THE HIGHEST SCORING BARITONE IN HISTORY

BERNARD “BOOM BOOM” GEOFFRION is a crooner, inn keeper, lady-killer, ex-racehorse-owner, family man and rightwinger — some people say the best in hockey. At 31 he’s a legend, and the legend, c’est magnifique

Peter Gzowski September 22 1962

THE HIGHEST SCORING BARITONE IN HISTORY

BERNARD “BOOM BOOM” GEOFFRION is a crooner, inn keeper, lady-killer, ex-racehorse-owner, family man and rightwinger — some people say the best in hockey. At 31 he’s a legend, and the legend, c’est magnifique

Peter Gzowski September 22 1962

THE HIGHEST SCORING BARITONE IN HISTORY

BERNARD “BOOM BOOM” GEOFFRION is a crooner, inn keeper, lady-killer, ex-racehorse-owner, family man and rightwinger — some people say the best in hockey. At 31 he’s a legend, and the legend, c’est magnifique

Peter Gzowski

ONLY ONE MAN IN CANADA could sing — and get away without collapsing in embarrassment —this song:

When / come down the ice and score a goal,

Oo là là là, c’est magnifique.

An when we win I’m such a happy soul,

Oo là là là, c’est magnifique.

If we should lose / really get the blues,

Oo là là là, comme c'est tragique.

But when once more I get the puck and score, Oo là là là. c'est magnifee—ee—que.

That man is Bernard “Boom Boom" Geoffrion, and he sang it on the CBC television program Parade last year — not only without breaking up, but with sincerity, and in a pleasant baritone, all the while motioning gracefully with his bulging arms, rising to tiptoe on the emotional phrases, and moving his square, manicured hands as if he were picking strands of a spider's web from in front of the camera.

As a singer, in fact. Boom Boom will do—at least by the standards TV has led us to accept.

But the reason that he alone could handle with aplomb what from other throats would have sounded simply inane (not that it was exactly “ane" when he sang it) goes beyond the baritone voice and muscular gestures. Geoffrion, in winter a right-winger with the Montreal Canadiens, is the fourth-highest scoring player in National Hockey League history, and the co-holder (with Maurice Richard and Bobby Hull) of the record for most goals in one season. When he comes down the ice and scores a goal, he is, indeed, magnifique.

He is the Roger Maris of hockey, the man the customers pay to see. His trademark, after which he is named (even his wife calls him Boom Boom), is the slapshot, a manoeuvre decried by people who like their hockey neat and patterned, but a formidable weapon in the arsenal of a goal-scorer. He lifts his stick shoulder high, whangs ice and puck together, booming the puck at . . . sometimes the slapper knows not where . . . but at speeds up to ninety miles an hour.

Many hockey people, including Canadiens’ coach Toe Blake, believe that Geoffrion’s immensely powerful shot was the principle cause

for an NHL rules

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BOOM BOOM GEOFFRION

“When he appeared, all the other men looked less manly”

change a few years ago. When Geoffrion first came into the NHL. in 1950. a team that had a minor penalty had to play five men against six for a full two minutes. “When we had our power play with Gcoffrion on the point (a position near the blue line usually played by a forward like Geoffrion when a team has an advantage), we were getting so many goals that they had to do something to make the game more even.” Blake says. Now, as soon as the unpenalized team scores a goal, the penalized player is allowed to return to the ice.

Geoffrion’s ability to score goals is not limited to his often uncontrolled cannonades from the blue line. “In 1958,” says Frank Selke, Jr., a hockey broadcaster and official of the Canadiens, “we were playing a Stanley Cup game in Boston. In the first period the puck was flipped out from the boards, three feet in the air. to where the Boomer was standing in front of the Boston net. He lifted his stick and hunted it into the net. and there aren't many men who can do that. In the second period, he stole the puck from Leo Boivin at the Boston blue line, went sixty feet with Boivin draped all over his back and, still carrying Boivin. faked the goalkeeper

out of position and scored again.” This kind of crowd-pleasing hockey also makes Geoffrion a team-lifter, a player whose performance in important moments can inspire his fellows (Canadiens won the 1958 playoff game against Boston 5-2). In 115 playoff games. Geoffrion has earned 112 goals and assists — a statistic exceeded only by the incomparable Maurice Richard and a sign of how Geoffrion has helped to make the Canadiens of recent years one of the most remarkable money teams ever. But even that does not explain what makes Geoffrion unique.

