Guy Lapointe

Guy Lapointe was a skilled puck handler and skater who was equally effective at both ends of the ice. He was also known as a solid body checker and a team leader. He was the Al MacInnis of his day.

It isn't just that Lapointe is defensively sound and a pretty good hitter. He's like an extra forward on offence," admired long time coach Scotty Bowman.

Guy Lapointe teamed with Larry Robinson and Serge Savard to form the greatest collection of defensemen ever assembled on one team. Lapointe was perhaps the best of the three offensively. He really quarterbacked the Hab's fearsome powerplay during the late 1970s. His hard and accurate slapshot from the point was the key to the power play's success. All together, Lapointe would score 171 goals and 622 points in 884 contests. He played in four NHL All-Star games during his career and was also named to Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series and to Team NHL at the 1979 Challenge Cup series against the Soviet Union. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.

That's not bad for a player who in junior wasn't considered to be much of a prospect.

At age 18 Lapointe enlisted in the Quebec Provincial Police department. His brother had been a cop in Montreal and his dad was a long time fire captain in the Montreal Fire Department. But the Montreal Canadiens convinced Guy to give their junior team a shot. Lapointe, who played parts of the two previous seasons with the Verdun Jr. Maple Leafs, agreed to try out. He made the team and developed quickly into a late bloomer.

The Canadiens signed Lapointe in 1968 but they felt he would need time to develop his raw skills in the minor leagues.

"He's just so strong. Not just when he shoots, but in everything he does. He does everything strong," said Montreal legend Jean Beliveau.

That first season of pro hockey was the toughest for Guy, and at times he must have wondered if he should have stayed with the police department. He didn't know how to say much of anything in English, and the Habs had sent him to a farm team that was about as far away from Quebec as you could get on this continent - Houston, Texas!

"If it wasn't for Phil Myre, who was my roommate, I don't know what might have happened" said Guy admiringly of his friend and teammate. Myre played a huge role in Guy's development that season off the ice.

The following year Guy was promoted to the Habs top farm team - the Montreal Voyageurs. He played really well in 57 games, and even got a chance to play in 5 NHL games.

Lapointe took the NHL by storm starting in 1970-71. He exploded onto the scene with his 15 goals and 44 points. He was a strong player in the playoffs too as the Habs made an unexpected trip to the Finals, capturing Lord Stanley's Cup.

For a rookie like Guy, it was a turbulent experience.

"I really was scared of making a mistake" he allowed, even though he came across on the ice with poise beyond his inexperienced years. "Especially in the finals with Chicago. I was really terrible. I got sick before the game and between each period."

In Guy's second year he was have another fantastic season but that nearly was derailed in November 1971 when Detroit's Al Karlander's shot deflected off of Lapointe's stick and into his face. The puck fractured Lapointe's cheekbone and narrowly missed his precious eye.

Guy only missed 11 games because of the injury though. He came back wearing a protective mask, and played while it was still mending.

"I love hockey so much" he said at the time. "I'd play it for nothing."

Lapointe's enthusiasm for the game along with his obvious package of skills helped him be named to Team Canada 1972 for the Summit Series against the Russians. The idea was to play Canada's best against Russia's best. Even though he had been in the league just two seasons, Guy was selected as one of Canada's best.

Being invited to a team of Canada's best is perhaps the highest honor a player could get, but Guy almost turned to offer down. Lapointe's wife was expecting the birth of their child and if Guy made the team, he would likely miss the birth.

"It was a tough decision for me," Lapointe said, "but I had to go because it was a great chance."

Indeed it was a great chance, but Lapointe did miss the birth of his son as he was in Moscow.

"I did not go to Czechoslovakia [for an exhibition game that followed the series win over the Soviet Union]," Lapointe said. "I had to get home because my son was two days old by then."

Lapointe hurried home and was on fire by the time the NHL season started. Fresh off of his exhilarating experience in Moscow Guy blossomed with 19 goals and 54 points in 76 games, plus 6 goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games. He was a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy that spring as the Habs won the Stanley Cup.

Lapointe duplicated his performance in 1973-74 (scoring 13 goals and 53 points) but took his game to a new level in 1974-75 when he hit personal best with 28 goals plus 47 assists for 75 points in 1976-77. Lapointe was runner-up to Bobby Orr for the Norris Trophy in 1973 and selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In fact, many considered Lapointe to be the best defenseman aside from Orr in the early 1970s, and certainly during that particular season.

Lapointe kept playing at that level for the next two years, scoring 2 goals and 68 points in 1975-76 and 25 goals and a career high 76 points in 1976-77. The Habs won the Cup each of those years.

In 1976 Guy was asked once again to represent Canada - this time at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament. Guy was a strong contributor on what many people consider the greatest team ever iced. His Montreal teammates Larry Robinson and Serge Savard also made the team. The trio were considered to be the best set of defensemen on one NHL team ever, yet on this team they were like defensemen number 4, 5 and 6 behind Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Denis Potvin! Canada of course went on to capture the inaugural Canada Cup over the defending world champions from Czechoslovakia.

Lapointe was on pace for another incredible season in 1977-78 but he nearly lost an eye again during the season. He missed 31 games because he had to have surgery to reattach the retina to his eye.

While Lapointe would play solidly in his return and the following season (both of which saw the Habs win the Cup yet again), many said Lapointe was not quite the same after the eye surgery. He had to develop a slightly different playing style. As he aged he would have to play a lesser role offensively.

Injuries again took their toll in 1979-80, and he never returned to a dominating offensive role in the remainder of his career. He would remain in Montreal until March 1982 when he was traded to St. Louis for a draft pick. In 1983-84 he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins for one final season in the National Hockey League.

Lapointe was in some ways unlucky to play for the great Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s. He never did get the recognition that many others did. He was deemed to be part of a great defense, but never established himself as the best of it. He was overshadowed to a degree by Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, as well as other players around the league, most notably Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin and Brad Park.

Guy was best known around the league as the ultimate practical jokester. In his view anyone was game, and somehow none of his victims ever saw him do it, even though much of the rest of the team was in on it. It was said that late in a game he'd deliberately get a penalty so he could be sent to the dressing room instead of the penalty box, so he could get a head start on his practical jokes. Players, coaches, media, even the local stickboy while on the Habs were on the road would get it!

But fans of the game remember him as a powerful skater with a hard low shot. He had this rare ability to instill the correct emotion into a game. If the game was flat or lifeless, somehow Lapointe knew how to instill enthusiasm. Yet if the game was too hectic for the Habs liking, Lapointe could slow things down and calm the storm.



