Monday, March 31, 2008

Hab Facts You Might Not Know # 1

I came up with a neat idea. Well, maybe it wasn't exactly MY idea, but what the heck....

Over my years of following the Canadiens ( 38 to be exact! ), I have stockpiled a great deal of anecdotes on the team and its players from a multitute of sources too long to list. The newspapers and biographies read have given way to the internet, where one can begin researching the Canadiens 99 year history, and read for weeks.

A couple of days back, I lucked upon a cool little site less than a season old authored by a long time Habs fan named Dennis Kane. Simply titled "Dennis Kane's Excellent Montreal Canadiens Blog", the site was immediately appealing to me for a pair of quickly evident reasons.

First, it is extremely well written. Mr. Kane is a former truck driver and current writer for the Powell River Peak in British Columbia. Secondly, Dennis brings a historical perspective to his site, having been a Habs fan for 50 years. As a bonus, he's well a travelled gypsy who's been all over Canada and the world, gaining varied outlooks on the Canadiens from more than one point of view.

Readers of Eyes On The Prize will understand my enthusiasm for Mr. Kane's blog, as we share an appreciation for looking at the Habs in both past and present terms.

One of the more entertaining features of Dennis' blog are an ongoing series of "Fascinating Facts" columns. There are so far seven installments, all highly worth reading, that are chock full of interesting details and trivial tidbits. Here's a few samples:

"Fascinating Fact #3. I met the Rocket (1942-1960) when he was refereeing an old-timers game in Calgary. I told him he’d sent me a Christmas card when I was about 8 years old. He said he didn’t remember. My sister took a picture of him, then the Rocket said he wanted a picture of him with my sister."

"Fascinating fact #4. Several years ago, my sister Carla and I used to do this silly little thing like say, "You know Carla, I’ve known a lot of people in my life —and you’re one of them. Or "You know Dennis, I’ve seen a lot of men in my life — and you’re one of them." You get the picture. Just silly stuff. So one day, somewhere, maybe Calgary, Ken Dryden was signing his book at a bookstore and Carla bought one for me and had Ken sign it this way- "Dennis, I’ve had a lot of fans in my life, —and you’re one of them. Ken Dryden."

Earlier this month, Kane wrote this account about Doug Harvey from the eyes of his son Doug Jr., who resides in the Maritimes. Kane just called up Junior and chatted about what it was like to grow up the son of a famous NHL'er.

In short, Kane's site has loads of Habs related content combined with a viewpoint the average Habs blog cannot share. Mr. Kane's pieces will be regularly linked to in my "Habs For Breakfast" posts anytime he has something of interest to say - which should be often.

While reading through the "Fascinating Facts" it brought to mind dozens of my favorite Habs tales and lore, some that have been told here and others that haven't. Inspired by Mr. Kane's columns, and following the notion that "imitation is sincerest form of flattery", I thought I would try my hand at something similar and attempt to make it a somewhat semi - regular addition here.

What I will be calling " Hab Facts You Might Not Know" will consist of a variety of lesser known Habs facts culled through time from a myriad of information sources. I would like to instill, as Mr. Kane does, a personal slant to the tales and I will be including, as often as I find, details about the Canadiens and their players that may involve myself on the perimeter of the tale.

Something I would really welcome, is for readers to share their stories of such with other readers. Whether it involves yourself personally, or it is simply something you find fits into this type of column, drop me a line at and I'd be happy to include it here.

Keep them brief and to the point - the less editing I need to do the better!

So here goes the first installment of what I hope will be many for "Hab Facts You Might Not Know!"

