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The Sick Podcast: Cam Connor and the 1979 goal versus Toronto

The story of the Habs’ first-round draft pick who returned from the WHA and went from pariah to playoff hero in one whiff, in his words.

Cam Connor (20) scores his famous goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Cam Connor was the first of five first-round draft picks for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1974 Amateur Draft, being selected ahead of Doug Risebrough, Rick Chartraw, Mario Tremblay, and Gord MacTavish. The strategy for the draft was simple that year: draft toughness in order to compete with the Philadelphia Flyers who were in the prime of their Broad Street Bullies years. In a moment of admiration, Flyers captain Bobby Clarke called Connor “a second John Ferguson,” having seen him play for the Junior Flin Flon Bombers.

Along with the five first-rounders, the Canadiens selected recently passed Gilles Lupien in the second round, Gordie Howe’s son Marty in the third, and Mike McKegney, the first Black player drafted and signed by the Canadiens, in the fourth round.

Although MacTavish, Tremblay, Chartraw, and Risebrough all signed their first contracts to attend the 1974 training camp, Connor chose a different route, signing a five-year deal with the World Hockey Association’s Phoenix Roadrunners, the team that drafted him in the WHA draft. The Canadiens would have to wait until the 1978-79 season for Connor to join the fold.

Connor was traded from the Roadrunners to the Houston Aeros in 1976, but two years later, at the conclusion of the 1977-78 season, the Aeros folded and player contracts were sold to the Winnipeg Jets. Connor never signed his new contract with the Jets, and instead accepted a new lucrative five-year offer from the Canadiens.

Despite a 35-goal, 67-point season with Houston in 1976, the adaptation to the NHL was very difficult for Connor. He entered his first training camp with the Canadiens having lost 10 pounds due to anxiety, and then suffered a groin injury. He started the season as a frequent healthy scratch, which seriously impacted his confidence. “I have no confidence left. None. Maybe the Habs are getting ready to trade me, I don’t know anymore,” he told La Presse (15-Nov-78) in an interview.

Meanwhile, General Manager Irving Grundman began artificially inflating Connor’s trade value to the media a mere two months into his five-year contract. “You’d be surprised to know the number of teams interested in Connor. There’s a lot. More than one. You would really be surprised.” (La Presse, 15-Nov-78)

By the end of January both goaltenders, Ken Dryden and Michael Larocque, had more points than Connor.

Scotty Bowman began using Connor on defence during practice and eventually games, just to see if there was a career pivot to consider for the struggling forward.

Connor was a valiant soldier throughout the season, trying to make himself useful where he could, if not on the ice. He would help lug equipment around, clean up the team plane, just doing things to keep his mind off of things. Although success was not coming, by all accounts he was adored by his teammates, and even the media lauded his accessibility and demeanour. It’s therefore no surprise that when he scored his first goal of the season on March 9 against the pathetic Vancouver Canucks, the entire Habs bench emptied out on the ice to congratulate him.

“Cam is a guy who did not have many opportunities since he joined us,” said Guy Lafleur (La Presse, 9-Mar-79). “He’s worked hard since training camp, and never complains. He’s always encouraged us, even when he wasn’t in the lineup. He’s always been all-in for this team. I swear that we were quite proud when he scored.” Connor also added a couple assists to a red-letter three-point game.

His biggest contribution to the team came in Game 3 of the quarter-final series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. After being seldom used during the game, he pulled a Homer in double overtime, scoring the game-winner without even being credited with a shot on goal.

At the conclusion of the season, the Canadiens left Connor unprotected for the expansion draft. The draft was notable for all the side deals made by Grundman, including a deal with the Edmonton Oilers to not pick Rod Langway, Bill Nyrop, or Lupien in exchange for the Habs not reclaiming their 1978 first-round draft pick Dave Hunter who signed with the WHA Edmonton Oilers a year prior. The Oilers ended up choosing Connor, thus ending his association with the Canadiens.

On the latest episode of The Sick Podcast, Tony Marinaro interviewed Cam Connor. They discussed Connor’s relationship with head coach Scotty Bowman, the 1979 goal against the Maple Leafs, and how he ended up getting his name on the Stanley Cup.

  • 8:00 - Intimidated by Scotty Bowman
  • 8:50 - Scotty Bowman wasn’t the best coach for him
  • 18:15 - 1979 goal memory
  • 19:15 - Only reason he played was because Dryden recommended him to Bowman
  • 26:50 - Players fought to put Connor and Yvan Cournoyer’s names on the Stanley Cup
  • 29:40 - Guy Lafleur is his favourite player of all time
  • 39:30 - Did not agree with Nick Foligno fighting Corey Perry in Game 1
  • 43:10 - Wants Habs to win the series, but doesn’t think they will