Denis Savard

Denis Savard is one of the most electrifying players in the history of hockey, and almost certainly the most exciting of his era. That is quite a claim considering Savard played in an era that boasted the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. The Great One and Super Mario left crowds wowed and thinking "Did I just see that?!" but they couldn't pull the fans out of their seat quite like Denis Savard.

Savard was one of the quickest players in the league, with tremendous one step acceleration. He was so fun to watch as he'd dart in and out of danger, rapidly change directions, and even perfect the "Savardian Spin-a-rama" in which he'd do a full 360 degree turn while carrying the puck to protect it from checkers. His great skating was complimented nicely by his incredibly soft hands. He could stickhandle through an entire team and was an excellent playmaker. He was also a very good shooter, particularly with his laser-like wrist shot. He was also known for taking bad angle shots. He was a puny player in terms of size but he had a solid center of gravity that made him tough to knock off the puck if you were lucky enough to catch him.

Savard would put all of those qualities together and leave defensemen dizzy and fans amazed!

"Denis is one of those players who is not only a great hockey player but a player with charisma," explained Bob Pulford, the long time general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks. "He's got that quality that keeps people coming out see him play."

Lou Nanne, then the general manager of the Hawks arch rival Minnesota North Stars, agreed.

"There just isn't a better skater in the league than Denis Savard. When Denis has the puck, he's got the ability to do a million things with it."

Of course Savard didn't think much of the idea that he was as much an entertainer as much as a hockey player. To him, he was just doing his job.

"I'm still surprised when people say I'm exciting to watch, even after all this time. Sometimes I'll try to put the puck between my legs or fake a pass, things like that. or maybe I spin a few times. It seems to make people talk. But mostly it's just instinct," Savard said. "I want to get the puck to a certain place, so I fake in and turn around on the defense because I feel the defense is confused. I don't do it to excite people. I know what I'm doing is different. I just don't know why."

Comparison's to the league's best player, Wayne Gretzky, were common.

"In my opinion, Savard is trickier than Gretzky. He moves better side to side than anybody in the league, and you never know what he will do when goes behind the net," said Vancouver Canuck goalie Richard Brodeur.

While comparison's to number 99 may be the ultimate compliment, style-wise, Savard and Gretzky were dissimilar. The essence of Savard's game is speed, agility and quickness. Gretzky' incomparable statistics have been attained mainly by an unmatched ability to foresee, comprehend and react to any given situation. Though he excelled alongside line mates Steve Larmer and Al Secord, Savard was more of a soloist than Gretzky.

"The Savardian spins and all the moves nobody else had . . . You can look at guys and try and learn their moves, but Denis was the inventor of the moves; he was the guy everyone else copied. In the middle of a play he'd come up with a new move. Just amazing," remembers coaching legend Dave King

Denis Savard was chosen by the Blackhawks' as their first-round pick (3rd overall) in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Many were shocked that Denis fell past number one, as the Montreal Canadiens held the first pick. Savard, a Quebec native from Point Gatineau, was a junior standout with the Montreal Jr. Canadiens, and everyone expected the Habs would take perhaps the most exciting junior francophone since Guy Lafleur. Instead, the Habs took Doug Wickenheiser, who had an even better junior season than Savard, but would prove to be an ultimate draft bust.

Savard broke into the league immediately after being drafted and showed he belong, scoring 28 goals and 75 points during his rookie season, and went on to post 119 points the following year, making him the second Blackhawk to score 100+ points in a single season. He was named to the NHL All-Star second team during the 1982-83 season, when he compiled 35 goals and 86 assists in 78 games. Though he played 7 all star games, it would be the only time he'd be honored as a post season All Star member due largely to the logjam of great centers in the 1980s.

Following his third 100+ point season in 1984-85, Savard tallied a career-high 47 goals during the 1985-86 campaign. He tallied career highs in assists (87) and points (131) during the 1987-88 season. His 131-point outburst in 1987-88 is a Blackhawk record and his 87 assist seasons in 1981-82 and 1987-88 are also Blackhawk records.

"Savard basically turned the Chicago franchise around," remembers former teammate Bob Murray. The Hawks had long been also-rans in the NHL power rankings. Not unlike Bobby Hull in the 1960s or Tony Esposito in the 1970s, Denis Savard was the identity of a proud franchise

Those were great days in Chicago, but playoff success was not part of the puzzle.

"I had great years in Chicago. We had a number of shots at winning the Stanley Cup in my first 10 years, but we lost in the semifinals five times. The Edmonton Oilers - by far the best team in hockey at the time - stopped us from getting the job done, but getting that far was still a great thrill," said Denis in Chris McDonell's book For The Love Of The Game.

Once Iron Mike Keenan arrived in the Windy City, Savard's days were numbered. The two did not see eye to eye. So in 1990, after 10 seasons as Mr. Chicago Blackhawks, Savard was traded to, ironically, the Montreal Canadiens for Chris Chelios in 1990.

While Chelios would become a true star in Chicago, Savard played three seasons for the Habs, compiling 179 points in 210 games, and more importantly winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. He wasn't nearly as dynamic as he was in his heyday, but he remained a serviceable player, creating a much needed offensive spark at times.

Savard extended his career with a short stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning to Chicago in a late season trade in 1995. He helped spark the Blackhawks in the 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the team with 7goals, 11 assists, and 18 points as they advanced to the Conference Finals.

Savard would hang up the blades after the 1996-97 season. He had posted some of the greatest offensive numbers ever seen. 473 goals and 865 assists for 1338 points in 1196 games was good enough to get him elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

Had it not been for Wayne Gretzky, perhaps Denis Savard would be recognized as the most electrifying and dominant player of the 1980s. Regardless, he is recognized as a Legend of the Ice.


Aurel Joliat

Affectionately known as "Mighty Atom" or "Little Giant," Aurel Joliat starred with the Montreal Canadiens from 1922 to 1938.

Aurel was lucky to play at all. As a teenager he fell off a roof, tumbled 35 feet to the ground, and landed on his back, narrowly escaping any serious injuries. And he played 13 seasons in the NHL with two displaced vertebraes, which caused him great pain and forced him to wear an elaborate truss at all times. He also suffered from stomach ulcers that he mostly ignored.

Aurel was tough enough to become a star kicker with his hometown Ottawa Rough Riders. If it wasn't for a broken leg, maybe Aurel would be known as one of the greatest football players of all time. The broken leg eventually led him to concentrate on hockey.

Aurel joined Montreal in 1922 under an intense microscope. He had been playing out west with the Saskatoon Sheiks when Montreal traded the already legendary but fading Newsy Lalonde for the "unknown kid." During the 1923-24 season he was teamed with Howie Morenz and Billy Boucher and went on to become one of the truly great left wingers in NHL history.

