Habs History: United in Glory

Martin Luther King once said: “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words.” There comes a time in a hockey player’s life when he looks back at his career and realizes that he shares a special bound with some of his former teammates, more than with the others. It’s bond that needs no words, one that is expressed by a look, by a feeling, even when separated by distance, time or life.

Allow me to take you back. The year… 1985.

The Montreal Canadiens’ farm team was playing out of the Palais des Sports, in Sherbrooke. The team had qualified for the playoffs and head coach Pierre Creamer received the news from Serge Savard that two junior aged players would be joining his team to help them in their playoff run that year: a young right-winger coming off a 61 goal season with two junior teams, Stéphane Richer, and a goaltender by the name of Patrick Roy, who finished his junior season with a 5.55 goals against average (GAA.)

The Sherbrooke Canadiens, captained by Brian Skrudland, had just finished their season with 79 points, good for third place in North division. While scoring goals wasn’t necessarily a problem for the baby Habs having scored 323 goals that year, keeping the puck out of their own net was a different story. The team had allowed 329 goals against, worst among the playoff bound teams. Adding an offensive weapon like Richer was a no-brainer for Creamer, but Roy was far from a sure thing.

The team’s number one goaltender, Greg Moffett, was average at best, finishing the season with a 4.11 GAA and an .860 save percentage. The Canadiens had dressed five goalies throughout the season, but adding a rookie selected in the third round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft and coming off a pretty bad season didn’t seem to be the solution either. To this day, I don’t know if it was Creamer’s decision or if the idea of using the young goaltender was pushed upon him by the Habs’ brass, but Roy was given the net and we know the rest of the story.

The Calder Cup Finals ended on May 24, 1985 with the Sherbrooke Canadiens defeating the Baltimore Skipjacks four games to two to win the Calder Cup. Living in Sherbrooke at the time, a friend of mine and I bought tickets for that game and what a game it was!

To this day, I remember Stéphane Richer rushing down the right wing only to let go of a bullet from just outside the faceoff circle, missing the net as the puck came all the way back into the Canadiens’ territory. He came back into his zone, took a pass and flew back down the same side with blazing speed. The defenseman, fearing to be beat by his speed (and his shot), backed up with him but this time, Richer put on the brakes before releasing a bullet, beating the Skipjacks’ goaltender.

I knew then that Richer was the real deal and that he would one day play in the NHL. It was so great to see team captain Brian Skrudland, a blue-collar worker in the true sense, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as AHL playoff MVP, then raising the Calder Cup over his head, skating around the rink with the rest of the team. Richer wasn’t bad either in those playoffs, managing to score nine points in nine games, including six goals, while the young Patrick Roy, then wearing number 30, was making the key saves when the team needed it most.

Sherbrooke had previously defeated Fredericton (4-2) and Maine (4-1) before facing Baltimore in the finals and they were underdogs in every series that year. It is interesting to note that two-times Habs’ head coach Michel Therrien was also a member of that Calder Cup winning team.

Patrick Roy

The following season, eight players who were part of the 1985 Sherbrooke Canadiens Calder Cup winning roster ended up playing for Jean Perron and the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL level. Brian Skrudland quickly made his niche as a reliable defensive center, learning from master veteran Guy Carbonneau and adding depth to the second unit of penalty kill. Gaston Gingras brought his best weapon, a powerful shot from the point on the powerplay, while fellow defenseman Mike Lalor was as steady as it gets at the blue line, a stay-at-home defenseman able to take care of his own end and making a nice first pass. Stéphane Richer and Serge Boisvert brought some offensive threat and tons of speed to Perron’s line-up while tough guy John Kordic came in to support veteran Chris Nilan in ensuring that the other teams wouldn’t cross the line.

Mario Tremblay, seeing Kordic for the first time in the dressing room, once said that he was built like a brick wall, a very imposing figure. A certain Patrick Roy also made the jump from the junior ranks straight to the NHL, appearing in 47 games that season, sharing the workload with veterans Steve Penney and Doug Soetaert. Any guess on who the eighth player from the 1985 Calder Cup winning team to play for Perron was that year? It’s none other than forward Randy Bucyk, who took part of 17 regular season games and appeared in two playoffs’ games in 1986.

Jean Perron and Patrick Roy

Sure, this 1985-86 Habs’ team had its ups and downs during the regular season, as any team adding so many rookies should be expected to. Still, the Habs managed to finish the season with 87 points, good for second in the Adams Division, five points behind the Quebec Nordiques and a single point ahead of the Boston Bruins. The youth and the winning experience from those rookies added some much needed enthusiasm, a fresh desire to conquer to this championship team. Many of them had some impact on the storied franchise’s 23rd Stanley Cup, none bigger than Roy who received the first of his three career Conn Smythe trophies as playoffs’ most valuable player, two of which he won wearing the CH on his chest.

Roy, Richer, Skrudland, Gingras, Boisvert, Lalor, Bucyk and the late John Kordic share a very special bond: winning consecutive titles in two different leagues, including one as a rookie in the NHL. Will we witness that again someday in Montreal? Only time will tell. Go Habs Go!

