the sorry condition in which the canadiens have found themselves

a108357

On The Rise: A Montreal pre-season line-up from October of 1942. Times were tough, but hope bloomed eternal. Back, left to right: Jack Portland, Bobby Lee, Paul Bibeault, Ernie Laforce, Red Goupille, Maurice Richard, Butch Bouchard. Front: Bob Carragher, Glen Harmon, Buddy O’Connor, Gerry Heffernan, Elmer Lach, Tony Demers, Jack Adams. (Image: Library and Archives Canada / PA-108357)

There’s a howling you’ll hear when the Montreal Canadiens start an NHL season with a run of 1-6-1. Fans lend their fury to the high machine-buzz of hockey-media frenzy, and and there’s an echo down there in the NHL’s basement where the Canadiens and the three sad points they’ve earned to date languish. The whole din of it gets amplified, as everything does, when you put it online. And history can’t resist raising a nagging voice, too.

Today its refrain is this: should these modern-day Canadiens lose tonight’s game at the Bell Centre to the visiting Florida Panthers, they’ll match the ’41-42 Canadiens for season-opening futility. That was the last time Montreal went 1-7-1 to start a season.

Lots of people have lots of good ideas. Captain Max Pacioretty should either start scoring/lose his C/get himself reunited on a line with centre Philip Danault/see to it that he’s traded to Edmonton as soon as possible, maybe in exchange for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. GM Marc Bergevin needs to address the media/find a sword and fall on it/reverse-engineer the trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber.

Amid the clamour, coach Claude Julien was calm, ish, yesterday. “We’re all tired of losing, I think that’s pretty obvious,” he told reporters circling the team’s practice facility at Brossard, Quebec. “You know we really feel that we’re doing some good things but we’re not doing good enough for 60 minutes and we need to put full games together.”

Back in ’41, sloppy starting had become a bit of a Canadien tradition. With Cecil Hart at the helm, the team had launched its 1938-39 campaign by going 0-7-1. A year later they got going in 1939-40 with an encouraging 4-2-2 record before staggering through an eight-game losing streak followed by twin ten-game winless runs. In 1940-41, getting underway for new coach Dick Irvin, Canadiens sputtered out to a 1-5-2 start.

Irvin had just coached the Leafs to another Stanley Cup final when he quit Toronto for Montreal in the spring of ’41. He’d started his Leaf reign by winning a Cup in 1932 and in eight subsequent seasons, he’d steered his teams to six Stanley Cup finals.

Why would he want to take charge of a team that The Globe and Mail’s Ralph Allen called “a spent and creaking cellar occupant”?

For the challenge, presumably. Better money? Main Leafs man Conn Smythe was, in public at least, magnanimous — strangely so, to the extent that The Gazette ran his comments under the headline “Smythe in New Role/ As Aide to Canadiens.” It quoted him saying that Montreal had asked his permission to offer Irvin the job. “The Maple Leaf club’s reaction,” he continued, “was that we hated to see Irvin go but we felt that the sorry condition in which the Canadiens had found themselves wasn’t doing any team in the league any good.”

Smythe wanted to help, what’s more. “We are going to give him whatever help we can in player deals.” Maybe Irvin and the Canadiens could use Charlie Conacher, for instance, or Murray Armstrong?

“If he figures Conacher or Armstrong will fit,” Smythe prattled away, “then he can have them, and also two or three other players on our roster.”

Irvin must have figured otherwise. He went about reshaping the Canadiens without his former boss’ aid. In November, his new Montreal charges started off by tying Boston 1-1 at the Forum. They followed that up with four losses and an overtime tie before powering by the New York Americans 3-1 on November 23. The teams played again in New York the next night and Montreal lost by a score of 2-1.

“The rearguard has been the main grief of the made-over Habitants,” Harold C. Burr opined in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Rookies Alex Singbush, 19-year-old Ken Reardon, and Tony Graboski were inexperienced, liked to rush the puck too much. Star winger Toe Blake was in slump, too — that didn’t help. The best part, Burr thought: these Habs never quit fighting. “That’s one of the attributes of this young team — the old scrappiness.”

