A giant, monstrous defenseman of his era, or any era for that matter, Butch Bouchard was a standout with some strong Montreal Canadiens teams. The former Habs captain played much like a modern day Derian Hatcher or Zdeno Chara, although he lacked the mobility of the modern game.
A Montreal native, Bouchard never dreamed of playing for the Canadiens. In fact, he never owned his first pair of skates or hockey equipment until he was 16. Growing up very poor in the midst of the Great Depression, Bouchard would rent skates (5 cents) for games and simply would go without equipment other than a stick. If he couldn't find a nickel, he would be the goalie in his boots.
At age 16 he took a huge family loan of $35 so he could acquire the necessary equipment to play junior hockey in Verdun and later with the Jr. Canadiens. He was a highly coveted player because of his unbelievable size and strength. He played in the NHL at 6'2" and 205lbs, which was giant-like in the 1940s NHL. He wasn't just naturally big, but incredibly strong. Since his early teens he enjoyed weight-lifting. Without the money for proper equipment, he would press railway ties with added steel plates and bale wire for weight. In a time when weight training was almost unheard of in the NHL, Bouchard was hockey's strongman.
"It was like he was chiseled out of stone," remembered Dickie Moore. "He had biggest shoulders and smallest waist I had ever seen."
Bouchard joined the Habs in the midst of World War II. He was exempt from military duty because in his late teens he was considered an irreplaceable farmer, as he showed his entrepreneurial side by producing and selling over 100,000 pounds of honey a year all while playing hockey and attending school. Bouchard, who would start one of Montreal's most popular restaurants later in his hockey career, kept the revenues from the apiary to build a house for his parents and family. So stingy was Bouchard that instead of paying for transportation for the 50 mile journey from his home to St. Hayacinthe for training camp, he rode his bicycle.
And what an impression he made. In his first training camp he did not shy away from physical play, hammering even Montreal's most respected veterans.
"I wanted very much to make that team."
He did make the team as a rookie in 1941-42, quickly earning himself a reputation as a hardnosed and energetic rearguard, even though he was a plodding skater.
"I was a determined, enthusiastic, young fellow in those days" recalls Bouchard many years later. "That's what you need to make a success in life. You work hard, you're enthusiastic, and very disciplined at your game."
That attitude won him many fans in Montreal's brain trust, and they stayed with him despite his poor skating. Bouchard worked very hard at studying the game and learning the perfect positioning and to play within his limitations. As a result, he became of the game's all time best.
And with those words, Bouchard carved out a nice career for himself.
It wasn't until 1942-43 that Bouchard became a key player in Montreal, coinciding with the departure of star rearguard Ken Reardon to military service. By 1943-44 Bouchard was a top the hockey world, being named to the Second Team All Star squad on defense. He would be a first team all star the following 3 years. By 1947-48 he was named captain as the legendary Toe Blake had to step down to injuries. He continued to be an important part of the Habs' great success until 1956 when injuries finally forced him out of the game.
"Age caught up with me. I was 36. With a bad leg I was surprised I played that much. According to the doctor I should have quit when I was 29 years old."
The knee injury really slowed Bouchard.
"I wanted to play" said Bouchard, who took the then-unusual step of buying a stationary bike to rehab his knee. "I had been an all star 5 times before the injury. After I got hurt, I couldn't make it. I was playing good hockey but not all-star outstanding."
In his later years he split his year between sunny Florida in the winter and his son's farm in the summer. His son is Pierre Bouchard, who of course went on to be a physical defenseman in the NHL himself, though not as good as his dad.