I came up with a neat idea. Well, maybe it wasn't exactly MY idea, but what the heck....
Over my years of following the Canadiens ( 38 to be exact! ), I have stockpiled a great deal of anecdotes on the team and its players from a multitute of sources too long to list. The newspapers and biographies read have given way to the internet, where one can begin researching the Canadiens 99 year history, and read for weeks.
A couple of days back, I lucked upon a cool little site less than a season old authored by a long time Habs fan named Dennis Kane. Simply titled "Dennis Kane's Excellent Montreal Canadiens Blog", the site was immediately appealing to me for a pair of quickly evident reasons.
First, it is extremely well written. Mr. Kane is a former truck driver and current writer for the Powell River Peak in British Columbia. Secondly, Dennis brings a historical perspective to his site, having been a Habs fan for 50 years. As a bonus, he's well a travelled gypsy who's been all over Canada and the world, gaining varied outlooks on the Canadiens from more than one point of view.
Readers of Eyes On The Prize will understand my enthusiasm for Mr. Kane's blog, as we share an appreciation for looking at the Habs in both past and present terms.
One of the more entertaining features of Dennis' blog are an ongoing series of "Fascinating Facts" columns. There are so far seven installments, all highly worth reading, that are chock full of interesting details and trivial tidbits. Here's a few samples:
"Fascinating Fact #3. I met the Rocket (1942-1960) when he was refereeing an old-timers game in Calgary. I told him he’d sent me a Christmas card when I was about 8 years old. He said he didn’t remember. My sister took a picture of him, then the Rocket said he wanted a picture of him with my sister."
"Fascinating fact #4. Several years ago, my sister Carla and I used to do this silly little thing like say, "You know Carla, I’ve known a lot of people in my life —and you’re one of them. Or "You know Dennis, I’ve seen a lot of men in my life — and you’re one of them." You get the picture. Just silly stuff. So one day, somewhere, maybe Calgary, Ken Dryden was signing his book at a bookstore and Carla bought one for me and had Ken sign it this way- "Dennis, I’ve had a lot of fans in my life, —and you’re one of them. Ken Dryden."
Earlier this month, Kane wrote this account about Doug Harvey from the eyes of his son Doug Jr., who resides in the Maritimes. Kane just called up Junior and chatted about what it was like to grow up the son of a famous NHL'er.
In short, Kane's site has loads of Habs related content combined with a viewpoint the average Habs blog cannot share. Mr. Kane's pieces will be regularly linked to in my "Habs For Breakfast" posts anytime he has something of interest to say - which should be often.
While reading through the "Fascinating Facts" it brought to mind dozens of my favorite Habs tales and lore, some that have been told here and others that haven't. Inspired by Mr. Kane's columns, and following the notion that "imitation is sincerest form of flattery", I thought I would try my hand at something similar and attempt to make it a somewhat semi - regular addition here.
What I will be calling " Hab Facts You Might Not Know" will consist of a variety of lesser known Habs facts culled through time from a myriad of information sources. I would like to instill, as Mr. Kane does, a personal slant to the tales and I will be including, as often as I find, details about the Canadiens and their players that may involve myself on the perimeter of the tale.
Something I would really welcome, is for readers to share their stories of such with other readers. Whether it involves yourself personally, or it is simply something you find fits into this type of column, drop me a line at email@example.com and I'd be happy to include it here.
Keep them brief and to the point - the less editing I need to do the better!
So here goes the first installment of what I hope will be many for "Hab Facts You Might Not Know!"
Guy Lafleur visited my hometown of Cornwall near the late 1990's. He was doing an autograph meet and greet at the local Zellers store with charity proceeds going to a healthy cause, either the Heart And Stroke Foundation or the Canadian Cancer Society - I forget which. The Flower was instantly affable and accomodating. As I had no idea he was even there - I walked into Zellers, and there to my surprise is my biggest hockey hero and the reason I love the game - I had nothing for him to sign! I chatted with him for a few moments and found out he was out of there in about 40 minutes. I rushed home and grabbed 4 or 5 or his hockey cards - including his 1972 O-Pee-Chee rookie card - and dashed back. A person in charge of the charity sternly advised me that Guy would not sign anything other than the photos printed especially for the cause, which were priced between $10 and $20 - bummer, right? My friend Shawn and I continued chatting with the legend as he indiscreetly signed my cards anyways. When he arrived at the rookie card, he asked me no less than three times if I truly wanted him to deface it with a signature. "It decreases the value, you know", he said. "No Guy, it becomes priceless to me....sign it "To Robert!" After I had picked up what I went for there in the first place, we were leaving at the same time as Lafleur and caught a quick little exchange in french between him and his agent, Jerry Petrie. Flower slipped him a couple of $50 dollar bills, and Petrie slipped to buy two cartons of DuMaurier smokes for the Hall Of Famer. The short conversation between them had to do with the cancer sticks being a whole $15 bucks a carton cheaper than on the Quebec side.