Irvin had vowed that the team would make the playoffs in ’41. The season was shorter then, of course, 48 games, so the margin for error was tight. Then again, six of the league’s seven teams got qualified for the post-season, so all Montreal had to do (and did) was to go 16-26-6 and edge out the woeful (and soon-to-be-extinct) New York Americans for the final playoff berth. (Facing the Chicago Black Hawks, Montreal fell in three games.)

Montreal would eventually get themselves turned around. In the fall of ’42, Canadiens added a young rookie named Maurice Richard to the fold. Two years after that, the team was at the top of the NHL standings when the season ended in March. And in April of 1944, they defeated the Chicago to win the Stanley Cup.

Before that, during the bleak years, hope does seem to have been more eternal in its bloom than in modern-day Montreal.

Concern was in order in November of 1938: from Montreal’s Gazette.

Deep into November of 1938, English Montrealers awoke to read in The Gazette that Canadiens had lost their sixth straight game in New York the previous evening, 2-1 to the Rangers. Never mind: even the New York papers were said to be reporting that Montreal had played the Rangers off their skates for a good part of the game. Jim Burchard of The Telegram said the visiting team lacked only luck, while The Herald-Tribune felt they just needed a bit more polish in their finishing. “They muffed half a dozen scoring chances,” Kerr Petri wrote. Coach Cecil Hart was certain his boys would beat the Americans in the next game, that very night. “On the basis of last night’s form, we can do it,” he said. “We’re going to win plenty of games after that one, too. And if we had any of the breaks last night, the first victory might be ours already.” (The Americans whomped them, instead, 7-3.)

Four years later, almost to the day, Dick Irvin was telling the hockey writers that the 2-1 loss in Detroit that left the Canadiens adrift at 0-4-2 was cause for … encouragement. “One can’t be satisfied by obtaining only two points out of a possible 12, but they are improving. They played good hockey in Detroit, had more chances, I think, but the other guys got the decision — and that’s what counts.”

A year after that, November of 1941, and the 0-4-1 Canadiens had the Rangers coming in. “Despite the fact Canadiens have not yet won a game,” The Gazette noted, “the box-office at the Forum reported yesterday prospects for a big crowd tonight are bright.”

Montreal lost that one, 7-2. Still, as he’d done a year earlier, Irvin did guide the team once more into the playoffs. Think of that as Max Pacioretty and Carey Price lead their 2017 Canadiens out onto the ice tonight.

 

des glorieux

Open Bracket: Montreal coach Dick Irvin stands by members of his 1946-47 Montreal line-up. Backed by Butch Bouchard, they are: Bill Durnan, Ken Mosdell, Norm Dussault, Ken Reardon, John Quilty, Leo Lamoureux, Roger Leger, Leo Gravelle, Maurice Richard, Toe Blake, Murph Chamberlain, Bob Fillion, and Glen Harmon. (Image: Library and Archives Canada, 1979-249 NPC)

riotous richard

Scan 2 BW

Easy to finger Maurice Richard as the cause of the kerfuffles pictured here — he was legendarily fiery, often goaded, easily enraged — but the fact is I can’t really say what started these melees in Boston. 1951, maybe ’52? That’s a guess. Before Bob Armstrong taught me history in high school, he wore number 4 and played on the Bruin defence starting in ’50-’51, and definitely not him in the image above, so whoever it is moving in to aid in the argy-bargying (Steve Kraftcheck? Max Quackenbush?), the era is pre-Big Bob. Richard is 9, of course, and he’s facing up to … Milt Schmidt? Maybe. That’s Elmer Lach down on a knee, on the blueline, wearing 16. If you had to predict what was coming next, would it be fists flying you’d have in mind? Or …

riotus 1

… could you see everybody calming down. No harm, no foul does. Richard is the one getting a talking-to here from referee Red Storey, and I guess that does seem to implicate him as the instigator, but again, let’s not assume. Montreal defencemen Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson have moved in to help with the negotiations, which the other official (his suspenders showing through his sweater) seems content to stay out of.

riotus 3

Later — though it might be earlier, for all I know — Richard is at it again. Or — in it. He’s in the middle of it, definitely, though this time Red Storey is discussing the situation with a Bruin, some Bruin who is demonstrably not Milt Schmidt, because he, Schmidt, is 15, down there in the lower right corner. I don’t want to put words into Butch Bouchard’s mouth, but he does seem to have something to say to the Rocket, a point to make, or maybe a plea, enough, let it go, let’s play some hockey. I don’t know whether that’s something you’d say to the Rocket, if you were Butch Bouchard. I’m not, and never have been; I personally wouldn’t dare.

the last goal he ever scored (won the leafs the cup)

Pro and Conn: Leaf boss Smythe congratulates Bill Barilko after his overtime goal won Toronto a Stanley Cup. "We just out-Irished them,” Smythe said at the time, alluding to Leaf luck in a tight series.