Though there aren’t many, there are nevertheless some players in the NHL who are as exciting to watch as he is: Hull, of Chicago, and Frank Mahovlich of Toronto, to name two, and Geoffrion himself says that Gordie Howe of Detroit is the best allround player in the league. Yet none of them, even if they could sing, could carry off the Boom Boom version of C’est Magnifique.

In a world of sports, where greater and greater professionalism has led to less and less of what sportswriters call “color,” Geoffrion stands out like a goal judge’s red light in overtime. He is. at thirty-one, something of a legend, a lady-killer (willy-nilly), innkeeper, show-off, onetime owner of a racehorse called Pink Nightie, and rising crooner. He is. in short, a Boom Boom. Moody as a cat, so nervous before a TV appearance that he wants to go home to his wife, he is also wont to sing—by request of his fellow' players, he says—after Cana-

diens’ practices. In summer, after a round of golf with his friend and business partner, a millionaire named Jean-Paul Hamelin, he is apt to leap to a locker-room bench, announce that his name is Geoffrioni, and burst into something from the latest Bobby Darin album.

He likes steaks and cigars, drives a shiny white convertible, holidays in Miami, dresses like an off-duty model for Playboy magazine and once wrote a column (wrote, too. with no ghost) for the Frcnch-C’anadian weekly Parlons Sport. The column was frank enough to be squelched by the brass of the Canadiens. In person or on television, he exudes a kind of hemanity, warm enough to shatter the poise of an interviewer on the TV show that used to be called Tabloid (the interviewer, for a reason that is hard to sec on videotape, just descended into giggles, and the whole scene was included in a year-end round-up of the best of Tabloid).

A large percentage of his fan mail is from girls, who flock to him at parties, though he is happily married. Not long ago a journalist w'ho w'as about to write something about Geoffrion missed a replay that the CBC did of a Parade show featuring his baritone. The journalist’s wife, trying to sum up Gcoffrion’s TV image, could only explain that “when he came on, all the other men on the show' suddenly looked not quite as manly.” (Part of this impact may just have been Geoffrion’s unfamiliarity with props. His final selection on the show was a song which he called

“Those Dear H’ar’s and Gen’l People.” and which he sang with one foot on an upturned suitcase. At fade-out, he picked up the suitcase and twirled it as if it were made of* polyethylene, and even Boom Boom couldn't have done that, if the suitcase had had anything in it.)

Such unabashed extroverts arc rare enough in any field of Canadian endeavour. let alone sport. A few weeks ago, I set out to meet this one face to face. Gcoffrion. as befits a celebrity, has an unlisted telephone number for his house in the city of St. Laurent, which is on the north side of Montreal island, so I called the motel and restaurant in which he is an active partner. Bistros of one sort or another have been absorbing the investment income of senior athletes for a long time now. and Montreal is, of course, spattered with such places as Toe Blake’s, the Rocket’s and the Pocket Rocket's, but Geoffrion’s, as bistros go. is a real boomer. It's formal name is Le Bocage, a word which in French means roughly "grove,” redolent of softly waving shade trees and cool brooks. A less grove-ish place one could hardly imagine. Le Bocage is in the gravelly wilds of Montreal’s south shore, across the St. Lawrence from the island, a land of crooked politics and traveling salesmen.

Atop the motel’s wall is a largerthan-life colored cutout of Geoffrion and light-studded signs proclaim that this is Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion’s Number 5 (his Canadiens’ sweater) motel and restaurant. Inside,

Le Bocage is quieter, with a framed drawing of you-know-who that measures roughly three feet square. By arrangement, Number Five himself met me at the door. He is smaller than one, having boned up on his hockey records and heard how he impressed lady televiewers, would expect: five-feet-ten. a hundred and

eighty-five pounds. When we met. he wore a dark blue jacket of conservative cut. white shirt, off-white tie. cuffless gray slacks, gray wool socks and black, somewhat pointed shoes. His hands, neck and face were solidly tanned — the result, he said later, of the spring's southern vacation and of a few hours on the golf course — and his nails w'ere long enough to show beyond his fingertips. On the little finger of his left hand he wore a sparkling ring I couldn't identify and of which he said only that it was a gift from his wife. He looked what teen-agers of my day used to call "sharp.''

