In 1989 the sports landscape in Montreal was painted with a different brush.
Tim Raines was the highest paid member of the city’s baseball club. The Expos paid him just over two million a season – a bargain in today’s market. The Alouettes were non – existent and Anthony Calvillo was starting his career at Mt. San Antonio Junior College. Professional soccer in the city lay smack dab in the muddle of the Manic and the Impact – forcing soccer fans to peer elsewhere to get their ‘ kicks’ and in turn , stuffing the pockets of the local pubs.
However , the most profound change may be in the attitude of the Montreal Canadiens.
Pat Burns was the coach and Serge Savard was the general manager. The two men ruled the team with passion, toughness and smarts. Burns would ask Savard for the type of players he wanted and Serge would comply. If Shayne Corson , Chris Chelios or Claude Lemieux stepped out of line – Pat Burns would kick their butt from Montreal to Hull. Along with the likes of Skrudland , Carbonneau and Mike Mcphee – Corson et al knew it. Respect was a two-way word in the dressing room and because of it , Mr. Savard and Mr. Burns built a passionate and competitive team. What would have happened if a player from another team ran Patrick Roy or Brian Hayward during that season ? Regardless if the player was penalized or not.
Lyle Odelein may have launched the player onto Ste. Catherine Street. Tom Chorske
would have then picked him up and sent him horizontally to get hotdogs on blvd. St. Laurent. If the player took his time getting back – he would have received a good talking to by Todd Ewen and Mike Keane. Mathieu Schneider may have said a few things and Eric Desjardins definitely would have given the player a slap with his stick. All this just to be nice to the poor soul. Nice because these guys saved the guy from Chelios and Roy himself. Two men with mean streaks longer than the Champlain Bridge. The players in 1989 were tough and not many chewed nails as much as the Habs’ number seventeen – Craig Ludwig.
Wisconsin to the NHL
The Montreal Canadien rearguard was known for his fearless approach at blocking shots. Brett Hull was winding up in the slot … ? There was the blonde-haired Ludwig launching his patented larger – than – life shinguards in it ‘ s path . Al Macinnis blasting his (then) hardest shot in the NHL toward the Habs’ goal ? No problem for the former Fighting Sioux from North Dakota as he laid down in front of the potential life – ending bullet . How many goals did Ludwig save over a career ? Over one hundred for sure.
Ludwig was a gentle giant. Not a dirty player. Someone who was fair and tough. Opposing players did not want to awaken the beast within. Stir the dormant animal that lay just below the surface of the 6′ 3 – 210 pound player. Noone wanted to mess with the guy. Until one early December evening in downtown Montreal.
Along with a former girlfriend Liz , her brother Whitman and his fiancé Cathy – the four of us made our way to the city and found a place to have a few drinks. The nightclub was named Cheers and was a popular establishment on rue Mackay just west of the famous Crescent street. The four of us were standing in the middle of the club with our beverages in tow. The music was pulsating as the beautiful men and women of the city danced around us. Some were talking – others were flirting. An entirely normal evening in a bar. A normal outing until 10pm …
Two hours before the witching hour – members of the Montreal Canadien hockey team entered.
Chelios was there along with Brian Hayward, Claude Lemieux , Brian Skrudland , Mike McPhee and Craig Ludwig. It was not uncommon to witness the city’s hockey stars out and about. The patrons who were used to it smiled and kept on doing their thing. The ‘ rookies ‘ of the bar scene were sometimes overwhelmed by the close proximity of their heroes. Autographs were sought , conversations seeded and general excitement ruled for the first hour after the arrival of les bleus , les blancs et les rouges.
Minding our business yet keeping an eye on our Habs – my foursome had met and were speaking to a few other people. At this time , the fuss had died down over the Montreal players and everyone was going about their business. Cathy was the center of attention in our group as she held court. A soapbox the only thing absent as the future 5’ 5″ Mrs. Whitman orated a joke to whoever lay interested. Previous to the punch -line and following the set-up , Craig Ludwig had wandered into earshot of Cathy’s hilarious tale. This evening took place almost twenty -two years ago. Sadly I do not recall the joke.
There is one thing to be known about Cathy. She was feisty and probably still is. Although not a feminist – a Gloria Steinem tattoo on her left arm would not come as a surprise . As the crowd that had gathered neared closer to hear the final words of the joke – Craig Ludwig was among them. As silent as a group could be in a bar , ears leaned forward and eyes widened as everyone waited in anticipation of Cathy’ s deciding words. Following a few anxious moments – the words were ejected ; ” She only had one breast ! ”
Ludwig , in all fairness – probably had too much to drink. On top of that – he entered the joke a little on the late side. Whatever the reason – his next move proved a little risky . Right in the middle of a school of laughter – Craig Ludwig reached through the crowd and in one swift voice yelled ; ” You mean like this … ? ” The Habs’ shot blocker then reached over and grabbed Cathy’s breast.
Sometimes things happen very fast in life. The following events were precisely one of those moments. Amid shock and some laughter – Cathy reared back and with one powerful motion … kneed Mr. Ludwig right square in the testicles. With Ludwig doubled over and not missing a beat ,Cathy replied at the top of her voice;”He only had one ball ! ”
I sincerely do not recall much of what happened next. Ludwig wandered off . Some talked about it and some did not. None of us were threatened nor were we ejected from the premises.
Every Saturday night – a good Canadian boy or girl gathers around with family or friends and tunes into Hockey Night in Canada. It is tradition. It is to Canadians what capitalism is to Americans. The following Saturday night after what is now referred to as ‘ the scrotum incident ‘ was no different.
Cathy and Liz made supper , Whitman and I drank beer. Cathy and Liz served supper – Whitman and I drank beer. Cathy and Liz did the dishes …. ah – you get the idea … ( by the way ladies – I am single ! )
The four of us sat down , got comfortable and watched as the starting line-ups were announced for the up and coming match. All of our Montreal Canadiens were ready to go. All of our stars were primed to beat the opposition ! All of them with one exception . There was one scratch for Le Club de Hockey Canadien. It was one of their defencemen. It was Craig Ludwig and he was out of the formation with a ‘ groin injury ‘.
An injury that painted a picture onto the canvases of our memories. Forever …
Better late than never … check out Chris Nilan’s take on the Habs’ loss to the Leafs.