1. Bill Durnan said he was a sweet guy. His jokes were God-awful, the goaltender told Stan Fischler in Those Were The Days (1976). Bouchard’s answer: “It just doesn’t sound as good in English as it does in French.”
2. He was very sociable.
3. He loved to play Monopoly. That’s what his wife said. “He loves to Monopolize. It’s always him who wins.”
4. Gordie Howe said he wasn’t a villain.
5. “He was never a bully,” says Mike Leonetti in Canadiens Legends: Montreal Hockey Heroes (2009). “Bouchard maintained control and had to be seriously provoked to drop his gloves.”
6. This is a bit of a refrain, dating back at least to 1944, when Le Petit Journal observed that he had proved himself so able with his fists that he was no longer obliged to fight.
The Hockey Hall of Fame captions his profile this way:
To his credit, he never abused his powerful attributes and most opponents wisely avoided provoking him. In turn, he rarely fought.
Here’s what it says at ourhistory.canadiens.com:
The strongest man in the league, Bouchard played a robust brand of hockey. While other defensemen around the league resorted to more underhanded tactics, Butch hit with his hip rather than his fists. After a short period of introduction, he was rarely invited to engage in fisticuffs and probably stopped more fights that he took part in, often seizing both combatants and keeping them at arm’s length until they cooled off.
7. All of this filtered its way into the obituaries and tributes that have appeared over the last couple of weeks. Peaceful Pro, Ken Campbell’s column is headlined in the latest Hockey News. Didn’t fight much. Refused to use his physical advantage to be anything more than a peacekeeper.
8. His penalty minutes, it’s true, were relatively few. Or at least spread out: never in a season did he chalk up more than 100. You can’t say that about Wild Bill Ezinicki or Leapin’ Lou Fontinato, to name a boistering couple of names from the era. Among teammates, Ken Reardon and Murph Chamberlain spent more time on the penalty bench.
9. Dick Irvin called Chamberlain a stirrer-upper.
10. Irvin, talking about Maurice Richard: “His looks are deceiving. He’s the strongest man on the club. In dressing room wrestling matches he will beat even Émile Bouchard.”
11. Ivan Irwin was one of the more fearsome of New York Rangers in his time. He told Brian McFarlane that it might have been the fire in Richard’s eyes that deterred fellows from fighting him. “A much tougher guy was Butch Bouchard,” Irwin said.
One night Lou Fontinato was roughing up some of the smaller Montreal forwards when Butch, normally a quiet, easygoing fellow, got mad. He took Fontinato by the scruff of the neck, held him up, gave him about five good ones — pow! Then he pushed him away. Butch never bothered too many of us but we all knew he was the wrong guy to pick on.
12. “He was never an underhanded player,” noted Montreal-Matin in 1956: “he always hit from the front, and with confidence. He never attempted to injure or destroy his opponent.”
13. Why not? He was asked that. “I do realize,” he said, “that if I used my physical power to annihilate my opponents, I might hurt them seriously. I think they too play hockey for a living and they are professional athletes. I never thought of destroying anyone, though sometimes the temptation has been very strong.”
14. And yet. He did fight. Un batailleur de premier ordre, La Patrie reported in 1942. By then, he’d already made a name for himself against Chicago’s Johnny Mariucci and Bryan Hextall of the Rangers. Then, against Detroit one night, in the last seconds of the game, he clashed with defenceman Eddie Wares and
dealt him a direct blow almost crushing his nose and contradicting the illusion that if you keep your stick in your hands nothing can happen to you.
Sid Abel jumped Bouchard after that, causing a larger kerfuffle, which took time to play out, whereupon everybody picked up their sticks and their gloves just in time for Abel and Bouchard to start all over again. The Detroit News reported that referee Bill Chadwick had already decided he was in the wrong sport. “I should have been a boxing referee,” he said.
15. Un coup de poing au menton de Wares is the phrase from La Patrie. Poing is the better word, I think.
16. Dink Carroll from The Gazette tells us that Bouchard wore the NHL’s heavyweight crown until he retired, whereupon it passed to Lou Fontinato. This is in 1959, right after Fontinato lost the title (according to Carroll) when Gordie Howe messed him up. Here’s Carroll on the earlier succession:
There wasn’t any elimination tournament to crown a new champion, as is the case in boxing when a champion goes into retirement Lou just shouted louder than anyone else.
“If I’m not the bad man of the league, who is?” he has been quoted as saying.
Not that Butch, the old champion, thought of himself as a bad man. He was more the big brother who went to the aid of smaller teammates when they got into trouble. One of those first decisions Fontinato lost in the league was to Butch, whose Sunday punch was a right uppercut.
17. The Leafs’ Ezinicki (later he went to the Bruins) was a nemesis insofar as he and Bouchard seem to have traded a lot of poings over the years, including during the NHL’s first official All-Star game in 1947. The Rangers’ Bryan Hextall was another favoured rival — or maybe disfavoured. As Bouchard was fighting him in 1947, the Rangers’ Bill Moe broke his stick over Bouchard’s head while Miss Gladys Gooding played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the Madison Square Garden organ. “Bouchard didn’t even the slightest bit of attention to Moe,” said the Rangers’ trainer, Tom McKenna.