Guy Lafleur visited my hometown of Cornwall near the late 1990's. He was doing an autograph meet and greet at the local Zellers store with charity proceeds going to a healthy cause, either the Heart And Stroke Foundation or the Canadian Cancer Society - I forget which. The Flower was instantly affable and accomodating. As I had no idea he was even there - I walked into Zellers, and there to my surprise is my biggest hockey hero and the reason I love the game - I had nothing for him to sign! I chatted with him for a few moments and found out he was out of there in about 40 minutes. I rushed home and grabbed 4 or 5 or his hockey cards - including his 1972 O-Pee-Chee rookie card - and dashed back. A person in charge of the charity sternly advised me that Guy would not sign anything other than the photos printed especially for the cause, which were priced between $10 and $20 - bummer, right? My friend Shawn and I continued chatting with the legend as he indiscreetly signed my cards anyways. When he arrived at the rookie card, he asked me no less than three times if I truly wanted him to deface it with a signature. "It decreases the value, you know", he said. "No Guy, it becomes priceless to me....sign it "To Robert!" After I had picked up what I went for there in the first place, we were leaving at the same time as Lafleur and caught a quick little exchange in french between him and his agent, Jerry Petrie. Flower slipped him a couple of $50 dollar bills, and Petrie slipped to buy two cartons of DuMaurier smokes for the Hall Of Famer. The short conversation between them had to do with the cancer sticks being a whole $15 bucks a carton cheaper than on the Quebec side.

Larry Robinson, as serious as he was on the ice, was a lighthearted fellow off it. As Don Cherry once told it, he enjoyed the dressing room cameraderie and liked to joke around with players. In the early 1980's he and Lafleur joined coach Cherry one year end, as the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs, for the World Championship tournament. One day in, a jet lagged Lafleur was knocked out of the tournament with a blindsided hit and the outlook wasn't good for Canada. A few days later, Robinson knocked himself out of the game with a freak injury - nothing to do with hockey. Big Bird was likely looking to alleviate the mood when he appeared in the dressing room with 12 inch medical swab Q - Tips protruding from his ears. With his arms outsretched like airplane wings parallel to the oversized swabs, he proclaimed to team mates, "Look, I'm an alien!" To much laughter, Robinson swayed and flew around the room, but the laughter likely reached another proportion when he went to remove them, and forgetting how long they actually were, jabbed one deep back into his eardrum by accident. Screams of pain were heard about the room. And we all assume aliens are smarter!

Jacques Demers recalled his first meeting with Doug Gilmour back in the Killer's first season in St. Louis when he signed as a free agent with the Habs in 2002. Gilmour, despite great stats in junior with Cornwall, was seen as a longshot NHL'er because of his size. Not drafted until the 7th round in 1982, Gilmour was confident of a roster spot on the Blues - others were far from unanimous in that notion. At training camp, Demers made it a point to get to know his young players as quick as possible and invited Dougie out for supper one afternoon when the practice session was over. Now most rookies would be acting on their best gentlemanly behavior and hoping to make a good impression on the coach in such a moment, but Gilmour was a whole different kind of cocky and brash. After sitting down for a minute with Demers without being waited on, Gilmour got up without a word and headed straight for the restaurant bar. Minutes later he came back with beers for himself and the coach. Demers couldn't believe his eyes! Despite Gilmour's light frame, Demers instantly knew that the player had the neccessary balls to survive in the big leagues.

Former Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne retired as the third all time leading scorer in NHL history behind Phil Esposito and Gordie Howe. He was unfortunate in that he always played for playoff also rans in Detroit and L.A. and has often been termed the greatest player to have never won a Cup. Often asked what he felt was his greatest hockey achievement in light of the fact that the Stanley Cup passed him by, Dionne has always sidestepped the question. In his autobiography published a few years ago, Dionne revealed that his best moment in hockey actually didn't involve him, but his younger brother Gilbert, who played three seasons for the Canadiens. Dionne attended game 5 of the 1993 Cup final when the Canadiens defeated his former Kings with his and Gilbert's father. Long after the game, and after the celebartions and rioting outside the Forum had quieted, the father and the eldest son began a walk from the building. Once on the street, the father, obviously moved to know the family name would now grace Lord Stanley's mug, wrapped an arm around the Hall Of Famer's shoulder tightly and said, "We finally got one!"

Unbelievably, Maurice Richard did not win the Hart Trophy the season he notched 50 goals in 50 games. He finished second in scoring, 7 points behind linemate Elmer Lach, who was deemed the recipient on the strength of 80 points, including 54 assists. That's always struck me as some kind of odd slight at the Rocket.

