Too Busy For the Habs That Year

003 This is my passport photo taken when I was 17.

I was getting ready to go on a big trip, which ultimately would cause me to miss most of the  Montreal Canadiens’ 1968-69 season.

I’m unable to talk about watching 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 of that year, mainly because I wasn’t around.

When this passport picture was taken I was working in a factory, having quit school after grade ten, and was saving my money. I worked for a year in this old place, but on November 22, 1968, a month after I turned 18, my friend Robin and I took a train from Orillia to Montreal, boarded the Empress of England, and sailed for eight days and 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, YMCAs 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, rode double decker buses, and wondered if my hair had grown a bit more.

At one point we went to the Beatles’ office on Savile 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.

We were in Swinging England! Robin bought a Victorian top hat at  the Portabello Road flea market which he wore when it wasn’t wet and windy. And we saw John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (with future Stone Mick Taylor on guitar) at a jam-packed Railway Tavern (Klooks Kleek), a place that also housed bands throughout the 1960s like the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Yardbirds, and more.

Back home, 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 that year and replaced Gump Worsley in goal when Worsley had some sort of nervous breakdown.

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 Habs season. I was busy.

4 thoughts on “Too Busy For the Habs That Year”

  1. Was your sense of adventure something you developed or did you have parents that encouraged you to go off and explore during your younger years? I am always fascinated when hearing about adventurous young people and how that goes from being an interest to actually living the dream! Maybe the difference with today is that helicopter parents weren’t common when you were growing up?

  2. Hi Pat. I was a dreamer as far back as I can remember. Always wondering about other places, always dreaming about going somewhere. My mother especially encouraged me. I think she knew school wasn’t in the cards for me. I think she realized that I had itchy feet and it had to be dealt with. I don’t know if you ever saw my post about going to LA when I was 16 but if not, I’ll be reposting it at some point. I was way too young and my parents didn’t seem to mind me going.

  3. Pat, that is an interesting question. I have two brothers and we are all different. The second one toured the world for almost three years in the early 60’s while I attended law school in Ottawa. The first enquiry I got from my classmates was, “Where have you been working to have hands like that? – the brand of a Sask. farm lad. And , my world touring brother upon his return home was asked , ” What, how did you get to work on a Kibbutz in Israel? And you also got to board with a Palestinian family for a number of months?!” And, with today’s generation: We have a grandson who is 25, an engineer doing research, and get this: He tells me, “Grampa, I am not allowed to tell you what research I am doing at the moment. So, I’ve laid an extra burden on him. ‘Bretton,” I’ve told him, “find a connecting link between the material and the spiritual world, because as things are at present, one is incomplete without the other.” I think the clue lies with the phenomenon of neutrinos I tell him. And, this idea sounds just as absurd as Michelangelo in 1468 I think it was when he dared to ask out loud, “Why can’t man learn to fly like a bird/” Enough for now, Pat.
    May you all have a Happy New Year.

  4. Dennis – I am looking forward to your LA story!

    Orville – thanks for posting your story. Life is such a gift and so incredibly fascinating.

    I wish you both a terrific 2018 and I must admit it would be great to belly up to a bar and chat with both of you. One of my passions in life is just to ask a person who they are and listen away!

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