maurice richard had a bad night; fern majeau picked up a pocketful of pennies

Punch-Line Original: Joe Benoit played three seasons for the Canadiens in the early 1940s before the war interrupted his skating. He returned after it was all over, in 1946-47, but only briefly.

Seventy-four years ago tonight, Maurice Richard had a terrible night.

That’s not the anniversary that tends to be observed, of course. Seems like people prefer to recall that it was on a night like this in 1943 that Montreal coach Dick Irvin debuted a brand new first line, one featuring wingers Toe Blake (left) and Maurice Richard (right) centred by Elmer Lach, that would soon come to be known, then and for all time, as the Punch Line.

October 30 was a Saturday in 1943, and it was opening night for four of the NHL’s six teams. Montreal was home to the Boston Bruins. After an injury-plague start in the Canadiens’ system, Richard, 22, was healthy. Having played just 16 games in 1942-43, he was ready to start the season as a regular. The Canadiens had lost some scoring over the summer: Gordie Drillon was gone and so was Joe Benoit, both gone to the war. The latter had scored 30 goals in ’42-43, leading the Canadiens in that department as the right winger for Lach and Blake. That line was already, pre-Richard, called Punch, with Elmer Ferguson of The Montreal Herald claiming that he’d been the one to name it.

Richard didn’t recall this, exactly. In autobiography Stan Fischler ghosted for him in The Flying Frenchmen (1971), Richard erred in saying that he took Charlie Sands’ place on the Punch Line rather than Benoit’s.

Roch Carrier added a flourish to the story in Our Life With The Rocket (2001), a poetic one even if it’s not entirely accurate.

Richard’s wife Lucille did (it’s true) give birth to a baby girl, Huguette, towards the end of October of 1943, just as Montreal’s training camp was wrapping up in Verdun. True, too: around the same time, Richard asked coach Irvin whether he could switch the number on his sweater. Charlie Sands wasn’t a Punch Liner, but he was traded during that final week of pre-season: along with Dutch Hiller, Montreal sent him to the New York Rangers in exchange for Phil Watson. Richard had been wearing 15; could he take on Sands’ old 9? “He’d like that,” Carrier has him explaining to Irvin, “because his little girl weighs nine pounds.”

“Somewhat surprised by this sentimental outburst, Dick Irvin agrees.”

Here’s where Carrier strays. To celebrate Huguette’s arrival, he writes, Richard promised to score a pair of goals in the Canadiens’ season-opening game: one for mother, one for daughter. “The Canadiens defeat the Bruins,” Carrier fairytales, “three to two. Maurice has scored twice. And that is how, urged on by a little nine-pound girl, the Punch Line takes off.”

Huguette’s birthday was October 23, a Saturday. The following Wednesday, Richard did burn bright in the Canadiens’ final exhibition game, which they played in Cornwall, Ontario, against the local Flyers from the Quebec Senior Hockey League. Maybe that’s when he made his fatherly promise, adding an extra goal for himself? Either way, the Canadian Press singled him out for praise in Montreal’s 7-3 victory: “Maurice Richard, apparently headed for a big year in the big time, paced Dick Irvin’s team with three goals in a sparkling effort.”

That Saturday, October 30, 1943, the home team could only manage to tie the visiting Bruins 2-2. Montreal had several rookies in the line-up, including goaltender Bill Durnan, who was making his NHL debut. Likewise Canadiens centre Fern Majeau, who opened the scoring. Herb Cain and Chuck Scherza replied for Boston before Toe Blake scored the game’s final tally. The Boston Daily Globe called that one “a picture goal” that same Blake skate by the entire Boston team. “The ice was covered with paper and hats after the red light flashed.”

