore number 23 in the series instead of his usual #18 because Jean Ratelle had seniority.

Serge didn’t play game one in Montreal when the Soviets shocked almost everyone with their 7-3 win, but Serge said he wasn’t surprised, he’d played against Russian teams as a junior, and he knew they were good. And he still disagrees about not dressing for that big game one.

“They decided to go with some slower guys like Don Awrey, who was conservative and would be down often from blocking shots, when I think a guy like me who was a bit more offensive should have played. I knew they were fast, and I would’ve been a better fit.”

Serge also brought up a point he seemed pretty darn proud of, and I don’t blame him. “Every game I played we didn’t lose. Four wins and a tie. I didn’t play in game one, had a bad foot for game four in Vancouver, and they rested me in Moscow for game five. But then I played the last three over there.”

I asked him about the magnificent Valeri Kharlamov. “One of the best ever,” said Serge. “I even got him into the Hall of Fame”! (Serge is an inductee selector). He also thinks Alexander Yakushev should be in the Hall.

It was cool to chat with a guy who has his name on eight Stanley Cups as a player and twice as Habs GM in ’86 and ’93, and who also won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1969, was GM of the Habs in the mid-1980s, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, and was awarded the Order of Canada.

He also wears a big honkin’ Stanley Cup ring on his finger.

That was it. A handshake and I was off to give my usual 187% again. I went back down later and he was gone.

I also found out that on my day off last Friday, Serge’s teammate on the Habs and Team Canada, HOFer Guy Lapointe, was in the office.

Plus – A Joke Serge Played on John Ferguson

After game 8 in Moscow in 1972, Fergie, who was Team Canada’s assistant coach, went around the dressing room and had all the players sign a stick that he planned on mounting in his den when he got home.

When the team got back to Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau was there to meet them and Fergie followed Savard through the reception line. Trudeau and Serge shook hands, and then Serge said to Trudeau, “By the way, Mr. Prime Minister, look what John Ferguson has brought you from Moscow – an autographed stick.”

Savard took the stick from Fergie’s hand and gave it to Trudeau.

Fergie never got it back, although Trudeau’s office called him after hearing about the joke and offered it back. But Fergie said Trudeau could keep it.

 

 

 

 

Habs, Leafs, And Beatles

On August 17th in 1966, the Beatles played an afternoon show in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens.

I was there and I’m pretty darn proud of it.

I was 15 years old and had a summer job as a highway construction slave labourer, but the boss let me go early and I went down to Toronto from Orillia with a disc jockey my sister worked with at the local radio station. She had got word to me just that morning that the DJ was going and asked if I would like to go with him.

I didn’t have a ticket, but believe it or not, they were still available when I showed up at the Gardens, and I got a $5.50 ticket in the very last row on the floor.

It was madness, of course. There were about six bands in the lineup, including the Ronettes, the Cyrkle, and Bobby Hebb, and the Beatles in the finale played for about 40 minutes with girls screaming and fainting and carrying on.

That fall, hockey season began, and the next spring, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Habs in six games to win their last Stanley Cup.

The Leafs were an old team with guys like Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower, Red Kelly, and Allan Stanley, but Montreal wasn’t that young either. Henri Richard was 30, John Ferguson 27, Claude Provost was 32, Dick Duff 30, Ted Harris 30, Jean-Guy Talbot was 34, Jean Beliveau was 35, and the goalies, Gump Worsley and Charlie Hodge, were 37 and 33 respectively.

Of course, Montreal also had the kiddies. Yvan Cournoyer was all of 22. Claude Larose was 23. Jacques Laperriere 24. And Serge Savard and Carol Vadnais were just 20.

John and Ringo were 26, Paul 24, and George 23.

The Habs and Beatles remain in the hearts of millions.

The Leafs continue to suck.

Knuckles’ Ring Thing

Whitey Bulger says Chris Nilan gave him Chris’s 1986 Habs Stanley Cup ring. Chris says he didn’t.

Who to believe.