Pro and Conn: Leaf boss Smythe congratulates Bill Barilko after his overtime goal won Toronto a Stanley Cup. “We just out-Irished them,” Smythe said at the time, alluding to Leaf luck in a tight series.

Bill Barilko still hadn’t disappeared on April 21, 1951, and there was no mourning for his memory, yet, just as there were no songs about him and (for a few more hours at least) no famous photographs of him falling to ice as he scored the goal that won the Toronto Maple Leafs their seventh Stanley Cup.

They were close-fought, those Finals, that year: “five consecutive sudden-death overtime heart buster” is how The Globe and Mail’s Jim Vipond wrote it. This last one, the Leafs’ Tod Sloan tied the score at twos with 32 seconds remaining in the third period, goaltender Al Rollins on the bench.

Barilko’s goal came at 2.53 of overtime. You can hear Foster Hewitt’s frantic call at CBC’s Digital Archives, here. James Marsh, founding editor of The Canadian Encyclopedia, attended the game as a seven-year-old, deciding early on, before the goal, that Barilko was going to be his favourite player — I’d read about that, if I were you, here.

barilko parkhurst

Referee Bill Chadwick supervises in the 1951-52 Parkhurst card based Turofsky’s famous photo.

As for the songs, I’ll leave you to spin, repeatedly, The Tragically Hip’s “Fifty Mission Cap” at your leisure — but have a listen, too, to “The Bill Barilko Song” by (NDP MP) Charlie Angus and The Grievous Angels. You’ll find it here.

As for the photographs, the best-known is the Turofsky, snapped (most likely by Nat rather than Lou) from behind, with the puck already in the net though Barilko is still falling. “It’s a flawless image, of course,” Andrew Podnieks writes in Portraits of the Game (1997), his fond celebration of the Turofskys’ rich hockey archive, though I have to say I prefer the view from the front, as caught by Globe and Mail photographer Michael Burns from the opposite side. (At first glance, I thought that must be one or other of the Turofskys in the corner, but of course it can’t be, the sightline isn’t right.) I like the handsome hopeful look on Barilko’s face that I’m glad to see in the Burns. In the Turofsky, as Podnieks notes, none of the spectators has realized yet that it’s goal and that the Leafs have won. Montreal goaltender I would have said that Gerry McNeil knows, though, I think, even though he’s got his eyes closed.

Won The Leafs The Cup? Barilko looks to see if he's scored in this view by Globe and Mail photographer Michael Burns.

Won The Leafs The Cup? Barilko looks to see if he’s scored in this view by Globe and Mail photographer Michael Burns.

This is another Burns, below, I’m assuming. It shows the moment of Barilko’s arising from the ice, just before he’s mobbed by teammates.

Game Over: A few fans have begun to celebrate. On the ice we see, from the right, referee Bill Chadwick. Behind the net, Habs' defenceman Tom Johnson (10) tussles at Howie Meeker. Gerry McNeil sits while Bill Barilko arises. Butch Bouchard stands in front, looking lost, while Leaf Harry Watson (4) makes for the goalscorer. In the far corner, Cal Gardner (17) lifts his stick while Maurice Richard mimics Barilko's heroic moment. Hard to say who the fifth Hab is, far left.

Game Over: A few fans have begun to celebrate. On the ice we see, from the right, referee Bill Chadwick. Behind the net, Habs’ defenceman Tom Johnson (10) tussles at Howie Meeker. Gerry McNeil sits while Bill Barilko arises. Butch Bouchard stands in front, looking lost, while Leaf Harry Watson (4) makes for the goalscorer. In the far corner, Cal Gardner (17) lifts his stick while Maurice Richard mimics Barilko’s heroic moment. Hard to say who the fifth Hab is, far left.

