A tale of a Canadiens star taking a bribe to fix a game?
Surprise - I didn't happen this year!
The story in fact happened some 88 years ago, before the player was traded to the Canadiens.
Aurele Joliat became a Canadien on September 18, 1922 when Montreal acquired his services from the Saskatoon Crescents of the Western Hockey League in exchange for legend Newsy Lalonde and thirty five hundred smackaroos.
It might just have been the greatest trade in Canadiens history, as it dealt a Lalonde, who had been the team's all time leading scorer, for another who would eclipse those lofty totals. In 655 games with the Habs, Joliat netted 270 goals, passing Newsy's mark, and equalling that of the great Howie Morenz. His 190 career assists and 771 penalty minutes made him the all timer leader in all four categories upon his retirement in 1938.
Joliat was property of the Crescents, although he had never played for them. Apparently Saskatoon didn't think much of Joliat, a fragile player of a frisky nature.
Prior to becoming Crescents property, Joliat had twice injured his back badly - once in a football tryout, and in another instance where he feel from a roof while doing summer work. Joliat didn't play hockey in 1921-22. One tale has it that it was due to injuries and anothers states that he was suspended by the Iroquois Falls Flyers of the NOHA, with whom he had last appeared.
After starring for a few seasons with the barber striped Ottawa New Edinburghs, Joliat had signed on with Iroquois Falls, an intermediate team playing in a championship playoff. It was there, with the Flyers, that Joliat was flashed a wad of cash to lay low in the final game, in a fix set up by mobsters of the day.
How it happened was, Joliat, on the afternoon of the big game, had been approached by a pair of suspiscious looking Dons, and was offered the sum of $500 dollars if he would help tank the game. Joliat then asked to see the cash, and when the sinister types flashed the dough, the player grabbed it - he couldn't help himself - and stuffed it in his pocket. Joliat had never seen so much money in his lifetime!
The fix was on, and the gamblers, who had set up numerous bets figured they were all set to cash in after having bought off the Flyers best goal scorer.
The only trouble was, Joliat forgot to play along.
That evening, before the seedy gents showed up for the game, Joliat busied himself packing his travel bags and buying a train ticket.
Once the game got underway, it was clear that Joliat was not complying. He scored an amazing six goals en route to the Flyers one sided victory.
It was a death defying, double hat trick, that had Joliat running for the exits at game's end, with a pair of hell bent, angry mobsters looking to retire him permanantly as soon as the third period ended.
As a jubiliant crowd massed around the Iroquois dressing room, the gamblers seethed outside the door, unable to get through. As elusive as Joliat proved to be that night on skates, he was equally slippery in his getaway boots, and he quickly slipped out a backroom door off to the train station in record time. His heart likely didn't settle until he reached Saskatoon.
The entire incident was a telling preview of a character who would go on to dazzle NHL crowds for 16 seasons.
Few Canadiens fans alive today have memories of Joliat, but those watching the Habs game on the night of January 12, 1985 will never forget the sight of Joliat, in his trademark leather cap, doing a final lap on Forum ice on the event of the Canadiens unveiling their 75th anniversary Dream Team.
After announcing the members of the exclusive club - The Rocket, Jean Beliveau, Dickie Moore, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson - they were joined by then captain Bob Gainey and the oldest living Canadiens player at the time, Joliat, then a youthful 83 years of age.
Joliat sprinted out onto the ice in full Habs gear, tripping once over the red carpet and a second time while skating a puck the length of the ice into an open net. The Forum faithful went wild! Falling once more as he joined in for a group photo, he was helped to his feet by Robinson and posed for a shot taken for posterity.
Joliat apparently never tired of the spotlight, and was proud as a peacock his entire life for having been associated with the Canadiens. Stories abound on Joliat's shenanigans from before he hit town in Montreal up until his death on June 2, 1986.
The player known as the Mighty Atom and the Little Giant loved to chat about his NHL days. One story that came to me from a fellow Canadiens supporter on the occasion of the Habs Fan Summit in October 2007 was typical Joliat fare.
The fans, whose name escapes me, told me a story about when he was delivering furniture appliances in Ottawa in the early 1980's. One workday, he noticed the name of Aurel Joliat on his delivery ticket, and it rung a bell. Thinking that it was in fact the Candiens legend, he saved the delivery for his final drop off of the day. Once there, he asked Joliat if he was the former Hab of the same name.
Joliat went on to regale the fan with a multitute of stories from back in the day, as they chatted for close to hour. During all this, Joliat's wife was constantly berating him, as they had to get going somewhere. Still Joliat kept on spinning yarns.
It's quite incredible that a player of Joliat's small stature - 5' 5'', 130 lbs - lasted all those years when the NHL was it's most viscious. One Montreal scribe once decribed Joliat's feats as "rolling away from 200 pounders, fading from the path of charging rivals and sidestepping and hurdling his way clear of smashing body blows, flying elbows and jabbing butt ends. His amazing quickness saved him from untold punishment over the years and kept him going, like a brook, apparently forever."
In a later interview, Joliat said of himself, that "Oldtime hockey players like me were the dumbest bunch of athletes in the world. We never got paid what we deserved and most of us didn't have sense enough to save what money we got."
That would explain why Joliat grabbed the cash and made his dash away, all those years ago.
For more on Joliat's interesting life and times, check out Joe Pelletier's excellent career bio on Aurel at Hockey's Greatest Legends.