18. A pitched battle is what The New York Times reported, vis-à-vis Bouchard’s and Ezinicki’s involvement at that All-Star game, though they only got minor penalties. Before the start of the game Clarence Campbell presented Bouchard and the rest of the All Stars with tiny golden pucks. Ezinickiwise, another report talked about a feud renewed and a fist fight that stirred a melee and, in the final minute
the two players wrestled at several spots along the ice. The seemed anxious to continue even after the final whistle and stirred so much fuss that the fans didn’t realize the game was over.
19. When Bouchard fought Boston’s Herb Cain in 1943, he got a five-minute major while Cain got away with a minor for high-sticking. A highlight of a meeting with the Red Wings in 1945 was said to be when Bouchard and Mud Bruneteau “stood toe to toe and slugged it out in the best boxing style.”
20. Here’s a scene from 1945, as sketched by Claude Larochelle in Sport-Revue:
One time Toe Blake rattled Johnny Mariucci’s head with his stick. At the sight of blood gushing, Mariucci lost it and ran at Toe with his stick raised. With the one hand, Butch grabbed him by the bridge of the nose and crushed it like a nasty sponge.
21. Against Chicago in 1946 Bouchard and Red Hamill swung their sticks, dropped their gloves, threw their poings until (as witnessed by The Gazette) “Butch pulled Red’s sweater over his head, pinioning his arms and then belted him at will.”
22. Speaking of which, another word from Dink Carroll in 1955:
Butch has a technique all his own. He pulls his adversary’s sweater up over his head and then belts him with right-hand uppercuts.
23. He fought Boston’s Don Gallinger in 1947. He went to the Rocket’s aid in 1949 in a battle with Toronto’s Jim Thomson and Gus Mortson which generated this paragraph in The Gazette next day:
Again there was a switch of opponents, Bouchard getting Mortson in a corner and thumping him plenty with right-hand bolos to the face.
24. In a 1950 game (Boston, again) he threw not a single poing but was ejected from the game all the same, for arguing with referee Hugh McLean. Hard-hitting but usually mild-mannered, the reports said.
25. He tangled with and/or roughly shoved and/or mixed it up with Joe Klukay (1946), Gaye Stewart (1950), Bill Juzda (1951), and Steve Kraftcheck (1952). And others, too.
26. Although. Dick Irvin did wonder, in 1952, whether anyone could remember when Butch last threw a punch. A rhetorical question, I guess.
27. And yet. He won a clear-cut decision over Chicago’s Bill Gadsby in 1952, the same year he engaged in fisticuffs with Detroit’s Jimmy Skinner. Oh, right — that’s Detroit’s coach Jimmy Skinner. In 1953, in a brawl with the Leafs, he’s said to have grabbed Tim Horton and said, “Young fellow, you’re with me.” As late as 1955, he caught a Bruin, Fern Flaman, with a jolting right, and fought Detroit’s Red Kelly. They both got minors and majors and also misconducts — the first of Kelly’s career — when, as The New York Times reported, “they refused to stop fighting.”
28. And of course there’s Kenny Reardon’s brother. According to Terry, a.k.a. Terrible, the fights we see today (like them or not) wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Bouchard’s poings.
29. The word you sometimes see associated with the elder Reardon is scrappy. He played centre, starting with the Bruins in 1938. Ahead of the 1941-42 season he ran into wartime passport problems and couldn’t get across the border, so the Bruins agreed to let him play for Montreal in home games and in Toronto. When he went to war halfway through the following season, it was as a lieutenant in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. He was wounded in France in August of 1944, shot in the chest by a German sniper at Falaise, which sounds grievous enough. And yet he was back playing with the Bruins for the start of the 1945-46 season.
30. Here he is with an undated account of what happened:
There was one time when Butch Bouchard massacred me. He gave me a real beating and nobody stepped in to break it up. Clarence Campbell was at the game, and from that night on, the linesmen were ordered to break up fights as part of their job. Just think … I had to take a shellacking so that a new rule could be put on the books.
31. He also told The Baltimore Sun about it 1965:
I was exhausted when the fight broke out because it was near the end of the game. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was overmatched, and that’s the worst feeling in the world when you’re out there on the ice. There’s no place to hide, you know.
The rule in those days was to let them go when two players got in a fight. They felt that a lot of guys were starting fights because they knew they’d be broken up right away.
So the players on both teams stood there and watched men and Bouchard. One of the players watching was my brother, Kenny, who was playing for the Canadiens.
But I was the last player who ever had to take a beating like that. Two days after my fight with Bouchard they changed the rule to the one we have now: you break up fights.
32. “Eyewitnesses claim it was one of the best hockey fights ever,” enthuses The Sun. Fine. Okay. Good. There’s a problem with the dating, though: 1939 is what it says. Bouchard wasn’t in the NHL then and Campbell wasn’t the president and, anyway, Reardon earned no penalty minutes that year. 1947 is a better bet, February 5 in Boston when Reardon, filling in on defence, tangled with Bouchard near the end of the third period. The Gazette: ‘The latter got in at least a half-dozen hard punches before the battlers were separated.” No mention of Campbell, though. And nowhere else have I seen any reference to the change in the rules on fight interventions.
