Sunday, August 31, 2008

Happy 77th to Le Gros Bill....and Dad!

August 31 on this site is the annual day I pay tribute to two men born this very same day - the great Jean Beliveau and my father Gerry - equally great in ways too numerous to mention. Both turn 77 today!

Through my father's love of the Canadiens, via the amazing feats of players like Beliveau, I became a fan of the team as well. Each year on this day, I feel it's only right that I ackowledge that. What follows is a story that is likely shared by many my age or older.

I was all of eight years old, when I got who, and what, Jean Beliveau was, and meant, to hockey and the Montreal Canadiens.

I was watching a Canadiens game on a winter day in 1971 with my father as I always had, everytime the Canadiens were on TV. Although I was young, a ritual between my Dad and I was fastly forming. If the Habs were on the tube - we were together in front of it watching.

Back in the day, it was usually a Wednesday night game and Hockey Night In Canada on Saturdays. Dick Irvin and Danny Gallivan. Not all games were televised back then. There was no TSN or RDS then, nor any Méchant Mardi games. I would be laying down with a pillow at my elbows on the carpeted floor in front of the TV set, and Dad laid out on the coach after a hard day's work, ready to jump skyward at the closest of scoring chances.

It was almost 40 years ago, and yet it was yesterday!

My earliest recollections of Jean Beliveau, and many great Canadiens players, are tied to my father. He was of the analytical sort and still is. He was all about understanding why things worked as they did. His father, my grandfather, was an inventor in the early 1930's. There is a thread that I see that passes through our three generations. I guess we were similar in that way.

Watching the game of hockey unfold before my young innocent eyes, my father enabled hockey to captivate me in great and minute detail, through his analysis and joyfull story telling.

My father didn't just profess about the exploits of Beliveau, Plante, the Rocket, and Doug Harvey, he went way beyond. His thinking affected mine more than he knows when he would throw out names such as Ken Mosdell, Floyd Curry, Jim Roberts, and Claude's Provost and Larose, and go into great detail as to why these types of players were important to the team concept.

Somehow, my father told me everything I would ever need to know about Bob Gainey before he ever played an NHL game.

I still don't know how he did it, and at 77, he sure doesn't recall how he knew it, back then.

My old man and I were watching a game - Habs against Minnesota North Stars - in that 1971 winter. Here in eastern Ontario, winter storms had piled snow almost as high as the rooftops would allow. That winter of '71 was just crazy.

In the game, Beliveau scored career goal number 498 early. I vividly recall my father jumping straight up from his lying down position on the couch the next time Beliveau grabbed the puck and headed up ice on a rush.

It was my father's sudden alertness that explained to me that something special was about to happen that night - and it did!

After Beliveau scored goal #499, my eight year old eyes, and my father's 39 year old eyes were fixated on the television, waiting for history to unfold.

In the third period, Phil Roberto, subbing for an injured Yvan Cournoyer, played give and go with left winger Frank Mahovlich. After a neutralized rush, the puck ends up on Beliveau's stick. Le Gros Bill was deep in North Stars territory, and as he approched goalie Gilles Gilbert's crease, Big Jean then threw the most subtle of headfake dekes, and backhanded number 500 past the Minnesota stopper inro a gaping wide net.

I still remember the number 500, drawn primitively in white asterisk-like stars, flashing on the screen.

That, and my Dad unleashing a flurry of cheers, fist pumps, slapping his knee, in celebration of this one of a kind feat. I'd never seen him so animated before. It was fun just being a great part of his joy.

In those days, I was just becoming a hockey fan. I was playing alot of street hockey that winter, and everyone was Bobby Orr in their dreams. I was as much a fan of Orr's as I was of the Canadiens then, and I remember no one gave the Habs a snowball's chance in hell of winning the Stanley Cup in 1971.

When the playoffs began, and Montreal were faced with the dooming task of slaying the Goliath Bruins, my Dad cautioned not to write off the Canadiens so quickly. He reasoned that the recent acquisition of Mahovlich, combined with the arrival on scene of Ken Dryden, made the Habs a much stronger foe than their point total would make them out to be. He also mentioned the fact that it was Beliveau's final season, and that alone would motivate the players. All they needed to do was steal a game against the Bruins.

I still marvel at how right he was. Sensing Dad was onto something, and watching those playoffs unfold as they did, made 1971 the most magical of all hockey seasons I have seen. Many things from that season are still etched in my mind.

Looking back, it was really cool to have seen Beliveau at peak form that year.

Even cooler, is having had those special times with my Dad, in front of the set. I guess the best way to explain how much it means to me is to say that this entire site is basically a seed he planted a long time ago, inside an impressionable youngster's mind.

I was never much of a hockey player myself. I peaked, if you will, as a 29 year old in 1991, playing on a local indrustrial beer league team for Canadian Marconi. In 28 games that year, I had 29 goals and 32 assists - sounds alot better than it really is. I never played organized hockey as a kid and my Dad had never seen me play hockey once until that year.