Did you know that a third Richard brother, Claude was given a short tryout by the Habs in 1959-60? It was the Rocket's final season, and Claude was asked to camp and participated in a few exhibitions games with the Canadiens that pre - season. For two games, the 3 Richards formed a line. That would be like having a fantasy camp within your own family! Claude is the brother in white in the picture below.

On a similar note, Habs goalie Bill Durnan was slighted as well, in my esteem, by not being awarded the 1943 Rookie Of The Year. The trophy instead went to the Maple Leafs Gus Bodnar, who tallied a very respectable 62 points in his initial campaign.

The 27 year old Durnan's accomplishments however, were of superman like proportions as he backstopped the Canadiens to the best season they ever had. Over a 50 game schedule, the Habs went 38-5-7 for 83 points, a 33 point improvement over the previous season. Durnan, the game's only ambidextrous goalie appeared in every game, and registered a 2.18 GAA. He went 8-1 in the playoffs with a 1.53 GAA, and led Montreal to its fifth Stanley Cup, and their first in 13 years. I call not getting the Calder a real rip job. Durnan did win 6 Vezina Trophies in 7 NHL seasons.

Doug Harvey, legendary Habs defenseman, rarely backed down from the challenge that defying authority presented. One time, after a game in Detroit in the 1950's, Canadiens coach Toe Blake decided to throw his players a curve, and instead of a morning practice before a taking a train to Toronto, announced that the team would be going on a tour of the General Motors plant in Motown. Harvey thought the idea was insane, and didn't hesitate to let Blake know his feelings. The coach's idea perhaps, was for the players to get a glimpse of plant work, hence more appreciation for their lifestyle. Harvey was having none of it. What really lit Harvey's fuse was when the team bus stopped, not in front of the GM plant, but at the door of the Detroit Olympia. "What are we stopping here for?", Doug asked the coach. "Oh, the Red Wings players are coming with us!" With that, and a "Not with me they aren't", Harvey exited the team bus to Blake's stunned dismay, and proceeded to walk off in the opposite direction. Harvey was absolutely against the notion of associating with players he felt were trying to take his head off just one night before. Harvey, it was assumed, likely hit a local watering hole for the afternoon, and was nowhere to be found when the train was to leave the station later that day. Finally, at the last moment, Harvey appeared, running, huffing and puffing, suitcase in hand, as the train began to roll. "Run, Dougie, run", cheered the Habs players as Harvey chased the train, jumping aboard just as it was about to pull away.

Habs For Breakfast - March 31, 2008

Talk about your gloomy Mondays for News! Injuries will do that to your spirit.

I've tried to lighten things up a bit this morning ( OK, nevermind the cartoon at the top ) by adding a couple of clips. Dave Stubbs mention a fight scene from Monty Python, and I've added the reference clip below the link to his post. There's also another clip at the bottom having to do with goalies fighting. The Habs were leading the Islanders 2 games to none when this one happened in 1984.

I've also linked to a newly found Habs blog this is very interesting. Dennis Kane has been a Habs fan since that picture was taken. I hope you enjoy his reads.

Carbo & Co May Enter Playoffs Without Koivu - Gazette

"Koivu was due for more tests when the swelling goes down. He definitely will not play in any of the team's three remaining regular-season games and a decision on the playoffs will be made after a further assessment of the injury." - Pat Hickey

Banged Up Komisarek Chomping At The Bit - Gazette

"Mike Komisarek clearly remembers being 100-per- cent healthy this season. "First game of the year," the Canadiens defenceman joked, or didn't, yesterday. "Since then, it's just been a laundry list of bumps and bruises that are part of the game. Every player fights through things all season that very few people beyond our training staff know about." - Dave Stubbs

Giving Their All For King And Country - Gazette

"In the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a stubborn, courageous black knight guarding a small bridge has both arms and legs sliced clean off his body by King Arthur, who trots away victoriously while his de-limbed, diehard foe hollers after him, "It's just a flesh wound ... I'll bite your legs off!" - Dave Stubbs

No Koivu, No Luck - Lions In Winter

"Toronto didn't let their recent elimination from the playoffs stop them from playing another hard game against us. No matter how high or low either team is in the standings a Leaf/Hab match-up will always be a tough game. We seemed lost without Koivu out there all night, even Kovy's line lacked direction. You never really know the value of a player (or players - Streit too) until you play without them." - Tobalev

