Montreal Forum: An event not to be missed
Hockey and the Habs was all anybody talked about
It was a special time.
During the 15 years I worked in Montreal, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup nine times. One glance at the line-up through those years and you couldn't help but recognize the excellence that was displayed on the ice.
I arrived in Montreal in December of 1965. The Canadiens were the defending Stanley Cup champions. All anyone talked about throughout the winter months was hockey and the Habs.
Going to the Montreal Forum on a Saturday night was an event not to be missed.
The first time I stepped onto the stairway leading to the fabled press-box catwalk at the Forum in the 1960s was like going from a black and white movie to full, vibrant colour. The bright lights assaulted the senses and I found myself looking down at the legends of the game. There was the familiar No. 4 of Beliveau and No. 16 of Henri Richard. The list included a who's who of future members of hockey's Hall of Fame. How could you not be impressed?
A few years later when I first started broadcasting the Canadiens' Sunday night games with the legendary Danny Gallivan on CBC Radio in the early 70s, the Club de Hockey Canadien was a recognized powerhouse in the NHL.
Beliveau had retired. So had hard-nosed forward John Ferguson.
Others like Dick Duff and Ralph Backstrom had also called it a career. But in the traditional passing the torch, new faces joined a veteran team to carry on the winning formula.
I watched Ken Dryden appear on the scene to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP during the 1971 post-season, then claim Calder honours as the league's top rookie the following year. That had never been done before.
The Canadiens had a mini-dynasty highlighted by the likes of Dryden in goal, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe on defence, Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer, Steve Shutt and the Pocket Rocket up front.
I also had the good fortune of watching the baby Habs develop some future stars like Rejean Houle and Mario Tremblay.
During my time in Montreal, the Habs only had a handful of coaches. Toe Blake was behind the bench until after the NHL's first year of expansion in 1967. The St. Louis Blues were one of six franchises added to the "Original Six," forming a new 12-team NHL.
The Blues, who had Scotty Bowman as their coach, were blown away by Blake's Canadiens in four straight games. Bowman, of course, was destined to become coach of the Canadiens after Claude Ruel and Al MacNeil were given brief stints calling the shots.
Growing up in Halifax, I was one of a multitude of fans who loved to hear the exciting and colourful descriptions of the Canadiens in action voiced by another martimer — Danny Gallivan.
Danny seemed to have a natural way with words, but the truth is he worked very hard at creating the expressions that became part of hockey broadcasting's lexicon. While it seemed everyone became very familiar with the imaginative concoctions like "a cannonading drive," "scintillating save," and "Savardian spinnerama," they were Danny's alone.
Youngsters emulated the calls on their backyard rinks and ponds, but professional broadcasters wouldn't touch them for fear of being called copycats. Danny didn't have an official copyright on the expressions, but as Red Fisher, the legendary hockey writer and columnist once told me, "Danny ruined it for other broadcasters" because there was only one Danny Gallivan and those wonderful, imaginative, alliterative and colourful ways of describing exceptional moves in hockey belonged only to him.
I once asked Danny how he came up with the term "spinnerama," and he told me that while riding on the team bus to a game in Oakland, he saw all these brightly lit neon signs on buildings like "Bowl-o-rama" and even outside a laundromat proclaiming the place as a "laund-o-rama."
Working "rama" into a broadcast just happened to evolve naturally. Defenceman Serge Savard had been sidelined with a broken leg and upon his return to the line-up, found it difficult to cut to one side to avoid an opposing player, so instead, he just did a quick spin to get out of the way. And in the blink of an eye, the next words out of Danny's mouth gave birth to the "Savardian spinnerama."
The players had their own individual trademarks. There was big Ken Dryden's familiar pose — arms crossed and leaning on his goalie stick. At six-foot-four, he could do that while most netminders couldn't.
Larry "Big Bird" Robinson stood out as did Guy Lafleur with his flowing blond mane as he streaked down the right wing ready to unleash a blistering slap shot which more often than not resulted in a goal.
And there was Yvan Cournoyer, known as the "Roadrunner" and Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, two of the smallest players on the team who electrified fans with their uncanny speed and precise playmaking.
There were also the unsung heroes who went about doing their jobs so efficiently that after 61 years in business, the NHL created a trophy to recognize the top defensive forwards in the game and the very first Frank Selke Trophy fittingly went to the Canadiens' Bob Gainey.
Yes, the Montreal Canadiens of the 1960s and 1970s were special and I consider myself very privileged to have been part of that wonderful time in hockey history.