I had asked him time and again to come and watch me, but there was always work in the way and our games were often scheduled real late or very early in the day. One time, I told him of a Saturday afternoon game, and he said he might be able to make it. That day, the game began, and he was nowhere to be seen. On my third shift of the game, I got the puck, did a rare splitting of the defense, and went in on the goalie and scored. The deke I put on the goalie was also a deke I couldn't do too well, and as I lifted the puck over his glove, I lost my balance and slid right into the corner, headfirst against the boards.

A team mate came over to congratulate me on the goal, and as I was dusting myself off, he asks me if I know who the person is up in the stands, clapping!

I look up, and there's Dad, the only fan in an empty rink, front row, giving me a little standing O and having himself a good laugh!

It was pretty special that he was there and it gave me a real big lift. Marconi won that game 6-3, and I added three more goals and assisted on the other two. I was like a completely different player, and person, that day. My team mates all wondered alound just what the hell had gotten into me that game.

I played that game for my father. I owed him that!

Jean Beliveau is without a doubt the man who best personifies everything the Montreal Canadiens are about. The man not only epitomizes on and off class, but he was the complete package when it came to hockey players. I won't even attempt to add any more to that notion. So much has been written about him as a hockey icon, his legacy doesn't deserve my additional weak summations. I'll leave it to others to speak about Jean.

In tribute to Gros Bill, here's a great Dave Stubbs piece on him from two years ago. It is followed by a pair of You Tube clips. The first is his Legends Of Hockey bio, and the second is the start of Game 7 of the 1965 Cup finals. Check out the move he puts on the Red Wings goalie at the start of the first clip!

The final link at the bottom, is for Dad, who once raced motorcycles to the same winning ways as the man he shares a birthday with.

Happy 77th, Dad! Enjoy the bikes!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Who Are The 100 Greatest Habs Of All Time?

There will be many lists such as this seeing as the Canadiens embark on their centennial season. In fact, if I am not mistaken, I read somewhere that someone has written a book with the same title as this post. I'll have to pick it up if I see it on the shelf. Of course, as soon as that notion crossed my mind, I was compelled to come up with a list of my own.

It was simple enough to gather 150 names or so, but a lot tougher to try and rank them, or decide who to leave off. I figured just throwing out the list would be cause for interesting discussion or even a heated debate or two.

I didn't delve into any scientific methodology to compile this list, I just went over an alphabetical listing of the 701 players - from Didier Pitre to Gregory Stewart - and picked out what I felt were the most significant contributors to the team through time. My guidelines for choosing this All Time 100 were very loose, as to enable any player from any era to make the list.

Some of the reasoning I followed goes like this:

Contributions to the team during the dynasty years of the 1950's, 60's and 70's were given priority in most instances.

A player's relevance, historically, and how crucial they were to sustaining the team in good years and bad.

Individual awards, Hall Of Famers, team captains, and All Stars were noted.

Length of tenure with the club.

Individual achievements during a single Stanley Cup winning season.

Single, or multiple season achievements, and team records.

Proficiency in a particular role.

As many as 150 players were considered before the list was whittled down to 120. Here is an alphabetical listing of those 20 who sat on the bubble.

Patrice Brisebois, Murph Chamberlain, Kjell Dhalin, Phil Goyette, Charlie Hodge, Mike Keane, Rod Langway, Bunny Larocque, Stephan Lebeau, Craig Ludwig, Don Marshall, Gerry McNeil, Armand Mondou, John Quilty, Craig Rivet, Martin Rucinsky, Michael Ryder, Brian Savage, Brian Skrudland, and Pierre Turgeon.

Here is the list indescending order. There are no reasons given for where the choices sit, but if prompted, I'll do my best to explain them. The only guideline for understanding the list lies in knowing that for the most part, it is not neccesarily about who was the better player, but who offered the bigger contribution over time.

100 - Billy Boucher
99 - Sheldon Souray
98 - Jose Theodore
97 - Marcel Bonin
96 - Buddy O' Connor
95 - Herb Gardiner
94 - Louis Berlinguette
93 - Alex Kovalev
92 - Ryan Walter
91 - Mike McPhee

90 - Mark Napier
89 - John Leclair
88 - Wildor Larochelle
87 - Paul Haynes
86 - Billy Reay
85 - Mark Recchi
84 - Shayne Corson
83 - Mathieu Schneider
82 - Rejean Houle
81 - Brian Bellows

80 - Joe Malone
79 - Chris Nilan
78 - Chris Chelios
77 - Babe Siebert
76 - Kirk Muller
75 - Gilles Tremblay
74 - Dollard St. Laurent
73 - George Mantha
72 - Pit Lepine
71 - Ray Getliffe

70 - Claude Larose
69 - Eric Desjardins
68 - Glen Harmon
67 - Doug Risebrough
66 - Jim Roberts
65 - Claude Lemieux
64 - Albert Leduc
63 - Pierre Mondou
62 - Mario Tremblay
61 - Andrei Markov

