Blanket Statement: Members of the doubly captained 1947-48 Canadiens show off blankets (in Habs colours, of course) given by Ayers Limited, the famous woolen mill in Lachute, Quebec. At the back are, from the left: Glen Harmon, Billy Reay, Butch Bouchard, Toe Blake, Roger Leger, Bill Durnan, Elmer Lach, and (on quality control) Maurice Richard. Bedspreaded up at the front are Ken Reardon and Bob Fillion.
Montreal coach Dick Irvin called it the Series of the Deflected Puck, which sounds like a string of mysteries that Agatha Christie should have written. This was in the spring of 1945, back when Leafs and Canadiens used to play in Stanley Cup semi-finals. The Leafs, who won in six games, went on to win the Stanley Cup, beating Detroit; Montreal headed home on the train, a few days after the scene depicted here. No-one among the Canadiens was sadder than Maurice Richard when it was all over, according to The Globe and Mail’s Vern DeGeer:
The Rocket parked in a dressing room chair for several minutes without attempting to remove his equipment. He just sat there shaking his head and mumbling to himself.
Pictured above, a scene from the fourth game in Toronto. Gus Bodnar won it for the Leafs in overtime when a shot of Babe Pratt’s deflected off his his stick and passed by Bill Durnan. Toronto’s Sweeney Schriner — the foxy veteran, Dink Carroll from Montreal’s Gazette called him — scored, too, and while that’s him with elbow pads showing, the goal came earlier.
Here, in the third period, he’s arguing with Montreal’s Murph Chamberlain, numbered 12, a.k.a. Old Hardrock. Jim Coleman from The Globe and Mail noted that he was floored twice in the first period, first by the Leafs’ Jack McLean, then by Schriner. Referee King Clancy called no penalties at the time, but in the third (as told by Toronto’s Daily Star), Schriner threw the first punch of his career at Chamberlain. “They scragged it then,” the Star said, “were broken up.” Both players were excused with minor penalties.
Returned to the ice, they continued their discussions, with Clancy (white-sweatered in the middle) broke up. That’s (I think) Montreal’s Bob Fillion standing by, alongside Toronto’s Wally Stanowski and Reg Hamilton. The Star was good enough to report the gist of the conversation:
“You oughta give Schriner a major for fighting,” roared Chamberlain.
“You call what you two were doing fighting?” asked Clancy. “Sit down and shut up.”
Notice the front-row fan in the light-hued hat holding up his coat for protection or (possibly) playing at toreadoring. The Globe did report that in this very ruckus a woman ducked a stray punch.
There’s lots you could say about Bill Durnan. Maurice Richard volunteered that he was one of the nicest guys in the whole world — “He had a smile for everybody and never said a word against anyone” — not to mention that he was said to be the best softball pitcher in Canada during the time he was minding the nets for Montreal in the latter 1940s. He did that exceptionally well, of course, winning Vézina trophies in each of his first four campaigns, as well as two more subsequently: an amazing six in the seven NHL seasons he endured. He won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, in 1944 and 1946. In 1964 he ascended to the Hall of Hockey Fame.
And yet: they used to boo him at the Forum, hound him with jeers. After some games (Richard was one to recall), he’d return to the dressing room crying. “We want Bibeault,” the fans would holler the year of that second Cup, calling for Paul, the Montreal back-up. Another year, Dink Carroll reported, “the fans would deride him … with mock applause when he made a stop.”
All of which is to say, it’s no wonder the man had nerves. Not so shocking either that he sought to calm them with a post-game smoke. From our modern-day perspective, it is surprising, just a little, to find one of the man’s post-game cigarettes preserved in photographs: that’s something you do sometimes see in hockey scrapbooks and archives, but not so much.
La Presse ran the one above in the spring of 1947. It’s not a great reproduction, but if Durnan’s face is obscured, that’s largely due to the cloud of smoke he’s just exhaled. You can just see the cigarette in his right hand. It’s more obvious in the photo below, from the same night, wherein Durnan poses alongside teammates (from the left) Butch Bouchard, Roger Léger, Richard, Billy Reay, and Buddy O’Connor. The caption for the former reads:
The first thing he did upon entering the locker room was to take a cigarette and light it. He removed his pads only after his relaxation was complete.
