the morenz line

Blake Geoffrion made his debut for the Montreal on Tuesday night as the Canadiens lost 2-1 to Tampa Bay Lightning. He wore number 57. His 22 shifts had him on the ice for a total of fourteen minutes and twenty-two seconds. He had a shot on Tampa Bay’s net and he got in the way of one of their shots down at his own end. His hits were two and while he himself didn’t score or record an assist, his plus was one. When it was all over, he declared himself — winded. “It’s a faster pace than the AHL,” said Geoffrion, who’s 24.

Not that it’s for numbers that Geoffrion’s Montreal debut will be remembered. The trade that brought him to Montreal last month may not have meant as much to the future of the Canadiens as it did to the team’s past.The claim of his fame is family-oriented: when he first skated in the NHL last year for Nashville, he was the first fourth-generation NHLer.

His great-grandfather (Howie Morenz) and grandfather (Bernie Geoffrion) are, of course, bona fide Habs legends. His father, Danny Geoffrion — well, he had a lot to live up to, so excuse him if he didn’t quite rise that high.

Danny’s first game for Montreal came in October of 1979, when he was 21. That was a big year for the Habs, as you’ll maybe recall. Ken Dryden had retired. Jacques Lemaire was off to play in Switzerland. Coach Scotty Bowman had taken a job in Buffalo. The new man behind the bench: Boom-Boom Geoffrion.

His son wore number 20. He played on the right wing. It took him a few games to crack the line-up. “When you’re in the stands and the team is on the ice,” he said as the fall went on, “you say to yourself, ‘Boy, I wish I was out there.’” He got his chance in Atlanta where, on his second shift, he assisted when Larry Robinson put a rebound behind Atlanta’s Dan Bouchard. The Canadiens won 5-3, but coach Geoffrion wasn’t entirely happy: the fans in Atlanta booed him (he’d been a coach there) and one of his former TV colleagues (he was also an Atlanta broadcaster) said he’d forgotten his friends.

Boom-Boom was 19 when he made his Canadiens’ debut on December 16, 1950. He wore number 5. The Canadiens had been on a five-game losing streak and manager Frank Selke called up five rookies, including Geoffrion and a young star by the name of Jean Béliveau. Maybe that might help. Béliveau had nine shots on the night, which was one more than Rocket Richard, but it was Geoffrion who scored the only Montreal goal in what ended as a 1-1 tie. “I got on the ice with Billy Reay,” Boom2 remembered it. “He took a pass from Tom Johnson, fed the puck to me and whoopee, it was in the net at 4:51 of the second. My first game; my first goal.”

Howie Morenz’s first league game as Hab came on December 15, 1923, against the St. Patricks in Toronto. From Montreal’s Gazette:

The newcomers to professional hockey, “Howie” Morenz of Stratford, and [Sylvio] Mantha of Montreal, made good. Morenz fitted right into the Canadien machine, and the manager thinks so well of his ability that he started him at centre in place of Odie Cleghorn.

Montreal goalie Georges Vézina had already declared that the kid had “a two-sided shot” that demanded respect. Morenz scored his first goal two games later in Ottawa. It was the largest hockey crowd ever seen in that city, 8,300. The game was said to be hard-fought, and it was deemed clean right up until, near the end of regular time, Montreal’s Billy Boucher butt-ended Frank Nighbor in the face. Boucher went to the penalty box under his own steam; Nighbor had to be carried off with bad damage to teeth and mouth.

The Senators’ Cy Denneny scored in overtime to win it 3-2 on a long shot from beyond the blueline that drifted past Vézina. Morenz’s goal, earlier, was helped by Joe Malone and Billy Coutu. “Morenz qualified for senior company,” said The Canadian Press, “by showing a fine game under hard punishment.”

Can I just mention that in this game, 13 of the 19 players involved would end up in the Hall of Fame? Opposite Vézina in Ottawa’s net was Clint Benedict. Alongside Morenz, Mantha, and Malone, Montreal had Sprague Cleghorn, and Aurel Joliat, while Ottawa lined up Nighbor, Denneny, Punch Broadbent, King Clancy, Jack Darragh, and George Boucher. Even the referee was a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, the former Kenora Thistles and Montreal Wanderers great (and future Bruins’ honcho) Art Ross.