That was the good news, such as it was. Leave it Montreal’s Gazette to outline what didn’t go so well. “Four Bruins Are Casualties,” announced a sidebar headline alongside the paper’s main Forum dispatch, “Maurice Richard Has Bad Night.” Details followed:

richard oct 30 43 (1)

a fighting, snarling star (a good-natured, likable cuss)

babe s

End of the summer, 1939, and as the world headed for war, Babe Siebert was back home in western Ontario in the little crossroads village of Zurich, where he’d grown up. At 35, Siebert the younger had played the last game of his monumental NHL career in the spring of the year, March, going out as captain of the Montreal Canadiens as they lost in the first round of the playoffs to Detroit’s Red Wings. Slowed, in his final season, by a wrenched back, he’d scored the last of his NHL goals in February against Toronto. Once, as a Maroon in Montreal early in his career, he’d plied the wing, joining Nels Stewart and Hooley Smith on one of the league’s most feared lines, but he’d finished up on defence. Lending his experience to guide the Canadiens, too: when, midway through the season, the Canadiens fired coach Cecil Hart, after Frank Boucher and Herb Gardiner were said to have turned down the job, club secretary Jules Dugal took up the team’s reins with Siebert as a playing assistant.

There was talk again, after the season, of Frank Boucher taking over the team, or maybe Bun Cook? But most of the betting was on Siebert, who was indeed named to the post in early June.

In August, on the occasion of his father’s 80th birthday, Siebert travelled west to Zurich from Montreal with his family. A month still remained before the Canadiens would gather to train for the season’s start in early November. On this day, August 25, 1939, newspapers bore dispatches of imminent war in Europe. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was appealing to Adolf Hitler to back off his threats to Poland; Pope Pius XII asked the world to pray for peace.

Babe Siebert took his daughters for a swim, Judy, 11, and 10-year-old Joan. Lake Huron wasn’t far, a few miles to the west. Siebert was there with his girls and two of his nieces, and his friend from Zurich was with them, Clayton Hoffman. One of the children let go of an inner-tube and when it began to float off, Siebert called the children in and went after it himself. He was 150 feet out when he got into trouble.

“The wind was carrying it parallel to the shoreline,” Hoffman later said, “and it was soon apparent that he was in difficulty. I was standing on the shore fully dressed when I heard his cries.”

Hoffman reported going into the water but getting tangled in his clothes. Siebert was 35 feet away. “Before I could reach him, Babe had gone down for the last time.”

Miss Burnette Mouseau of Zurich was sitting in a car on the beach and she raised the first alarm. Hoffman ran to a nearby house to seek aid. Would-be rescuers dove down to search at the spot where Siebert was last seen, but he was gone. Eventually, a fishing boat was summoned from Grand Bend to help in the search. was It was three days before his body was found by his brother, Frank, on the lake’s bottom, about 40 feet from where he’d vanished. Continue reading

j’accepte ma punition

richard radio

Fifty-nine years ago tonight, Montreal exploded. NHL president Clarence Campbell had suspended the Canadiens’ Maurice Richard for the last three games of the 1954-55 season as well as the playoffs for his part in a violent incident on March 13 in a game against Boston. When Campbell attended Montreal’s next game, against Detroit at the Forum, mayhem ensued. With the game suspended at the end of the first period, the chaos moved out into the city. As thousands surged down St. Catherine Street, newsstands burned and dozens of businesses were looted. Police arrested more than 100 people. (The Hockey News recently posted Elmer Ferguson’s account of that wild night, to mark the anniversary.)

The next day, the Rocket took to radio and television to ask for calm. His statement, below, translated from the French; above, Montreal photographer Eric Constantineau’s Lego recreation of Richard’s fraught broadcast. For more of his work, visit his website at www.ericconstantineau.com.

My dear friends:

Because I always play so hard, and because I had trouble in Boston, I was suspended.

I’m really sorry to not be able to be with my mates on the Canadiens in the playoffs.

But I want to think above all of the Montreal fans and the Canadiens players, who are my best friends.

So I just ask fans not to cause trouble, and I also ask all supporters to encourage Canadiens so that they can win this weekend against the Rangers and Detroit.

We can still win the championship. I accept my punishment and I will be back next season to help my club and the young players of the Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. Thank you.

l’apiculteur (i)

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