One of the darkest moments in Montreal Canadiens history occurred on March 11 2006.
It was a day that normally would bring joy to the fans, the players, the organization and the family of a special player.A day which enables a celebration of a hockey player’ s career. The rise of a young boy through the ranks, the trials and tribulations and the glory of becoming a man in life and on the rink. A day that reminds all of us how passion and hard work can lead to a life filled with respect, honor and opportunity.
A day that was not supposed to end like this…
Bernard ‘Boom Boom ‘ Geoffrion passed away on the morning of March 11 2006. That night, his number five was raised to the rafters beside that of his Father-in-law, the late Howie Morenz. Tears fell down the cheeks of thousands of spectators during a heart wrenching ceremony at Le Centre Bell in downtown Montreal.
It should not have been this way. The fans knew it, the players knew it and The Montreal Canadien organization knew it.
Geoffrion retired in 1968 after a sixteen year career. A career which contained a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, two Art Ross trophies as the top scorer, one Hart trophy at league MVP and six Stanley Cups. Bernard Geoffrion was the second player in the history of the NHL to score fifty goals in a season. In 883 games, Boom – Boom netted 822 points – 393 of them being goals. He received over four hundred stitches while breaking his nose six times. Number five was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. A player with all these accomplishments should not have had to wait thirty – eight years to have his number retired.
A lot can happen in that time. Death being one of them.
A man who has toiled the majority of his life and career within an organization, striving to not only make himself but his team the best they can be, earns the right to witness the fruits of his labor. An athlete’s icing on the cake . A reminder for generations to come, a souvenir for his grandchildren and their grandchildren . They will look up and see the number that rests above them is that of a boy with a dream.
The Montreal Canadiens commenced immediately to right the wrongs that were inadvertently bestowed upon Geoffrion, his family and the fans. Since that ominous evening in 2006, no fewer than eight numbers have been retired by the Habs . Numbers such as Butch Bouchard – 3 , Elmer Lach – 16 and Dickie Moore – 12 . These ceremonies , the most apparent examples of the Montreal Organization avoiding the blatant mistake and embarrassment of March 11.
Two More Please … ?
Now is the time for The Montreal Canadiens to arrange all of the elements in to place once and for all. Align the stars atop the Bell Center and move forward into the future with the hopes of children everywhere. Now is the time to retire the final two numbers ( for now ) from a rich and storied past. Jacques Lemaire’ s # 25 and Guy Lapointe’s # 5 .
Jacques Lemaire skated twelve seasons for the Habs and scored a minimum of twenty goals in each one while capturing eight Stanley Cups. In 853 career NHL games, all with Montreal, he recorded 366 goals and 469 assists for a total of 835 points. He is one of only six players in the history of the league to score two Stanley Cup winning goals. Mike Bossy, Bobby Orr and fellow Habs Jean Beliveau, Toe Blake and Henri Richard being the others.
Lemaire also won two more Cups as Assistant G.M with Montreal in 1986 and 1993 and his eleventh as Head coach with New Jersey in 1995.
The Montreal dynasty of the 1970′s could not have won four straight cups without their famed ‘Big Three’ on defence – Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe. In twelve full seasons with Montreal, two in St.Louis and one in Boston – Guy scored 171 goals and added 451 assists for a total of 622 points in 894 games. In the play-offs alone he scored an incredible 7o points in only 123 games as a defenceman! Lapointe also holds the record for most goals by a Canadiens defenceman in a season with 28 and most goals by a rookie defenceman with 15. Guy helped the Habs to win six Stanley Cups and was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
The Canadiens waited until Boom Boom Geoffrion passed away before they raised his sweater and they acted to soon in raising Patrick Roy’s to the ceiling. Lemaire and Lapointe accomplished more than Roy in a Canadiens uniform and if one considers personal statistics alone as criteria to have a sweater retired, each player alone outperforms a few of the players with their numbers already above our heads.
If you choose championships won as the sole criteria for a number to be discontinued – again , Lapointe and Lemaire ‘s accomplishments are more impressive than a few banners in the Bell Center.
If I were to have lunch with the current owners of the team – The Molson Brothers , I would encourage them to make it a priority to retire these two numbers before it is too late…
Ask Pat Burns.