"I can't say that I played with Morenz," Aurel once said with a smile. "Although I tried to. Morenz was so fast I had to scoot well ahead of him on a rush or I was always lagging behind him, trying to catch up."

Aurel rarely played at more than 140 lbs, which was extremely small even back then. Aurel was a marvelous stickhandler and had an unusual abundance of "hockey sense," he simply did the right thing at the right time.

One Montreal writer of his era said, "He rolled away from 200-pounders, faded from the path of charging rivals and sidestepped and hurdled his way clear of smashing body-blows, flying elbows and jabbing butt-ends. His amazing quickness saved him from untold punishment over the years and kept him going like a brook, apparently forever."

"Oldtime hockey players like me were the dumbest bunch of athletes in the world," Aurel once said. "We never got paid what we deserved and most of us didn't have sense enough to save what money we got."

Despite six shoulder separations, three broken ribs, and routine injuries such as five nose fractures, Aurel went on to score 270 goals, tying Morenz on the all-time list. He was also an outstanding checker, capable of stopping an opponent and then quickly starting a rush of his own.

"Well, I guess I was tough enough," Aurel said in later years. "You had to be to survive. But I wasn't the toughest. That mule-headed son-of-a-bitch Eddie Shore was the meanest, toughest player I ever met. I was rushin' up the ice at the Forum one night when my lights went out. Shore hit me with a check that almost killed me. I was what? 130 pounds at the time and he must have been 190. He dislocated my shoulder and they carried me off in a lot of pain. Then I look around and Shore is leading a fancy rush. Forget the sore shoulder. I leaped over the boards and intercepted the big bugger. Hit him with a flyin' tackle. Hit him so hard he was out cold on the ice. He had it comin' I'd say . . ."

Aurel played on three Stanley Cup-winning teams (1923-24, 1929-30, and 1930-31) and won the Hart Trophy in the 1933-34 season. He was also on one first and three second All-Star Teams. He even led the league in goals (30) 1925.

Aurel was also known for a strange idiosyncrasies. For example, he wore a black baseball cap while he played, and wouldn't chase the puck without it. He was often the target of opponents who would swipe at that cap with a gloved hand. If they managed to dislodge it, a mighty roar of yeas and boos followed from the crowd. Aurel always retrieved his cap and put it on again to cover his bald spot. This lack of respect always infuriated Aurel, who played his best hockey when it happened.

And if Aurel didn't score then he saw to it that he slashed the cap-disturber across the ankles with a two-hander. Aurel was also noted for taunting his opponents, needling them until they ended up making mistakes.

After the 1937-38 season Aurel retired from hockey, although he disagreed with that.

"Retired hell!" he'd often snort. "They fired me when the Montreal Maroons folded and some of their players moved over to the Canadiens. I'm still damn mad about that."

The late Bill Galloway, a hockey historian and one of Aurel's best friends, recalled a time when Aurel, then in his 70s, was invited to Boston for a reunion of living hockey legends. Among the celebrities was Punch Broadbent, another tough customer who had been a thorn in Aurel's side throughout their playing days.

In the press room prior to the dinner, the two oldtimers became embroiled in an argument over an incident that had occurred in a game played back in the '20s. Soon they were nose to nose and their voices, raised in anger, silenced the other conversations in the room. Then punches were thrown and a dandy fight developed.

Finally, scratched and bleeding, the two old adversaries were pulled apart by half a dozen bystanders. They were marched off to their rooms and told to cool off and behave themselves. But the fight wasn't over. Moments later Aurel barged into Broadbent's room, flew at him with clenched fists, and round two was underway. Once again the peacemakers came running.

Finally, stated Galloway, NHL president Clarence Campbell was called and persuaded the two legends of the game to call a truce. By then they were so battered and bruised Campbell barred them from a group photo of the celebrities and told them to forget about attending the dinner that night. "Order room service and we'll pay for it," he barked as he departed. The following morning, Aurel was seen roaming the hotel lobby. "I'm looking for my old pal Broadbent," he told acquaintances. "I'd like to buy him breakfast, or better still, a few beers if we can find a bar that's open."

Not long after the Boston shenanigans, Aurel told Ottawa sports columnist Earl McRae he'd like to make a comeback in the NHL. "If a team made me the right offer I'd come back," he said straight-faced. "I'd show 'em."

"How long do you think you'd last out there?" McRae asked.

"About five minutes."

"Only five minutes a game?"

"Game? Hell - five minutes a shift!"

60 years after Aurel played in the opening game at the Montreal Forum, he was invited back as an honorary member of the Canadiens' "dream team". Then aged 83, he delighted the fans with a display of vigorous skating and stickhandling. He even took a couple of pratfalls, one of them caused by the red carpet laid on the ice. "The ghost of Eddie Shore must have put that damn rug in front of me," he would mutter.

The "Little Giant", one of hockey's biggest Legends and one of its most colorful players ever, passed away on June 2, 1986 at the age of 84.


Russ Courtnall

Russ Courtnall was an electrifying player, blessed with great skating ability. The little dynamo had great ability of being able to reach full speed after just 2 or 3 strides. What was even more impressive is that Rusty had excellent puck handling skills even at full speed. There's lots of fast players in the league, but only a few can handle the puck at top speed as well as Courtnall could. One of his favorite plays was to come down on a defenseman at top speed, put the puck in the defenseman's skates as he scoots behind him and regains the puck. Rusty embarrassed more than a few defenseman that way, leaving them either flat-footed or flat on the ice!

Courtnall's game revolved around his speed. He didn't have the size or strength to power by most players in the league, but defenses were always on their heels when the intimidating speedball Courtnall was out there. A common play for Courtnall's linemates was to just dump the puck onto Courtnall's side as it was a good bet that Courtnall could get to the puck faster than the opposing defenseman.

Courtnall had a wonderful wrist shot and also excelled on one-time shots. However he didn't use his good shots as often as his coaches and fans would have liked, as he was naturally a playmaker. Originally a center who was converted to right wing, Rusty loved to speed down the wing, drawing the attention of both defenseman with him, and then hit his trailing linemate with a centering pass. Courtnall was a great passer too. He had great on-ice vision and was able to thread the needle more times than not. He was very creative with the rubber disc, as all his linemates over the years appreciated.

Although his size limited his game, he was a tougher player than most gave him credit for. He was an effective forechecker because of his speed, and when he hit a defenseman at his skating speed it must have felt like he was 20 pounds heavier than he actually was. He was never intimidated and much like his brother Geoff, played a courageous game. Playing early on on a line with Wendel Clark certainly helped him play much braver as well.

