Richard Sévigny was one of seven goalies drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1977 Amateur Draft, but the only one who would graduate full-time to the National Hockey League.
He dressed for an NHL game for the first time during the 1979 playoffs, as backup to Ken Dryden when Michel Laroque was injured. Although he didn’t play a single game, he did get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
The following year, Dryden’s retirement caused an open competition for the goaltending job, with Laroque and Dennis Herron splitting duties, but Sévigny did make his NHL debut later in the season when he was recalled from the AHL’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs to replace an injured Laroque.
On November 13, 1979, in a game against the St. Louis Blues, Herron fractured his collarbone just eight minutes into the game, and Sévigny stepped onto the ice for the first time. He immediately imposed himself, frequently leaving his crease to play the puck behind his net to make a pass to a defenceman; a style of play unheard of at the time for Montreal. He stopped 25 shots, only allowing one goal in a 5-2 win for the Canadiens.
Almost 40 years later, Sévigny still wears the Montreal Canadiens jersey as a proud representative of the Canadiens Alumni Association, sharing the ice with some familiar faces from his early days, including Chris Nilan and Keith Acton.
Did you ever think that you would share the ice with these players 40 years later?
“Not at all,” said Sévigny in an exclusive interview with Eyes On The Prize. “When I was with the Voyageurs, my only goal at Junior was to play a year of semi-pro, I didn’t think I was talented enough for the NHL. When you looked at the games on TV it seemed like an entirely different world.
“I consider myself to be very lucky to have been able to play in the NHL in the 80s. To still be part of a hockey team that represents the Canadiens, and when I still see Chris and Keith, it is really special.”
Teammates with the Voyageurs in 1979 and again 2018 pic.twitter.com/566xxD5Quq— Chris Nilan (@KnucklesNilan30) December 1, 2018
But beyond just playing with some fellow teammates of the 80s, Sévigny plays with other generations of players who once proudly wore the Canadiens jersey.
“For the fans, [a Canadiens Alumni game] is a unique opportunity to see players from different eras, but for the players themselves it is also incredibly unique. Entire decades separate players on the team. I played in the early 80s and I find myself on the same team as players like Patrice Brisebois, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Guillaume Latendresse. It’s like time doesn’t really exist on our team when we put on the Canadiens jersey. It’s like we had just played with them last season.
“I have been a member of the Alumni team for 25 years now, and I have seen a lot of players come through. And that’s what’s interesting for generations of fans. The younger fans will recognize players like Brisebois, [Mathieu] Dandenault, Latendresse, etc. whereas for [my generation] it’s practically the grandparents that come to see us, 50-plus.
“It’s a great privilege that we have. For us it’s an honour to wear the jersey of the Montreal Canadiens, but to also play in front of a crowd that travelled to come and see us. It takes us back and makes us feel younger. It’s a pleasure to do it.”
How are Alumni teams made up?
“We usually play with about 10 players. If guys sign up, it’s because they want to play. For the last four years we played on average about 45 games per year. The players actually like this because you’re able to maintain the rhythm and it keeps the players interested. If we played one or two games per year, I think it would be a lot harder to get players to make the trips and play the games.
“I think that we are the only NHL team that plays that many Alumni games. I think that the Boston Bruins have two Alumni teams that play about 20 games each, but the Canadiens remain very popular across Canada.
“We have a group of about 30 players the office can pick from. First they try to go find some young blood just to change the look of the team. We don’t want to be the same team that we were 10 years ago. And then we will fill in with other players who can make the trip. In Montreal especially we have lots of players who work in media, especially television. So it’s more difficult for these players to make the trip out west because they have contracts in Montreal.
“Guys like Bergeron, Latendresse, and Brisebois could be the first ones to get asked. Nilan is an older player, his identity as a fighter comes to the forefront, and the people can see him all over again. He’s a good ambassador for the team.
“In Quebec, there will be more francophone players, and in Ontario there will be more anglophone players. The Canadiens are a snapshot of Canada, and the people appreciate that there is a mix of both as part of the team.”
Canadiens Alumni vs. Maple Leafs Alumni
The majority of the Alumni games are usually fundraisers for some local hockey organization or charity. The team’s next big event will be on February 2, the Montreal Canadiens Alumni are playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni in Belleville at the CAA Arena in order to raise funds for the United Way.