33. The 200-pound rearguard, The Gazette called him in November of 1947 when, in Chicago, he punched linesman George Hayes, a man with 215 pounds on a frame measuring 6’3”. You’d think that would be big news, warranting some kind of strong statement from the NHL. President Clarence Campbell’s immediate response was that he was considering the case, reading all the referee’s reports. Then, next, the news was that Bouchard wouldn’t be suspended. “He will perhaps be fined though,” warned La Patrie, and that’s indeed what happened: Bouchard had to cough up $50. Who said he punched anyone anyway? Campbell found him guilty of no more than pushing Hayes, for which he was assessed a misconduct rather than a match penalty, so the fine was automatic.
In Montreal’s next game and the next one after that, Bouchard was said to have been one of the best players on the ice.
34. Kerry Keene’s Tales From The Boston Bruins Locker Room (2011) tells the (undated) tale of Bouchard squaring up with Boston’s Leo Labine, known as The Lion, also The Haileybury Hurricane. By this account, Bouchard was four inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Labine, which would put the former at 6’2”, 218 pounds, or so. “You’ve got 32 teeth, Butch,” Labine is supposed to have said. “Would you like to try for 16?”
Bouchard is supposed to have laughed.
35. A cold kept him out of the line-up against Boston in 1944, which makes you think it must have been an awful one. Although there’s mention, too, at the same time of an injured leg. He had an infected finger that needed surgery in 1945.
In 1946 he hurt his knee. He was out for a while, came back, hurt it again in a collision with Boston’s Pat Egan. He wasn’t himself when he returned again. It took him time to recover his form. “The big defenceman was on the pan at various times during the season,” The Gazette said in April. “He had slipped badly, was the report.” But!
Butch now has a total of three points in the last two big games. He set up the winning goal for Richard on Saturday and prevented the Habs from going down to defeat in regulation time last night.
36. From the ’47 Finals, which the Canadiens lost to Toronto, Ken Reardon retained this vague memory of his partner on the line: “He had about eighteen stitches in the calf of his leg, or some place.”
(It was his leg, in fact, cut by a skate in a pile-up, but the stitches were 16. He played the next game.)
37. Previously in 1947: the Canadiens met the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup semi-finals. After they won the first game 3-1, Bouchard went to the hospital with (The Gazette reported) “a severe attack of stomach flu.” He was okay in the first period, but during the second and third he finished his checks “automatically.” The Gazette:
Pains gripped him in the stomach and in the dressing room after the game he staggered to the shower, then tumbled on a rubbing table.
He was back on the ice two days later for game two, another Canadiens’ win, this one in overtime.
38. The next game was in Boston on the Saturday. After the second intermission, with Boston leading 3-2, the Canadiens started to make their way back to the ice when a woman came at Bouchard with a hat pin.
39. Sometimes when you see the story it includes Bouchard saying, “Please, don’t do that, Madam.” Contemporary accounts look like this:
Butch got a couple of inches of steel before he could move and his reaction was altogether spontaneous: he pushed her away violently.
40. For which he was arrested by Boston police. They were backing up a wagon to a side-door at the Garden: I guess they wanted to get Bouchard into jail as fast as possible, skates and all. Bouchard’s teammates tried to go to his aid, but they couldn’t reach him through the crowds of milling fans. Bruins’ defenceman Pat Egan finally talked the police into releasing him. They said they were taking him for his own protection. Bouchard didn’t believe it.
41. The Bruins won, 4-2. Did I mention that George Hayes was the referee? Can I ask whether he was actually stabbed, as Dink Carroll’s account above seems to say, or merely poked? Another report mentions the derriere. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been unpleasant but at the same time it doesn’t sound like she broke the skin, does it? La Patrie doesn’t have much more light to throw: “attaqué par un femme armée d’une épingle à chapeau.”
42. Having released Bouchard, the police then arrested a Montreal reporter (no name given) in the press box for — ready? — carrying a couple of cap-pistols in his belt. He’d stood up and fired them in the first period when the Canadiens scored. Carroll: “Somehow the word got around that there was a maniac in the building who was carrying a couple of gats, and the cops had been hunting him.”
They let him go, too, eventually, but they wouldn’t give him back his gats.
43. The Habs beat the Bruins, finally, so in April, they met Toronto in the Finals. While Toronto won, on the bright side for Habs’ fans there’s the first game, which they won 6-0. Which must have made them feel pretty good at the time, not knowing they were headed for the series loss.
44. Conn Smythe knew. He said, “The series isn’t over yet.” He could have just been angry and stating the obvious truth, I guess, rather than clairvoyant.
45. Bouchard crashed the Leafs’ Nick Metz into the boards so hard that he separated his ribs, which the Toronto papers didn’t like.
Bouchard lost five pounds during that game.
46. Another scene from that chaotic series, as reported by The Globe and Mail’s Jim Vipond:
Reardon was given the thumb for attempting to ‘strangle’ Ezinicki. The Montreal rearguard applied a full nelson on Ezinicki twice within a matter of seconds … Butch Bouchard boarded Joe Klukay and then climbed on the Toronto player’s back jockey-style.
