Canadiens Stanley Cup banner raised in Grimsby, Ontario as part of alumni celebrations

Guillaume Latendresse steals the show for the Canadiens Alumni in a friendly game.

The Montreal Canadiens Alumni played a friendly game in Grimsby, Ontario at the Peach King Arena on Sunday afternoon against the Town of Grimsby All-Stars, in a celebration of a Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony for the 1923-24 edition of the Canadiens.

A walk down memory lane

The Canadiens held three training camps in the small Ontario town east of Hamilton from 1922 to 1924, at the Grimsby Arena that had one of only two artificial ice arenas east of Winnipeg.

“The ice rink was made possible due to its proximity to Gower’s Cold Storage and Ice Company, a fruit cooling plant. Brine from the plant was brough to the rink through pipes and circulated through coils to create a frozen surface for the public to skate and play hockey.” - Taken from flyer distributed at the event

Although numerous National Hockey League teams expressed interest in using the state-of-the-art facility, it was Léo Dandurand in 1922, owner and coach of the Canadiens, who received the invitation from the arena manager to bring his team to the region for an extensive training camp.

It is at this location in 1923 where a young speedster from Stratford, Ontario by the name of Howie Morenz took his first strides with the Montreal Canadiens, en route to immortality with the franchise.

“Grimsby citizens are proud to have the Montreal Canadiens here and... no group of people pulled harder for a team to win a championship than did the people of Grimsby for the Canadiens” - Grimsby Independent, December 5, 1923

In 1924, the Canadiens attended their third, and final, training camp in Grimsby, returning as Stanley Cup champions, having won the trophy for just the second time in their history. They were welcomed back with open arms by the community as “Grimsby’s world champion hockey team.”

In addition to the Montreal Canadiens, the Saskatoon Sheiks of the Western Canada Hockey League, led by former Habs superstar Newsy Lalonde, practised at that facility that year, and both teams decided to hold an exhibition game for the people of Grimsby on November 20, 1924.

The Canadiens roster for the game included George Vézina in goal, Sprague Cleghorn and Billy Coutu on defence, and Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, and Bill Boucher at forward.

The Saskatoon team featured future Canadiens goaltending great George Hainsworth, and future New York Rangers legends Bill Cook and Bun Cook.

Joliat and Boucher scored for the Canadiens, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the Sheiks, who won by a score of 4-2 in front of a frantic sold-out arena, bolstered by the performance of Hainsworth, who certainly got the attention of the Canadiens organization.

Ninety-four years later, the Grimsby Arena is gone, but the Peach King Centre now celebrates the region’s shared history with the early days of the Canadiens franchise. The banner-raising ceremony was organized by the Grimsby Minor Hockey Association, with the blessing of the Club de hockey Canadien, Inc. The Montreal Canadiens Alumni Association supported the event by sending a delegation of Alumni players to play a friendly exhibition game against local players. A partisan crowd decked out in all manner of red, white, and blue cheered on both teams.

The Alumni roster included Oleg Petrov, Keith Acton, Pierre Dagenais, Chris Nilan, Richard Sévigny, Sergio Momesso, Mike Weaver, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Patrice Brisebois, and Guillaume Latendresse.

Attending an Alumni game is a fun nostalgic blast from the past for fans who are able to see several generations of Habs interact on the ice. Latendresse, a second-round draft pick in 2005, wasn’t even born when Acton, a 1978 sixth-round draft pick, played for the Canadiens. And yet the two combined to score the first two goals for the Canadiens team.

Over 35 seasons separate goaltender Sévigny from defenceman Weaver on the Canadiens, yet Weaver backchecked and Sévigny pokechecked in unison in order to keep the puck out of the Canadiens net.

Yvon Lambert, the elder of the group, worked the bench for the Canadiens as head coach. (Personal sidebar: Many years ago I was at a game in Montreal when I noticed a well-dressed gentleman seated a few rows away from me was being constantly approached respectfully by fans during breaks in the game. I thought that he was certainly some sort of local celebrity or well-known politician, so I asked my Dad who that was, and he said “Yvon Lambert. He won several Cups with the Canadiens, but he’s retired now.” That’s when I understood the connection that these players developed for life with the fans who cheer for them. That’s why these Alumni events should be viewed by fans as a tremendous opportunity to relive these older memories, and even have the chance to meet some of the players in person.)

Brisebois and Nilan ensured that everyone was having a good time by sharing laughs with the players and hamming it up to the crowd, while Petrov quietly controlled the flow of play, dictating when the opposing team would be permitted to plan a counter-attack.

Weaver and Bergeron skated hard and probably played more minutes than Shea Weber, given that the defensive corps was short one Gilbert Delorme who missed the game.

Acton stood out on the ice, skating around wearing a tuque on his head, and still showed decent mitts and skating skills.

It was Latendresse, however, who earned first-star honours — if they were handing out stars — with a five-goal and three-assist performance, taking over from the second period onward when the Grimsby team tried to keep the game close. Whether a friendly game or not, once you challenge these Habs Alumni, the opposing team better be on notice, because they will remind you who they are, and who they represent.

Scoring summary

  1. Acton (Latendresse)
  2. Latendresse (Acton)
  3. Petrov (Dagenais, Nilan)
  4. Bergeron (Momesso)
  5. Latendresse (2) (Petrov)
  6. Nilan (Petrov (2))
  7. Nilan (2) (Latendresse (2), Dagenais (2))
  8. Latendresse (3)
  9. Acton (2) (Bergeron, Latendresse (3))
  10. Latendresse (4) (Weaver)
  11. Latendresse (5) (Bergeron (2))
  12. Petrov (2) (Nilan (2))

Stay tuned to Eyes On The Prize over the next two weeks, as we will have a fun promotion tied to an upcoming Habs-Leafs alumni game.

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