After reading all that, you'd think I had just described the perfect hockey player. While Courtnall did develop into a good two way forward, he was always criticized at times for his intensity and consistency. He scored 80 points only once in his career, and more than 70 in 3 other seasons. But it seemed like every time he was on the ice he was creating a stir. He was a very busy player when on the ice, always creating a chance because of his speed. That is certainly not a complaint, but by the end of the night you'd walk away thinking man that Courtnall guy had a good game, but then you'd look at his stats and be amazed that he didn't have better scoring totals. Other nights you wouldn't have noticed him at all, although that was generally in his early years.

Russ was originally a 1st round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Selected 7th overall in 1983, rather than returning to his native Victoria to play junior hockey, Russ opted to join the Canadian national team in 1983-84 where he represent Canada at both the World Junior Championships and the Olympics. Late in the year he joined the Leafs, scoring 3 goals and 12 points in 14 games. After such a strong season on the international scene, Leaf fans were expecting big things from their promising star.

However Courtnall's rookie season of 1984-85 wasn't overly good. He struggled to just 12 goals and 22 points in 69 games. He rebounded well in 1985-86, scoring 22 goals and 60 points, and took his game to the next level in 1986-87 with 29 goals and 73 points.

Leaf fans and media were patient with Courtnall's development, but quickly became disenchanted with him when he suffered a setback in 1987-88. He scored 23 goals and 49 points in a year marred by several small but nagging injuries including back spasms, as the Leafs continued to redefine the word "struggle."

Five years after drafting the electrifying center who they had hoped would be their superstar, the Leafs gave up on Courtnall and foolishly traded him to Montreal 9 games into the 1988-89 season in exchange for John Kordic and a 6th round pick. That trades ranks as one of the worst trades of all time. Kordic, a goon with drug problems, never amounted to much outside of Montreal, while Courtnall would thrive in Montreal.

Placed on a line with Guy Carbonneau, Courtnall - like any player wearing the Habs jersey - was expected to be more of a two way forward in Montreal as opposed to the scoring star. He seemed to respond well to less pressure, as he and Carbonneau formed a great defensive duo, particularly on the penalty kill. Courtnall also saw ice time on the top line with Bobby Smith.

After being a member of the 1991 Canada Cup team, which is about as high an honour you can get as a Canadian player, Courtnall had an awful 1991-92 season. He appeared in just 27 games and scored 7 goals and 21 points as he missed 41 games with a serious shoulder injury and another 12 games with a bad hand. The Habs decided to trade Rusty to Minnesota in exchange for veteran sniper Brian Bellows in the summer of 1992.

In Minnesota/Dallas, Courtnall was once again placed on the hot seat as he was expected to be more of a scoring leader as well as a good two way player. Rusty responded well, scoring a career high 36 goals in 1992-93, to go along with 79 points. In 1993-94 he upped his point total to a career high 80 points including a career high 57 assists and played strongly in the playoffs, scoring 9 points in 9 games.

1994-95 was a tough year for Courtnall as injuries limited his effectiveness in just 32 games in the lock-out shortened season in Dallas. Late in the season Courtnall was traded to Vancouver in exchange for 1994 playoff hero Greg Adams, and Dan Kesa and a draft pick. It was a great trade for Courtnall and his family. Born on Vancouver Island, his parents could now see him play regularly. Moreover, for the first time in their careers, brothers Russ and Geoff Courtnall were playing on the same team. Finally the boys' mother could cheer for the same team!

After a short experiment with the brothers on the same line, Russ found a niche on the right wing of what was arguably the Canucks most complete and best line with Trevor Linden and Martin Gelinas. Linden and Gelinas had great years with Courtnall on their side, and Rusty responded with 26 goals and 65 point in 1995-96. The trio really complimented each other and worked well together.

Courtnall got caught up in the numbers game in Vancouver. The right winger was struggling for playing time behind Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny and after a slow 1996-97 season caused by a nagging groin injury, was traded to New York with dressing room problem Esa Tikkanen for Sergei Nemchinov and Brian Noonan.

An unrestricted free agent at the end of the 96-97 season, the Rangers showed no interest in resigning Courtnall and he ended up with the Los Angeles Kings for two years. It was an ideal situation for Courtnall who always wanted to play in LA. His wife (actress Paris Vaughn - daughter of famous jazz singer Sarah Vaughn) is from Los Angeles and who doesn't love the California sunshine! However Rusty's play in LA was nowhere near as hot as the weather. He was often a healthy scratch as it was obvious his best days were behind him.

After missing 24 games with a broken foot, the Kings didn't offer him a contract in the summer of 1999. Though he never made an official retirement press conference, it soon became obvious Russ had run out of opportunities that he wanted to pursue in the NHL. There were rumours that the St. Louis Blues - where brother Geoff was playing - had inquired as well as the Vancouver Canucks, but obviously nothing was worked out.

Russ, who played in his only NHL All Star game in 1994, scored a career total of 297 goals, 447 assists for 744 points in 1029 games. In 129 playoff contests, he added 39 goals and 83 points. While he never was able to capture the Stanley Cup, Russ played in the World Junior and Senior Championships, 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and captured the Canada Cup in 1991.

He and brother Geoff are the only two brothers to eaplay in 1000 NHL games each.


Howie Morenz

We live in an era where we quickly give good hockey players the label of superstar. But rarely has hockey seen a true superstar - a player who transcends the great game itself. We've been blessed to see the likes of Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Rocket Richard and a precious few others - hockey's true superstars.

Perhaps the first NHL player to transcend the game (arguably Cyclone Taylor, who played mostly prior the creation of the NHL, was the first hockey player to transcend the game) was the man they called "The Babe Ruth of Hockey" - the great Howie Morenz.

Morenz was the most electrifying player of his era, and perhaps ever. To compare him to a modern player for today's fans, "The Russian Rocket" Pavel Bure is an interesting comparison, although historically Morenz is most often compared to Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. However Morenz, unlike those two, excelled at both ends of the ice.

For much of Morenz's career forward passing was illegal so end to end rushes were the norm. Like Bure, Morenz excelled in that area in spectacular fashion. He had blazing speed and could do magical things with the puck at that speed. He would dance through the entire team, often with reckless abandon, and often resulting in a terrific scoring chance. He did so in dramatic fashion, often bringing the fans out of their seats like so few hockey players are able to do.

"He was the best," said King Clancy, a long time foe of Morenz and a great judge of hockey talent and hockey history. "He could stop on a dime and leave you nine cents change. He was in a class by himself. And when he couldn't skate around you, he'd go right over you."

