Back to you, Dick

Whether he was watching the Montreal Canadiens from the bench when his father coached the team or broadcasting their games with the late Danny Gallivan, Dick Irvin always had the best seat in the house.

Hall of Famer Dick Irvin Jr. has witnessed the best years of the Montreal Canadiens

Broadcasting legend Dick Irvin ranks Toe Blake's retirement in 1968 as one of the most poignant moments in the history of the Montreal Canadiens. ((Getty Images) )

Whether he was watching the Montreal Canadiens from the bench when his father coached the team or broadcasting their games with the late Danny Gallivan, Dick Irvin always had the best seat in the house.

Ever since Dick Irvin Sr. patrolled behind the Habs bench beginning in 1940, the younger Irvin has witnessed most of the great moments in the team's history, along with the bulk of its best players.

Recently inducted into the CBC Sports Hall of Fame, Irvin's broadcasting career spanned 33 years (1966-1999) with Hockey Night In Canada — a tenure surpassed only by Bob Cole. In that time, he covered many of Montreal's remarkable Stanley Cup victories.

Now 76 and retired, Irvin marvels at the Canadiens' celebration plans leading up to the franchise's 100th anniversary on Dec. 4, 2009.

The game of hockey still owes Jacques Plante, according to Irvin. ((Getty Images))

From the top players to the best games, Irvin ranks his favourite memories of the Club de Hockey Canadien for

Top 5 Players

1. Jean Béliveau — "He was a classic leader, as well as a great hockey player."

2. Maurice Richard — "Most exciting player who ever played the game."

3. Guy Lafleur — "The thing I remember most is that he gave it 100 per cent every game, every night and every season during that stretch when he was the best hockey player in the world."

4. Howie Morenz — "He was the superstar of his era. His name sold tickets, he won Stanley Cups and for a period of approximately 10 years, he was the best player the Canadiens ever had to that point."

5. Jacques Plante — "He was a wonderful goaltender and he revolutionized hockey. The game still owes him for [introducing the goalie mask]."

Top 5 Coaches

1. Dick Irvin Sr. (1940-55) — "My dad coached 15 years with one team. He took over after the Canadiens had their worst season in the history of the franchise. Four years later, the team finished first, won the Stanley Cup and the rest is history. In the time he coached the team, he only missed the playoffs once."

2. Scotty Bowman (1971-79) — "He was probably the greatest in-game coach the game has ever seen. Nobody has ever been better at manipulating his team during a game. No coach has ever come close to him in that area, and let's face it, he won more Stanley Cups than anybody else."

3. Toe Blake (1955-68) — "Toe was a terrific competitor as a player and he was able to transfer that feeling to his team when he coached. The tough job for a coach is keep a good team good, and it's even tougher to keep a great team great. He did that for five years, and no other coach has won five straight Stanley Cups."

4. Cecil Hart (1926-32/1936-39) — "He coached the team to two straight Stanley Cups through an era when there wasn't that many teams winning back-to-back titles. He was a good coach."

5. None — "I can't put anybody else in this category because no other coach lasted long enough to earn a place here. To me, if you look at the franchise, there isn't anybody else to rate with these four coaches."

The night the fabled Montreal Forum closed was an emotional time for Irvin. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Top 5 moments

1. Closing of the Forum (March 11, 1996) — "The emotion in the building was unbelievable, and the ovation the Rocket received from the fans was something to behold."

2. Russia's Red Army squad vs. Montreal (Dec. 31, 1975) — "I didn't think it was that great a game as everybody else seems to think it was. It was very one-sided, even though the teams tied 3-3. This was more of a moment than a great game. The whole night was unbelievable. It was a special situation, and everybody understood that."

3. Jean Béliveau's last game (May 18, 1971) — "Watching Béliveau carrying the Cup in Chicago was special. It was his 10th Stanley Cup, and to me, that was a wonderful moment for the history of the Canadiens because he meant so much to them. It was also his last act as the captain of the team."

4. Rocket's 8-point night  (Dec. 28, 1944) — "He sets a record for most points in one game and always claimed that was his greatest moment in hockey. Rocket didn't remember much about his other games, but that was one he always cherished. I was there as a 12-year-old sitting on the bench when my dad was the coach. Can you imagine a 12-year-old sitting on the bench these days [he laughs]? That moment obviously stuck with me personally when I look back on the history of the team. [Richard] actually asked my dad if he could take the night off because he had moved and his back was killing him from carrying furniture all day. He came to the rink exhausted and my dad said, 'Give it a try, you might score a couple of goals.' "

5. Toe Blake's retirement (May 11, 1968) — "His team had just won the Cup and he announces he's coached his last game. That ended a great career as both a player and a coach for the team. It was a very poignant moment. The Canadiens played the St. Louis Blues in the afternoon, and he announces his retirement just minutes after that."

Top 5 Games

1. Montreal-Chicago (1944 Stanley Cup final, Game 4) — "The team won the Cup for the first time in 13 years. The Canadiens were trailing 4-1 going into the third period against Chicago when they tied the game before Toe Blake won it in overtime. That was the beginning of quite a dynasty. If you look at their record from that point on, it was really something."

2. Montreal-Boston (1971 Stanley Cup playoffs, first round, Game 2) — "The Canadiens were losing 5-1 in the second to the big bad Bruins and ended up wining 7-5. Jean Béliveau was really a star that night. To come from behind against the best team in hockey and beat them and go on to win the series was remarkable. That evened the series 1-1, and there's no way the Canadiens would've won four out of the next five games from Boston if they lose Game 2. The team then goes on to capture the Stanley Cup they weren't suppose to win."

3. Montreal-Toronto (1960 Stanley Cup final, Game 4) — "This was more of the accomplishment of winning the Cup for the fifth straight time — something no other team has matched. They had won eight straight playoff games and Plante gets a shutout in the last game. It was a very memorable moment."

4. Montreal-Los Angeles (1993 Stanley Cup final, Game 2) — "The Canadiens are down by one goal late in the third and trailing 1-0 in the series. [Kings forward] Marty McSorley gets called for an illegal [curved stick] and the Canadiens score on the ensuing power play. Then Éric Desjardins scores in overtime to tie the series before Montreal wins the next three games to take the Cup. It was a memorable game because if they don't win Game 2, they don't win the Cup."

5. Montreal-Philadelphia (1976 Stanley Cup final, Game 4) — "That victory was quite the turnaround for the game of hockey. I view it as the white hats beating the black hats in four straight games. That was a very important game, and it was the first of four straight Stanley Cups. It proved to be a changing of the guard. The Canadiens were this talented team that wasn't intimidated by the Broad Street Bullies. Let's face it, they won three more Stanley Cups playing that kind of hockey and the Islanders won the next four. Then the Oilers come along and dominate. So through that stretch, the Philadelphia Flyer-type teams never won."