I believe Knuckles. You think I’m going to take the side of an 83-year old Boston mobster, found guilty of a bunch of gangland murders and various other activities? And he’s from Boston so he’s probably a Bruins fan. No way I’m siding with a Boston mobster who cheers for the Bruins.

I’m going with the guy who played for the Montreal Canadiens. A guy who stuck up for his teammates every time he stepped on the ice. A blue-collar guy. A team guy.

That, and Mr. Nilan seems like a nice enough fellow when I hear him on TSN690 talking about his long and bumpy road.

But I have to admit, when I first heard this story, I thought that it might have been something Chris could have done when he was living a life of hangovers. I can see it happening. But he says he didn’t and that’s good enough.

Knuckles used to be married to the daughter of Whitey’s ex-girlfriend. That’s not even close. That’s like saying my aunt’s cousin’s nephew was lead singer for Iron Butterfly.

Chris says he gave the ring to his dad, and when GM Serge Savard heard about it, he ordered another one made for Chris. This is an all round feel-good story.  And it’s as cool as it gets, being in the position to give dad your Stanley Cup ring. Not to some guy who doesn’t exactly have a 9 to 5 job.

It’s a crazy story. And maybe Whitey thinks the ring’s real but it’s actually one of those knock-offs you can buy on eBay for fifty bucks.

I’m on Chris’s side on this. I don’t trust mobsters.

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

 

 

 

 

A Night At A Fan Club

In going through some papers last night in the basement, I found something I’d written in 1992. I’m not sure why I’d written it, but anyway…

The first page talks about how I grew up to be a Montreal Canadiens fan living in Orillia, a city thick with Leafs fans, but I won’t bother with that part here.

After that I went into being in Russia in 1991 and spending an evening with members of the Russian Montreal Canadiens Fan Club, where no one spoke English except for one guy, Konstantin Krylov, who presently is a scout for the Anaheim Ducks.

At that time it was during the fall of the Soviet Union, and up until then, Russians had had very little contact with foreigners from the west. It was almost unheard of that westerners would spend any time at all in a Russian’s home, so it was all new, for both sides.

But I was lucky. I lived with a Russian family in St. Petersburg several times over the years, for short periods, and I still feel very fortunate for the experience.

I’m beginning halfway through my piece, when I went to a meeting at the apartment of the president of the fan club, Alexander Varnovsky

“Anatoly brought me by streetcar to Alexander’s apartment building in the heart of Leningrad. As we approached the old six-story building nestled beside a children’s playground off a main downtown street, Anatoly pointed upwards to the president’s place. There, in the window, thousands of miles from home, in such a mysterious country, was a giant Montreal Canadiens crest. And beside it, Alexander and several of his friends waved and smiled and motioned to us to come up.

Hockey Night in Leningrad, without the television.

That evening at the Fan Club was without doubt one of the most enjoyable and interesting few hours I’ve ever spent. I could sense a feeling that I was truly welcome, and they seemed happy that they were able to get some Canadian impressions of the NHL, and of course their beloved Montreal Canadiens.

Alexander’s apartment looked like many hockey fans’ apartments, although it was very small. The walls were alive with Habs’ team photos from different years, and photos of Lafleur and Cournoyer and Beliveau and Carbonneau, among others, smiled down. Sasha had written many times to Habs public relations director Claude Mouton, and Mr. Mouton had graciously answered many of his letters and sent hats and pennants etc. All of Mouton’s letters were proudly displayed.

Even as I was taking off my coat, the questions started rolling off their tongues. The big one, the one brought up the most, was how I felt about the ’91-’92 team, and did I think they had the talent to go all the way. Of course they did, I answered. I’ve been answering that question the very same way all my life. So in Russia, it was no different.

As tea and pastry were served, I tried to explain why I thought the team would be successful. And I was grilled constantly about all aspects of the Habs, and the N.H.L. in general. What really stood out, what truly impressed me, was the amount of knowledge and insights my new friends had about North American hockey. They had only seen international competition for the most part – Canada Cups, World Championships, Olympics and such. Until then, a Montreal-Boston clash, for example, rarely or never graced the screens of Russian T.Vs.