60 - Ted Harris
59 - Pierre Larouche
58 - Joe Benoit
57 - Bobby Rousseau
56 - Yvon Lambert
55 - Odie Cleghorn
54 - Bobby Smith
53 - Johnny Gagnon
52 - Terry Harper
51 - Doug Jarvis

50 - Mats Naslund
49 - Jean Claude Tremblay
48 - Stephane Richer
47 - Floyd Curry
46 - Rogatien Vachon
45 - Sprague Cleghorn
44 - Pete Mahovlich
43 - Ken Mosdell
42 - Jean Guy Talbot
41 - Ralph Backstrom

40 - Bert Olmstead
39 - Vincent Damphousse
38 - Guy Carbonneau
37 - Frank Mahovlich
36 - Jack Laviolette
35 - Ken Reardon
34 - Emile Bouchard
33 - Tom Johnson
32 - Sylvio Mantha
31 - Saku Koivu

30 - Claude Provost
29 - Jacques Laperriere
28 - George Hainsworth
27 - John Ferguson
26 - Gump Worsley
25 - Guy Lapointe
24 - Didier Pitre
23 - Aurel Joliat
22 - Bill Durnan
21 - Bob Gainey

20 - Patrick Roy
19 - Steve Shutt
18 - Serge Savard
17 - Ken Dryden
16 - Elmer Lach
15 - Jacques Lemaire
14 - Bernie Geoffrion
13 - Toe Blake
12 - Yvan Cournoyer
11 - Larry Robinson

10 - Dickie Moore
9 - Georges Vezina
8 - Newsy Lalonde
7 - Jacques Plante
6 - Doug Harvey
5 - Howie Morenz
4 - Guy Lafleur
3 - Henri Richard
1 - Jean Beliveau
1 - Maurice Richard

My apologies for the double number one's - this is a debate I have long wrestled with myself over who epitomizes the Canadiens best. Is it the unbridled fire of The Rocket, or the class and grace of Beliveau? I know I will never be able to decide.

I don't know if I even want to!

Your comments?

Did I miss someone?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Habs Source: Roy Being Readied For The Rafters

According to an article published on the La Presse website this morning, it looks as though the Canadiens will indeed honour goaltending great Patrick Roy with a jersey retirement night, tentatively set for November 24 in a game against the Islanders. There had also been specualtion that it could also be held March 17 - St Patrick's day - prior to a game against the Rangers.

While there has been no official announcement as of yet by the Canadiens organization, rampant rumours eminating from the Bell Centre yesterday all but confirm a night for Roy is in the works. Canadiens owner George Gillett was reached by La Presse for a comment and politely declined, stating that the organization, as per policy, will not fuel the speculation until an announcement is made.

Gillett's official quote on the matter was "the subject of retiring jersey's is not something we comment on publically".

Raising Roy's #33 will be seen as a controversial move by some. The goaltender who left the Canadiens under the most shameful conditions, has left no fan indifferent since that fateful day in December 1995, when he left his crease in disgust. Several off ice incident have tainted his star since, but the Canadiens it seems, and rightfully so, wish to honour the goalie for his on ice accomplishments with the club.

An unnamed source in the story is quoted as saying that "the directors of the team are only concerned with Roy's on ice achievements, and are not preoccupied with anything that has gone on in his junior hockey coaching career.'

The one hundredth anniversary of the team makes for a proper occasion to bury the hatched, and bring Roy into the hallowed halls of Canadiens greats.

Admittedly, I have had issues and concerns about the retirement of Roy's sweater in the centennial year. I would never want to see a player honoured in controversy. I feel that would benefit no one - not the fans, the team, nor the player. Hopefully, what Roy brought to the team over 12 seasons is given greater precedence in the media - and fan's hearts - than the one game meltdown that brought on a decade of despair for Habs supporters.

The best way to deal with it, is to finally let it go. I'll be looking forward to the 24th of November, when Roy's crooked and cocky smile is joined by a teary gleam in his eyes. He'll have deserved many accolades that accompany the evening, as well as each barb tossed his way. I don't think he'd have it any differently.

When reached for a comment, Roy stated only that "nothing has been confirmed with me. It is the first I hear of it, although people ask me the question often. For sure, such a thing would be an immense honour."

Roy went on to say that everything has been cool between him and the Canadiens organization for quite some time. He mentionned that he would have enjoyed taking in some games in the past couple of seasons, but due to his coaching duties with the Remparts, scheduling was always a conflict. He named the Gainey and Savard sweater retirements, and Alexander Radulov's first game at the Bell as occasions in which he would have liked to attend had it not been for other committments.

In non centennial Roy news, there have also been whispers ( pardon the Eklundspeak! ) that number 33 may not be the only digit getting the heavenly heave to the Bell ceiling. La Presse speculates that Emile "Butch" Bouchard or possibly Toe Blake, may be the other number honoured this season.

The source also revealed that the Canadiens would be wearing four special retro sweaters while paying tribute to their past seasons. The first instance will come on November 15, when the Canadiens will don replica's of the 1915-16 season ( the last "CA adorned uni's, and the crest worn on the event of the team's first Stanley Cup win) in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The other named retro jersey night will occur on February 1 against the Bruins, where the 1912-13 red, white and blue barber poll stripes will get the historic treatment.