Bad Luck Arrives All At Once - Globe Sports

"Given the youth on the team, this will be troublesome. The playoffs are a different story from the regular season; the checking is more intense and every mistake is magnified in importance." - Dave Shoalts

Montreal Was In A Coma Saturday Night - Dennis Kane's Canadiens Blog

"Why am I not surprised that MontreaL, leading the eastern division, waltz’s into Toronto to take on the sad-sack Leafs who won’t be in the playoffs, and comes out flatter than a pancake. Montreal had no drive, no spirit, not much of anything, as they lost 4-2 Saturday night to Toronto, and some unheard of Leaf named Anton Stralman scores two goals that Jaroslav Halak should have stopped."

Finir en force malgré tout - RDS

"Le Canadien n’a pas connu de succès cette saison lorsque Roman Hamrlik s’est absenté pendant deux semaines et voilà que l’absence de joueurs comme Saku Koivu et Mark Streit fait mal. Dans le cas de Koivu, il se déplace en béquilles avec un protecteur au pied gauche." - Reneaud Lavoie

Une situation qu'il faut corriger - RDS

"La façon de terminer une saison détermine souvent comment on entreprend les séries, a fait valoir le Russe. A Buffalo, on a été chanceux de gagner. Mais ce soir (samedi), on n'a pas travaillé. On va devoir profiter des trois derniers matchs pour tirer les leçons qui s'imposent. On aura besoin d'un meilleur effort et d'une meilleure préparation mentale."

Canadien: Pas de panique - La Presse

"Une insatisfaction généralisée dans le vestiaire du Canadien après ce revers. Il faut dire que pour un deuxième soir de suite, le Canadien s’est contenté de bien peu." - François Gagnon

S'assurer du 1er rang et retrouver la passion - Le Journal

"Le Canadien aura deux défis à relever en cette dernière semaine du calendrier régulier de la LNH. Il devra aller chercher le point qui lui manque pour s'assurer à tout le moins du championnat de la division Nord-Est et retrouver l'enthousiasme qui lui a permis de soulever des montagnes jusqu'à ce que sa participation aux séries devienne officielle, au début de la semaine dernière." - Marc de Foy


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Habs Killer Instinct Needs Tinkering

Two quotes caught my eye after last nights loss to Toronto, and they are disturbing ones.

First, Chris Higgins says, "We were looking for an easy game, but it wasn't easy".

Then Guy Carbonneau offers this gem:

"I knew we would have a bit of a letdown after clinching a playoff spot, but I didn't think it would last this long. We have three games left. We have to regroup and end the regular season on a good note."

As I mentioned a week or so ago, after the game against the Blues, that when you dress the B lineup, you send the "easy game coming" message.

Of course, it wasn't in the cards for Saku Koivu and Mark Streit to go down with injuries after the Buffalo game, but it was already known before by everyone that Saturday would see Dandeneault, Brisebois, and Halak getting starts.

That's where the trouble began with this loss. The Habs should have perceived the Maple Leafs as the wiry opponant they always are. Attach all the low brow insults you wish to the blue and white's, they are a proud team that gets peacock heady against the Habs in even the most seemingly inconsequencial tilts.

Carbonneau, despite his intention of getting seldom used players some game action, inadvertantly set up the "easy game" mentality that cost the team a pivotal win by making it known beforehand that the trio mentioned above would play on Saturday.

Now even as the elimainated Leafs appeared by some to be a soft opponant for game #79, the stakes were high. First place in the Northeast looks like it is bagged by the Habs, but until it is, you don't mess with your chances.

Pardon me, but I see an Eastern Conference title within the Habs grasp.

After it was known that Koivu and Streit were unavailable, the coach could have undone the message by changing his mind and starting Carey Price instead. The about face would have sent the right message.

A win last night would have made Monday's game against the Senators near meaningless, but now it is of ultimate importance.

