December 03, 2009
Say, have you heard the Montreal Canadiens are having an anniversary?
That's right: It's the five-year anniversary of the start of Montreal's 100-year anniversary celebration, which finally culminates in the official Centennial Game against the Boston Bruins on Friday, Dec. 4.
What a celebration it's been: Commemorative coins, commemorative bricks, commemorative action figures and the return of some of the most, uh, "striking" heritage jerseys in NHL history. The centennial for one of the most storied franchises in professional sports history has been all-encompassing and unavoidable.
But it's also been completely warranted; heck, TSN found 100 reasons to love the team. The Montreal Canadiens, despite recent follies, are the gold standard for NHL success since the inception of the League, both in treasure and talent -- 24 Stanley Cups, 42 Hall of Famers and 14 retired numbers.
Here's a congratulatory (and irreverent) look back at the first 100 years of the Montreal Canadiens, a.k.a. "Canada's team," if the polls are accurate.
This remembrance would have been impossible without the Habs' incredible Our History section on their official site, which provides every moment and morsel one could ever desire regarding the team. All photos via the Canadian Press, unless otherwise noted.
Each decade section provides a brief summary, some superlatives, its importance to Habs history and what we call the "Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient," which ranges from humble (1) to the type of confidence that drives Leafs fans crazy (10).
The Canadiens won their first game in the Canadian Hockey Association, which soon becomes pointless because they join the new National Hockey Association, where they lost their second "first" game to the Renfrew Creamery Kings. Alas, the entire first season is also rendered completely pointless when this Canadiens franchise folds while Club Athletique Canadien joins the NHA, adopting the Montreal Canadiens name. It's all very two Darrens from "Bewitched."
After the NHA, Montreal joined the new National Hockey League in 1917-18 in a blaze of glory. OK, actually just a blaze: Their arena burned down before the season, leaving them to play in the Jubilee Rink, which only sounds like a roller disco. It too burned down in 1919, as all hockey arenas were apparently made of dryer lint back then.
Stanley Cups: One. Montreal defeated the Portland Rosebuds, the first U.S. team to compete for the Stanley Cup, in 1916 for their first title. Alas, in 1917, the Canadiens would lose to the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Seattle Metropolitans, putting the Cup in the hands of a U.S. team for the first time since its inception in 1893. This was something out of the ordinary back then, as opposed to commonplace between 1993 and 2009.
Best Player: Center Newsy Lalonde, a Hockey Hall of Famer, who was traded by the team to Vancouver, refused to report, and eventually became Montreal's player/coach.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Defenseman Rocket Power. (Seriously.)
Contribution To Habs Lore: It's where it all began. The 1916-17 season saw the birth of the "CH" logo in honor of the Canadian Hockey Club.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 5. The Stanley Cup win was epic; losing to Toronto and a team from Seattle, not so much.
The decade began with the Canadiens missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, and then losing the Cup to Ottawa in a 1923 series that saw captain Sprague Cleghorn and defenseman Billy Coutu suspended by coach/GM/owner Leo Dandurand for excessive penalties and unsportsmanlike play in the finals. Or, as some call it today, "truculence."
Stanley Cups: One, in 1923-24, as the Canadiens swept through the playoffs for their first NHL Cup.
Best Player: Hall of Fame center and "Babe Ruth of Hockey" Howie Morenz won a Cup in his rookie season and was the team's leading scorer for most of the 1920s. He also had Gary Bettman's hairline.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Left wing Gizzy Hart.
Contribution To Habs Lore: In a moment that perfectly captured the franchise's legendary humility, the Canadiens replaced the "CH" on the front of their jerseys with a map of the planet Earth in 1924.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 4. Not the best decade, although somewhat redeemed by the fact that Hall of Famer George Hainsworth, in 1927, became the first player to win the award for best goalie that was named in honor of the Montreal Hall of Fame goaltender he replaced. It's like a Swede winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
The decade began with the radical idea of legalizing the forward pass in an effort to not make hockey suck so much. The Canadiens responded with consecutive Stanley Cups, but the rest of the decade was (literally) a depression. Goalie Hainsworth was named captain and then traded the next season. Morenz was traded, reacquired and then tragically died after a nervous breakdown and heart failure. His funeral was attended by more than 200,000 people. Things perked up at the end of the decade, with the rival Montreal Maroons folding and Toe Blake arriving.
Stanley Cups: Two in a row (1929-1931), beating the Bruins and Blackhawks.