Clancy added "I seen 'em all score goals. Howe, wicked and deft, knocking everybody on their ass with his windshield-wiper elbows. Rocket Richard coming mad, guys climbing all over him. Hull, booming a slapshot like a WWII cannon. Wayne Gretzky mesmerizing the defence as he waltzes across the blueline, then wafting a feathery pass to a fast coming winger.....But I never saw anybody - nobody - score like Morenz on a furious charge down center."

Toe Blake, who played with and against Morenz and played with and coached Richard, agrees the comparisons are accurate.

"They (Morenz and Richard) had that flair that would just lift the people right out of their seats. That's the best way I can explain it. You can take any era of hockey and the stars of yesterday would be stars of today. And Morenz is right up there at the top of the class. I don't think from end to end I ever saw a guy like Morenz. He was small, stocky, with the most powerful legs you've ever seen. He'd make rush after rush - at least 20 a game - and it never mattered how hard he got hit. Most players, after they were hit, you'd think 'Oh, he can't take that again,' but it didn't matter with him. Shot up into the seats in one rush, by killers like Eddie Shore and Taffy Abel and the like, and he'd come right back as if they didn't exist. And I'll tell you another thing, one of the greatest backcheckers I ever saw. He was just a terrific hockey player."

Nels Stewart, an legend of hockey himself, thought a little higher of Morenz when he said "They don't come like Morenz very often, about one in a century. He had everything, could rush, score goals, backcheck. You couldn't put the Rocket in the same breath as Howie, and that goes for everybody else, including Bill Cook. None of them were in the same stable.

Perhaps the great Eddie Shore said it best: "(Morenz) had a heart that was unsurpassed in athletic history and no one ever came close to him in the colour department. After you watched Howie you wanted to see him often, and as much as I liked to play hockey, i often thought I would have counted it a full evening had I been able to sit in the stands and watch the Morenz maneuvers. Such an inclination never occurred to me about other stars."

Howie was born on September 21, 1902 in Mitchell Ontario. He was the youngest of 6 children of William and Rose Morenz, German immigrants who settled in Mitchell when William got a job working for the railroad. He fell in love with hockey at a very early age, and became a prominent player on the frozen ponds and ice rinks near Mitchell - although not considered to be the best. He was already a fantastic skater but the title of Mitchell's best hockey player actually went to the team's center (Howie was a rover often) went to Johnny Cook. Though he would become famous in Stratford and world famous in Montreal, Mitchell was where "The Mitchell Meteor" called home.

The Morenz family moved down the road to Stratford, Ontario in 1917, lured by a higher paying job for father Traugart. It was a great move, in hindsight, for Howie. He had a chance to play hockey at a more organized and higher level, which really aided him in his hockey development. He had always been the fastest skater and a great puck carrier, but he really developed into a star hockey player in Stratford. In fact, Howie became such a star as an amateur in Stratford that they dubbed him the Stratford Streak Junior and senior championships became the norm and Howie, who was also the star of the baseball player, was quite the celebrity in town.

The professional leagues of course heard about this man they called the Stratford Streak, and a bidding war of sorts started over his services. Supposedly Toronto, Saskatoon and Victoria all put in nice offers, but Howie signed with the Montreal Canadiens. Howie never felt at ease with his decision as he never really wanted to leave Stratford, and actually sent back all of his signing bonus and an apology to the Canadiens and asked to have the contract torn up as he did not want to leave Stratford a couple more months to think about it.

The Canadiens of course were upset as they didn't want to lose the hottest hockey prospect in all of Canada. They basically forced Howie to attend training camp and become a professional. The Habs threatened legal action as they had a signed legal document. They also threatened to get downright dirty and smear Morenz's name and chances to ever return to amateur hockey by proving that Morenz was receiving forms of payment from his employer to stay and play in Stratford even though he was supposed to be an unpaid amateur. Morenz reluctantly left Stratford for the big city of Montreal

Morenz would soon forget those feelings of reluctance. Montreal became his town, and hockey his game. He elevated his game to true superstar levels once he arrived in Montreal. Over the next 14 years, most of which was spent in Montreal he piled up 270 goals and 197 assists, two scoring championships, three MVPs and three Stanley Cups.

From 1923-34 through 1933-34, Morenz dazzled the Montreal faithful. He was named the Canadiens Comet or the Hurtling Habitant, but the name Stratford Streak always stuck the most. In his first year he centered a line with Billy Boucher and Aurel Joliat. Joliat in particular would become a long time partner in greatness with Morenz. Morenz became an immediate box office attraction. He scored 13 goals in 24 games and led the Habs to the Stanley Cup.

After that initial season Morenz lost all of his feelings of homesickness and was eager to get a new NHL season underway. He had a great 1924-25 season, scoring 28 goals in just 30 games. That year Morenz trailed only Joliat in the Habs point scoring race. But for the next 7 years no other player would lead the team in goals or points than Morenz. Two of those years, 1927-28 and 1930-31 he led the entire NHL in scoring. In both 1930 and 1931 Morenz led the Habs to two more Stanley Cup championships

Morenz's aggressive game caught up to him by the mid-1930s as injuries limited his effectiveness. After a poor 1933-34 campaign which shockingly included the Montreal faithful booing Morenz for his sudden lack of production, Morenz was traded to Chicago. He never did recapture his previous form, and after a year and a half was traded to the Rangers in New York. He only played 19 games for New York.

In 1936-37 Morenz was brought back to Montreal as the team was really struggling. Morenz, it was hoped, would spark a turn of fortunes for the Habs, and they did to a certain degree. Morenz in the meantime had made it all but publicly known that this was going to be his last season in hockey, and he seemed to really be enjoying and savoring every moment.

That's when tragedy struck. On the night of January 28, 1937, Howie Morenz suffered a horrific injury. He broke 4 bones in his left leg and ankle in a game against Chicago when. He was tripped in the corner of the rink and somehow his skate got lodged into the boards. Chicago defenseman Earl Seibert accidentally fell over Morenz, breaking the leg viciously.

Morenz seemed to be recovering nicely in hospital, but too many visitors helped to contribute to a nervous breakdown. Shortly afterwards Morenz died. Legend has always falsely said that he died of a broken heart when doctors told him he wouldn't be able to play hockey again. In actuality the cause was heart failure on the heels of the breakdown that cause his death.

Morenz would have enjoyed his funeral service. It was held at his home: center ice at the Montreal Forum. Much like Rocket Richard many years later, the forum was packed as fans paid their respects.

In 1945 he was an inaugural member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1950 Morenz was honored as the Canadian Press named him the greatest hockey player of the half century. By the end of the century, more than 60 years after his death, The Hockey News poll of experts ranked Morenz as the 15th greatest hockey player of all time. That's pretty impressive considering most of the "experts" had never actually seen Morenz play.