Ottawa hardly looks capable lately of stringing off four straight wins to finish the season, though it is not impossible given their strengths. Montreal looks as though they are counting on Ottawa to fail and hand them what would turn out to be the second rank in the Eastern Conference.

After the performance against Toronto, and with mounting injuries and bobos, the Habs look like a team that might well drop their last three heading into the post season.

There is a sense of mission accomplished surrounding the Habs since they clinched a playoff spot. The words they speak in individual quotes make it seems that they are far from satisfied, but their play tells a whole other story.

I've read tons of articles on Guy Carbonneau and his coaching methods of late, and there is a recurring theme that sends a sirens shrill up my spine. Carbo learned a great deal as a player, and much of that astute perspective has translated itself into making him a good coach. Lessons learned by Carbonneau last season taught him alot about how players react to different situations, and this season he has benefitted from trusting the coaching instinct more than the former player instinct inherant in him.

One must understand that Carbonneau won both of his Stanley Cups as a Montreal Canadien on teams that were not ranked in the top of the standings and were generally regarded as underdogs.

This was the case in 1986 and 1993, when the Canadiens had the seventh and sixth best overall record in the NHL, respectively.

When the Habs lost the 1989 final to Calgary in six games, they finished with 115 points to the Flames 117. One win along the road cost them home ice against the Flames, and perhaps the Stanley Cup in retrospect.

Tonight's loss to the Leafs took away the Canadiens ability to control its own destiny. The Pittsburgh Penguins recouped a game in hand that could enable them to leapfrog the Habs in the conference standings. This was essentially what was at stake against Toronto - home ice advantage all the way to the Cup final. If the right teams fall in order, it could even mean home ice in the Stanley Cup final.

Last night, it looked as though the Canadiens took their Maple Leafs opponants with a grain of salt. Too bad that they didn't perceive the Penguins as eventual opponants, because that is what it might now come down to.

By the third round of the playoffs, having the last line change against the likes of Crosby and Malkin could make all the difference in the world.

That is what might have been lost last night by a coach who inadvertantly let his players know a walk in the park lay ahead against the Leafs.

What it all comes down to is killer instinct and how to instill it into a group of players. It's all good to prepare a team with a game plan in mind that counters what an opponant is expected to deliver, but sometimes horses need to be changed in midstream. Coaching is done on the fly, and not beforehand. Game situations change fast and preparations for all scenarios must be covered in advance.

Tonight the Canadiens came prepared to face a team with little to gain.

The resulting loss became Pittsburgh or Ottawa's gain.

Yes, lots of weird things happened as they usually do in games at the ACC, but the Habs lost this one at the drop of the puck because their mindset was tuned to a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Come Monday, the Canadiens are playing the Ottawa Senators for the Stanley Cup.

It shouldn't be approached as anything less.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Habs and Leafs: A Jersey Shared Parts 1 to 4

Since 1927, when the Canadiens longest standing rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, first entered the NHL, very few transactions have taken place between the two teams. Perhaps due to the fact that a blown deal between the teams would be cause for aggravated embarrassment, considering the proportions of the rivalry. Because of the small number of trades involving the teams, the number of players who have donned both jerseys is quite minimal through an 80 year history.

I though it would make an interesting piece, to list all of those who have worn both the bleu, blanc, rouge of the Canadiens, and the blue and white of the Leafs, so I did some research and found 72 players who fit the bill as both one time Habs or Maple Leafs.

I have always wondered what the perception are when a player stars for two teams. To which team's history does he belong to and why, are questions I ask myself when going over such players.

Here are the links to the four part series I completed in February.

Part 1 - From the 1920's to the 1950's
Part 2 - The 1960's and 1970's
Part 3 - The 1980's
Part 4 - From 1990 to 2008

Habs For Breakfast - March 29, 2008

Habs Pull One Out Of The Fire - Gazette

"I don't think we played well in any period," Higgins said. "Tomas scored two big goals for us but, even though we won, we're not happy with the way we played. I suppose it's a natural letdown after clinching the playoffs, but it's something we talked about before the game, but we played exactly like we said we didn't want to play." - Pat Hickey

Canadiens Are Surprise Team Of The Year But The Playoffs Are A Whole New Season - Gazette

"The Second Season, unlike the regular season, really is a whole new season. The games are different in so many ways. The pressure to win goes through the roof. Checking is tighter. Scoring is lighter. Fighting is down. Even the refereeing is different. It's a whole new game in which "team" becomes even more important than it is during the regular season." - Red Fisher

Habs Atop East After Stunning Comeback - Montréal

"This means a lot, it's a good learning experience for us," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said, noting his team came out too relaxed after clinching a playoff berth earlier this week. "We just kind of showed up. We didn't respond, but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and we took advantage of it in the last minutes."