Seeing as there will be two others retro jersey nights, you could almost pencil in the original 1909-10 powder blue and white "C"'s being rolled out against the Canadiens oldest Ottawa Senator rivals, and perhaps the 1910-11 green maple leaf over a tricolore knit coming out sometime this season against the jersey it inspited - the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maurice Rocket Richard - The Sports Illustrated Interview 1960

Robert L Note: As all of you who read my site regularly surely know, I have been undertaking the heavy endeavor of documenting the Montreal Canadiens 100 seasons. Close to a dozen posts have been published so far, and I am currently working on the middle 1940's, researching and writing on just about all I can get my mits on that I find interesting. Early this morning I came across this Sports Illustrated interview with The Rocket - Maurice Richard, done late in the 1959-60 season.

The piece, taken from The Rocket's final NHL season, literally, it blew me away!

As I read through it a second time, the human being inside the legend began to emerge and layers were pealed away from what we all always recognized as Habs fans, in Richard, as being a larger than life figure.

Revealing, isn't the word!

The perception that comes out of this article, is of a mortal being, not unlike you and I, who is staring straight at a career crossroads.

I could have saved this for the 1959-60 season post, but the interview to me, felt like a piece of history that stood alone, beyond the Montreal Canadiens story.

I immediately felt that it had to be shared amongst fans!

The SI feature link has no photos attached, so again I went digging through my files and folders for shots I felt would bring the piece to life. I hope you enjoy this glimpse inside The Rocket's heart and mind, in early 1960.

I wish to dedicate this post to all of you younger Habs fans out there. I urge you to find the time to dive headlong into your favorite hockey team's history. It will not only bring you a greater appreciation for the team, it might just springboard you into your grandfather's life and times.

One Beer For The Rocket

Maurice Richard, the violent Canadien, watches his temper and his weight in his 18th year of ice hockey

"What makes Toronto tick?" asked the TV announcer.

"What makes Toronto dead?" Maurice (The Rocket) Richard asked back.

Richard, who has played right wing for the Club de Hockey Canadien Inc. every winter since 1942, sat, his shoes off, in a dark room in the Royal York hotel, laughing at Red Skelton and smoking a cigar - a burly man of 38 with an erect carriage, tilted, somber, devout face, inflexible eye, abundant black hair which also thickly mats his chest and back, making him look like a mangy bear, and queer, thin, knobby legs.

"If he had another hair on his back, he'd be up a tree," says Kenny Reardon, who is vice-president of the Montreal Canadiens.

Richard's roommate in Toronto, Marcel Bonin, who once wrestled a toothless, suffering bear in a carnival ("I never win," he admits) was out somewhere in the cold, solid city. The Ontario Good Roads Association made roisterous marches up and down the long, dim hotel corridors, X's on the backs of their red necks and violent apocalypses on their broad neckties. One of them hammered on Richard's door.

"Go to bed, damn it!" Richard shouts.

"That's my whole life trouble," he said, "trying to sleep. My mother was the same way. If I sleep four or five hours a night, it's good. TV puts me to sleep every time. Where would we be without TV, eh? And what did we do before?

"Eighteen years of this," he said. "In the town. Out of the town. I really get tired of all these trips." He got up and closed the transom, shutting out the racket. "People bother me," he said. "The young ones, they're all right. It's the old ones who have had a drink or two too much, yelling at you, asking all sorts of questions."

He made a face.

"I was at this sports banquet. A famous person got up to speak. He had too much to drink, like James Dean in that movie. He kept on talking and no one knew how to stop him. It was embarrassing. I'll never be like that."

And no one, certainly, will ever be quite like Maurice Richard, who next week, as their captain, leads the Canadiens toward their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup. Not even himself.

"You should have come up five years ago," he had said in the men's room of a Montreal - Detroit sleeper several days before, where he has sat so many nights reading until the porter fills the room with hockey players' shoes.

"It's getting to be my time now. I'm getting near the end. I have had some good times, some bad. I started out with three bad injuries [fractured left ankle, left wrist, right ankle] and am ending with three bad injuries [sliced Achilles' tendon, fractured left tibia, depressed fracture of facial bone]. The old days are gone. These are the new days. I'll never score five goals in one night."

He looked out the window at the dismal, glaring snow, listening to the wheels as the train bore him to his 1,091st game. Behind him, the glorious past, the records: 50 goals (and in a 50-game season); five goals in a playoff game; 18 winning goals in 14 playoff series, six of which were in overtime; 26 hat tricks (three or more goals in a game); 618 goals; 1,076 points; at least one goal in nine straight games; etc.

"He was a wartime hockey player," says Frank J. Selke, the 66 year old managing director of the Canadiens. "When the boys come back, they said, they'll look after Maurice. Nobody looked after Maurice. He looked after himself. When the boys come back, they said, they'll catch up with him. The only thing that's caught up with Maurice is time."