47. Not to forget New York. I don’t how you could. This is going back before the Finals, pre-hat pin, to March, altogether out of sequence — sorry. What happened on March 16, 1947 was that the Canadiens paid a visit, as they liked to do, to Madison Square Garden in to play the Rangers when … well, the Canadian Press called it “the most savage brawl in several years” erupted. The referee that night remembered it as the hardest fight he ever had to break up. Yes, that’s right: George Hayes.
48. Bryan Hextall hurt Kenny Reardon is how it started. (Claude Larochelle pins it on Cal Gardner, but that was another time, still in the future.) Reardon had blood dripping from his mouth. He had to be helped from the ice. The Canadian Press:
A spectator sitting behind the Ranger bench made some unpleasant remarks and Reardon leaped at him.
In a moment about 20 players of both teams were battling. The Canadiens surged into the Ranger bench en masse and began swinging sticks and fists at spectators and Rangers alike.
The fight went on for 10 minutes with Bill Juzda, of the Rangers getting a terrific working-over.
Juzda got a 10-misconduct, along with Montreal’s Maurice Richard and Murph Chamberlain. That’s all.
The Montreal Gazette’s Dink Carroll was there. Here’s his account of the same scene:
In the final minute of play, coach Frank Boucher took Chuck Rayner out of the Ranger net and the Broadway Blue Shirts turned on the pressure. Canadiens were giving everything they had in an effort to hold them out, and Kenny Reardon was finally brought to the ice with a cut mouth and a wrenched knee. He had to be helped from the ice and while passing the Ranger bench to get to the clinic, a fan pushed him.
That was the spark that ignited the big blaze. The next second Reardon, Rayner, the Ranger trainer and a number of ushers were all [sic] embroiled in a torrid struggle back of the Ranger bench. Players of both teams rushed to the scene and the battle was converted into guerilla warfare, players fighting all over the ice and in the aisle with fists and sticks and the fans edging into it.
Referee George Hayes and Linesmen McCabe and Young stopped some stray shots with their chins, and was fully 10 minutes before the enraged players appeared to tire at all. But sporadic fights kept breaking out as though the players were getting rid of a bad feeling that had been accumulating all season.
49. Montreal won the game 4-3. You were probably wondering about that. As well as: what about Bouchard? Yes. Okay. He did notch an assist on Buddy O’Connor’s second-period goal. And a fan sued him for $75,000.
50. Ira Gitler has detailed Bouchard’s part in the fight: “Bouchard succeeded in wrenching Hextall’s stick from him and then floored him with one punch.” Once the struggle turned torrid and moved behind the Ranger bench, Bouchard appears again, arguing with a “bald-headed fan” and “[applying] a stick to his shiny dome.”
51. Claude Larochelle got mixed up before, remember, so I don’t know if we want to trust him here. He says the fan jumped on Rocket Richard’s back and that’s when Bouchard intervened and cross-checked the guy on the chin and when the guy found he’d lost two teeth, that’s when he decided to visit his lawyers.
52. Jonas Walvisch was his name, the guy. He was 58 years old, a diamond cutter and setter who lived at 160 East 98th Street. He was a big fan who’d followed the Rangers for 15 years. That’s what he told the judge and the jury when the case went to trial in 1951 in federal court in New York. Bouchard showing up to defend himself would have been big news, I suppose, but he didn’t: his lawyer said he’d never been served a summons. Still, the three-day trial caused a bit of a sensation all the same, though probably not for a reason you’d guess.
53. The Canadiens were co-defendants along with Madison Square Garden. Retired now, an executive, Kenny Reardon was on hand to tell his side of the story. I think. Maybe he submitted written testimony. Either way he recalled the wounds he’d sustained: upper lip badly cut (he’d get 14 stitches), tongue split, two teeth missing. He was dizzy when he left the ice. As he passed Walvisch, the plaintiff yelled at him: “Good for you, you —! I’ve been waiting here eight years for you to get it.”
54. You loser? You T.N.T. guy? Probably it would have to be stronger stuff, to rate a blanking. You fucker?
55. The next thing Mr. Reardon remembered: a fist in the face. He lunged but Mr. Bouchard shoved him away.
56. Mr. Bouchard said he raised his stick to fend off the punch. Maybe the plaintiff was leaning out far enough that his head hit the stick but vice-versa? No.
57. Mr. Walvisch was at the game with his wife and some friends. Another friend who usually accompanied them was Mrs. Sophie Eisenberg but not today, she was back home in Brooklyn — 1948 East 18th Street — watching the game on TV. This was where the trial made the news across the continent: it was the first time that the testimony of someone watching an alleged assault on TV was allowed in a court room.
58. Mrs. Eisenberg told the court that Mr. Walvisch had agreed to wave to her. He said he would. Judge Irving R. Kaufman: “How large is your screen?
Mrs. Eisenberg: “Ten inches.”
Judge Kaufman: “How far away did you sit?”
Mrs. Eisenberg: “Several feet, but I could see perfectly. We get good reception.”
59. A man of his word, Mr. Walvisch waved. That’s when Mr. Bouchard hit him on the forehead with his stick. Three stitches it took to mend the wound, plus he was concussed, plus he’d had headaches for four years.
60. Otto Guernsey was another (non-TV) witness, the president of Abercrombie & Fitch. He was sitting a few rows back of Mr. Walvisch. He heard vile language. He saw Mr. Walvisch raise his fist. It didn’t look like a wave to him.