Higgins Caps Off Rally With OT Winner - TSN

"George Gillett walked into the visitors' dressing room at HSBC Arena and whispered to a handful of his Montreal Canadiens players. "That was a crazy game, I'm proud of you guys," said the Montreal owner.

Price Looks To Be Habs Next Playoff Young Gun -

"I think everyone was surprised when Bob traded Cristobal, but he also knew what we had in Carey and also the kind of player we had in Jaroslav," Carbonneau said. "I just wanted him to realize that he didn't have to be Superman. What got him to this point was just being Carey Price and that's all I wanted him to be. I didn't want to put any more pressure on him than he had and just wanted him to feel comfortable." - Mike G. Morreale

Habs Refuse To Stop Amazing Us - Lions In Winter

"The play by Mark allowed Price to remain on the bench as it gave us a face-off in Buffalo's end and inevitably to our goal. This was a perfect example of how never giving up on a play will pay its dividends in the end - no matter what 100% effort is always required." - Tobalev

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself - The H Does Not Stand For Habs

"I don't know how many of you are like me, but I've been afraid of opposing teams for a long time now. For years, we could never look at a schedule and say, "Oh yeah...Habs'll take that one for sure." - J.T

Un vol à Buffalo - RDS

"Avec seulement 15 secondes à écouler à la partie, le joueur d’origine tchèque a poussé le match en prolongation grâce à son 29e but de la saison. Plekanec a sauté sur une rondelle libre à l’embouchure du filet pour compter." - Eric Leblanc

Les ressemblances avec 1993 - RDS

"Depuis la nomination de Carey Price au poste de gardien numéro un du Canadien, plusieurs ont comparé l'édition actuelle de l’équipe à celle de 1986. Par contre, la troupe de Guy Carbonneau ressemble peut-être davantage à celle de 1992-1993."

Six minutes ont suffi! - Le Journal

"Dominé durant la plus grande partie de la soirée à son premier match depuis sa qualification pour les séries éliminatoires, le Tricolore a effacé un déficit de deux buts avec deux minutes et demie à écouler en temps réglementaire avant d'arracher une victoire de 4 à 3 en prolongation aux Sabres de Buffalo, hier soir." - Marc De Foy

In the non Habs related good read category, check out Joe Pelletier's "9 going on 80" birthdat feature on Gordie Howe. The Hockey Greatest Legends site has links to 11 interesting pieces on Howe.

Leafs Eliminated Tribute Part 2

Yesterday I posted a couple of dozen pictures, comics, and cartoons in mock tribute to the Toronto Maple Leafs getting a head start on golf season, as requested by a friend's son - one of those twisted tales of a father and his offspring not seeing eye to eye when it comes to hockey allegiances.

Mack's an old aquaintence of mine, and only recently did I learn about him having a son that was a Habs fan - that was news to me that Mack never admitted to!

I met Mack's son Jim recently, and a few days back, and we shared a few laughs as he requested I post all the Leafs humour I could find.

This site had a good day yesterday, as far as visitors go. I credit the Leafs laughs for bringing in almost 1500 hits. Someone caught light of what was posted here and it was noted at "Deadspin", a major big league blog, which brought in all kinds of additional views. Other sites and fan boards, most notably "All Habs" also linked up to the sprawl of pics. It added up to one of busiest days Eyes On The Prize has known.

When I posted the pics, I knew that they represented only a fraction of what was actually out there in regards to Leafs humour. The boys at the "All Habs" site that linked here had added some of their own at their home, but still I went looking for more.

I found a bunch more. Enjoy, and GO BRUINS!