Jacques Plante

Jacques Plante's contributions to the game of hockey, as both a player and innovator, are substantial. So much so that he may ranks as one of the most imporant figures in the history of sport.

A seven time All Star, Plante won the Hart Trophy in 1962 as the league's most valuable player. He'd win a record seven Vezina Trophies and also 6 Stanley Cups in his illustrious 18 year career. His lifetime GAA of 2.37 is almost as amazing as his 82 shutouts.

Plante played for six teams during his career, most notably the Montreal Canadiens as well as the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and finishing up his career with the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA at the age of 45.

Plante started many trends which we now simply take for granted. He was the first goalie to signal with one of his arms to his teammates when icing was going to be called. His strong skating ability - something goalies of older eras were not noted for like they are today - enabled him to come out of his net and challenge shooters, thus cutting down the angles. Yet another taken-for-granted play started by Plante was stopping the puck behind the net. Prior to Plante, no goalie would regularly roam around the ice and stop the puck and give it to his defenceman. That was unheard of!

Of course Plante's greatest contribution and most recognizable innovation was the goalie mask. He wasn't the first goalie ever to use one, but he was the first to permanently adopt a practical face mask. Prior to this time, goalies would bravely (foolishly?) stand in their net and stop flying pieces of frozen rubber with nothing to protect their face. Now goalie masks are even being used by baseball catchers.

Ironically, by hiding his face behind a mask Jacques Plante became one of the most recognized figures in sporting history.

Montreal Canadiens coaching and management staff were dead set against Plante using the mask, but allowed him to use it in practice at times. However during a game against the New York Rangers on Nov. 1, 1959, Plante was hit in the face with an errant backhand shot by Andy Bathgate. Plante wanted to return, but he refused to play without the mask. Coach Toe Blake finally relented and Plante returned to the ice, literally changing the face of the game forever.

Jacques and Toe never really saw eye to eye. That was probably because Blake, like many of the media, fans and hockey people of the day, was a traditionalist, and Jacques was revolutionizing the game. Many of today's goaltending techniques are attributable directly to Plante.

Jacques Plante was one of the great innovators of the game. But he was also one of the games greatest players.

"I rate him and Terry Sawchuk as the best goalies I've ever seen," wrote Jean Beliveau in his autobiography. "With Ken Dryden, Glenn Hall, Bernie Parent and Patrick Roy on the next rung down."

Beliveau had a good chance to watch "Jake the Snake." His long time teammate also played against him in junior hockey. The two were integral parts to the dynastic Stanley Cup championship teams from 1956 through 1960. Plante, who only became the Canadiens regular goalie in 1954-55, won the Vezina Trophy each of the 5 years that the Habs had won the Cup. Despite all the great scorers on what many think is the greatest team of all time, you simply don't win a Stanley Cup - let alone 5 in a row - without great goaltending. Plante, described by Boom Boom Geoffrion as "one of the cockiest, most confident goaltenders I've met," was the game's best during this time.

In 1961-62 Plante won the Vezina Trophy for the 6th time, and also became just the 4th goalie in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy. Roy Worters, Chuck Rayner and Al Rollins had done it previously. Dominik Hasek became the 5th goalie to accomplish the feat nearly 40 years later.

Despite his great play, Plante, a severe asthmatic, was traded to the New York Rangers in a multi player deal that saw Gump Worsley head to Montreal. He played a couple of seasons in New York, but wasn't overly happy there. The Rangers team wasn't too strong, and Jean Beliveau referred to Plante's job there as "a year and a half of rubber therapy."

Plante retired and returned to Quebec, where he worked as a salesman for a brewery. Everyone felt Jacques' retirement was too premature, and sure enough Plante would make a comeback. His comeback started under unusual circumstances. He tended net in an exhibition game with the Montreal Junior Canadiens against the touring Soviet national team in 1965. Plante played spectacularly, and the curious fans at the Montreal Forum gave him a great ovation.

According to most statistical sources, Plante was inactive from competitive hockey in his three year retirement, but Jean Beliveau stated otherwise in his autobiography My Life In Hockey. He claims Plante played for the Quebec Aces during that time, which obviously would have kept his skills sharp.

Plante attempted a comeback in 1967 - the first year of NHL expansion. Jacques tried out with the California Golden Seals, but he was ordered to leave training camp once it was decided that the Rangers still owned his NHL rights.

The St. Louis Blues were able to secure Plante a year later though. In the Gateway City Jacques shared not only the netminding duties but the Vezina Trophy by 1969. Plante was then moved to Toronto for three seasons, before joining Boston and WHA Edmonton briefly.

Jacques, like many goalies of his day, was a little bit "off." He was aloof among many of his teammates and the public in general. Like many goalies he had an odd habit. His was a fascination for knitting. While traveling on trains or while sitting in the dressing room, he'd knit everything from underwear to toques. Some said he did it because the concentration required kept his mind off of hockey. Others said he did it to save money for his family.

Jacques once was asked if goaltending was a stressful job.

"Stressful?" he replied. "Do you know a lot of jobs where every time you make a mistake, a red light goes off over your head and 15,000 people start booing?"

Plante left his stressful life in North America behind and moved to Switzerland where he was quickly embraced as a person more so than a hockey hero. He died and was buried their in 1986 after losing a battle with cancer.

In 837 NHL games, Plante won 435, lost just 247 and tied 145. 82 times he blanked the opponents, and had a tiny 2.38 career GAA. That GAA fell to 2.14 in 112 post season games. He won 71 of those games, and 5 Stanley Cups. He was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League remembers him by naming its top goalie as the Jacques Plante trophy winner.

When it comes to the eternal debate about the greatest goalie of all time, Plante's status remains near the top despite time's natural erosion. Perhaps Ken Dryden, a great goaltender in his own right, puts it best: "There are a lot of very good goalies, there are even a fair number of great goalies. But there aren't many important goalies. And Jacques Plante was an important goalie"


John Ferguson

John Ferguson is known througout hockey circles as perhaps the toughest hockey player in the modern day NHL. He is often considered to be hockey's first "goon" or "designated sitter." Critics claimed he was only there to protect the smaller skilled players on the Montreal Canadiens. However the colorful and feared left winger was also a very solid hockey player.

His first game was in 1963 in the Boston Garden, and he played a huge role in the outcome of the game. He played on a line with Jean Beliveau and Boom Boom Geoffrion and his job was obvious - to thwart the Bruins bigger players from taking liberties against the Habs superstars.

The main concern from Montreal coach Toe Blake was with Boston's "Terrible" Ted Green, who played "with the heart and guts of a pitbull" and was generally considered to be hockey's toughest player. Green was well aware of the rookie known as Fergie and was willing to test him. Just 12 seconds into the game the two collided and dropped the gloves. Ferguson landed three quick blows numbing Green and instantly taking the title as hockey's unofficial heavyweight champion, a title he never relinquished until he retired.

