pedal power

Bike Path: Born in Ottawa on a Thursday of this same date in 1947, goaltender Wayne Thomas turns 74 today: happy birthday to him. He made his NHL debut in 1973 for the Montreal Canadiens by posting a 3-0 shutout over the Vancouver Canucks. He was Montreal’s starter for most of the 1973-74 season, during Ken Dryden’s year off. He subsequently spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers before hanging up his blocker and trapper in 1981.

hold the swiss

A birthday today for the legendary Howie Morenz, born in Mitchell, Ontario, in southwestern Ontario, on a Sunday of this date in 1902. His heritage was Teutonic, but (as Morenz narrated in a feature for Esquire in 1935) “when I broke into the league with Les Canadiens in 1923, the World War was recent enough in memory to cause the club officials to worry about my acceptance by the team’s adherents, inasmuch as I am of German descent. So they promptly labeled me The Swiss Flash. Thereafter, when questioned about my racial ancestry, I said that I came from Switzerland, where I had developed agility by leaping from Alp to Alp.” The image here featured in La Presse in 1927.

the coach learns his lines

Chalk Talker: Born in Verdun, PQ, on a Monday of this very date in 1933, Scotty Bowman is 88 today, so here’s saluting him. No coach in NHL history has surpassed Bowman when it comes to wins both regular-season (1,244) and playoff (223). As a coach and executive, he was in on 14 Stanley Cup championships over the course of his career, second only to Jean Béliveau’s 17. (Illustration: Serge Chapleau, c. 1974)

stoppage with a smile

Full Stop: Rogie Vachon was born in Palmarolle, up in Quebec’s Abitibi country, on a Saturday of this date in 1945, so that means he’s turning 76 today. He started his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, where he conspired with Gump Worsley to win a Vézina Trophy (and was in on three Stanley Cup championships, to boot) before he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1971. He played seven seasons in L.A., where he was properly beloved, before seeing out his career with stints with the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. Vachon was named Canada’s MVP at the 1976 Canada Cup, and was selected to the tournament’s All Star team. He was elevated to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 2016. (Goal magazine from February, 1977)

wildorness

The stars that shone brightest in Montreal in the 1920s and ‘30s were, of course, Howie Morenz and Aurele Joliat. Their teammate, right winger Wildor Larochelle, did his work lower down in the firmament, garnering fewer headlines: his name was more likely to feature in passing in reports from Forum ice, as it did in Montreal’s Gazette in 1934 when Larochelle got a nod for turning in “his usual hard-skating, hard-working display” in a game against the St. Louis Eagles. 

He did do some first-line service in his time, replacing Johnny Gagnon on the wing with Joliat and Morenz, and scored some goals — his best year in that regard was 1931-32, when he tallied 18 in 48 regular-season games. Born in Sorel, Quebec, on a Sunday of this date in 1905, Larochelle played parts of 11 seasons with the Canadiens, debuting in 1925 and helping in the effort that brought back-to-back Stanley Cup championships to Montreal in 1930 and ’31. Montreal sold him to the Chicago in 1935. He played parts of two seasons with the Black Hawks before his NHL career came to its end in 1937. 

Reading Room: Howie Morenz, Wildor Larochelle, and Aurele Joliat in a studious pose circa the 1930s. 

thru the smoky end boards with didier pitre

Boardsbreaker: It’s not clear when this photo of a magnificently threadbare Didier Pitre was taken, but I’m going to venture that it dates to the end of his career with Montreal’s Canadiens, which came in 1923, when he was 39.