"It's changed. I'm the oldest; the rest are kids," Richard said one night in a Detroit bar which advertised a stereophonic juke box. ("I'd go where the boys go," he had said, "but it's not a nice place. This is a quiet little bar on the corner.") "I know I'm not playing good hockey now. I'm weak now. My legs are tired. After a minute and a half, I'm tired. I'm so tired. I will try to diet. I weigh 194 pounds. I've been playing at that weight for the last five years, but I'm so heavy I'm floating on air. I got to take off five or six pounds before the playoffs. Only one beer. That's all I'll drink. I'll drink gin. That isn't fattening."

He watched on TV a tape of the game he had played in an hour earlier. He had scored two goals. The bartender got in front of the TV set while he scored the first goal and Richard did not see it. He was told he had been chosen the game's outstanding player. "Me?" he said. "I don't believe it. I did not deserve it. Luck."

"If I can wake him up!" Selke says. "He kids himself that if he's feeling well, he's at the right weight. You don't feel well at the right weight. You're crabby. But he makes so much money! ( Richard 's salary is estimated at $30,000.)

He's wonderful to sign," Selke says. " 'How much do you want?' I ask. 'How much do you want to give me?' he says. I always give him a little more than anyone else I hear about through the grapevine. He has done so much for the game."

Richard 's annual income has been estimated at $60,000, total worth at $300,000. He is a public relations man for Dow Brewery and Quebec Natural Gas, has part interest in a store which sells gas appliances, has bought a tavern which he is calling No. 9 after his uniform number and referees professional wrestling matches.

"They're smart guys, the wrestlers," he says. "Ninety percent of them are educated. I know most of the guys. I like them. I wrestle a lot with Boom Boom [Geoffrion] in the room. Do a lot of crazy things."

"I've been in hockey 53 years and I've never had an aging athlete admit he was through," Selke says. "He misses passes he never missed. He tops the puck like a golfer. He never did that. He's got too big in the middle. I'd bench him. He'd damn well get in shape. I wouldn't sign him for another year. I wouldn't let him make a fool of himself in front of a crowd."

Richard had played ineptly the night before, and Selke, like a proud, rigorous, loving father, spoke not in intemperate anger but with old, gruff affection, hurt by loss and memory. If his Maurice wanted to play next year, he would probably relent.

"If I make bad," Richard says, "people will talk. I like to leave the game before people criticize me, boo me. When I'm ready, I'll go tell Mr. Selke. Fifty percent of goals are luck. You have to work for the others. I used to be like that. I lost all that. I used to skate a little better, go around the fence a little better. I've got to watch myself. I don't want to get another accident. The day of the game I'm afraid to get hit. I know when I feel that it is getting close to the end. Everyone should wear helmets. It's just up in the mind. It would be a good thing. It's a dangerous spot, the head. We've tried; they bothered us, were too warm. But if everybody wore them it would be the same.

"I have to work so hard all the time," he says. "When a guy is a natural he doesn't have to drive and force himself. Some guys.... If Howe would work a little harder, he'd be better."

"He used to be a whirlwind," says Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings. "Now he's just a whirlwind half the time. But when he's not doing a lot, you notice it. Not like the others."

"I'm a little too old to be called Rocket," says Maurice Richard.

"I first saw him in 1942," says Reardon. "I was playing for an Army team. I see this guy skating at me with wild, bloody hair the way he had it then, eyes just outside the nut house. 'I'll take this guy,' I said to, myself. He went around me like a hoop around a barrel. 'Who's that?' I asked after the game. 'That's Maurice Richard,' the guy said. 'He's a pretty good hockey player.' 'Yes,' I said, 'he is.'"

"When he's worked up," says Selke, "his eyes gleam like headlights. Not a glow, but a piercing intensity. Goalies have said he's like a motorcar coming on you at night. He is terrifying. He is the greatest hockey player that ever lived. I can contradict myself by saying that 10 or 15 do the mechanics of play better. But it's results that count. Others play well, build up, eventually get a goal. He is like a flash of lightning. It's a fine summer day, suddenly...."

"Holy Dirty Dora!" says Montreal coach Toe Blake. "You got to give it to the fellow. The fellow was fantastic. That's why you got to give it to the fellow. That will!"

"In all my experience in athletics, academic pursuits, business," says National Hockey League President Clarence S. Campbell, "I've never seen a man so completely dedicated to the degree he is. Many people who prosper take prosperity for granted. He doesn't to this day. He is the best hockey player he can be every second. You know, he is the eldest of a fairly extensive family raised in relative poverty. Back of it all, somehow or other, he was going to lift himself, one way or another. He has an inner urge to transcend."

"He is not the Pope...." says Camil Desroches, the Canadiens' publicity man, wistfully.

"He is God," says Selke.

