l’idole d’un peuple

It was on another Saturday, 23 years ago today, that Maurice Richard died at Montreal’s Hôtel Dieu Hospital at the age of 78. “When he’s worked up,” long-time Canadiens GM Frank Selke once said of the Canadiens’ explosive superstar, “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.”


(Image: “Maurice Richard et deux jeunes enfants, vers 1957,” Archives de la Ville de Montréal, VM94, Ed-33A)

cooking with hockey players: stew crew

Supperintendent: Born in Toronto on a Thursday of this date in 1900, the great (and multi-talented) Lionel Conacher played a single season on defence for the Chicago Black Hawks, 1933-34, helping the team capture its first Stanley Cup championship. That’s him in the centre here, home on the range, in November of ’33, alongside teammates Roger Jenkins (left) and Paul Thompson (on high). (Image: © SDN-075731, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum)

by hook or by crook

This is wrong, of course: when it comes to checks, the hook and the sweep are not the same — they’re just not. It’s a hook-check that Stan Mikita, dressed up here in All-Star garb in the late 1960s, is demonstrating for the camera, though whether or not he resorted to it in actual game-play with any regularity is open for debate, the once-popular manoeuvre having faded out of the NHL by the 1930s. The Chicago Black Hawk superstar was born on a Monday of today’s date in 1940, in Sokolče, east of Bratislava in what today is Slovakia. He was Stanislav Guoth in those years, before making a move with an aunt and an uncle in the late 1940s to St. Catharines, Ontario, where he got a new name and found a new wintry sport waiting for him to discover it.

the rendez-vous of good sports! (some conditions apply)

Toe Blake’s playing days in the NHL came to an end in 1948 after the Montreal Canadiens’ captain collided with Bill Juzda of the New York Rangers in a game at Madison Square Garden and suffered a double fracture of his ankle. After several years coaching in minor leagues, Blake returned to the Canadiens as coach in 1955, launching an illustrious era in the team’s history:  in the 13 years before he retired in 1968, Blake, who died at 82 on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1995, steered Montreal to eight Stanley Cup championships.

In between the end of his captaincy and the start of his career as Canadiens’ coach, Blake bought a bar in Montreal a few blocks east of the Forum. Friday, May 20, 1949 was the day he took ownership, paying $90,000 for the license. “I couldn’t have kept up payments if I wasn’t coaching in Valleyfield in the winter,” he later recalled, “and umpiring baseball in the summer.”

In 1952, Toe Blake’s Tavern moved across St. Catherine Street into the premises it occupied for the next 31 years. It closed in December of 1983, and well past its due, I’ll say, considering that (as a news report in the Montreal Gazette noted at the time) women had never been welcome within.

Gazette columnist Tim Burke didn’t mention that in his requiem for the old boozy bastion. It went, partly, like this:

It was one of the oases in the West End, the sturdy rendezvous along Montreal’s equivalent of the Bowery (St. Catherine street between Atwater and Guy). Solid décor, walls festooned with caricatures of hockey’s all-time greats, good grub, and good company.

Down in the dumps, you could always stroll into Toe’s, and if none of your buddies were around, the best waiters in town — Vic, Gaetan, Frank, Lucien, Roland, Cliff, and the rest — would make you feel like the mayor of Westmount, with fast service and quicker wit.

The best sports debates I’ve ever heard were in Toe’s because anybody in the joint knew what they were talking about, they’d followed everything for one, two, and even three generations. And if they were stuck for some info, all they had to do was drop in on “The Bear” himself in his office, and they’d be straightened out immediately.

In short, Toe ran his tavern like he ran his hockey team, and nobody ran either better.

In the late ’60s, when everybody was grovelling to a rich, spoiled youth gone out of control, Toe had his waiters throw out anybody who came in with a beard. When one guy streaked the place in the mid-’70s, it took all the waiters to restrain him from doing a job on the guy.

Waxing Nostalgic: An Aislin cartoon from 1979 when Toe Blake’s Tavern was rumoured to be closing. It lingered on, in fact, until 1983. (Image: © McCord Museum)

turk take

He Who Leafs Last: A birthday today for the late Turk Broda, who was born on a Friday of today’s date in 1914 in Brandon, Manitoba. He was only ever a Maple Leaf, helping Toronto win no fewer than five Stanley Cup championships between 1942 and 1951. In ’42, Broda bested the Detroit Red Wings and their goaltender, Johnny Mowers, pictured here, in seven games.

