Fifty years ago, on August 15, 1968, Major League Baseball came to Montreal to make the announcement that the city would receive an expansion National League baseball team.
According to the Montreal Gazette, the team was going to be named the Voyageurs and would start its inaugural season in 1969. Instead, on September 6, the team announced they would be called the Expos to capture the massive success and international reputation the city earned from hosting Expo ’67.
Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens were in the process of buying their Central Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Apollos, and moving them to Montreal, mainly to reduce the travel costs between the parent club and for overall profitability reasons. The Canadiens believed that the Montreal market could support a third hockey team — the other being the very successful Montreal Junior Canadiens.
The relocated team was originally going to be called the Muskies by the organization, but the francophone press was outraged at the purely anglophone name for the team at a time when language sensitivities were still very much heightened.
The Canadiens relented, and allowed the fans to send in their nominations for a team name. The most frequent selections were Metropolitains, Rocket, and the Voyageurs. The former was to represent the growing size and influence of the city, the middle one was to honour one of the greatest players the team had ever seen, and the latter was remaining fresh on the fans’ mind from the rumours of the baseball team’s name.
On June 27, 1969, the Canadiens announced that a group of media people — anglophone and francophone — voted to select Voyageurs as the name of the new American Hockey League farm team. Unfortunately this was a short-lasting attraction for the city, as the Voyageurs moved to Halifax two years later.
Meanwhile, the abandonned Muskies name would eventually find its way to Lindsay Ontario in 1989, 20 years later, where a long-standing Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) team plays. Next year will be its 30th anniversary.
The Rocket name ended up seeing the light of day in Montreal in 1999, as the Montreal Rocket played four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In 2003 the team moved to Charlottetown to become the PEI Rocket. In 2013, the team changed its name to the Charlottetown Islanders.
When the Canadiens brought back their AHL team to the province of Quebec in 2017, 50 years after Expo ’67 and 15 years after the Quebec Citadelles farm team moved to Hamilton, the Canadiens asked fans to submit their suggestions for a name, and three finalists were unveiled: Patriotes, Rapides, and Rocket. The Rocket ended up winning, Bringing that name full circle for the Habs’ farm team
Going back to baseball, when the Expos moved to Washington, the owners changed the name to the Nationals, sharing their name with Le National de Montreal, the first francophone hockey team, established in 1895. In 1909 Le National were given the opportunity to replace the Montreal Canadiens in the fledgling National Hockey Association, but turned down the offer. It would have been a tragic parallel if the National name would have been associated with replacing both the Expos and the Canadiens, although in the case of the Canadiens, it would have possibly prevented them from even existing in the first place.
So, in conclusion, there are two degrees of separation between the Montreal Expos and the Laval Rocket, via the Montreal Voyageurs and the Montreal Canadiens.