This is my passport photo taken when I was 17. If you look closely you can see pimples.
I was getting ready to go on a big trip, which ultimately would cause me to miss almost the entire Montreal Canadiens 1968-69 season including playoffs. I’m unable to talk about Rogie Vachon and Gump Worsley in goal and rookie coach Claude Ruel winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie coaching season and most of the other details in that year, mainly because I wasn’t around.
When this picture was taken I was working in a factory, having quit school, and was saving my money. I worked for a year in this dirty, stinking old place, but on November 22, 1968, a month after I turned 18, myself and a friend took a train to Montreal, boarded the Empress of England, and sailed for seven days and seven nights until we reached Liverpool, England. My thoughts weren’t on the Habs at all. They were filled with swinging London, the Beatles, long-legged lovelies in mini-skirts, Carnaby Street, and of course the great British bands like the Stones, the Who and the Kinks. The sounds that had come out of there while I was stuck in Orillia, and all the photos which described to me a special place where kids were cooler than cool, drove me crazy until I knew I needed to go and see for myself.
From Liverpool we took a train to London because that was ground zero of all that was good and cool about England, and we took a room at the YMCA. (A few years later I also stayed at another YMCA in Sudbury,Ontario, and I don’t know about now, but I can tell you, YMCA’s aren’t the Ritz.)
I had no idea what was happening with my Habs and I’m ashamed to say it, but I suppose I didn’t really care at this time. We were in England and that was all that mattered. While Beliveau and the Pocket Rocket zigged and zagged and the team geared up for the playoff run, I ate fish and chips, looked at double decker buses, and wondered how my hair looked. And at one point we went to the Beatles’ office on Saville Row, knocked on the door, and asked a lovely young secretary lady if the boys were in. She said no, and to this day, I’ve wondered what I would’ve done if she’d said yes.
We traveled up through the Midlands in the dead of winter, into Derby and Nottingham, hitchhiking from the other side of the road of course, and I recall sleeping standing up in a phone booth one freezing night. We also got beds at a Salvation Army shelter for the down-and-out, and it was the two of us with heavy woolen blankets over top of us, listening all night to old, homeless men snoring and burping and farting and talking drunken gibberish. But the thought of these wine-soaked, tobacco-stained creatures quickly vanished from my mind when we went to a movie house somewhere to see a young Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Women.”
We were in Swinging England! My friend bought a Victorian top hat at a flea market which he wore around when it wasn’t wet and windy. And we saw John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at a jam-packed Railway Tavern, a place that only months later would become the nightly home of a new-formed band named Led Zeppelin.
Back home, I didn’t know it at the time but the Canadiens were rolling along to a first place finish, with big Jean Beliveau ending up second to Phil Esposito for the Hart trophy as league MVP. Yvan Cournoyer finished with 87 points, just five ahead of Beliveau, and Tony Esposito, who of course became a huge star in Chicago, was a Hab this year and replaced Gump Worsley in goal when Worsley had some sort of nervous breakdown. At least, this is what I’ve read. I don’t know because I was over there, doing my best to be cool.
And in the playoffs, the Canadiens first swept the Rangers, beat Boston in six games, and took out St. Louis in four games to win their 16th Stanley Cup.
There’s just not a lot I can tell you about this season. I was busy.