61. And yet that’s what Mrs. Eisenberg insisted. She saw her friend wave; she saw Mr. Bouchard hit him. During the cross-examination, she was asked whether she waved back. “Of course not,” she said.
66. Judge Kaufman dismissed the action against Madison Square Garden. The seven men and five women of the jury dismissed the suit against the Canadiens and their defenceman. If Mr. Bouchard had been present in court, he would have been free to go.
67. In 1948 he opened his restaurant. He was 30 years old. “As hockey players,” he explained in 1967, “we didn’t make the kind of money they’re making today. It was more necessary for a player to establish himself in a business of some kind, in those days.”
68. A contemporary description of Chez Butch Bouchard: “large, softly lit and filled with gleaming linen, glistening glasses and paying customers.”
69. The address was 881 Demontigny East — the street changed its name, later, to de Maisonneuve — at Sainte-André, opposite another erstwhile Montreal landmark, the department store Dupuis Frères. It was about five kilometres to the Forum.
70. The Canadiens used to gather there, obviously, to celebrate triumphs and (probably also) to moisten defeats. This was before Rocket Richard and Toe Blake had their taverns. Bouchard was the first.
71. In March of 1953, while the boss was on his way to Detroit, a fire broke out at 3.22 a.m. in the men’s locker room, a two-alarm blaze. When firefighters sounded the all-clear at 5 a.m., the damage from flames and smoke and water was heavy. All the windows were smashed, The Gazette reported, and the dancefloor was scorched.
72. It cost him $350,000 to rebuild, an altogether bigger operation occupying four floors with a capacity of 1,600.
73. On October 14, 1948, ahead of the home game against New York, Canadiens officials built a voting booth at the Forum which the players then used, with hired policemen on guard, to ballot secretly for a captain. It was Bouchard they elected, and that night he led them to a 1-1 draw with the Rangers.
74. He really hurt himself in the fall of 1949, when — I don’t know that this is the official medical report — “he went down under a flock of high-diving Chicago Black Hawks.” When he limped off, he was dragging his left leg.
75. He tried to come back a week or so later and then again three weeks after that but both times he skated off in the warm-up. X-rays showed (The Calgary Herald said) “leg tendons and muscles stripped from the bone.” They put him in a cast for three weeks. When he got out of it, he skated, “swinging that leg freely, shrugging off the pain twinges on sharp turns.” But then the doctors shut him down for the year. He only played 27 of 60 games that year, though he did make it back for all seven of the Habs’ playoff games.
76. The doctors told him to retire. Instead, he bought a stationery bicycle and in his basement pedalled 16 kilometres a day — not enough to get him to Sainte-Hyacinthe, even in theory. “I guess I was stubborn,” he said, looking back. “I wanted to play.”
77. There were no more bees after 1950. I wish I could say that Bouchard passed the bee smoker to some young Hab protégé such as, I don’t know, Calum MacKay or Lulu Denis: be yours to hold it high. I won’t say what happened to the bees because I don’t know. Given away to charity? Freed to the wilds? Welcomed into the fold by the benevolent queen of some nearby neighbourhood apiary? All I know is that Bouchard gave up his bees. Playing 70 games in a season, he said, he just didn’t have the time to take care of them. Eras end, it’s what they do, but rarely with such a finality as this. Never again in the history of the game would an All-Star defenceman reign over 10,000,000 insects.
78. April 8, 1951 was the date of Richard’s famous game-winning goal against Boston where he came back from being knocked out in the first period (no concussion protocol to impede his return) to skate through the whole Bruin team and score on Sugar Jim Henry. Bouchard was the one who passed the Rocket the puck. He had a charley going into that game, but he was okay.
79. Ahead of the 1952 Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit he was listed as suffering from a charley horse. The Red Wings’ Jack Adams that same year: “He has aged, but he is still a star on the defence. He is probably the most difficult defenceman to get around.”
80. They threw a pretty good party for him in 1953, the Soiree Émile Bouchard, at the Forum on the last night of February. Montreal was playing Detroit on the night. It was a tense time in the schedule, with the Habs trying to overhaul the Red Wings and climb into first place. There were ten games left in the regular season; if they wanted to do it, said The Gazette, this was the night.
81. Le Petit Journal columnist Marcel Desjardins was one of the evening’s organizers. “If the defenceman’s work is sometimes thankless and obscure, lacking drama, it is nonetheless essential to the success of a team. Butch has been the club’s defensive pillar for 12 years and has been a constant source of inspiration to his teammates on the ice and an exemplary gentleman in private life.”
82. To jealous souls who said hey, hold on, this is one rich restaurant-owning defenceman, does he really need all these presents? Desjardins had this to say: well, okay, maybe so, but what about Bouchard being a superb athlete, model husband, and great father who deserves the respect of his many friends?
83. They gave him a television, a refrigerator, a deep-freezer, patio furniture, a sewing machine. I’m not making this up. There were clothes, there was jewelry. There were bicycles for the Bouchard boys. The Forum’s NHL staff of timekeepers and goal judges pitched in for a silver platter, A Friendly Remembrance To A Brave Athlete the inscription. There were 68 gifts in all, worth $15,000, including a brand new 1953 Buick Roadmaster, paid for by subscription, plus gas cards from Shell and Imperial Oil good for 150 and 100 gallons respectively. They drove the car out to centre ice and when the door opened there were two of the little Bouchard boys, Pierre and Michel, with yet another present for their father: a black French poodle.
84. “Monsieur Bouchard, you are, tonight, our national hero,” said Montreal’s mayor, His Honour M. Camillien Houde.
85. The Red Wings all shook Bouchard’s hand. “This night couldn’t have been organized for a better gentleman,” Gordie Howe said.
As a joke, Detroit’s Ted Lindsay stole the car keys. There was confusion on the ice before he gave them back.
86. It must have taken them a while to clear the ice of appliances. “It was noticeable,” commented The Gazette, “that Canadiens seemed to cool off after the presentation ceremonies.” It was 2-2 when they started up again. With nine minutes or so gone in the final period, Bouchard crashed Detroit left winger Marcel Bonin into the boards, cutting him over the right eye for three stitches, which he headed off to see to get, right after skating in to score the game-winning goal.
Detroit 4, Montreal 3.
87. But while the Red Wings finished first overall, it was the Canadiens who won the Cup a month-and-a-half later, so I guess no harm, no foul … new car.
88. There’s a fascinating reel of all this, in full velvety slightly staccato 1950s colour. Many of Bouchard’s teammates are sitting by the boards in front of the bench on what look like regular hoop-back dining-room chairs. They’ve got towels around their necks like boxers. There sound has been lost. Rocket Richard’s little daughter Huguette is there, eight or nine years old, and she’s in full ice-dancer rig, with an armload of flowers, and the Rocket skates her over when she presents them to Mme. Bouchard. The mayor looks very frail and ancient, a bit like a municipal tortoise. The camera watches him read his remarks. With the presents lined up on the ice in the background, all the appliances and the furniture, I believe this qualifies as another domestic scene. Ted Lindsay skates over to shake Bouchard’s hand. When they drive the car out, it’s wearing a sign like a shark’s fin on the roof, Butch le Gentilhomme in sparkling cursive on one side, Butch the Gentleman on the other. The poodle flops out, pancakes on the ice. Bouchard leans down to steady it. You can actually see Lindsay duck into the car and pilfer the keys. Then Butch drives off, in his skates, waving out the window.
89. Other footage I watched this past week included Bouchard in his living room, sitting on the sofa with his wife Marie-Claire, talking to the actress and journalist Nicole Germain for a TV show in 1958. Bootch, she calls him as they chat about vacations and home life. Other footage I saw that if you stitched it together would make an excellent montage of defining Montreal moments: Bouchard in the Forum dressing room, tying his skates next to Kenny Reardon; out on the ice, helping to hold Toe Blake aloft as the coach sips from the Stanley Cup; riding down Ste. Catherine in the back of an open car with confetti in his hair; walking Maurice Richard’s casket up the aisle of Notre-Dame Basilica.
90. Also, footage of a defining Toronto moment: Bill Barilko scoring his famous Stanley Cup-winning goal on April 21, 1951. They showed it on Hockey Night in Canada the other night, Barilko’s daring, diving goal that we know so well. That’s Bouchard in front of the net whacking at the Leafs’ Harry Watson as the puck flies past goaltender Gerry McNeil. As the Leafs celebrate, Bouchard stands there, looking lost.
91. You see Nicole Germain walking in through the gate, up to the Bouchard house on her way to the interview while cheerful music plays. I’ve read about the cottage-type house he built in Longueuil in 1942, but I don’t think this can be that. This one is a big foursquare brick colonial with towering white columns around the front door and (I think) the Roadmaster in the driveway (hard to recognize it without the glittery signs on top). Articles from the 1950s mention the house a lot, always admiringly. It was superb and lacked nothing and somptueuse.
92. The toughest opponents he faced were Boston’s Milt Schmidt and Syl Apps of Toronto. After them, Max Bentley (Chicago), Sid Abel (Detroit), Neil Colville and Phil Watson (both New York).
93. He was talking to referee George Gravel one game, in French. This was — I don’t have a date. Some time between 1946 and 1952, because it was a game against Detroit when Sid Abel was captain.
Abel wanted to know what they were saying.
Bouchard: “If you want to know, why don’t you learn to speak French?”
An angry Abel told his gm, Jack Adams, who duly lodged an official complaint to the NHL, which was when Clarence Campbell decreed that all on-ice discussions going forward had to be conducted in English.
94. The next time Gravel refereed a Canadiens game, when Bouchard tried to speak to him in French, he’s supposed to have skated away.
95. The Quebec beekeeper, readers of The Regina Leader-Post learned about in 1944, a fine specimen of manhood without an ounce of fat on his frame.
96. I only bring it up here because of what Dick Irvin did in 1951 to make Bouchard retire, almost, which is to say, this:
97. “There’s nothing worse than a fat hockey player,” Dick Irvin once said, just by way of background and context, so as not to seem to be picking on Bouchard. And to illustrate, too, that Irvin wasn’t singling out his captain, particularly. Conn Smythe’s 1949 hounding of his goaltender, Turk Broda, is the better known case, but Irvin too had plenty to say about the weight of his players. As William Brown’s Doug Harvey biography tells, he estimated that the team was 87 pounds overweight in 1940. He told Harvey to diet. He hounded after Richard. He said, “Maybe I should get my defencemen playing squash.”
98. He was going to retire. Bouchard was, the following season, that was the word in 1951, October. Six games into the season, the Canadiens had lost two in a row to the Detroit Red Wings, leaving them with a 3-3 record. Irvin was in a “whip-cracking mood.” The next game was in Chicago. Irvin announced that he was leaving Bouchard behind. Doug Harvey, Jim McPherson, Ross Lowe, Tom Johnson would play on defence: the captain was overweight.
“It isn’t fair to the other players,” Irvin said. “They are hustling and fighting for their jobs and doing their best to win hockey games.”
Bouchard had reported for the season weighing 211 pounds. The coach thought his optimal playing weight was 205. He had started to lose the weight but not fast enough for the coach. The Gazette: “Butch has been instructed to work out every day while the club is away and pare off the excess avoirdupois.”
99. Bouchard was miffed. Some papers had reported that he’d added the poundage since the beginning of the season. That was where the retirement talk started: Bouchard said he wouldn’t return unless the impression was corrected.
100. He missed the Chicago game (a tie) and the next one, too, a Sunday loss in New York. Next up they were right back to Montreal to meet the Rangers again in a rare Monday game, scheduled specially as a command performance for HRH Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, who were in town.
101. On Monday afternoon, Bouchard met with Irvin. Afterwards, Frank Selke, Jr. said “Butch will play tonight.” Reporters thought it was because the team captains were going to be presented to Princess Elizabeth.
102. The Princess was slender. She wore a three-quarter-length mink coat over a brown taffeta dress and a cloche brown hat with gold sequins and a veil. The Prince was hatless.
103. The Princess appeared tired at first, but grew animated as the game went on. The Prince enjoyed the body-checking and applauded when Reg Sinclair scored for the Rangers. The Princess studied her program. The penalties seemed to puzzle them. They showed considerable interest in the ice sprinklers. The Prince put on a pair of dark glasses near the end of the second period. Jersey Joe Walcott, world heavyweight champion, appeared on the ice between periods, the royal couple clapped.
104. Montreal won 6-1, with Floyd Curry scoring a hattrick.
105. When Bouchard slammed Eddie Slowinski into the boards, the Prince laughed.
106. In November of that same year, the Canadiens played an exhibition game against the Johnstown Jets of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League. They won the game 10-2, with Rocket Richard scoring six goals. Bouchard separated his shoulder — or had it separated for him — and was out a month. You can insert your own Slapshot quip here.
107. He was a good son, his mother told Samedi-Dimanche in 1952.
108. He was one of the Canadiens to injure his own goalie, Jacques Plante, in practice before the goaltender reached for his famous mask. Bert Olmstead had previously shattered Plante’s right cheekbone with a shot when, in 1955, Bouchard deflected a Don Marshall shot into Plante’s face, cutting him for nine stitches and breaking his nose and fracturing the left cheek.
109. The Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal, named Bouchard Chief Beaver.
110. A photograph. I don’t know that Nat Turofsky took it, but I’m guessing he did. It could have been Nat’s brother Lou, too, or also none of the above. Nat was the Leafs’ team photographer for more than 20 years. He photographed the Leafs on every inch of Maple Leaf Gardens ice, on its benches, into its penalty boxes, the fans in their seats. During fights he’d head out onto the ice to photograph the punching. He followed the players back to the dressing room. In the galleries at the Hall of Fame you’ll find his photos of hockey players in hotel rooms and hospital beds. He found them in the off-season, at their regular jobs, and he went to their weddings and photographed them there — well, he went to Turk Broda’s wedding, anyway.
So why not in the shower? And at some point he (if it was him) decided that the time had come to take his camera in to watch the hockey players wash up. Makes sense. And the Leafs didn’t seem to mind. In the photos, they look as happy as they do clean. At some point the Canadiens were in town, and he got some of them, too, and Lach and Bouchard were a couple of them. I don’t know how the photographer would have sold it to the players, or how much convincing he would have had to have done. They’re very discreet — dignified, even.
111. There is a movie, though it’s not really a Butch movie, not at all, in fact, it’s Charles Binamé’s The Rocket (2005), starring Roy Dupuis in the title role. Among the secondary characters, he’s not as prominent as Stephen McHattie’s Dick Irvin. But he’s definitely at the forefront of the background players who you work hard to figure out who they could be. Or — well, no, I guess he doesn’t quite catch the camera the way the way the actual hockey players do, Mike Ricci as Elmer Lach, Vincent Lecavalier playing Jean Béliveau. (Sean Avery is in there, too, as the nefarious Bob Dill.)
112. An actor named Patrice Robitaille played him. He’s tall but not chiselled. He doesn’t have the authentic Bouchard chin. He doesn’t have the right hair, and his smile is wanting, too.
113. His performance includes one shot on net (goes wide), some pipe-smoking (train-board), beer-fetching, cigarette-puffing, a bit of pot-stirring, a pivotal bit of Rocket-goading. His big scenes include:
- during a big fight against Boston, he looks very concerned as the Rocket loses it after Hal Laycoe;
- facing down policemen come to arrest the Rocket in the Habs’ dressing room, looking very resolute;
- sitting in his car, eating — a muffin? a sandwich? — listening to the Rocket on the radio as he stands up for French-Canada;
- lecturing the Rocket (on another train) after he breaks his stick on Laycoe, speaking Truth to Anger, I guess is how you could frame it. The Rocket doesn’t like this, and storms off.
114. Back in real life again, he helped to woo Jean Béliveau when the Canadiens were trying so hard to bring him to the Forum and Béliveau was playing coy. Later, they’d drive together to the rink from Longueuil. Later still, Béliveau said that Bouchard was his model as captain when he led the Canadiens.
115. Béliveau stood 6’3” and weighed in at 220 pounds when he made his debut at the start of the 1953-54 season. Chicago’s coach was Sid Abel that year, and the night the season got going he was ready to forecast his team’s prospects against the defending Stanley Cup champions. “I think we have a better balanced team and I do not think the champions are any stronger than they were last season through signing Béliveau, because Lach is far over the hill and Richard shows signs of leg weakening. Butch Bouchard has lost 50 per cent of his rearguard ability and goalie Gerry McNeil proved last spring in the playoffs against us that he cannot stand the pressure.”
116. But it was Detroit that ended up beating the Canadiens, come the spring. On April 6, the Canadiens beat the Red Wings in Detroit in the second game of the Finals by a score of 3-1. A dozen policemen had to escort referee Red Storey from the Olympia to protect him from irate home fans. “I thought we were supposed to have impartial referees,” railed Detroit gm Jack Adams. “How come Storey, who lives in Montreal, was allowed to officiate in this series?”
Alec Delvecchio was credited with the Red Wings’ goal, but in fact it was Bouchard who did the scoring, slapping the puck past his own goalie, Jacques Plante, as he tried to clear it.
117. In April of 1955, post-Richard riot, after the Canadiens were eliminated, a bunch of the Canadiens went to Florida.
118. Coach Dick Irvin had left the team, bound for Chicago. Boom-Boom Geoffrion says that the French writers — “some of the French writers” — lobbied for Bouchard to replace him, but Bouchard wasn’t interested. Toe Blake got the job.
119. Bouchard wanted to retire but Blake convinced him to stay on to tutor Montreal’s young defence.
120. “If there was a sad part to the victory,” Geoffrion writes in Boom-Boom (1997), “it was the way our captain Butch Bouchard had faded.”
121. He seems to have dressed for all the games of the 1956 Finals but, I guess, didn’t get on the ice — the statistics show him only having played a single game that year. Geoffrion:
In the semi-finals, the Forum crowd began to chant, “We want Butch” and Blake said, “Do you want to go on?”
With a 6-0 lead at the time Toe had nothing to worry about. Butch just shook his head and grinned. “The boys are doing all right without me. Don’t break up a winning combination.”
In the final, playing Detroit:
Nobody could take it away from us now and as the clock ticked off the final seconds Blake flicked a towel from Bouchard’s neck and sent him over the boards with a pat on the back so he could finish his career as an active player on the ice with a Stanley Cup-winning team.
122. In his 785 regular-season NHL games, he scored 49 goals, assisting on another 144 for a total of 193 points. He served minutes in 863 penalties, 121 more in the playoffs. The rest of his post-season numbers are 11 (goals), 21 (assists), 32 (points), and 113 (games).
123. He still had the restaurant, which kept going until 1983. From 1957 to 1960, he was president of Montreal’s baseball team, the Royals. He was going to write his memoirs, with the sportswriter Jerry Trudel. As a Longueuil alderman, elected in 1961, his pet peeve was the lack of proper playing facilities for children.
124. He was elevated to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1966, and there were other honours, too: election to Quebec’s Sports Pantheon, an Order of Quebec, an Order of Canada . It took a agonizingly long time for the Canadiens to retire his number 3, but the team finally got around to it on the night of December 4, 2009, when they celebrated the Canadiens’ 100th anniversary. On that same night. (Elmer Lach’s 16 went into the rafters that same night.)
125. Big and strong and determined are the words you see describing his son Pierre, who played for the Canadiens and the Washington Capitals, winning five Stanley Cups along the way, and being called, sometimes, Butch.
126. His father’s advice from 1967 to young hockey players:
I advise them to work hard. To discipline themselves, and be determined to succeed. That’s what worked for me, and I’m sure it can work for them, too.
127. The year he retired, Marie Claire Macbeth told Claude Larochelle: “It’s terribly sad. All his life and his family was organized around the Canadiens. This is a complete change, isn’t it, Émile?”
I quit a sport that is very dear to me. I always loved hockey for itself. What it gave me was secondary. I had so much fun at practices. Toe would have us doing two practices a day and I’d be overjoyed.
128. April 21 was the day of his funeral, 11 a.m. the time. The weather was raining. Henri Richard was there, and members of the Rocket’s family. Also Bob Fillion, Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Yvon Lambert, Phil Goyette, Dollard St. Laurent, Stéphane Quintal and Rick Green. The current owner of the Canadiens came, Geoff Molson, and two of his players, Josh Gorges and Mathieu Darche. Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, Archbishop emeritus of Montreal, read the Requiem Mass. The place was Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue in Longueuil, at the corner of Saint-Charles and Chemin de Chambly, about 11 kilometres from the Forum, as the bee flies.