Richard is regarded in Canada as no athlete is in the United States. He is not only a sports idol, he is the national idol, particularly among the French speaking people of Montreal and the province of Quebec. When Maurice Richard scores a goal in the Forum, even an insignificant goal in a meaningless game, it touches off a unique celebration. First, an astonishing, prolonged din of cheering and applause, then newspapers, programs, galoshes, hats are thrown onto the ice. Richard skates in abstracted, embarrassed, lonely circles through the heavy snow of objects. The game has to be stopped until the attendants clear the ice. But adulation sits on him like an uneasy crown.

"Nothing goes in my head," he says. "I don't believe in anything. It's nice. I like to forget about it. I don't think I deserve it. That's my whole trouble all the years. It's just the way it went. There are better hockey players but they don't work as hard. I like to win."

"We were playing Toronto once in a benefit softball game," Selke says. "Instead of just using the Maple Leaf players, they used the best softball players they had in their entire organization. They were beating us 25-5. Maurice was playing third base. Someone laughed about the score. 'You might think it's funny getting licked 25-5 in front of 14,000 spectators,' Maurice said to him. 'I don't think it's a bit funny.' "

"I never did like to see anybody laughing," Richard says, "making a farce out of something. I don't like to lose. They won't forget about me but when they stop writing about you, when they stop talking, it won't be the same. It will be a different life. I like to meet people, but not to talk about hockey when we had a bad game and lost. I stay away from everybody and go home. That's why I like fishing, to be quiet. When I'm traveling around the provinces I go fly fishing for an hour or two at night. Hunting is nice, too, because I like to be in the woods. They all talking about you but I don't like it. In front of me, it feels funny. Another player, they wouldn't have done it. But I'm afraid to let the French people down. That's why I'm worried out. Before, I could work hard, follow everybody. I don't want to be kept on the ice through sympathy."

"He is more important than the cardinal or Duplessis," explains one fan. "There are many cardinals. Duplessis was only the head man of Quebec. Maurice Richard was not only the best of the French but of the English as well. He came to epitomize the desire of superiority of the French Canadian nationalists. He was one of their best expressions. But you must understand that he has no personal interest in it. Maurice Richard never did a thing to accentuate it. He was a person to fix their eyes. Here was a demonstration."

While an idol, Richard has also been a figure of controversy. He fought a lot on the ice, violently and well, although the sight of blood makes him ill. "I see myself bleeding or anyone else bleeding," he says, "I feel funny. Once I cut my hand as a little kid and I passed out." In 1955, after a series of incidents culminating in the slugging of a linesman, Campbell suspended him for the last three regular season games and the playoffs. That decision caused the notorious Forum riot and inspired a ballad to the tune of Abdul Abulbul Amir:

Now our town has lost face
And our team is disgraced,
But these hot headed actions can't mar
Or cast any shame on the heroic name
Of Maurice (The Rocket) Richard.

Richard has also been called aloof, sullen, moody, peculiar, uncommunicative, tight. "I'm unpredictable," says Richard , cheerfully.

"He is difficult with difficult people," says Junior Langlois, a teammate.

"His difficulty was the language barrier, a very modest formal education and the disparagement of no war service," the fan says. "He was tagged with aspersion."

"Somewhere at the back of his mind," says Selke, "there is a feeling that someone is trying to put it over on him. He has a tremendous dread of poverty."

"You can say that again," Richard says, laughing.

"You can say a lot of things to Maurice," Selke says, "but you got to be careful of your adjectives. Maurice just can't take anything. If he could, he would not be Maurice Richard. Frenzy makes him! But there is no meanness in Maurice Richard. He's 100% solid gold; someone you'd be proud to have as the husband of one of your daughters; faithful, devoted."

"For 15 years he's been a law unto himself," Reardon says. "He has been so good he didn't have to do the things others did. The time hasn't come when he realizes he's human and has to do the things everyone else does. But if he wasn't so obstinate, he couldn't have done the things he has done. He was watched, watched, watched until he finally blew. There are more sly ways to get at a man with the stick. The stick stings. You know who gave it to you. When he blew, he blew good. No one could have taken it as long as he did and done less about it."

"It's different," says Richard . "Today they don't have to bother me like before. But every fight I've been in, every suspension, I was not the first. I'm not the type to hit a guy. Many times I don't like a guy, but I get on the ice I forget all about it. Now it's no use to fight. Ten minutes, $25 fine. If you keep fighting too long, they send you out. It's a match penalty, $100 fine!"

"I told him," says Selke. "You don't prove anything at your age to take on a young buck. You win? You've won so many fights already. You lose? They'll say you let a bandy rooster lick the cock of the walk."

"I am a very quiet man," says Richard. "At the beginning of my career I didn't know what the English people were talking about. Even today, I like to go somewhere and want to go somewhere, but they ask me to make a speech. I like to, but I am a man of few words."

"Richard the sphinx!" says Reardon. "He used to ride all the way to Chicago, sitting in the corner. He didn't even read a book. Henri, his brother, was that way, too. After Henri had been with the club two years, a reporter asked the coach if he could interview him. 'Sure,' he said, 'go ahead.' 'Does he speak English?' the reporter asked. 'Hell,' said Blake. 'I don't even know if he speaks French.' Maurice is just a great company man. He shows up for the game. Does a great job and disappears into his shell."