"Have a cocktail?" he said.

"Well, a beer," 1 said. It was two o'clock in the afternoon.

It is somehow typical of Boom Boom that he gets injured more often and more dramatically than, I think, anyone else in the league. In twelve seasons, he has broken a collarbone, an ankle, a hand, a wrist and a big toe. Three years ago, he ruptured a bowel when he was body-checked in practice and was given the last rites of the Catholic church before he recovered. His nose has been broken eight times, and he has more than two hundred stitches one place and an-

Boom Boom: bookkeeper and businessman

other on his body. Like all hockey players, he has had a few teeth knocked out. and he wears what he calls "part of a partial plate." Unlike most hockey players, he is vain enough to wear this plate during games. None of his battle wounds, however, have spoiled his dark good looks, and sitting across the table from him it was easy to imagine that I was chatting with an Italian opera star instead of a French-Canadian boy who scores goals for a living.

I explained that what I was interested in hearing was not so much

his story as a hockey player, but his story and his feelings as a person. He set the tone of our interview right away. "1 have a beautiful business, a beautiful wife and three beautiful children," he said. “What else do you want to know?"

There is a curious attitude in professional athletics that it is wrong not to take oneself and one's game seriously. More than seriously — religiously. In public, the athlete must talk like Dick Rover. It was this attitude that cost Andy Bathgate of the New' York Rangers a $500-fine when

he allowed a writer for True magazine to ghost an article for him a couple of years ago. That article accused some men in the NHL of playing dirty hockey. In all the furor that ensued, none of the hockey tycoons who fined Bathgate denied that there are some men in the NHL who play dirty hockey. It was just, apparently, that no other player in the NHL was allowed to say so publicly. This attitude is also bearing in this summer on a young man named Bo Belinsky, who pitches for the Los Angeles Angels of the American League, and who says things like, "1 don't go for that rahrah jazz." and goes to night clubs. He is being censured by the powers of baseball for being something other than a machine.

This attitude meant that the Boom Boom Geoffrion 1 talked to at L.e Bocage was not quite the swashbuckling hero that the legend had led me to expect. Our conversation, in fact, was carried on a little as if I were interviewing a candidate for the presidency of the local YMC'A — we weren't fooling around, brother. And about all 1 learned was that Bernard Geoffrion does not go in much for smoking, swearing or drinking, that he thinks the National Hockey League is perfect, the Canadiens are perfect, hockey fans are wonderful, signing autographs is a delight, staying in shape is fun. business at Le Bocage is great and getting better. Shirley Harmer is a lady, Joan Fairfax is a lady, Butch Bouchard and Maurice Richard were more than generous in their teaching of young Bernie—gen-

crosity that (ieoffrion wants to repay by teaching other youngsters on the way — and that, except for Dean Prentice of the New York Rangers, who Geoffrion says is the best checker in the league, life is pretty well a bowl of cherries.

And it may well be. Geoffrion himself has never pretended to be anything but a hockey player; the legend has just been a bonus. Born and raised in the cast end of Montreal, he was skating at seven, a rink-rat thereafter, playing Junior A at fourteen and with the Canadiens briefly at nineteen. He was rookie of the year at twenty and, also at twenty, he married, appropriately, the daughter of the late Howie Morenz, who was something of a Boom Boom himself. The Geoffrions have three children, a girl of ten. a boy, eight, and a boy, four, and as a family they are sports-happy. The only time his wife, Marlene, has wished he wasn't a hockey player was during his serious internal injury a few years ago, which occurred when she was bearing their third child. Marlene's father, one of the greatest hockey players of all time, died in hospital after being injured in a game. “But after it got better," Geoffrion says, “1 explained that hockey was my life, and that I had to play, and she understood."

Hockey will continue to be his life, he hopes, until he is at least thirtyfive, by w'hich time he will no doubt be the third-greatest scorer in history, behind Howe and Richard (he is now thirty-seven goals behind the retired Ted Lindsay). After that Canadian television will perhaps find room for a baritone with big shoulders, or perhaps Le Bocage will have a fulltime innkeeper. At any rate, he'll no doubt continue to be a nice sort of legend. ★