many people will tell you goalkeeping is the toughest job, but I don’t think so

Ranger Room: Gump Worsley, who was born in Montreal on a Tuesday of today’s date in 1929, started his NHL career in 1952 with the New York Rangers. He’s at home in his rec room here in 1963, the year he was traded to his hometown Canadiens in a deal that saw Dave Balon, Leon Rochefort, and Len Ronson join him in a trade that sent Jacques Plante, Don Marshall, and Phil Goyette to the Rangers. “I never wear a mask, not even in practice,” Worsley said during his New York years. “Cuts and nicks are part of the game. Many people will tell you goalkeeping is the toughest job, but I don’t think so. If you know what you’re doing you should be okay.” (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

join the club

Passing The Puck: Chicago’s Bill Mosienko (right) receives the puck with which he scored the 200th regular-season goal of his career, on the Thursday night of January 17, 1952, when the Black Hawks played to a 6-6 with the visiting New York Rangers. Mosienko, who was 30, beat Ranger goaltender Chuck Rayner twice on the night as he became the 20th player in NHL history to hit the 200-goal mark. On hand to make the puck presentation was former Hawk and Leaf great Babe Dye (left), the second man (and second Hawk) to score 200, a mark he hit in 1929. The first to do it (and still the fastest) was Cy Denneny, who in 1928 scored his 200th in his 181st game. Dye, it so happens, was born in 1898 on a Friday of yesterday’s date in Hamilton, Ontario.

silver & dollard

In Cars: Born in Verdun, Quebec, on a Sunday of today’s date in 1929, Dollard St. Laurent was a doughty defenceman who helped the Montreal Canadiens claim four Stanley Cup championships during the 1950s. He added another to his CV with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1961. He’s riding here in the parade Montreal arranged on Saturday, April 14, 1956 to celebrate the Habs’ victory over the Detroit Red Wings. An estimated 500,000 well-wishers filled the streets that day to hail the players as they toured the streets of the city on a seven-hour odyssey. St. Laurent died in 2015 at the age of 85.

a wreath of leeks for wilf cude

The young Welshman is something they called Wilf Cude, back when he was in the business of guarding NHL nets in the 1930s, though sometimes it was the plucky Welshman. He was, true enough, born in Barry in Wales in 1906, not long before his family upped and moved to Winnipeg. Cude died on a Sunday of today’s date in 1968, at the age of 61.

Cude played his first NHL hockey for the Philadelphia Quakers in 1930, sharing the net with Joe Miller and Jakie Forbes. It wasn’t what you’d call an auspicious debut: Cude’s record was 2-22-3 that season. The Quakers folded after a year; Cude went on to serve as the league’s spare goaltender through the 1931-32 season, available to any team that might need his services in an emergency, which is how he ended up tending Boston’s net (for two games) and Chicago’s (an 11-3 rout by Toronto in which he replaced his childhood friend Charlie Gardiner and allowed nine goals.)

Montreal signed him in 1933, but with Lorne Chabot firmly ensconced in goal, Canadiens soon loaned  Cude to the Detroit Red Wings, where he excelled, helping to haul his team into the 1934 Stanley Cup finals against Gardiner’s Black Hawks, who prevailed in four games. Called back to Montreal for the following season, Cude played seven injury-plagued seasons there before quitting the nets in 1941. Sensational, the newspapers called him in Montreal, and dazzling, and Gibraltar-like.

In the spring of 1938, when the Red Wings and Canadiens travelled to Europe for a post-season barnstorming tour, one of the early games the teams played was at Earlscourt in London. Montreal won that one, 5-4, on ice described as sticky. Before the puck dropped, Cude was called to centre ice for a special celebration of his Welshness: a London beauty queen bestowed on him a wreath of leeks, while the crowd of 8,000 cheered.

Here’s How: Members for the Montreal Canadiens tutor local youngsters (including at least one brave Leaf-sweatered boy) on outdoor ice in 1936. From left, the Habs on duty are Pit Lepine, Wilf Cude, and Toe Blake. (Image: McGill University Archives, PU025910)

happy jack

Wingsmaster: Today he’s remembered as a coach, and that’s no surprise, he was such a great one that the NHL’s award for outstanding bench-bossing is named after him. He was a GM, too, and a superior (and ruthless) one of those. But before all that, Jack Adams was a very good centreman who won Stanley Cup championships with Toronto (in 1918) and as an Ottawa Senator (in 1927). Speaking of Cups, he won a further seven of those in his management years with the Detroit Red Wings, and remains the only man to have had his name hammered into hockey’s ultimate silvery prize as a player, coach, and GM. Jack Adams was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959. He died at the age of 73 on a Wednesday of today’s date in 1968.