Ferguson had more to prove that night though. He had the hands of a brawler but would ultimately show that he knew other tricks with those hands as well. He ended up with 2 goals and an assist.

Fergie wasn't the biggest player in the league. He stood at 5'11" and played at 190 lbs. He also never accumulated rediculous penalty minute totals. His highest PIM in a season was 156, which is pretty low compared to today's pugilists.

Fergie played exactly 500 games in the NHL, scoring 145 goals and 158 points for 303 points. He average 18 goals a season, and in 1968-69 reached a career high 29 goals and 52 points.

Ferguson not only wanted to have a long and successful hockey career, but he wanted to be known as hockey's toughest player. When he was hockey's unofficial heavyweight champ, he was offered a chance to fight Canadian heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo. Chuvalo was one of a very few people to last 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali. The bought never happened as the Canadiens refused to give Fergie permission to fight.

He was a key member of 5 Montreal Stanley Cup Championships. Make no doubt he made those who played with him a better player. Small and speedy guys like Geoffrion, Cournoyer, Beliveau, and Henri Richard played a lot bigger knowing Fergie was behind them.

Many were surprised Ferguson retired after just 8 NHL seasons. While Fergie diplomatically claimed he had many business opportunities awaiting him, he later revealed the real reason he retired from the National Hockey League - he was afraid he'd kill somebody.

"I was beginning to worry about doing some serious damage to someone" said Ferguson in Brian McFarlane's book "The Habs."

Hockey fans loved Fergie because he played with heart and emotion that all fans demand. Hockey today could use another John Ferguson.


Bill Durnan

Bill Durnan had a short but absolutely brilliant career with the Montreal Canadiens.

Durnan had a very peculiar trait that helped him excel: he was ambidextrous. Instead of wearing a blocker, he would wear modified gloves on both hands. He would then switch which hand he used to hold the stick depending on which side of the rink the opposition was attacking from. Thus, the shooter would always be facing his big catching glove. He became known as Dr. Strange-Glove.

It wasn't a natural thing for Durnan though. A natural rightie, he worked very hard at it under the tutelage of church league coach Steve Faulkner.

"His idea of switching the stick hand really impressed me when I played against better teams, since the goalie always keeps his catching hand out toward the big part of the net," said Durnan. "At first it felt as though I was transferring a telephone pole from one hand to the other, but after a while I'd hardly realize I was doing it. Soon I noticed the opposition was unaware that I was switching hands, and later on when I was in the NHL it often took years before the other guys knew I was ambidextrous."

Durnan was originally property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he was released because of a bad injury. As a result, Durnan was devastated and basically gave up.

"When the Leafs found out about my injury they dropped me and I vowed that even when I got better never would I play pro hockey. I was disillusioned and figured if that was the kind of treatment I was to get, then hell, I didn't want any part of it.

"Besides, there wasn't much money involved. In those days they weren't paying anywhere near the money to be had today. So, I quit altogether. Playing in the NHL was about as far from my mind as swimming on Mars."

Durnan moved to Kirkland Lake and got a job at the local gold mining mill and played senior hockey with the local Blue Devils. After 4 years which included the 1940 Allan Cup championship, Durnan moved to Montreal where he took a job in the accounting department of Canadian Car and Foundry Company, and at the same time played goal for the Montreal Royals in the QSHL.

"My boss was Len Peto, who was also a director with the Canadiens and a man who knew his hockey. I hadn't given the NHL a second thought, that incident with the Leafs was still sharp in my mind and I never wanted to go pro. Money wasn't a problem any more, I had a good job and was making a little extra from the Royals, so everything was just fine when Peto started pressuring me to sign with the Canadiens."

At this time Durnan was 28 years old, and about to finally embark upon his NHL career.

"I wasn't ordered to sign, but there's no question that some stress was put on me, which I resisted at first. Somehow I managed to hold out until the day of the opening game and got the Canadiens management to give into my wishes. I signed for the huge sum of $4200 and found myself on a hockey team just beginning to gel."

Gel they did. Rocket Richard was just coming into his own, and line mates Toe Blake and Elmer Lach were incredible, as was defenseman Butch Bouchard. And Durnan was a big part of the Habs success.

Although his career lasted only 7 seasons, it was long enough to earn him top consideration as perhaps the greatest goalie in hockey history. He won the Vezina trophy in his rookie season, and would win the Vezina every year he played in the league except one. He was a 6 time First Team All Star and led the Habs to two Stanley Cup championships.

In 1949 he set the modern record for consecutive shutouts with 4, as he played over 309 minutes of NHL action without surrendering a goal. The record stood until Brian Boucher broke it in 2004.

Durnan left the game he loved because of the pressures involved in tending the net.

"Hockey started to get rough for me at the end of the 40's. I had broken my hand and after it mended it felt as if my arm was falling off whenever I'd catch the puck," said Durnan. "One of my main reasons for chucking it all was because the fun was going out of the game for me. A lot of my old pals were leaving - or had gone - and much of the camaraderie was missing."

Durnan also cited the money as a reason he got out of hockey.

"My reflexes had gotten a little slow and, besides, the money wasn't really that good. I'll admit, if they were paying the kind of money goaltenders get today, they'd have had to shoot me to get me out of the game! But at the end of any given season when I was playing I never seemed to have more than $2000 in the bank, so I wasn't really getting anywhere that way. I wasn't educated and I had two girls to raise."

Things came to a head in the 1950 playoffs against the New York Rangers however. The Rangers were on the verge of an upset when they had the Habs on the brink of elimination 3 games to 1. Durnan pulled himself from the series.

"I was afraid I was blowing things. I really wasn't, I guess, but we hadn't won a game and I didn't want to be blamed for it. And I felt I wasn't playing as well as I did in the past.. The nerves and all the accompanying crap were built up. It was the culmination of a lot of thinking and I realized 'What the hell, I'm quitting and this is as good as time as any'"

Gerry McNeil stepped in and finished the playoffs.

"A lot of people thought it was a nervous breakdown but it wasn't. To this day, people still won't believe me."

Elected into the Hall of Fame in 1963, Durnan passed away in 1972. His final numbers are an impressive 208 wins against 112 losses with 62 ties. 34 of his games ended in a shutout while his career GAA was a paltry 2.36. In 6 of his 7 years in the NHL he led the NHL in GAA, as well as in 3 playoffs. His career playoff GAA shrank to just 2.07.

