The National Hockey League preseason is a time where teams can audition various prospects as they try to come up with the best line-up for the regular season. It also allows teams to play in smaller markets to reach a wider audience that might not necessarily be able to come to the home games.
The Montreal Canadiens started their 1985-86 preseason calendar with a victory against the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers and a come from behind tie against the Winnipeg Jets. That latter was notable as it put everyone on notice that a 140 pound rookie goaltender from Québec City by the name of Patrick Roy was for real, putting together a show-stealing 39 save performance. But for their third preseason game, on September 24th 1985, Montreal’s opponent was not another National Hockey League, but rather their American Hockey League farm team: the Sherbrooke Canadiens.
The AHL Canadiens, with head coach Pierre Creamer at the helm, were coming off of their historic 1984-85 season which culminated with a Calder Cup conquest, and the Montreal Canadiens organization was about to witness a changing of the guard with a lot of veterans leaving the NHL Canadiens, notably Mark Hunter (traded), Guy Lafleur (retired/contract dispute), and Pierre Mondou (retired due to injury). As a result the Canadiens organization was full of young faces battling out for roster spots with “Le Grand Club”, including AHL playoff MVP Brian Skrudland, defenceman Gaston Gingras, and the aforementioned AHL playoff hero Roy.
Looking at the lineups for this preseason game it was really a snapshot of an older generation battling the younger lions who were trying to take their spot. The lineups for the two teams would eventually combine to bring the Montreal Canadiens their 23rd Stanley Cup that season. But for one night it was a meeting of two generations as the present met the future.
The result unfortunately was a complete lop-sided victory for the NHL Canadiens, as they routed the AHL Canadiens by a score of 8-1 in front of a standing-room only 6,000 people at the Palais des Sports in Sherbrooke, who surely must have felt mixed emotions during this game. La Presse described the first period as “a practice session” for the NHL Canadiens as Mario Tremblay, Shayne Corson, and Kjell Dahlin scored for Montreal against a junior aged and shaky goaltender Vincent Riendeau, giving them a 3-0 advantage to start the game.
Spirits picked up in the second period as did the level of competition, but the NHL Canadiens continued to light up the AHL Canadiens, as Bobby Smith and Alfie Turcotte beat Yves Lavoie, sending them to the locker room up 5-0.
The local team managed to avoid the humiliation of a shutout in the third period when Claude Larose scored on Steve Penney, via a pass from Stéphane Richer, however it was too little, too late. Dominic Campedelli, Mike McPhee and Mats Naslund beat Paul Pageau in the third to complete the rout for the NHL Canadiens.
As a side note, Richer was playing his first preseason game of the year, as he was subject to criticism earlier in the preseason from Jean Perron for showing up to training camp out of shape.
The game, designated a friendly ‘entre famille’ game ended up being anything but. John Kordic was his usual careless self, taking three minor penalties during the game. Graeme Bonar, trying to make an impression with Perron, ended up dishing out some dirty hits, called “coups salauds” by La Presse, to Sergio Momesso and Serge Boisvert. Then there was the usual spark plug Mario Tremblay, who did not really tone down his game, and was a dominant player on the ice both skill-wise and physically. After hitting Mike Lalor with an elbow, Tremblay locked horns with a young Claude Lemieux who came to his teammate’s defence.
This game ended up being costly for the NHL Canadiens though as Tremblay caught an edge while retrieving a puck in his own zone and crashed into the boards in the third period, separating his shoulder. He would be out of action for the next eight weeks, joining Chris Nilan and Ryan Walter on the NHL Canadiens injured list, further opening the door for more rookies to get a real shot out of training camp.
Ultimately Roy, Richer, Sergio Momesso, Mike Lalor, Dahlin, Corson, and Brian Skrudland all started the year with the NHL Canadiens, while Lemieux, Turcotte, Kordic, and Campedelli ended up in Sherbrooke. Bonar was sent back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, never to play an NHL game.
For fun, let us imagine what the lineups for an NHL Canadiens vs. AHL IceCaps game would look like in 2016:
There is little doubt that the NHL Canadiens are the better team and should have no problems handling the AHL IceCaps in a replay of the game in 1985. Would the score be as bad as 8-1 from the exhibition game in 1985? Quite possibly, hence why there is little benefit to holding such a game as the teams would be mismatched in skill, although it would be an interesting marketing opportunity.
To start, the teams are lop-sided in any game where Carey Price plays in nets, but if he were given the night off in favour of Mike Condon, then perhaps there is more balance in a Condon/Montoya vs. Fucale/Lindgren match-up.
Looking at the top two lines for the IceCaps, if they were able to get a favourable zone start against the Canadiens fourth line, then there can certainly be an opportunity to score as the Canadiens do have a lot of talented almost-NHL-ready players on the IceCaps. On the flip side, the IceCaps fourth line would be living nightmare scenarios if they were trapped defending against the Galchenyuk or Plekanec lines.
The defense for the IceCaps is quite suspect, with no high-end prospects ready to take on NHL elite. The suggested lines only looked at contracted players who would play professional hockey this season. Would inserting Mikhail Sergachev and Noah Juulsen tip the balance in the IceCaps favour? Probably not.
We would possibly even get some rough stuff between Andrew Shaw and Bobby Farnham, two players who play with a load of sandpaper in the their game, reminiscent of Tremblay and Lemieux. Watching Shea Weber and Micheal McCarron battle it out in front of the net would be like a clash of titans as both behemoths try to establish dominance.
Although an entertaining thought, at the end of the day we will never see such a game again, which makes the 1985 contest a unique event and worth remembering.