"He's like the lion who's let out of the cage twice a week," says Selke's son, Frank Jr., the Canadiens' public relations man.

Richard's cage is a spacious one story house by the Back River on the rim of Montreal . "I have six kids," he says. "One for each 100 goals. If I have to reach the 700 mark, I'll have to get another one, but I think I'll have to stop. I mean, there's no more on the way yet. My oldest is Huguette. She is 16 and studying to be a beautician. All she does now is ski. She doesn't do her skating anymore. I'd like to do figure skating too, but I'm embarrassed. Then there is Maurice Jr., who is 14. He's good at school. Not too bad. He's a fair hockey player, right wing. He wants to play hockey, too. He is an inch and a half taller than me. Normand is 9. This one is the one that likes every sport. A right wing, too. He's a natural. Just fair in school. Then André, who is 5. He is starting to go to school this year. He's kind of young, but he's all right. Suzanne is 2 and Paul, we call him Paulu, is one. My wife Lucille has missed only two hockey games in 18 years. She was sick for a week this year."

Richard adores children and is, perhaps, most at ease with them. He always carries postcards with his picture on them which he signs and gives away. Children adore Richard . If they are not French, he asks them if they speak French. If they do, they proudly and hurriedly say their few words of high school French and flee with their autographs.

"I never wanted to have a fan club," Richard says, "because of the exploitation. I have fans but no clubs. Instead of the kids spending money on us, let us spend money on them."

Richard often skates with kids or referees their games. "The kids all call this one place where we skate Maurice Richard Park," he says. "That's not the real name. In Montreal most of the people things are named after are dead people. Parents should spend more time watching their kids play," he says. "I come out after the game starts and stand hidden in a corner. I like to play with them in the park. The kids get such a kick out of it. They talk of nothing else for a week afterward."

One night in Detroit several weeks ago, Richard sat at the bar in a steak house with some businessmen friends. "When I got friends," he says, "I keep them and stay with them all the time." He had been telling his friends about Varadero Beach in Cuba, groping for words to describe its beauty. "The wife and I were swimming 50 or 60 feet offshore," he said. "Fish of all different colors came around us and touched our legs. The wife got scared. It was so beautiful. The water was all different colors—" Suddenly he stopped and drank his screwdriver. "You never know what you want to do in life, eh," he said. "I'm fed up with hockey, I don't want to skate anymore."

"You said that last year," a friend said.

"And four years ago," Richard said, and smiled thinly.

"No, I'm not fed up with hockey," he said, as he walked back the dark blocks to his hotel through the snow in his deep blue overcoat and a hat with a red feather in the band. "That's my living. I'm fed up with the traveling, the fear of accidents, the...I...good night," he said, "I'm going to watch The Late Show until I get sleepy."

There is a poster on the wall of the Canadiens' dressing room in the Forum. It is a quotation from Abraham Lincoln. It reads, in part, "I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end."

"I read that almost every game," Richard says. " Dick Irvin (the late Montreal coach) put that up. It's right in front of me."

At the NHL meeting last year there was some facetious talk of the end, the day when Richard would get so old Montreal would no longer protect him and he would be available for the $20,000 waiver price. "I'd pay $20,000 for him," said Phil Watson , then coach of the New York Rangers. "I'd put him in a glass case in Madison Square Garden and say, 'Pay your money and take a good look at the great Maurice Richard!' "


Gainey Puzzled By Sundin's Indecision

Frédéric Bhérer of Corus Sports caught up with Habs GM Bob Gainey on the golf course on Tuesday.

The following text is translated from a brief interview with Gainey on the subject of Mats Sundin's indecision.

Almost as silent as Mats Sundin has been over the summer months, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey admitted yesterday morning, while participating in coach Guy Carbonneau's golf tournament, that Sundin simply seems uninterested in joining the Canadiens.

"It's tough to be optimistic", said Gainey, "We have not had much contact with him. He doesn't seem interested either way. He has not asked any questions about our organization."

Earlier in the summer, the were several rumours that alluded to Sundin making his decision known by August 1. Since that time, Gainey has had few discussions with the Swedish player's inner circle. The Canadiens GM expects that something will come about between now and next Monday.

"We haven't spoken with them in over a week. There's nothing new as he has not decided anything as of yet. He had told me that he would be making a decision in the month of August, and as it stands, this is the 26th. We will find out, if that timetable is respected, what his decision is by next week."

For Gainey, there is no doubt, that the Canadiens 2008-09 lineup is built to measure for Sundin.

"We'll wait for word from him until September if neccessary. On paper, we're the perfect team for him. There is a place for him on this team."

Prepared for any eventuality, Gainey's summer shopping list might not be over, considering Sundin turns down the Canadiens advances. A player he eagerly hunted two seasons ago, Brendan Shanahan, does not present a logical option in Gainey's mind. It seems there are other avenues on his mind...

"I know that there are other teams over the salary cap presently. We will see, should Mats not come aboard, maybe will discuss matters with these teams."