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Ladies and Gentlemen: Carey Price

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290. That’s the number of times the Montreal Canadiens have won a hockey game with Carey Price as their goaltender. 290 times, fans went home happy knowing that their favourite team won. 290 times, it was printed in the newspapers, posted online, said on television and on the radio, that the prestigious Montreal Canadiens came out of a game victorious… backed up by Carey Price. And if you are following the team, you will know that in many of those occasions, the win was because of the performances of their goaltender.

With that 3-0 win in Boston, Price became the second winningest goaltender in the franchise’s long history, passing none other than Patrick Roy, ironically with a 33 saves shutout. Next target: the legendary Jacques Plante who, not too long ago, sat comfortably in first place with his 314 wins. That’s only 24 more victories for Price and with the way the team is performing so far this season, and with the anticipated return of team captain Shea Weber, he could very well reach that plateau before the team starts their summer holidays.Price290

But it hasn’t always been easy for Price in Montreal. As a matter of fact, it isn’t easy as we speak. Not long ago, some fans and media personalities were wanting him and his lucrative contract out of town and they would have driven him to the airport. Thankfully, it’s not them making the decisions… as it wasn’t their decision to draft him to start with.

The Canadiens had Jose Theodore who was only a couple of years removed from winning the Vezina and Hart trophies. They also had Cristobal Huet, whom they had acquired from the LA Kings along with Radek Bonk, for Mathieu Garon. And they had Jaroslav Halak playing in Europe. And that’s where it got really dicey.

The Canadiens traded Theodore to Colorado in 2006, and Huet became Price’s first mentor on a NHL team – he always had Olaf Kolzig in the off-season – until Halak proved to be NHL ready as well, which led to Huet being traded to Washington. Ah, the old Price vs Halak debate, how we miss that (NOT). Fans and media were divided, as they are today with this whole Subban vs Weber debate. The Canadiens shocked the world (and the pro-Halak) when, in the summer of 2010, they made their goaltending choice — Carey Price stays and playoff hero Jaroslav Halak is off to the St. Louis Blues.

“We’re very comfortable with Carey Price. He has about 150 games even though he’s only 22. He has a few rounds of playoffs. He has a Calder Cup. He brings a lot to the table and we think he will be a very good goalie in the NHL.” ~ Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier, June 17, 2010

Price, who was said to have the party switch a bit too easy, then received the help that he needed to get his off-ice issues on track with his physical abilities on ice. His mother came to reside with him for a while, until his then girlfriend – and now wife and mother of his daughter – Angela, moved in with him. And that’s when Price’s career took off as anticipated by the Gainey/Gauthier regime.

A dream season

The 2014-2015 season saw one of the most dominant season by a goaltender in NHL history. That year, Price not only dominated amongst goaltenders, he was the league’s best player, ahead of Sidney Crosby and company, and was recognized as such at the annual NHL Award ceremony. That year, Price finished with 44 wins (1st), 1,823 saves (4th), .933 Sv% (1st), 1.96 GAA (1st) and 9 shutouts (2nd). While he was already a NHL All-Star and known as one of the best goalies in the league, that season propulsed him as the best goaltender in the world.

To this date, in spite of some struggles with injuries and team performances, and in spite of criticism by some fans and members of the Montreal media, players in the NHL – the guys who have to face him day in, day out – still feel like he’s the best.

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Credit: NHLPA player poll 2017-18

Montreal fans have been spoiled with great goaltending over the years. From Plante to the great Ken Dryden, to Roy and now Price… people should support those great players, as they did last season. Price was quoted as saying that he needed that ovation after the toughest season of his career.

Awards

  • Molson Cup for Montreal Canadiens: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017
  • NHL All-Star Game: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018

2007

  • IIHF World U20 Championship Gold Medal (2007 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships)
  • Tournament MVP (2007 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships)
  • WHL West First All-Star Team for 2006–07 WHL season
  • Del Wilson Trophy (WHL Top Goaltender)
  • CHL Goaltender of the Year Award
  • Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs
  • Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (Calder Cup MVP)

2008

  • NHL Rookie of the Month, March 2008
  • NHL All-Rookie Team for 2007–08 NHL season

2009

  • NHL YoungStars Game at 2009 NHL All-Star Game

2014

  • Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Hockey at 2014 Sochi Olympics
  • Best Goaltender at 2014 Sochi Olympics (voted by IIHF)

2015

  • William M. Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed), (shared with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks)
  • Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
  • Ted Lindsay Award (most valuable player, voted by NHL Players Association)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player, voted by Professional Hockey Writer’s Association)
  • NHL First All-Star Team (voted by Professional Hockey Writer’s Association)
  • Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s Top Athlete voted by a panel of journalists)
  • Lionel Conacher Award (selected by sports writers of the Canadian Press)
  • Hart Memorial Trophy (received in 2015 playing for the Montreal Canadiens)

2016

  • Indspire Award (Sports)
  • 2016 World Cup of Hockey Gold medal

And if you haven’t had a chance to see this interview on The National on CBC, it’s well worth the 15 minutes or so. If you’ve watched it, it’s worth re-watching. It not only speaks of the goaltender, but the man behind the mask with tough questions, and most sincere answers. Go Habs Go!