The long playoff runs are not as bountiful as they once were and there hasn't been a Stanley Cup parade in Montreal since 1993. But the Montreal Canadiens haven't forgotten how to throw a party.
The Canadiens wrapped up their 100th anniversary celebrations with a memorable evening that even topped the brilliant passing-the-torch scene that wowed their loyal fanatics when they moved from the Forum to the Bell Centre 13 years ago.
What made Friday's 90-minute celebration so extraordinary was the collection of past players the club rolled out to hear the appreciative roar of the crowd.
They included some of the lesser heroes who played on the Canadiens last Stanley Cup team in 1992-93 like Lyle Odelein and Mike Keane to legends like Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, Mats Naslund and Patrick Roy, and the organization's two elder statesmen, Elmer Lach and Emile Bouchard.
Habs hailed by many
Montreal snapped a four-game losing streak with an impressive 5-1 victory against the Boston Bruins on Friday evening for franchise win 3,505 in their 6,736th game (regular season and playoffs combined).
The turning point was after Montreal killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage in the second period and then traveled down the ice for a Mike Cammalleri goal and a 2-0 lead. Cammalleri would add two more, and Montreal goalie Carey Price earned the win with a solid 37-save effort.
Throughout the game during the television timeouts, the Canadiens played messages on the video scoreboard from celebrities and other athletes, including Alex Ovechkin, Martin Brodeur, Vladislav Tretiak, George St. Pierre as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who, of course, was booed by the capacity crowd at the Bell Centre. Hockey Night in Canada personalities Don Cherry and Ron MacLean also were jeered during their message.
Whispers began to circulate Friday afternoon that 89-year-old Bouchard and Lach, who turns 92 on Jan. 22, would have their numbers raised to their rightful place in the rafters of the Bell Centre. And that's what happened.
Bouchard was pushed in a wheelchair to centre ice by his 61-year-old son Pierre, who won five Stanley Cups in the 1970s in Montreal, to have his sweater No. 3 retired. The still spry Lach trotted out to have his No. 16 honoured.
Of course, No. 16 was retired long ago in tribute to Henri Richard on Dec. 10, 1975. But why not a second time? After all, the Habs retired No. 12 twice, once for Yvan Cournoyer and Dickie Moore in a ceremony they shared four years ago.
The elder Bouchard's playing career ended in 1956, so many players have gone onto wear his No. 3, including current defenceman Ryan O'Byrne. He will, however, be the final Montreal player to wear No. 3 and now will wear No. 20.
"What has made this such a special evening is to see the collection of players here," Moore said. "I don't care which team, which year, we're all family. To have so many of these guys back together is what makes the organization so great."
Moore made these remarks moments after he hugged tough-guy from 1980s, Chris Nilan, in the hallway outside the Canadiens dressing room. Steps away, Henri Richard spoke emotionally about his earliest memories.
"I remember I was six years old when my brother started playing with the Canadiens," Richard said. "That was it for me, I wanted to one day play with him and the Canadiens, too."
The 100th anniversary celebration began with a simple scoreboard video tribute. Then players like Lafleur, Robinson, Carbonneau, Savard, Lapointe as well as goalies Roy and Dryden took the to ice for a pre-ceremony warm-up. While Roy stopped shots in one end, Dryden, sans mask, did his best in the other goal.
The eloquent Dryden was asked what made the Canadiens so dominant in the 1970s. "We were the best and we knew we were the best," he said. "We expected the best."
After the warm-up, players from the past were introduced, along with former coaches Scotty Bowman, Claude Ruel, Jean Perron and Jacques Demers. Lafleur, Beliveau, Roy and Savard spoke to the capacity crowd of 21,273. Lafleur brought the house down when he said, "You fans partied on some nights, but we partied every night," he said.
Detroit Red Wings 81-year-old legend Gordie Howe introduced Beliveau.
Speaking French actor Viggo Mortenson of Lord of the Rings trilogy fame introduced Lafleur. Why Mortenson? He was born in New York, but went to high school across from Kingston, Ont. in Watertown, N.Y. He also went to St. Lawrence University — a few years after Canadiens coach Jacques Martin played goal there — and has been a Habs fanatic since he can remember. He remarked that he wore a Canadiens T-shirt underneath his armour during the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The ceremony concluded when the current Canadiens team posed for a group photo with the alumni introduced. The picture was taken by current club photographer, who was accompanied by the former team photographer, Denis Brodeur, father of New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
"This is an organization from top to bottom," Cournoyer said. "You need the players, but you need the coach and you need the general manager and the owners. Everywhere you go, the Montreal Canadiens are respected and that's why — it's a good organization.
"I went to the Forum to play my first game with the junior Canadiens when I was 17 years old and played my last game when I was 35. This is like my second home. These other guys are like my brothers, my family."
The Canadiens organization was founded on Dec. 4, 1909, but didn't play its first game until Jan. 5, 1910. This 100-year celebration began more than a year ago, and while the fans and former players enjoyed the celebrations, the on-ice product has suffered.
The Canadiens were unable to build off the 2007-08 season that saw them finish a surprising first in the Eastern Conference. Young phenom goalie Carey Price struggled. There were rumours of some players partying too much. Another few players were connected to a Montreal mafia figure and coach Guy Carbonneau was fired.
Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey did not make a difference behind the bench and as a result the Habs were knocked out in the first round.
Despite a wholesale change to the lineup with several new players like Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Jaroslav Spacek arriving on the scene, the Habs have struggled out of the gate this season and are sure to prolong the Stanley Cup drought in Montreal to a 17th season.
But, at least, for one night, that was all forgotten.