Danny Lewicki was a 19-year-old rookie for the Leafs that year. He recalls the aftermath in his 2006 autobiography, From The Coal Docks to the NHL: A Hockey Life:

The roar of the crowd was deafening. I have never heard, nor probably will ever hear such pandemonium. What an unbelievable series! …

The next hour was a blur. We skated around the ice in glee. We posed for pictures. I hugged so many people and shook so many hands that I was sore. But I felt no pain. We went into the dressing room to change into civies [sic] and the Stanley Cup was carried by Ted Kennedy into the Maple Leafs’ dressing room. They brought the Cup in and then they just whisked it out. I didn’t even get the chance to touch it.

Kevin Shea later collected Gerry McNeil’s unhappy view of things for Barilko: Without A Trace (2004). “It’s been my claim to fame,” the old goalie said before his death in 2004. “I still get a lot of mail from that goal — people asking me to autograph their picture of the Barilko goal.”

It wasn’t a hard shot, he said.

“I just simply missed it. You have a sense on most goals of the puck coming and you get ready, but on this one, I don’t know what happened. I had to look at pictures after. It surprised me — I don’t know how the puck got in. At the time, I didn’t even know who shot it — I never knew who scored most of the goals that were scored against me. But there was Barilko. He was right at the face-off circle.”

“It was just a shocker. It was an awful disappointment.”

blanketed

habs blankets

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.

joe klukay and the dying swan

fonds 1266, Globe and Mail fondsToronto would win the Stanley Cup that year — a strange sentence to write and believe in, today. This was 1947, April. The Canadiens were the defending champions, and they started the Finals strongly enough, prevailing at home by a score of 6-0. The Leafs rallied themselves to win four of the next five games, including the one depicted here, a 2-1 victory secured at Maple Leaf Gardens by a Syl Apps goal in overtime. “The game started off on a hectic note,” Jim Vipond accounted next day in The Globe and Mail, “and Referee Bill Chadwick, who handled a competent game, had his work cut out to prevent a riot.” In the moments before the camera found its focus, Kenny Reardon, ebullient Montreal defenceman, boarded Toronto’s rookie left winger Joe Klukay, “qui s’est frappé (La Patrie reported) violemment sur la clôture.” That’s him on the stretcher — you can just spy his nose through the arms of an attendant teammate. He was knocked out, Montreal and Toronto reporters mostly agreed, and his scalp wanted stitching.

“The fans screamed for a major penalty,” Vipond wrote, “and an electric tenseness seemed to fill the big Carlton Street sports palace. The game was less than five minutes old.” Reardon went to serve a minor; Klukay was carried from the ice.

Neither man was gone long. The Montreal Gazette’s Dink Carroll took a slightly more jaded view than some others: Klukay responded to Reardon’s hit, he wrote, with “the dying swan act and … he was back before the period was over.”

Also putting in an appearance above are Montreal’s Butch Bouchard (leaning over the patient) along with Toe Blake (observing, glove on stick), Glen Harmon (8), and Buddy O’Connor (10).

Apps’ winning goal came after 16 minutes and 36 seconds of overtime. Jim Vipond circulated through the Leafs’ dressing room afterwards, where he saw an exhausted Toronto coach, Hap Day, and a happy, Coke-drinking Conn Smythe. “It isn’t funny,” Day told, with no further explanation. “I’m proud of the whole team,” Smythe said.

Klukay was in the shower. Vipond hollered in to ask about his injury and Klukay hollered back out. “Nothing to it,” he said, “just my head.”

The Montreal room was more subdued. With the extra period, they should have missed their train home, but the 11.10 to Montreal was holding for them. The Canadiens dressed quickly and headed for Union Station.

j kl

soireé elmer lach

100738a_lg - Version 2They gave Elmer Lach a car in 1952, yes, and that’s what everybody was focussed on, I’m sure, and remember, if there are still people who remember the night of March 8, a Saturday to some, maybe, but if you were one of the 14,452 fans at the Forum in Montreal, it was Elmer Lach Night. Lach, who died on Saturday at the age of 97, was much honoured over the course of his 14-year NHL career; his success is measured out in Hart and Art Ross trophies, along with the three Stanley Cups he helped Montreal to win. By 1952, he was, as La Patrie put it, the Habs’ centre-star and pillar-veteran. If anyone needed a reason beyond the adjectives to throw him a party, there was, too, the fact that Lach had recently become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing a retired Bruin, Bill Cowley, and his 594 points.

