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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Patrick Roy as Habs GM? Say It Ain’t So!

Roy2

The setting is 1985. The Montreal Canadiens have their farm team in my hometown, Sherbrooke, Quebec. They have a line-up of good young players, a blend of speed, skills and character. Coached by Pierre Creamer, the baby Canadiens sneaked into the playoffs through the back door with a 37-38-5 record… until the team called up a couple of junior aged players once their team was eliminated, to join for a Calder Cup run. In those ranks, there was a young prospect goaltender who had just finished his junior career with a 5.55 goals against average for the Granby Bisons of the QMJHL. 

That young goaltender was Patrick Roy, in case such details slipped your mind. With the help of other junior aged player Stephane Richer, Roy was instrumental in the playoffs, stealing the job from young veteran Greg Moffett (who?) in leading the team to the AHL supremacy, bringing the Calder Cup to Sherbrooke. I know, I was a young man in the stands, cheering him on.

The following season, Roy defeated all odds and made the Canadiens’ team, along with other former Sherbrooke Calder Cup winners like Brian Skrudland, Mike Lalor and yes, Richer as well. We know the rest of the fairy tale story, as the Canadiens surprised the hockey world, led by none other than a young Saint-Patrick, to win four in a row after loosing the first game of the finals, against the Calgary Flames. My admiration for Roy was only starting…

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Michel Therrien was a member of the 1985 Calder Cup champions Sherbrooke Canadiens.

Then on December 2nd, 1995, my world came to a halt after seeing my idol walk behind the Canadiens’ bench after being pulled, only to walk back and tell team President Ronald Corey that he had played his last game in my favourite team’s uniform. My heart was crushed. How can the great Roy, the face of this era’s franchise, my successor to the great Ken Dryden, let the heat of the moment take over and make him take the decision to abandon his teammates, his team, his fans and by the same token, myself… because of a rooster fight between him and his head coach? How has that become MY fault, as I ultimately was the one paying the price?

Some claim that Roy went back to talk to Corey the next day to say that he regretted having done what he did, having said what he said. But for the Canadiens’ organization, the damage was done and they couldn’t go back. Roy had his temper tantrum on national television, in front of millions of viewers, and there was no going back on that. He was the team’s best player, but he was NOT bigger than the Montreal Canadiens.

Avalanche too

Hired as the team’s head coach and consultant to GM Joe Sakic, Roy had found another career in hockey, in the NHL, with the second team he’s only known. Avalanche fans loved him as much as I did way back when he was in Montreal. Then, when he found himself in a disagreement with his former teammate and boss, he waited until August, less than a month before training camp, to inform Sakic and the Avalanche that he was quitting his job with the team.

This left Sakic and the Avalanche in a huge bind, and rest assured that Roy knew it. Yet, the disagreement occurred well before then, during that summer’s NHL Draft. So why wait so long? Because Patrick does what Patrick wants and when things don’t go his way, Patrick pouts and seeks revenge. And I’m not going to go into his well documented domestic violence issues either, or his assault on Chicoutimi Sagueneens’ owner Pierre Cardinal

Roy is a hot head. I’m done with him, and I have been for a long time. If you think for a second that he’s the man to take over from Marc Bergevin one day, you are definitely not thinking straight. The guy is a nut case and when things don’t go his way, he picks up his toys and leaves, not giving a crap about you and what you think. He has displayed over and over again that he has a “Me, Myself and I” attitude and there is a reason why he hasn’t found work in the NHL’s tight circle. To me, the guy who once was my idol is dead. He was replaced by this horrifying individual whom I wouldn’t want my kids to look up to… as he’s as far a good role model as it gets.

So long Patrick, the Saint has been removed from your name a long time ago. Go Habs Go!