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. 

fourstall

Game Theory: The Montreal Canadiens fight to live another day as they skate out at the Bell Centre tonight in the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final. Down three games to naught, the incumbent Habs will try to emulate those who went before, and turned a series around. The 1971 Canadiens, for instance: down two games to the Chicago Black Hawks, they roared back to win the Cup in seven games. Henri Richard was a member of that team, of course: that’s him here, all in a blur against New York’s Rangers at some point in the early ‘70s. (Image: Antoine Desilets, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

home for a test

The Montreal Canadiens will be taking a glass-half-full view of things into Friday night’s Stanley Cup final game, you have to think, and they were hoping to be doing it in an arena filled to 50 per cent capacity. Too. Down two games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the hopeful Canadiens will host games 3 and 4 at the Bell Centre tomorrow and Monday. The team had asked the Quebec government for permission to allow as many as 10,500 fans in the building, but after discussions with provincial public health officials, that request was denied, and so Montreal’s efforts to even the series will be seen by the same number of fans, 3,500, that cheered the deciding game of their semi-final win over the Vegas Golden Knights last week. 

Depicted here, a Stanley Cup final of a whole other era, in a whole other Montreal arena: these fans are watching the opening game of the NHL’s 1947 championship series, which saw the Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs on a Tuesday night in April of that year. The crowd at the Forum was overflowing on the night, with 12,320 eager fans on hand to witness Montreal down Toronto by a score of 6-0. Bill Durnan posted the shutout, with Buddy O’Connor scoring the winning goal. A good start for Montreal, but it was one that didn’t last: Toronto roared back to take the series, and the Cup, in six games. 

(Images: Conrad Poirier, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

armand mondou, 1934: a trip and a penalty-shot miss

Armand Mondou played on the left wing for the Montreal Canadiens for a dozen NHL seasons from 1928 through to 1940, winning a pair of Stanley Cups along the way, in 1930 and ’31. 

Born in 1905 on a Tuesday of this date in Saint-David-d’Yamaska, Quebec, he was the first NHLer to take a penalty shot after the league added a new rule in 1934, 18 seasons into its early history. It happened on opening night that year, when the Canadiens were playing at Maple Leaf Gardens on the night of Saturday, November 10. In the third period Toronto’s Bill Thoms tripped Georges Mantha of Montreal as he broke in on Leaf goaltender George Hainsworth.

The rules for penalty-shooting were different in those years: ’34 through ’37, the puck was placed in a 10-foot circle located 38 feet from goal, just inside the blueline. As I’ve described before, in this post delineating the history of the penalty shot, the shooter couldn’t make contact with the puck outside the circle, either standing still in the circle and letting loose, or skating at the puck full tilt from farther back. The goaltender, meanwhile, had to stay where he was: he wasn’t allowed to advance more than a foot off his line.

That night in 1934, 29-year-old Armand Mondou was standing in on Montreal’s top line for Wildor Larochelle. Mondou had scored just five goals the year before, so it’s a little surprising that Canadiens’ coach Newsy Lalonde picked him to revenge Mantha’s fall, especially since he had a formidable scorer (and future Hall-of-Famer) in Aurèle Joliat on the bench that night. Mondou decided on a speedy approach for the league’s inaugural penalty shot. That’s according to Montreal’s Gazette: “Mondou, with a running start, and his bullet-like slap shot, made the play against Hainsworth.”

Toronto’s hometown Globe had its own view of the same scene: “The fans were quite interested, but Mondou’s shot was a dud. It never left the ice and Hainsworth stopped it with his usual nonchalance.” 

According to the Gazette (interestingly), Hainsworth switched out his regular goaling stick for the penalty shot with “a lighter stick.” I’d like to know more about that, but I’ve yet to see another reference to this specialty tool. 

The Leafs won the game, 2-1. The NHL’s first successful penalty shot came a week later, when Ralph Bowman of the St. Louis Eagles put a puck past Alec Connell of the Montreal Maroons. 

fête accompli

Chef de Mission: Jacques Demers was the coach in Montreal the last time the Canadiens made their way to the Stanley Cup finals, which was back in 1993. That year they overcame the Quebec Nordiques, Buffalo Sabres, and New York Islanders in the early rounds of the playoffs before upending the Los Angeles Kings in the finals to win the 24th Cup in team history. For the record — no jinx intended — the Canadiens have found themselves on the losing side in 10 other finals through the years. (Image: Serge Chapleau, 1993, watercolour and graphite on paper, © McCord Museum)