From an additional post at the RDS site, Renaud Lavoie states that Gainey has not closed the door on Sundin quite yet, despite the lack of contact between the parties. There is however, a concern for his off season conditioning.

"I'd like to know if he is in fit shape", says Gainey. "He is a 37 year old player, and it is important for him that it is clear in his head that he is physically ready for a complete season."


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Laraque Coming Home

411's Rod Oracheski interviews Canadiens free agent signee forward Georges Laraque.

RO: What was the experience like helping a young Pittsburgh Penguins squad make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season?

Georges Laraque: It was fun, but I try to forget about it because we lost in the Finals and losing there is one of the most, you know ... it's one of the hardest things there is. Twice in the last two years really kills you. Not knowing how many chances you'll have at it, it's tough to get there and lose.

RO: How much of a role did Montreal being your hometown play in your decision to sign with the Canadiens?

GL: It was 50/50 between Edmonton and Montreal. They're both home to me. My mom is in Montreal and I let her make the decision. My family in Montreal hasn't had chance to see me play live much, and I played here for years so that's why.

RO: What else attracted you to the team and how do you feel you fit in on the roster?

GL: At the end of it, that was the factor. Everyone from there can come watch me play. If you don't fit on the roster, teams don't go out there and sign you for a three-year deal. I think it's just like Pittsburgh, they're a good young team in Montreal and they need that physical toughness. I'll be a fourth liner, but it's the same job I had in Pittsburgh.

RO: What was the free agency experience like, in general? Were you anxious to sign with a team or did you want to ride it out to see what kind of offers would come your way?

*Note that Georges broke in at the ‘anxious' part with "no, no, no..."*
GL: No, because it was between Edmonton and Montreal. They both made me an offer and they were the same but Edmonton had a fourth year. It was even better in Edmonton because of the tax, in Montreal it's 55% and in Edmonton it's only 40% but it was my family that decided really. At the end of the day it was between those two places and I knew both wanted me so I wasn't worried.

RO: Have you met up with any of your new teammates yet? What kind of chemistry do you feel the team will have next season considering all of the changes?

GL: I didn't meet any of them. I know some of them, but I didn't ... I haven't been there. I won the Memorial Cup with Francis Bouillon, their defenseman, but I haven't been there for ... like ... I haven't lived there for years. When I lived there I used to skate with them off-season, but I haven't in a while. I saw it coming and I talked to some players and found out how the team was like and said I might be coming. They were pretty happy.

RO: What kind of confidence is there in Montreal, especially with additions like yourself and Alex Tanguay, about the Canadiens' ability to contend for the Cup in such an important season for the franchise (the 100th year)?

GL: They're a young, powerful team and if the chemistry works out we could be really powerful in the East. Obviously we don't want to talk about the West and Detroit with Hossa, but for not we're just talking about doing well again this year. They finished first last year and we want to do that again, and I'll just try to be there and help another young team do well.

RO: Your reputation in the NHL is as an enforcer and sometimes that can unjustly have a negative connotation to it. As one of the most widely respected enforcers in the game, how important do you think it is in today's NHL to have a capable physical presence in the lineup like yourself?

GL: During free agencies, some guys take a while to sign, but all the tough guys got signed right off the bat. They were done right away. You can say whatever you want about the job, but they were the first to be signed – everywhere – so that just tells you the importance that it is to a lot of teams to get, you know, a tough guy to look after their skill players. Like for me, I knew I was going to have a variety of choices for the job that I do and the fact that I can still play. I'm proud that over the last few years, where people have said that, that there might not be a place for a player like us, people have realized that's not the case. Now my job is secure.

RO: The Oilers were one of those teams trying the ‘no enforcers' waters, when they let you go to free agency in 2006.

GL: They just tried it because ... Well, you see they tried it, it was an experiment and they wanted to see what happened. You can't blame them for that. I don't blame them for that. They gave it a try and then they tried to address it and stuff. You can't blame them for trying something new. You try something and then try something else new. That's the way hockey works. If you guess at the right thing, you get everyone copying you. I give them credit for trying to address it now. They have a really good team here that's young, and a new owner who wants to win.

RO: The elusive Daryl Katz - what do you think he'll do for the team?

GL: I'm actually really good friends with him and I see him at my gym every morning. He's a great guy who wants to win and he's committed. Fresh blood coming in and stuff can only help. He's well-liked, he's a great guy, and it's a great move for the team. Instead of talking to 16 people they just need to talk to one guy and that one guy will do whatever it takes to win.

*Note from Rod: For what it's worth, based on past conversations, I know that Georges is a little uncomfortable about the effect his role on the ice has off the ice. Not with the media or the league offices, but with the kids he deals with on a seemingly daily basis. He's said it breaks his heart when he sees a kid who's scared of him because he "beats people up" and always wants to change that kid's mind.

I don't think he stays up all night replying to e-mail from fans anymore, but he's definitely one of the most community-friendly players in the game – always active with some charity or another ... anything involving kids.*