Lach was at least a little bewildered by the whole affair, contemporary accounts affirm, if not entirely overwhelmed. He figured not at all on the scoresheet as the Canadiens tied Chicago 4-4. Between the second and third periods they got around to giving Lach his presents. His wife Kay came out on the ice, and their seven-year-old son, Rannie, was there, too, with roses for her and a five-pound box of candies for him, and Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde spoke and so did Canadiens’ captain Butch Bouchard, and Toe Blake was on hand, Lach’s old linemate, three years’ retired, though not Maurice Richard, who was injured, and in Florida, though he did send a telegram, which they didn’t have time to read out on the ice, on account of there were altogether too many telegrams to read.

When it was Lach’s turn to speak, he started in French, and the Forum erupted: the roof and the wall burst, said La Patrie. The Gazette: “Such a roar went up that he was forced to hold up until it died down.”

The presents were said to be worth $10,000 — about $90,000 in today’s dollars. Whatever else you want to say about the loot, the volume and variety was impressive.

It included a cake, from Inter-City Baking in Montreal, and
from Pal Blade Corp., a supply of razorblades to last a lifetime.

Peoples Credit Jewelers and some minor officials who worked for the Canadiens each presented a silver platters. The minor officials numbered ten, and their platter was inscribed with their names and the words In Appreciation of Your Great Sportsmanship With the Canadian Hockey Club.

A third silvery platter arrived from Lach’s hometown, Nokomis, Saskatchewan.

Living Room Furniture gave an armchair and
there was — from admirers and Hartney Limited — a bedroom set and a dining-room set.

Fans gave an Electrolux refrigerator and
there was a deep-freezer from International Harvester.
Also, thanks to Lavigne Window Shades,
Air Cool Venetian blinds for all Lach’s windows.

He got 100 pieces of dinnerware (Ronald Co.) and butchers’ knives (Glo-Hill Co.) and the employees of Butch Bouchard’s club gave him a garburator and
on behalf of the radio and print journalists covering the Canadiens, Baz O’Meara of The Montreal Star presented Lach with an all-in-one radio-phonograph.

Lach’s teammates gave him a washing-machine while
citizens of Lachine who thought the world of him pitched in for a television set.

A fan gave a cushion — maybe hand-stitched? I don’t know any more about that than I do about the blanket given by M. McIntosh or
the other three blankets that travelled all the way from Moose Jaw, sent by admirers.

From Waterman Co. Lach received three pens and pencils and
from A. Gutta, a woman’s bag and
also there were two shirts from Y. Lebrun and
three pairs of shoes from Salon Antoine as well as
a camera, from H. Kirshmer,
a golf bag from Harry Dennis and
a membership courtesy of the Lakeshore Golf Club.

Watches. Lebern Jewelry gave a Roamer and
Sabra Jewelry a Longines.
Letang Hardware contributed two travel clocks.

And what Soireé Elmer Lach would have been complete without a $50 Stetson hat (from the president of the Stetson Hat Co. himself)? Not this one. There was
a suit, too, from Joe Frifero and
a dressing gown that Jack Gold gave, also
a sports jacket from Frank Jerome and
from the mayor, a pair of cufflinks.

The car he got was a 1952 Oldsmobile “Rocket 88.”
Butch Bouchard drove it out to centre ice.
Skates or not skates? I like to think skates.
Imperial Oil threw in 100 gallons of gas.

He got a pair of season’s tickets from the Montreal Baseball Club and
from M. O’Connell, a week’s vacation at O’Connell Lodge on Lac des Loups.

The thoughtful patients at the Hospital for Sick Children got him two dozen golf balls not to outdone by the hospital at Ste. Anne de Bellevue, which sent an ashtray.

From Studio Adolphe Lach got a portrait of himself and
from La Patrie a colour photograph while
not least, but last

 there was a rowboat, from La Vecheres Engineering.

lach platter

[Illustration/Photo: Classic Auctions]