“I think that all former Canadiens and former Maple Leafs are huge ambassadors for the current teams. The people who are close to their teams don’t always have the chance to meet their favourite players in person because of security reasons or time constraints. The Alumni are much more accessible when we go on tour, which is very appreciated by the fans who come to our games.
“We are very pleased to welcome John LeClair to the lineup. It will be the first time I get to meet him; I’ve never met him. He will make his debut with us at the game, and then do a trip to Western Canada with us. Guy Lafleur will return behind the bench. He has been unable to join us for the past three seasons. Guy Carbonneau is also making the trip despite all his TV deals. Mike Weaver is one of the newer players to join the Alumni. He played a weekend for us and he was really happy with the experience.
“The important thing is to get new players to come play with the team once to see how much fun we have to play together, and after that we can call them again, and they become a bit more available.”
Difficulty to get new players to join
“A lot of Alumni when they retire from hockey take a step back from hockey for a year or two. Others become businessmen or get a job with the media or hockey. They also have young families, so they will devote more time to them. At one point we had Karl Dykhuis playing with us for two or three years, but then he had a new baby, and his wife asked him to stay at home. So unfortunately he had to leave the team.
“Other players are just not interested. They met the challenge of pro hockey and made their career, and now leaving for a weekend and driving 2,000 kilometres in a bus simply doesn’t interest them.
“So when new players join the team we are very happy because there is a succession that begins to take shape. Because if year-over-year there aren’t new players who join the team, this will eventually no longer be viable. For now we have a good group that added themselves over the past three years of former Canadiens.”
However a challenge looms on the horizon, as there is no goaltending help coming for the Alumni, and the frustration is a bit audible from Sévigny.
“Why do you think that I’m still playing at 61 years of age? There is nobody else who wants to play. I’ve played over 1,000 games with the Canadiens Alumni team, and I only missed four games along the way. Eric Fichaud played a couple of games. Jocelyn Thibault played another. But these guys are not really available on a regular basis. Frankly on the day I decide to leave, I’m not sure that the team will be able to continue, and I am quite serious when I say that. I had to play through injuries and sickness, because there are no other goaltenders willing to play.”
But age doesn’t seem to slow Sévigny down. He continues to display the style of play that he learned to play in his time, performing classic double-pad stacks and expertly timed pokechecks, almost out-of-time reminders of how much goaltending has changed over the years. “I play the style I know. I’m not about to learn butterfly-style.”
One thing Sévigny did adapt over time is better padding and a more modern helmet. His original helmet offered little in terms of practicality and safety.
“The old helmet was limited in every way imaginable. First from a visibility perspective. Take two of your fingers and make a little circle of that width, you’ll see that there is a real limit seeing the puck, especially when it was close-by. All the goalies lived through that. And then there was the issue of protection, well there was just a little padding on the forehead only, so if we got hit by the puck, it was like getting punched in the face. We were lucky that there weren’t too many goalies who got concussions back in the 80s.
“The game has really changed since then, whether equipment-wise, better and lighter, but goalies these days are huge athletes who receive much better development. Back in my day we would just mill about at practice, because we didn’t have any goalie coaches, so we didn’t learn much. We made due with what we knew.
“That’s why when you look at the game of today, it’s the goaltending that’s changed the most. That’s what revolutionized hockey in the 2000s.”
The Alumni games remain competitive
“That is always in our DNA. We will adjust ourselves to the level of our opponents when we play local teams, that’s why the game against the Maple Leafs will be something special because both teams will want to win. Doesn't matter the age of the player, there is always the question of honour and rivalry. A clean, healthy rivalry, but a rivalry nonetheless. It is something special. All the games we have played against NHL teams, we go back to our career. We still want to prove ourselves.
“It’s a question of respect as well. If people come out to see us, we owe it to them to give our maximum. If we started to drag on the ice, and didn’t put in the effort, the reputation of the team would take a dive. We want to give them a good show.”
As part of the Super Bowl Weekend celebration of the storied history between the Habs and Leafs, we’re giving away a jersey signed by the alumni.
(Note that the jersey was signed at a previous Alumni game and may not be signed by all players from the upcoming game. Likewise, some players not listed may be on the jersey)
To enter the contest, leave a comment below describing your favourite goaltending performance from a Canadiens netminder. The winner of the jersey will be randomly selected from all qualifying comments in both this post and the previous story on John LeClair, and revealed in our Habs Headlines on Monday, January 28.