But they were all hockey scholars in the truest sense. They all had their own ideas on who should win the Hart Trophy, or who the best goalie was, or what GM was the craftiest, or what skater was the most innovative.

They appreciated the aggressiveness of Shane Corson and Mike Keane, and loved the style and grace of Denis Savard. They expressed concern over the youthful defence of the Habs, and were all in agreement when Wayne Gretzky’s name came up as the greatest in the game today.

Throughout the evening we talked about league president John Ziegler, Serge Savard, Russian and Canadian fans, Hall of Famers, and famous games. They said that the classic Super Series ’76 featuring the Canadiens and Red Army 3-3 game was the turning point for them all, when they saw for the first time the beauty of Montreal’s game. They had heard many stories before that, but this was their first look, and it left a lasting impression.

The evening went by far too quickly, and after several hours it was time to go back to Anatoly’s. The entire fan club walked us the few blocks to the streetcar.

I made some great friends that night. We all share a deep love for the Montreal Canadiens, and I feel so fortunate to have met and spent such a memorable evening with them.

Several months later, back in Calgary, I received a letter from Leningrad, which had now become St. Petersburg once again after the system had collapsed and they were starting anew. There was one page in Russian and another translated into English, and it stated that I had been unanimously voted into the St. Petersburg Montreal Canadiens Fan Club.

I was the first and only member of the club from outside Russia, and I am very proud.

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Pocket’s Place

At one point in the latter part of the 1970s, my first wife and I, with our friends Mike and Diana Williamson, drove to Montreal from Ottawa and took in a game at the Forum.

Maybe if I had a few more memory cells I could remember the year and the team the Habs played. Maybe even who won. And other things that took place.

After the game, or maybe before, the four of us went to Henri Richard’s Tavern for food and beer. And lo and behold, the Pocket was there with his family. At least I think it was his family. Pretty sure it was. Maybe it wasn’t.

I had the card below signed on the back, and again, if my memory was somewhat normal, maybe I’d remember why it was that Henri happened to have his postcards with him. Did he usually take them with him when he went to dinner with his family? Was there a stack of them sitting on the table between the quarts of beer and the lamb chops? (Just guessing about the lamb chops).

Maybe I’d brought the picture with me.

Really, I can’t tell you a thing about any of this, but hopefully it’s slightly interesting anyway.

And as an extra bonus to this sensational story, I’ve included, at the bottom, an ad I saw on eBay of Henri modeling a cardigan sweater.

Pocket1

Pocket2

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Dick And Danny Do The Game

It’s the magical combination of Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin as the Habs and Flyers battle on May 16, 1976. Montreal would win 5-3 on this night, sweeping the Flyers to win their 19th Stanley Cup.

Period one (30 min.) and period three (42 min) are included here, and we see the Cup awarded. Just wonderful, and thanks to my old buddy Rugger for sending it along.

Period One:

Period Three:

Habs Fall Flat

It was going so well too. The crowd was pumped and happy. There was a friendly, robust cheer for new coach Michel Therrien. The torch was passed from past captains, from Yvan Cournoyer to the Pocket, from Vincent Damphousse to Serge Savard, and then Jean Beliveau handed it to present-day captain Brian Gionta.

The torch then made its way from player to player, Alex Galchenyuk heard a nice welcome from the faithful, as did Francis Bouillon and the others. It was all very nice, because that’s what happens in Montreal – nice pre-game ceremonies. If these things won Stanley Cups, the Montreal Canadiens would never lose. Every year the bleu, blanc et rouge would hoist the hardware. It’d be a hundred in a row.

Unfortunately, once the puck was dropped on this Hockey Night in Canada affair at the Bell Centre, the Habs couldn’t get untracked. The torch thing had worn them out, I suppose.