It was the first game of the 1947 Stanley Cup final and not a particularly stressful one for Durnan, by all accounts. He’d shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Forum by a score of 6-0. Tame, Montreal’s Gazette called it. “The boys got that for me,” the goaltender said — or in the paper’s telling grinned. “I had a good seat.”
Something else he’s supposed to have said (according to Dick Irvin, Jr. in his 1991 oral history, Habs), “How did the Leafs get this far?” They were eager to demonstrate, of course, and won the next game 4-0 and three more after that, too, to take the Stanley Cup. “I think it’s by far the toughest series I’ve ever played in,” Toronto’s Howie Meeker recalled, citing Turk Broda’s goalkeeping as the key for the Leafs. “I think when it’s all over and you have won the Stanley Cup, your goaltender has to be the best guy on your team. That year Broda was. I thought he was head and shoulders above Durnan, and Durnan was good. We were outplayed and outchanced in scoring chances, I would think, by about three to two. Turk Broda was the guy who won that series.”
Also worth a note is the C adorning Durnan’s sweater. The accepted wisdom is that he didn’t become a Canadiens captain until the 1947-48 season, specifically assuming the role in January of 1948 when the incumbent, Toe Blake, suffered the ankle injury that would prove the end of his playing career. That’s the timing suggested, as well, by modern references, from the Habs’ own historical website at Our History and the Hockey Hall of Fame’s to Wikipedia and Hockeyreference.com. From the photographs here, it’s clear that he was co-captaining the team a season earlier, too.
Émile Joseph Bouchard died on April 14, which is to say Butch Bouchard: that’s what everybody called him. A titan of the Montreal defence for 15 seasons, he captained the club between 1948 and 1956, winning four Stanley Cups along the way. Four times he was voted to the NHL All-Star team. A fond farewell is in order for the Habs’ Hall-of-Fame stalwart and best-known beekeeper, along with a few further notes:
1. September 4, 1919 he was born, a Thursday, in Montreal, in the parish of St. Arsène, on rue Boyer, near Beaubien, about eight kilometres from the Forum.
2. Unless it was a Saturday in 1920, September 11. That’s what Ron McAllister, among other writers, committed to print. Bouchard’s own mentor and first hockey coach, the sportswriter Paul Stuart, went as far as Sunday, September 11, 1921.
3. His parents were Régina Lachapelle and Calixte Bouchard, who was a carpenter and a house painter who also may have wielded his brush on CPR passenger cars. Bouchard told Dick Irvin that in the mid-1930s his father only worked in the wintertime, so the family was poor. He had two brothers and a sister. Through his father, Bouchard could trace his blood back to Eva Bouchard, who may have been the model for the heroine of Louis Hémon’s quintessential Quebec novel Maria Chapdelaine (1916).
4. For school he attended L’Académie Roussin, Saint-François-Xavier, St-Louis-de-Gonzague, and Le Plateau.
5. Paul Stuart was the one who got him playing hockey for Le Plateau. The team’s hand-me-down sweaters included one that had belonged to one of Bouchard’s idols, Cliff Goupille (a.k.a. Red), it bore his name on the back, and Bouchard wore it with pride for two seasons.
6. About his skating, one of his early coaches remarked that he was always getting in his own way with those huge feet of his. Sloppy but effective is how Andy O’Brien later described this phase in Bouchard’s development.
7. He didn’t get his first skates until he was 16. Sometimes the number given is 17, but mostly the accounts converge on 16. There’s a further twist on this, where he never skated, not at all, ever, until he was 16 and then five years later — incredible! — he was working NHL bluelines for the Canadiens. Which may be the case. It sounds to me like a fairytale, though. Or if not a fairytale, maybe have the facts been smudged over time? That happens. Continue reading