Dick Irvin; Not his Father ‘s Son

If you were a Montreal Canadiens‘  fan during the seventies – there were two people that you loved more than most

It was not Gilligan and the Skipper. It was not your parents .

It wasn’t even Mr. Kotter and Vinnie Barbarino  (although John Travolta as Barbarino was kinda cute ). No sir – the pair that were admired and voted most likely to be hugged on a regular basis were Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin Jr.

Danny Gallivan was the play by play man for the Montreal Canadiens and Dick Irvin Jr. was his trusty sidekick and color man on Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. The Lone Ranger and Tonto of hockey. Danny called the plays and Mr. Irvin delivered accurate statistics of the players that carried them out. Although Gallivan became somewhat of a star in hockey circles for conjuring phrases and words on the spot – it was Irvin’s unwavering convictions of the players that skated for the Habs (and NHL) that injected a moral grounding to a game within the game.

Danny Gallivan

Gallivan’s  ‘spineramas  ‘ and ‘ scintillating saves ‘ were highly complimented by Irvin’s correct assessment of not only a player’s ability, his integrity as well. Irvin provided a canvas of high standards upon which Mr. Gallivan painted an abstract painting. The pair belonged together as much as Burns and Allen or Bogey and Bacall. Along with Foster Hewitt before – the duo set the standards for hockey broadcasters to follow. A level which has not been reached since…

A Legend’s Legend is Born

Aside from being Gallivan’s partner in the broadcast booth, James Dickinson Irvin Junior was also known as the son of a famous hockey coach. The offspring of a legendary Montreal Canadiens coach. An instructor that went on to become a legend in the NHL and for the Montreal Canadiens. Dick Irvin Sr. stuck his son with a label that made it difficult for his offspring as he commenced his career in a domain he adored.

Sports broadcasting.

“Of course people had high expectations for me and some gave me a hard time because of it.” Says Irvin. ” Throughout my sportscasting career, even as late as 1995 , I have been called a ‘ homey’ because of my dad’s affiliation with the Canadiens. I loved my job and the Montreal Canadiens – I never thought there was shame in that!”

Fortunately for Dick Irvin – he was his own man and always was…

A native of Calgary, Alberta – Mr Irvin  is a man that has worn many fedoras over the years. At the age of eighty – none of those hats have blown too far away with the winds of change. Not yet. Not ever.

Irvin Sr.

He graduated from McGill university with a bachelor of commerce degree and toiled in commerce for several years before turning to his passion – sports. Mr. Irvin commenced working as a sports broadcaster for CFCF -radio and eventually  CFCF – TV. Following the usual apprenticeship – Irvin became well known as the sports director for the media outlet in the early seventies before becoming famous outside of Montreal for being a second banana.

Irvin was the color man on Hockey Night in Canada until 1984 when his iconic partner in crime – Danny Gallivan, retired from calling the play by play. Irvin stayed on with Hockey Night in various roles – including the one vacated by his good friend ; play-by-play. Mr. Irvin could often be seen traveling back and forth between the studio and ice level to interview players, coaches and officials. Irvin indeed wore many pale blue coats during his career with the CBC up until his retirement in 1999.

The coach’s son did not stop there …

Mr. Irvin penned six books about hockey . Five written while he was running around with the CBC  and one after retirement in 2001. The book titles are ;

  1. Now Back to You, Dick (1988)
  2. The Habs (1991)
  3. Behind the Bench (1993)
  4. In the Crease (1995)
  5.  Tough Calls (1997)
  6. My 26 Stanley Cups (2001)

A lifetime of knowledge contributed to the success of the titles among his peers, his fans and his pocketbook. Follow the names of each one and it is a summation of his career.

Mr. Irvin until recently was the longest serving member of Hockey Night in Canada – surpassed by Bob Cole. The man who was chided in the booth by Gallivan with the latter calling him ‘Richard’ to bug him,was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the broadcasting category in 1988 . An election into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters followed in 2004.

Mr. Irvin is the only man the Montreal Canadiens call on to serve as emcee for special occasions. Irvin is called upon to do English introductions of jersey retirements and other various ceremonies such as the Habs centennial year celebrations.

A Conversation

Language is a hot topic these days in Montreal with the appointment of an english – only coach. Mr. Irvin is well aware of the fine line between politics and the game in this city.

” When my Dad coached the team – it was very much a french canadian team. Maurice Richard was the star and it was his team. It did not matter how many french players were on the team. It was the people’s team and the people were french-canadian.”

Did the media or fans get on Dick Sr because of his mother tongue ?

” When my father started coaching the team – it was a very bad one. My father was brought to Montreal to resurrect the club.Having won a Cup in Toronto, Tommy Gorman hired my Dad to coach a team that had only won ten games the year before. If the fans had an misgivings over my father’s language – they were quickly dismissed. My dad turned the Habs into winners and he also made them tough.”

What would happen today if your Dad was the coach of the Habs?

” It is a different time. The media is everywhere – especially in Montreal. I suppose it would come down to winning. If my Dad had not guided the Canadiens to six finals and three championships , perhaps the fans and media would have been all over him also. Randy ( Cunneyworth) is in the hot seat and probably more so because he is not winning. You have to remember – the french people are passionate in life and hockey. The Richard Riot was all about french and english. ”

Who should be coaching the Habs right now?

“I think to keep the peace , the Canadiens must hire a bilingual coach. That way, whoever it is can concentrate on hockey. It is sad but it is reality in this market …Bob Hartley is a good coach and he fits the bill.”

Do you miss your job …?

“Not really … I have trouble trying to figure out smart phones – let alone iPads. It is a younger man’s game today to do what I did. The game is not what it once was. It reflects society and it is a fast moving world in which we live.”

What are your plans …? Any more books ?

“I think my literary career is over. I said what I wanted to say and have run out of stuff. Unless I get bored…”

Will we see you announcing at Habs games ?

” I am enjoying my retirement and my grandchildren. I will be there if they call me. My fear is that the next ceremony will be a minute of silence for me. Unfortunately , I cannot announce that one …”

Somehow – Mr. Dick Irvin probably could …

Irvin and Gallivan in the Booth

I would like to thank Mr. Irvin for taking a few minutes to answer my questions.For the record – Mr. Irvin bought bread and I bought milk …


Please read Habs Eye on the Prize, the Hockey Writers and Knuckles Nilan

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1 Comment

  1. Elmer Lach; The Legend that Time almost Forgot « Rick Keene ' s Le Forum de Montreal

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