Brandon Prust scrapped with the Leafs Mike Brown, and did a fine job. But more sandpaper is required from Prust, not just the odd fight. We’d need him to be a menace to society from start to finish.

Carey Price was good in goal, and if the Habs had decided to show some zip and pressure in the first two periods, Price might have racked up a well-earned win. But the boys in front of him were flat as a pancake, and all it does is be a reminder of days gone by.

Young Alex Galchenyuk, in his first game in the bigs, had several shots on goal, but he has to remember, these aren’t junior goalies. His wrist shots from thirty feet out will be stopped pretty well every time.

The third period was slightly better. The Canadiens showed some jump, had some chances, and finally Brian Gionta found the back of the Leafs net to close the gap to one and wake the nodding crowd up somewhat. But it wasn’t enough as the Leafs held on to claim bragging rights, at least until the next time these two meet, on Feb. 9.

Montreal’s special teams leaved a lot to be desired. The Leafs scored both of their goals on power plays, while the Canadiens went one for five on their chances. But worse than the power plays, for most of the night they didn’t storm the net and cause havoc and commotion, or show much of anything. It was like a team of Scott Gomez’ out there. And P.K. Subban was certainly missed for his passion, his fire, his shot, his skating, and his larger-than-life presence. This guy has to get signed.

Habs bow to the Leafs. I miss the lockout.

Random Notes:

Shots on goal – 26-22 Leafs.

The Desharnais, Pacioretty, Cole line has seen better nights. They were a B in my book, when we need an A every night. There’s only 47 games left for goodness sakes.

Alexei Emelin has picked up where he left off last year, with good, clean, bone-crunching hits that makes people keep their heads up. Emelin was a bright light in a dark and less-than-stormy opening night.

Just a dismal start. Hopefully the Canadiens can show some jump on Tuesday when Alex Kovalev and the Florida Panthers come a-callin’. They showed some in the third on this night, and maybe they liked how it felt.

 

 

 

 

Summit ’72 – Cournoyer

There was a strong contingent of Montreal Canadiens on Team Canada ’72 - Ken Dryden, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Frank and Pete Mahovlich, and Yvan Cournoyer, and all, in their own way, contributed mightily to the cause, including Dryden who struggled at times but showed enough to coaches Harry Sinden and John Ferguson to be called upon for game eight duty.

Serge Savard played in five games, never in a losing cause, and he went about his business with poise and steadiness, which must have rubbed off on his somewhat frazzled teammates in a big way. Pete Mahovlich killed penalties and scored a classic shorthanded beauty in game two in Toronto. Brother Frank only had one goal and one assist, but was a strong, experienced leader and great puck carrier with that long stride of his. Guy Lapointe played in seven games and did for Team Canada what he did for as a Hab – skate and carry the puck better than most, and equally important, was the definitive team guy who kept teammates loose. And being loose was crucial in a series like this, where stress was the order of the day.

But maybe it was Cournoyer who had the greatest impact of all.

Cournoyer played in all eight games of the series, one of only seven players who did, and managed three goals and two assists, which placed him behind only Phil Esposito, Paul Henderson, and Bobby Clarke in team points. And most importantly, it was he who provided plenty of fodder in the final game.

At 12:56 of the third period, Cournoyer tied the score at 5-5, but the red light didn’t go on. It was an obvious goal, everyone saw it, and eventually, after Alan Eagleson almost set the Cold War back ten years with his angry antics, the goal stood, and Canada had clawed their way back after being down 5-3 going into the third. So what a huge, historic goal it was from Yvan Cournoyer.

Then with the score tied and less than a minute to go, Cournoyer intercepted the puck at the far boards, near the Soviet blueline, and sent it across the ice to Henderson, who initially lost it until it came back out to him in front of the net from Phil Esposito. Henderson beat Tretiak with 34 seconds left on the clock, and the first into the arms of the jubilant Henderson was Yvan Cournoyer, with the two immortalized forever in an iconic photograph.

The most famous goal in Canadian hockey history, and our great Roadrunner was in on it in a big way.

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.