Best Player: LW Aurel Joliat was a leading scorer for Montreal and the MVP in 1933. Was nicknamed "Mighty Atom," being the nucleus of the team.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Goalie Wilf Cude.
Contribution To Habs Lore: The team's finances decimated by the Great Depression, owner Leo Dandurand asked the NHL if his team could suspend operations for a season. The NHL denies the request because the Canadiens are too important a draw on the road to lose for a year. Ego = stroked.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 5. Two Cups and 200,000 people at a funeral for the "Babe Ruth of Hockey."
The decade started on a rotten note, as former star Babe Siebert was hired as coach but drowned in a lake in the 1939-40 offseason; and primary investor Frank Patrick suffered a heart attack that nearly necessitated a franchise relocation to (gulp) Cleveland. Then came 1943-44, as the Punch Line of Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard was assembled and coach Dick Irvin led the Canadiens to the Cup in what was finally an Original Six NHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked them in the playoffs in 1945, but the Canadiens won their sixth Cup in 1946. They made the playoffs eight times in the 1940s.
Oh, and The Rocket's 1945 feat of 50 goals in 50 games was moderately impressive, too.
But the decade drew to a close with a painful whimper, though, as Toe's career ended thanks to an ankle in 1948.
Stanley Cups: Two.
Best Player: Hall of Fame center Elmer Lach won two Hart Trophies and once played for a team called the Weyburn Beavers.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Right wing Roly Rossignol.
Contribution To Habs Lore: The Punch Line, and the Rocket's launch.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 7. Two Cups, a bunch of playoff appearances and a slew of future Hall of Famers.
The Canadiens appeared in the Stanley Cup finals every year of the decade, winning the Chalice five times in the 1950s. They were the team of Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Henri Richard and Jacques Plante; the squad coached by the legendary Dick Irvin before yielding to the legendary Toe Blake. Through injuries and adversity and tenacious opposition from the other Original Six, it was the decade the established the Habs as the gold-standard in the NHL.
Stanley Cups: A rather obscene five, including four in a row that set a new NHL record.
Best Player: Who else but Rocket Richard, making the all-star team every year of the 1950s, leading the NHL in goals a few times and generally having the kind of career that they eventually make movies about, co-starring Sean Avery(notes) as "Bob Dill."
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Defenseman Jack Bownass.
Contribution To Habs Lore: A little slice of anarchy called the Richard Riot in 1955. Jacques Plante becoming the first goaltender in NHL history to wear a mask on a game-by-game basis beginning in 1959, paving the way for goalies to become living advertisements for schlocky horror movies 49 years later. The fact that they added a rule to the NHL in which "two-minute majors" were turned into minors because the Habs were that darn good on the power play.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 10. With the Canadiens at one of their pinnacles of prestige and star power, this decade is like Bill Gates opening his checkbook in a homeless shelter.
The Habs completed their run of five straight Cups in 1960, with their second straight finals victory over the Leafs. Then came a few years of transition (the trade of Doug Harvey, the retirement of players like Dickie Moore, the resignation of GM Frank Selke) and a three-Cup run from Toronto that halted the momentum. Ah, but Montreal found its pimp walk again at the end of the decade, winning four Cups in five seasons; a run only interrupted by the Maple Leafs' last moment of relevance for the century in 1967.
By the end of the decade, the Habs began to transition to the next dynasty with young players like center Jacques Lemaire and defenseman Serge Savard starting to star.
Stanley Cups: Another five for the trophy case.
Best Player: Injuries slowed him a bit, but when healthy Jean Beliveau was at or near the top of the team scoring race each season of the decade. Which is one reason why the Canadian Press named him the best Montreal player of the last 100 years; the other being that his name is impossibly adorable when spoken with a French accent.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Goalie Gump Worsley, without a second thought.
Contribution To Habs Lore: Sam Pollock becomes GM, and goes on to become one of the best GMs in NHL history; the Canadiens win 10 Cups in 20 years.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 9. It would be a 10, but the Leafs winning the last Cup of the Original Six era takes'em down a notch.
There are moments in history when it's completely justifiable for have an intense, searing jealously of Montreal Canadiens hockey. Some call these moments "the 1970s."
Ken Dryden played six regular season games in 1970-71, and then played 20 games in the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe. Scott Bowman took over behind the bench. Jean Claude Tremblay left for the WHA, while Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard combined to become one of the best defenses in League history. Henri Richard retired at the same time Guy Lafleur, Pete Mahovlich and Jacques Lemaire dominated.