Durnan is often forgotten about when it comes to discussing the game's greatest goaltenders. Sawchuk, Hall, Plante, Dryden, Hasek and Roy usually are the names brought up, but not Durnan. Perhaps if he had been professional a little longer in his career he would have gotten the credit that is due.


Boom Boom Geoffrion

When I started remembering former NHL players at GreatestHockeyLegends.com about four years ago, the very first player I ever wrote about was Boom Boom Geoffrion.

Ever since I've wondered why did I pick Geoffrion first? Why not Rocket Richard? Or Gordie Howe? Bobby Orr? Wayne Gretzky? Mario Lemieux?  Nope, I picked Boom Boom.

Not that Geoffrion was a bad choice. He won six Stanley Cups, two Art Ross trophies, a Hart and a Calder trophy. He was only the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. And he helped revolutionized the sport with his slap shot. He truly was one of the all time greats.

Booing Boom Boom

Not that everyone realized it even when he was playing. He was always in the shadows of Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau in Montreal, and the likes of fellow right wingers Gordie Howe and Andy Bathgate league wide. I've always felt Geoffrion, an incredibly proud man, felt slighted and even carried that chip on his shoulder to his dying days.

Of course, that was never more evident than in 1955. That was the year Rocket Richard was banned for the rest of the season and the playoffs. With seven games left in the season, Geoffrion inevitably passed Richard to take the NHL scoring title. But Montreal fans wanted to see their favorite son, Richard, win the Art Ross trophy, something he never did accomplish in his great career. Those fans booed Geoffrion.

Geoffrion seemed most upset at the fact that he did not win the First Team All Star status that year.

"I couldn't deliberately not score, that isn't the point of hockey, Montreal," an angry Geoffrion reflected. "I was so feeling the urge to vomit; I felt terrible. Even thinking about hockey made me feel bad, man did I want to leave. If it had not been for Jean (BĂ©liveau) and Maurice (Richard) visiting, I would have. Usually, it's not too much to expect to be on the First (All-Star) Team when you have more points than anyone else."

Power Play Specialist

With Maurice Richard headlining a who's who of hockey, the Montreal Canadiens had an outstanding power play for years. But when Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion perfected his slap shot from the point, the NHL was forced to take action. With Richard, Jean Beliveau and Dickie Moore up front and Doug Harvey and Geoffrion on the points, the Canadiens often scored two or even three goals during a single minor penalty, so the rules were changed to allow the penalized player back on the ice after a power play goal was scored.

It was "Boom Boom's" dynamic shot that became his trademark. He perfected the now-common slap shot. Firing little discs of frozen rubber at speeds upwards of 100 mph put fear into the hearts of enemy goaltenders as never seen before.

Geoffrion claimed he was the originator of the slap shot, although others such as Bobby Hull and Andy Bathgate are also recognized as such. As a kid Geoffrion would practice the wild swinging motion by banging pucks on a cold outdoor rink endlessly. By the time he was a junior in Laval he was dubbed Boom Boom by sportswriter Charlie Boire of the Montreal Star. One boom was for the sound of his stick striking the puck; the second was for when his rocketing shot hit the boards.

Geoffrion was more than just a heavy shooter. His all-out style of play and unquenchable desire to win enabled him to win the Calder Trophy in 1952 and the Hart Trophy in 1961. He led the league in scoring twice and was name to the First All Star Team in 1961 and the Second in 1955 and 1960. The fact that he made three post-season All Star teams is actually quite amazing. Geoffrion was a right winger in the same era as Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe.

Replacing The Rocket

Habs coach Dick Irvin once predicted, "When Maurice Richard hangs up his skates, (Geoffrion) will take over his place as the greatest player in the NHL." Irvin was bang on, at least in the first year without Richard. That was 1960-61. Bernie will be forever known as the second player to record 50 goals in one season. In addition he added 45 assists for 95 points, then just one shy of the NHL record. The 50 goals of course equaled Richard's lofty mark. Unfortunately for Montreal, that year was the first time in 6 years that the Habs didn't win the Stanley Cup.

Geoffrion never came close to reproducing the 60-61 season in the next three years. Injuries played a role in his lack of success, but insiders suggested he was hurt most by the fact that Jean Beliveau was named captain of the Canadiens instead of him. His slump from his great year made the Canadiens begin to look for a replacement, which they found in a young speedster nicknamed "The Roadrunner" - Yvon Cournoyer.

Leaving Montreal

Geoffrion retired in 1964 to take a coaching position in the Habs farm system, with the understanding that he would be able to move up the ladder and one day coach the NHL team. However Geoffrion and the Habs would have a falling out shortly after.

Following his fallout with the Habs, Boom Boom made a less than spectacular two year comeback in 1966 with the New York Rangers

Geoffrion scored 371 goals in 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s and 1960s and another 22 goals in a two-year comeback with the New York Rangers from 1966 to 1968.

He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.

He would try to stay involved in hockey in his retirement. He had two short NHL coaching stints with the New York Rangers and Atlanta Flames. However severe ulcers forced him away from the bench. The illnesses were so bad that part of his stomach was surgically removed.

Despite the illnesses Geoffrion jumped at the opportunity to have the job he felt should have been his years before. In 1979-80, Geoffrion returned to Montreal as head coach. However the timing was bad. The team had just come off of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships and had lost a few key players. Geoffrion, who had the chance to coach his son Danny that season, stepped down after just 30 games frustrated with management interference.

Geoffrion quickly returned to the sunshine and peach trees of Georgia where he remained until his death. Unfortunately health problems continued to haunt Geoffrion. In the 1990s he survived prostate cancer and macular degeneration of his right eye. Cancerous tumors were found in his stomach in 2006 but the disease had already spread too far for doctors to do anything about it.

Sadly, Bernie Geoffrion, 75, died the night that the Montreal Canadiens were bestowing the greatest honor upon him. At the Geoffrion family's insistance, the team retired his number 5 despite news of his death just hours before the ceremony.

Geoffrion will also be remembered for being part of one of the greatest NHL families of all time. His father in law was Howie Morenz, one of the few Habs greats who may out rank Boom Boom himself. Geoffrion's son, Danny, was a celebrated Montreal draft pick, while Geoffrion's grandson Blake is about to embark upon his own NHL career.

He will always be remembered as one of the charismatic, competitive and greatest right wingers in the history of the game. He was an incredibly proud man who, as great as he was, probably never quite felt he got what he should have.

So why did I choose Boom Boom Geoffrion as the first player I profiled at GreatestHockeyLegends.com? I still don't know. I must see some of myself in Geoffrion. Some part of me is also greatly proud of what I've accomplished. I hope this website and my passion for hockey can take me far. Far, like Boom Boom Geoffrion.


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