Larry Robinson, as serious as he was on the ice, was a lighthearted fellow off it. As Don Cherry once told it, he enjoyed the dressing room cameraderie and liked to joke around with players. In the early 1980's he and Lafleur joined coach Cherry one year end, as the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs, for the World Championship tournament. One day in, a jet lagged Lafleur was knocked out of the tournament with a blindsided hit and the outlook wasn't good for Canada. A few days later, Robinson knocked himself out of the game with a freak injury - nothing to do with hockey. Big Bird was likely looking to alleviate the mood when he appeared in the dressing room with 12 inch medical swab Q - Tips protruding from his ears. With his arms outsretched like airplane wings parallel to the oversized swabs, he proclaimed to team mates, "Look, I'm an alien!" To much laughter, Robinson swayed and flew around the room, but the laughter likely reached another proportion when he went to remove them, and forgetting how long they actually were, jabbed one deep back into his eardrum by accident. Screams of pain were heard about the room. And we all assume aliens are smarter!
Jacques Demers recalled his first meeting with Doug Gilmour back in the Killer's first season in St. Louis when he signed as a free agent with the Habs in 2002. Gilmour, despite great stats in junior with Cornwall, was seen as a longshot NHL'er because of his size. Not drafted until the 7th round in 1982, Gilmour was confident of a roster spot on the Blues - others were far from unanimous in that notion. At training camp, Demers made it a point to get to know his young players as quick as possible and invited Dougie out for supper one afternoon when the practice session was over. Now most rookies would be acting on their best gentlemanly behavior and hoping to make a good impression on the coach in such a moment, but Gilmour was a whole different kind of cocky and brash. After sitting down for a minute with Demers without being waited on, Gilmour got up without a word and headed straight for the restaurant bar. Minutes later he came back with beers for himself and the coach. Demers couldn't believe his eyes! Despite Gilmour's light frame, Demers instantly knew that the player had the neccessary balls to survive in the big leagues.
Former Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne retired as the third all time leading scorer in NHL history behind Phil Esposito and Gordie Howe. He was unfortunate in that he always played for playoff also rans in Detroit and L.A. and has often been termed the greatest player to have never won a Cup. Often asked what he felt was his greatest hockey achievement in light of the fact that the Stanley Cup passed him by, Dionne has always sidestepped the question. In his autobiography published a few years ago, Dionne revealed that his best moment in hockey actually didn't involve him, but his younger brother Gilbert, who played three seasons for the Canadiens. Dionne attended game 5 of the 1993 Cup final when the Canadiens defeated his former Kings with his and Gilbert's father. Long after the game, and after the celebartions and rioting outside the Forum had quieted, the father and the eldest son began a walk from the building. Once on the street, the father, obviously moved to know the family name would now grace Lord Stanley's mug, wrapped an arm around the Hall Of Famer's shoulder tightly and said, "We finally got one!"
Unbelievably, Maurice Richard did not win the Hart Trophy the season he notched 50 goals in 50 games. He finished second in scoring, 7 points behind linemate Elmer Lach, who was deemed the recipient on the strength of 80 points, including 54 assists. That's always struck me as some kind of odd slight at the Rocket.
Did you know that a third Richard brother, Claude was given a short tryout by the Habs in 1959-60? It was the Rocket's final season, and Claude was asked to camp and participated in a few exhibitions games with the Canadiens that pre - season. For two games, the 3 Richards formed a line. That would be like having a fantasy camp within your own family! Claude is the brother in white in the picture below.
On a similar note, Habs goalie Bill Durnan was slighted as well, in my esteem, by not being awarded the 1943 Rookie Of The Year. The trophy instead went to the Maple Leafs Gus Bodnar, who tallied a very respectable 62 points in his initial campaign.
The 27 year old Durnan's accomplishments however, were of superman like proportions as he backstopped the Canadiens to the best season they ever had. Over a 50 game schedule, the Habs went 38-5-7 for 83 points, a 33 point improvement over the previous season. Durnan, the game's only ambidextrous goalie appeared in every game, and registered a 2.18 GAA. He went 8-1 in the playoffs with a 1.53 GAA, and led Montreal to its fifth Stanley Cup, and their first in 13 years. I call not getting the Calder a real rip job. Durnan did win 6 Vezina Trophies in 7 NHL seasons.
Doug Harvey, legendary Habs defenseman, rarely backed down from the challenge that defying authority presented. One time, after a game in Detroit in the 1950's, Canadiens coach Toe Blake decided to throw his players a curve, and instead of a morning practice before a taking a train to Toronto, announced that the team would be going on a tour of the General Motors plant in Motown. Harvey thought the idea was insane, and didn't hesitate to let Blake know his feelings. The coach's idea perhaps, was for the players to get a glimpse of plant work, hence more appreciation for their lifestyle. Harvey was having none of it. What really lit Harvey's fuse was when the team bus stopped, not in front of the GM plant, but at the door of the Detroit Olympia. "What are we stopping here for?", Doug asked the coach. "Oh, the Red Wings players are coming with us!" With that, and a "Not with me they aren't", Harvey exited the team bus to Blake's stunned dismay, and proceeded to walk off in the opposite direction. Harvey was absolutely against the notion of associating with players he felt were trying to take his head off just one night before. Harvey, it was assumed, likely hit a local watering hole for the afternoon, and was nowhere to be found when the train was to leave the station later that day. Finally, at the last moment, Harvey appeared, running, huffing and puffing, suitcase in hand, as the train began to roll. "Run, Dougie, run", cheered the Habs players as Harvey chased the train, jumping aboard just as it was about to pull away.