After the Philadelphia Flyers bullied their way to two Stanley Cups, the Canadiens presented a team of grit and sophistication that closed out the decade with four straight Stanley Cups; a collection of players that defined the 1970s as much as bad music, cheap drugs and crooked politicians did.
Stanley Cups: A preposterous six, considering by then the NHL had expanded its playoff format, changed the draft rules and the talent was supposed to be diluted by the WHA.
Best Player: Guy Lafleur scored north of 50 goals in each of the last five seasons of the decade, including 60 in 1977-78. He was well over a point per game in the four straight Cup years. But, most of all: The Disco Album.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Germain Gagnon, who sounds like an arcane linguistic term or a Star Wars alien.
Contribution To Habs Lore: A standard of success that would stand the test of time ... or at least a few months before the New York Islanders' dynasty. Oh, and if you haven't read "The Game," then you might as well turn in your hockey cards and jersey collection, poser.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: On a scale of 1-10, about 153.
Hey, there's a lot we all want to forget about the 1980s. Pastels. New Coke. "AfterMASH." The Montreal Canadiens are not alone.
Dryden, Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer and Serge Savard were all retired by 1981. Doug Wickenheiser was drafted in 1980 over Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. They were a team running long on bad decisions and short on mystique ... and then 1985-86 happened.
Anchored with a few veterans (Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey) and propelled by a slew of hungry young talents (Mats Naslund, Brian Skrudland, Stephane Richer, Claude Lemieux(notes), Chris Chelios(notes)), the Canadiens stunned the hockey world by rolling to Stanley Cup No. 23 -- thanks to Patrick Roy, who posted a 1.92 GAA in 20 playoff games and Dryden'd his way to the Conn Smythe as a rookie, thereby ruining life for every promising young Canadiens goalie for the next quarter century (see Price, Carey).
Stanley Cups: One, over the Calgary Flames, who deprived the hockey world of a Wayne Gretzky vs. the Canadiens final. For a few years, at least.
Best Player: Chris Chelios really found his game in the early 1990s in another sweater, so we'll give it to Roy, who won the Jennings three times and the Vezina once after the Cup run.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Ric Nattress, now available at your local Nattress Discounters.
Contribution To Habs Lore: The Legend of St. Patrick, and Brian Skrudland's goal nine seconds into a Stanley Cup overtime, which probably sent thousands of Montreal fans screaming from their kitchens and/bathrooms, ill-prepared for the game to end.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 4. The Cup in the middle of the decade was impressive, but much like awful hair, frustration reigned for most of the 1980s.
The Habs' 1993 Stanley Cup was made possible by trades for Brian Bellows and Vincent Damphousse; strong performances from players like Kirk Muller and Mathieu Schneider(notes); another legendary run from goalie Patrick Roy; and the fact that Guy Carbonneau knew how long Marty McSorley's stick was in Game 2 against the Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings.
The exact opposite of that moment of glory would be Dec. 2, 1995, when Roy mocked the crowd, Mario Tremblay let'em hang out to dry, a trade was demanded, and the Colorado Avalanche had their Stanley Cup winning goalie for the next decade.
Stanley Cups: One, their 24th and (to date) final.
Best Player: Vincent Damphousse, at or near the team scoring lead for most of his time with the franchise.
Unintentionally Hilarious Player Name: Igor Ulanov.
Contribution To Habs Lore: "The Curse of St. Patrick" gives Canadiens fans a slice of Boston Red Sox self-inflicted bad karma. The fans also bid a tearful adieu to the Forum in 1996, as the Molson née Bell Centre was born.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 5. The last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup, in case you haven't heard that in the last 16 years.
Missing the playoffs four times, failing to get out of the semifinals the rest of the decade, the Canadiens settled into a pattern of unfulfilled potential, hasty decisions and annual frustration during the only Cup-less decade in existence. Luckily, most of the decade was spent in a perpetual nostalgia-fest of centennial love, which was a handy distraction from getting upset by the Boston Bruins and watching players like Chris Higgins and Carey Price(notes) wilt on the vine. Oh, and occasional rookie purse larceny.
Stanley Cups: Zippy.
Contribution To Habs Lore: After nearly a century of gloating, the introduction of self-loathing and burning cop cars for no good reason.
Montreal Fan Swagger Quotient: 1. Which is why this centennial has gone on for what's seemed like 100 years.
But Habs fans certainly have something to celebrate: