blur of the moment
les canadiens étaient là
A birthday today for this arresting headline from an inside page of Montreal’s Gazette — happy 113 years young!
The worry behind it? Two new professional leagues were in the making that Saturday in December of 1909, which meant that Montreal might be seeing twice or maybe even three times as many games than the city was used to, of a winter, plus all kinds of senior fixtures, too, adding up to … a glut?
“Fairminded critics with nothing more than the interest of the game at heart are wondering what this big bill of hockey fare will lead to,” the Gazette noted. “It looks like a big gamble all around.”
Maybe the public would turn out, “and the game may boom as it never has before in Montreal.”
But maybe not. “It may, on the other hand, prove indifferent from the start, or become surfeited with hockey before the season is half over. In the latter event, there will be deficits for all the clubs, amateur and professional, to face at the end of the season.”
In other news, a new team was founded that very same day in Montreal, over in room 129 of the Windsor Hotel, the very same establishment in which the National Hockey League would conjure itself into being eight years later. The Gazette reported on that birthday the following week:
Many happy returns of the day, Le Canadien.
A felicitous find by Mikaël Lalancette, writer at Quebec City’s Le Soleil and author, last year, of an insightful biography, Georges Vézina: L’Habitant Silencieux. As detailed in a column published in Le Soleil this past Thursday, Lalancette’s Vézina research took him deep into the century-old annals of Montreal Canadiens history, which is where he came across an early effort by management to breathe energy, endurance, and victory into a flailing team.
“In 113 years of history, the Montreal Canadiens have tried everything,” he writes, with a nod to the recent struggles of the current edition of the team. “Every means, good or not, to get the club out of its torpor has been tested by its leaders over time. As we know, reviving a losing team is not easy in professional sports and the most recent slide of Quebecers’ favourite club is a good example.”
The column is here (it’s in French, and paywalled). The upshot is this: early in the winter of 1912, with his team mired in a four-game losing streak, Canadiens manager George Kennedy had doctors dose his players with oxygen during a game at the Jubilee Arena.
According to Lalancette’s source material, an item in the Montreal Daily Star, the effect was negligible. According to history, too: Canadiens lost that game by a score of 9-1 to their local rivals, the Montreal Wanderers. The season, too, was a bust, with the not-yet-Glorieux finishing dead last in the four-team NHA standings.
Into just the third season of their existence, Canadiens had yet to flourish in the old National Hockey Association. Going into the 1911-12 season, they’d lost their leading goal-getter: Newsy Lalonde had departed for more lucrative horizons in the west, joining the PCHA’s Vancouver Millionaires. Still, Montreal featured Vézina in goal, along with a couple of other future Hall-of-Famers on the ice in front of him in Jack Laviolette and Didier Pitre.
The man overseeing them, George Kennedy, was a former wrestling champion who was well-known, too, as a manager of wrestlers and lacrosse teams. He also happened to own the Canadiens.
On a trip that winter of 1912 to the United States, he’d heard tell of “the wonderful effects of the oxygen treatment.” After consulting with medically minded friends in Montreal, he decided to give it a go. “In his desire not to let anything prevent his team from,” the Star reported 110 years ago, he soon acquired “a hundred gallons of the purified air,” along with a pair of doctors to administer it in the Canadiens’ dressing room.
The players were … wary. Another report from the rink noted that “the majority of the team did not seem to take kindly to it, in fact, some of them seemed to be afraid of it,” even with the doctors taking charge. The only player “who really tried it thoroughly,” the Star said, was forward Eugène Payan, “and though there was some improvement in his gait, it did not amount to much.”
As Lalancette notes in Le Soleil, while inhaling pure oxygen on an ad hoc basis might refresh a gasping hockey players, there’s no particular magic in it, particularly not for athletes in whose blood oxygen saturation is already maximized.
In 1912, the Star listed champagne as the between-periods tonic of choice for hockey players, while hinting vaguely “of even more dangerous stimulants … used occasionally.” One columnist from Ottawa’s Journal suggested that Canadiens would soon be back on the bottle, while another framed it as a question of sporting morality.
Any such artificial devices to excite temporary energy has its reaction, and must, in the long run prove injurious. When athletes reach a state of fatigue where the administration of oxygen is necessary, then it is neither to their advantage nor to that of the sport in which they participate to continue. Sportsmanship and the oxygen treatment are miles apart.
A coda (or three) to Lalancette’s report, offered in passing.
First, just a month after Montreal aerated its players, the Montreal Daily Star carried news of a letter that had appeared in a European newspaper concerning track events at the forthcoming 1912 Olympic Summer Games slated for Stockholm. Would a runner competing there, the writer wondered, be permitted to partake of “oxygen gas from a bag carried by him?”
It would be extremely interesting to see whether such breathing is of material assistance to the runner, and as oxygen gas is not a drug, but as natural an article of consumption as water, there seems to be no reason why the runner should be disqualified for refreshing himself with it as he may with water or soup.
I can’t say whether anything came of this: I have no further information, I’m afraid, on whether any of the results in Stockholm were oxygen- or soup-assisted.
I can recount (second) that back in Montreal, at the rink, Canadiens played their penultimate game of the 1911-12 season as March began, taking on the Wanderers again. This time they eked out a 2-1 win, thanks to a pair of goals by Jack Laviolette.
Further unhappy news headlined a column —
Payan Is Injured
Left Wing of Canadien Team
Taken to Hospital as Result
of a Collision
— in next morning’s Montreal Gazette.
Skating at high speed in the first period, Eugène Payan had collided, head-to-head, with the Wanderers’ Odie Cleghorn. Payan went down, but got up, and went on playing.
It was between periods in the Canadiens’ dressing room that he collapsed. From there, he was taken to Montreal’s Western Hospital, where he was deemed to have suffered a serious concussion, though no fracture of the skull.
As the Star told it, there was for a while some doubt in the immediate aftermath about whether he would survive, which made the scene as he departed the Arena all the more piteous: as the game carried on “amongst thundering applause, poor Payan still persisting in a half unconscious way: ‘I want to finish my game! I want to finish my game!’ was carried to the waiting ambulance.”
By the time the game was over, Payan was reported to be out of danger. The following day, the Daily Star carried tidings that he was “a good deal better.”
Through this ordeal, in the dressing room at the Jubilee Arena, it would seem, the Canadiens still had their oxygen apparatus at the ready. It featured notably in the Star’s dramatic description of intermission scene when Payan first collapsed:
He had gone in when suddenly he exclaimed in an awestruck voice, “I am paralyzed,” and began to sway. They grabbed him before he could fall and laid him on the table where they administered as much oxygen as they dared to revive him, not knowing exactly what had happened.
Suddenly his arms and legs began to twitch as if he had taken a violent dose of strychnine and a hurried examination showed that he had been hurt on the side of the head where the bone is as thin as letter paper.
Last (third), a flash forward to April of 1949, and what would seem to be the NHL debut of oxygen.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were hosting the Detroit Red Wings that year, and with the Leafs leading the series three games to none, Jack Adams’ Wings were open to anything that might lend them a lifeline.
With George Kennedy’s 1912 experiment long forgotten, the Canadian Press was claiming that the very first use of oxygen in a hockey game in Canada had come a month earlier, in March of 1949, when players with the Dartmouth College Indians had partaken as they surrendered the International Intercollegiate title in Montreal to the University of Montreal Carabins.
Then in April, Montreal’s junior Royals used oxygen at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto as they defeated the Barrie Flyers to win the Eastern Canada Junior championship. It was the Royals’ tanks, tubes, and masks that the Red Wings borrowed to try to oxygenate their hopes for a Stanley Cup comeback.
In vain. “Even mechanical strength-reviving gadgets have their limitations when the cause is hopeless,” Jim Vipond wrote in his dispatch for the Globe and Mail after Toronto duly wrapped up a 3-1 win to take the Cup. “The Leafs looked more impressive than ever, playing at the finish as if they, and not the weary Detroiters, had been inhaling at an oxygen tank at their bench.”
Stu Cowan at Montreal’s Gazette doesn’t think that Patrick Roy will be the Canadiens’ next GM: Mathieu Darche and Daniel Brière look like the leading candidates to him.
And Roy himself? He’s made his interest in the job abundantly clear. “What do they have to lose by trying me?” he wondered, possibly rhetorically, a few days ago. “Since 1993, the club has been going in circles,” the former Colorado Avalanche coach elaborated. “What do they have to lose by giving me the chance to see what I can do with this club? At the same time, I understand the situation. The club is owned by Geoff Molson and he’s the one pulling the strings. It’s his team and at the end of the day I might not be the guy for him. I accept that.”
We’ll see what happens. But even if Roy’s arrival onto the Montreal job scene isn’t imminent, we can, in these early days of December, clang a bell to mark the 26th anniversary of Roy’s departure from the club.
Roy, of course, steered Montreal to a pair of Cup championships in the salady days of 1986 and ’93. Those wilted significantly on a Saturday night in December of ’95. Canadiens were hosting the Detroit Red Wings, if that’s the verb: the visitors pumped nine goals past Roy on 26 shots on their way to an 11-1 whupping.
“Nobody died,” then-Gazette sports editor Red Fisher autopsied the next day, “but this was, truly, a night in hell for the Canadiens, as a team, and for Roy in particular.”
Pulled by coach Mario Tremblay in the second period, an infuriated Roy made a beeline for Canadiens president Ronald Corey, perched in his seat just behind the team’s bench, to purge his soul, pronounce his truth, predict his future. “This,” Roy seethed, “is my last game in Montreal.”
And so it was. Four days later Roy was headed to Colorado in the best hasty deal that GM Réjean Houle could scrabble together, joining captain Mike Keane on a rail out of town that led to Colorado. Some in Montreal might need reminding that it was Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky, and Jocelyn Thibault who came back the other way. Most Canadiens fans won’t have forgotten that it was just a year later the Avalanche (and Roy) won a Stanley Cup championship.
sons of sea-captains, butchers, hod-carriers, haberdashers: a short history of managing in montreal
The Montreal Canadiens fired GM Marc Bergevin yesterday, two dismal days after the team made some unhappy history: Friday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres meant that Montreal’s 12 meagre points in 22 games are the fewest the team has gathered to open a season in all of the 104 years it’s played in the NHL.
Bergevin, who lasted nine years in the job, ended his tenure with a gracious statement. “The last years have been high in both emotions and learnings,” it read, in part. “You have witnessed my journey leading the organization. You won’t be surprised to hear me say it has not been a long, quiet river, and at times, it felt like we were living in a TV show. Despite the challenges, the organization I led with passion always fought back. For me, each experience, good or bad, made me a better leader.”
Seventeen men have now managed the Canadiens since the club was founded in 1909. For those keeping count, 12 of Montreal’s historical GMs were born in Quebec, four in Ontario, while one (Léo Dandurand) originated in Illinois. Five of them played for the team before they moved into the team’s executive suite, Bob Gainey being the most recent of those.
Before owner Geoff Molson names an 18th GM, here’s a quick journey back down the river with Bergevin’s predecessors in the job, going back to Montreal’s NHA start:
• Joseph Cattarinich was a goaltender, the Canadiens’ very first, in 1910, though he didn’t last long between the Montreal posts: he was soon supplanted by Teddy Groulx and, the following season, Cattarinich and Jack Laviolette signed up Georges Vézina, a stripling goaltender from Chicoutimi, to take care of future Montreal’s puckstopping. Son of a Croatian sailor, Cattarinich was an owner, subsequently, of racehorses and the tracks they ran on, Laviolette was known in business, apparently, as The Silent One and also Silent Joe. He was co-owner of the Canadiens between 1921 and 1935; in the ’30s he was in on a brief effort to put an NHL team in Cleveland.
• Jack Laviolette, Hall-of-Fame defenceman, was a playing manager when managers were also, sort of, coaches, too. His on-ice career ended when he lost a foot in a car accident in 1918. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, that didn’t keep him from refereeing the benefit game that was organized on his behalf in 1921.
• George Kennedy, son of a sea-captain, was born George Kendall: he changed his named when he got into wrestling. He was good at that, a Canadian amateur champion before he turned to managing other wrestlers, and lacrosse teams, and buying the Canadiens, which he did in 1910, paying Ambrose O’Brien $7,500.
As manager Kennedy shaped the team that won Canadiens’ first Stanley Cup in 1916. “A natural humorist,” he was called in 1921, alongside a tale of a retort of his from a year earlier, during a particularly feisty spell in the NHL rivalry between Ottawa and Montreal. When the Senators’ secretary wired to wonder how many tickets the Canadiens would require for an upcoming game in Ottawa, the reply Kennedy sent back was: “None. None of my friends want to see you or your yellow team again.”
Kennedy was sickened in Seattle in 1917 in the outbreak of Spanish flu that killed Joe Hall and stopped the Stanley Cup finals. He never really recovered his health after that: Kennedy died in 1921 at the age of 39.
• With partners Joe Cattarinich and Leo Letourneau, Léo Dandurand bought the Canadiens in 1921 (for $11,500) after George Kennedy’s untimely death. Dandurand was, in his time, a busy man, the owner of many horse racing tracks, a boxing and wrestling promoter, and (in 1946) founder of the Montreal Alouettes. In his 14 years managing the Canadiens, Dandurand oversaw three Stanley Cup championships. Among other things, he’s remembered as the man who brought Howie Morenz to Montreal and the owner of a restaurant called Drury’s. Dandurand forbade his players from driving cars because of the risk of leg and hand cramps.
• Ernest Savard was a stockbroker and sometime owner of Montreal’s baseball Royals, who headed up the syndicate that bought the Canadiens for $165,000 in 1935 from Dandurand and Cattarinich. An “expert golfer,” the Gazette called him that year, and “outstanding sportsman.” He served as GM for just a year before handing over to Cecil Hart; one of Savard’s first moves was to name Canadiens captain Sylvio Mantha as the team’s (playing) coach. The appointment, intoned the Ottawa Journal, “was believed to be the start of a re-organization program which it is hope will make the club a dangerous factor in the coming campaign.”
In 1937, when talk arose of Montreal’s two teams possibly amalgamating, Savard said that the Canadiens would never change their name.
• Cecil Hart, an insurance man, coached the Canadiens to a pair of Stanley Cups before he came back to manage them in 1937, insisting that he’d only take the job if the team brought back Howie Morenz to play. Lester Patrick called him “one of the best managers who ever sat on a hockey bench.”
• Jules Dugal was the Canadiens long-time secretary and business manager in 1930s who did some stand-in coaching when Leo Dandurand was indisposed. In 1938, the Montreal Gazette reported that he crossed words with Chicago Black Hawks owner Major Frederic McLaughlin during a heated game at the Forum and also “whipped off his glasses and prepared to trundle into battle” when Bill Tobin, Chicago’s business manager, taunted him.
As Canadiens GM, Dugal got into a hoo-ha in 1940 with Bill Stewart in a game in New York after the referee claimed that Dugal had sent out the Canadiens to “get me” because “I put him out of the arena five years ago and he’s never forgotten.” After the game, Stewart stormed into the Habs’ dressing room, furious about the curses Dugal had been yelling at him and challenging him to a fight, which Dugal didn’t accept. About sending players after the ref, Dugal said, “I’d be crazy to do anything like that. Much as I dislike the man, I would not do a thing like that.”
• Tommy Gorman won a gold medal in lacrosse at the 1908 Olympics. He was a sportswriter and editor at the Ottawa Citizen, too, not to mention, before that, a parliamentary page, at the age of nine. “The other boys used to stuff me in wastepaper baskets,” he recalled. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier is supposed to have seen him bloodied from the bullying and told him to keep the peace.
Gorman started his management career with his hometown Ottawa Senators in the 1920s, winning three Stanley Cups along the way. In 1934, he coached the Chicago Black Hawks to their first Cup; the following year, he was at the helm of the Montreal Maroons when they won the Cup. He coached the Maroons until they folded in 1938 before joining the Canadiens in 1940, overseeing more Cup wins in 1944 and ’46. All in all, Gorman won seven Stanley Cups with four teams.
• Frank J. Selke stood 5’4” in skates. In the later 19th century, his parents emigrated from Poland, when it was still a part of the German Empire. In Berlin, Ontario — it’s Kitchener, now — Selke’s father worked as a labourer and a hod-carrier on construction sites. Selke worked construction himself, and as an electrician; later on, when he wasn’t rearing hockey teams, he raised fancy chickens, Patridge Wyandottes and Golden Pencilled Hamburgs.
For years he worked for Conn Smythe in Toronto, but then they fell out, and in 1946 Selke resigned and joined Montreal as GM. “I’ve never liked the Leafs since we left Toronto for Montreal,” his wife, Mary, told Vern DeGeer in 1964, “but we won’t go into that. Just say I’m a dedicated rooter for the Canadiens. I stand up and cheer like everybody else when we score a goal. And I don’t mind telling you I can boo the referees, too, when they make a mistake.” In Montreal, Selke was on the job for nine Stanley Cup championships. In 1948, he said in a speech that if the boys of Europe had been taught team games and learned how to make national heroes of men like Howie Morenz, “there would be no Hitlers or Stalins necessary for them.”
• Sam Pollock, another nine-time Cup winner, was an English haberdasher’s son. Appointed to the job of Montreal GM in 1964, he was described as a roly-poly little man, as well as a nervous one who often chews on a handkerchief during an interview or a meeting. At 16, when he showed up try out for the Montreal Junior Royals, the coach took one look at him and told him to go home. Everybody assumed that Ken Reardon would be Selke’s successor, but no, wrong. Pollock brought Ken Dryden to Montreal and wangled the trade that allowed the Habs to draft Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, and Larry Robinson.
• Irving Grundman spent seven years as managing director of Montreal’s Forum before he took over from Pollock. Many people thought that Scotty Bowman would get the job, or maybe Ron Caron, but wrong, no. Before he got into rink-running, Grundman ran bowling alleys. He was 50 when he succeed Pollock, described in a profile that years as “a medium-built man” with “gray hair and blue eyes.” His clothes were “handsomely tailored;” his office, on the Forum’s second floor, featured “beige carpeting and beige drapes and several mighty modernistic and expensive paintings on the walls.”
“I grew up near the intersection of Pine and Saint-Laurent in the northeast end of the city,” Grundman attested. “It’s a tough neighbourhood. He was a butcher. I worked for him for 14 years, getting up early in the morning, going to the meat market and plucking chickens. When I look back on those days, running the Canadiens is not a tough job.”
• Serge Savard’s grandfather, Adélard, was a buttermaker in Landrienne, Quebec, who some Sundays refused to eat his supper, as a recent Savardian biography tells it, “feeling that he hadn’t accomplished enough on the weekly day of rest.”
Serge Savard’s association with the Canadiens began as a top prospect when he was 15, and he went on to win eight Stanley Cup championships playing on the team’s defence, overseeing another two as GM. In May of 1995, five months before Savard lost his job, team president Ronald Corey wrote him a memo that began, “The season that ended May 3 was certainly the most disappointing in the history of the Canadiens. We took a step backwards and also suffered significant financial losses.”
• As a player, Réjean Houle’s adjectives were exuberant and effective. As general manager in Montreal, he traded away Patrick Roy, Mike Keane, Mark Recchi, Vincent Damphousse, and Pierre Turgeon. He had tears in his eyes in 2000, when he was fired. “I did the best I could to put together a team within the budget I had,” he said, “and I think we’re in the middle third of the NHL.”
“When a team loses,” he went on, “the coach and the general manager are held responsible, but I think the players have to look themselves in the mirror and ask whether they did the job.”
“I’m 51 and this is the first time in my life I’ll be getting up and I won’t have a job to go to. I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t have any hobbies. I’ve always enjoyed working.”
• The Boston Bruins picked André Savard, sixth overall in the 1973 NHL amateur draft, two spots ahead of Montreal’s choice, Bob Gainey. A centreman, Savard played a dozen NHL seasons for the Bruins, Sabres, and Nordiques. As Montreal’s GM, he brought in Jan Bulis, Andreas Dackall, and Doug Gilmour, among others, and discarded Brian Savage, Trevor Linden, Shayne Corson. After three years as Canadiens’ GM, Savard went into a meeting with club president Pierre Boivin to present his plan for the future of the team and came out having agreed to step down.
• “Gainey’s back? Yes! It’s going to be different now.” That was a Montreal taxi driver, quoted in 2003, en route to the South Shore on the June day that Savard stepped aside to make way for the Habs’ legendary winger to make a Montreal return. Gainey’s mother worked at his hometown newspaper, the Peterborough Examiner; his father spent 40 years in shipping and receiving for Quaker Oats. Gainey’s playerly adjectives were hardworking, painstaking, honest, flawless. He won five Stanley Cups and captained the team. In 1981, Viktor Tikhonov said he was the best player in the world. In Peterborough, as a junior, he got a job putting up TV aerials after he quit the one at a clothing store. “I didn’t sell too many clothes,” he said. “I guess I didn’t have the gift of the gab.”
“I can’t separate myself from my history,” he said when he took over as GM. Yes, he’d played on some famous teams in his time. “But this is new. The city has changed since I left Montreal. The team has changed. I’ve changed. We’re going to have to get to know one another.”
His plan? “We’re going to take the younger players and we’re going to improve them and we’re going to make them better. We’re going to push the players to do the things that need to be done to be a good team. It’s about tomorrow. It’s not about the 1970s … the 1980s or the 1950s.”
Seven years later, 2010, Gainey stepped down mid-season. “I’ve done my best,” he said, “and now it’s time for me to pass the torch.” Was it too soon? “If I had to choose between leaving a little earlier or a little later, I’d prefer earlier.”
• Pierre Gauthier was next. He’d co-managed the Canadian team at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and oversaw hockey operations in Ottawa and Anaheim before returning to Montreal, his hometown. In California, when he was assistant GM of the fledgling Mighty Ducks, he fined team employees and players $100 each time they used the word “expansion,” because he thought it sounded like an excuse for losing.
When he arrived in Ottawa, he objected to players wearing big numbers on their sweaters, and caused Radek Bonk (76), Alexandre Daigle (91), and Stanislav Neckar (94) to reduce to 14, 9, and 24, respectively. Otherwise, he kept enough of a low profile with the Senators to earn the nickname The Ghost. “He isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, Gauthier,” an Ottawa reporter, Wayne Scanlan, wrote in 2012, a vegetarian in a steak-and-beer fraternity.” The flow continued when Gauthier got to Montreal, where columnist Jack Todd called him “a pint-sized bottle of vinegar.” As Canadiens GM, Gauthier was the man who fired the coach, Jacques Martin, who spoke French to hire another one, Randy Cunneyworth, who didn’t.
• Gauthier himself was fired in May of 2012. Introducing his replacement that month, team owner Geoff Molson said that the hiring of Marc Bergevin “represents the first step in re-establishing a culture of winning in Montreal.” Asked at the same press conference just how long it would take to turn the Canadiens’ fortunes around, Bergevin said, “I don’t have a time frame, but my vision of this team is that it has a good nucleus. To rebuild something, you start from scratch. I believe the pieces we have are good.”
Born in Quebec City on a Sunday of this date in 1881, Joe Cattarinich was 29 in 1909 when he signed up to play goal for Montreal’s newest hockey outfit, Le Club de Hockey Le Canadien, in the newly hatched NHA. A month later, on January 5, 1910, he skated out on the ice of the Jubilee Arena to stop the first pucks in the history of Montreal’s mightiest franchise, ending up a winner in overtime, as the Canadiens beat the Cobalt Silver Kings 7-6. The Gazette reported next morning: “The deciding goal in the overtime was scored by [Skinner] Poulin after Cattaranich [sic] had made two good stops at Canadiens end of the rink.” Ructions in the birth of the new league resulted in this game being nullified, and the season re-started. Montreal’s second debut wasn’t so inspiring: in Renfrew, powered by Lester and Frank Patrick and Cyclone Taylor, the local Creamery Kings beat Cattarinich and his mates by a score of 9-4.
Cattarinich’s Canadiens career lasted just two more games after that, losses both at the sticks of the Ottawa Hockey Club. Teddy Groulx took over after that; by the following season, Montreal had drafted in Georges Vézina to take good care of the goaltending, which he did for the next 16+ years.
When he wasn’t stopping pucks, Cattarinich was a successful businessman, starting as as a hotel manager in Lévis, then prospering as a tobacco wholesaler. A busy sports promoter, he was an owner of racing tracks and many of the horses who ran them in Montreal, Cleveland, Chicago, and New Orleans. Leo Dandurand was a partner in some of those equine ventures, and it was with him (and Louis Letourneau) that Cattarinich bought the Canadiens for $11,000 in 1921, following George Kennedy’s death. When the partners sold the team in 1935 to other Montreal interests, the price was $165,000.
“During their ownership,” the Gazette noted in 1938, following Cattarinich’s death at the age of 57, “the Canadiens thrice won the Stanley Cup and during that period some of the players never signed a contract at a stated figure, depending on Cattarinich to pay them a just salary, and in each case that player finished the season more than satisfied with his treatment.”
canadiens, 1919: pacific policy
The last time the Montreal Canadiens played a competitive game in Seattle, they were up against the PCHA Metropolitans. It was March of 1919, in the time of another pandemic, and the NHL champions were on the coast to play for the Stanley Cup they’d yielded two years earlier. You know the story, no doubt: the teams played five games, and were about to play a sixth to decide the thing when an outbreak of Spanish flu stopped the series in its skates. With members of both teams suffering, the final game was cancelled. A week later, Montreal defenceman Joe Hall was dead of pneumonia at the age of 37.
Tonight’s the night the Canadiens return: 102 years after that fateful Stanley Cup final was abandoned, in a brand-new pandemic, the (modern-day) Montrealers make a return to Seattle to play the NHL newly minted Kraken. The rink is new, of course: Seattle Climate Pledge Arena is a 30-minute walk or so north of the old downtown Seattle Arena.
And so, as the present proceeds, a quick glance to the past. Along with a look at the team Montreal lined up in early 1919, here’s an oddment from an Ontario paper, published in early March of that year, as the Canadiens set out aboard the CPR’s Imperial Limited for the coast.
As it turns out, Montreal’s players, management, and (single member of) staff — the same 11 men seen in the image above — were insured (some more than others) against … well, it’s not quite clear just what potential calamities were covered by the policies they had, or whether any monies were ever paid out. It’s worth remembering here that George Kennedy, who was the owner of the Canadiens as well as team’s manager, was one of six members of the Montreal travelling party who was sickened by Spanish flu in Seattle in the spring of 1919. Kennedy never really recovered: he died a little over two years later, in October of 1921, at the age of 39.
thru the smoky end boards with didier pitre
He was, in his day, hockey’s best-paid player, a speedy right wing with a serious goal-scoring habit and a shot that was said to be the hardest in all the land. Born in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, southwest of Montreal, on a Saturday of this very date in 1883, Didier Pitre was a Hockey Hall of Famer who made his name in the young years of the 20th century. He played with the Montreal Canadiens when they got their start in the old NHA in 1910, lining up at point (i.e. a defenceman) as a 27-year-old when the team played its very first game in January of that year, a 7-6 win over Cobalt at the Jubilee Rink. That turned out to be a false start, in fact: when a rival league folded that same week, the NHA expunged the Cobalt game from its books, and Canadiens relaunched against Lester and Frank Patrick’s Renfrew Creamery Kings. Montreal lost that game, 9-4, with Pitre scoring a goal. He would soon be making a cool $3000 a hockey season at a time when most NHA salaries were paying $800 to $1000. You’ll see references to the power of his shot, if you go browsing in old newspapers, including mentions of his having blasted pucks through backboards, though I haven’t seen specific accounts of when or where that might have been. His feats of scoring when he actually hit the net were prodigious through the years of the First World War, when he and Newsy Lalonde took turns leading Canadiens in scoring. Pitre’s best goal-gathering year was 1914-15, when he scored 30 in 20 regular-season games. Pitre played 13 seasons with Montreal, winning a Stanley Cup in 1916. He was still with the team in 1917 when the NHA subsided to be almost instantly replaced by the NHL. As a 34-year-old, he scored 17 goals in 20 games in that inaugural season to finish the season third among Hab goalscorers behind Joe Malone and Lalonde. Pitre played five more seasons with Montreal before hanging up his skates at 39 in 1923.