Sports

Of dressing rooms and kings

Hal Quinn May 28 1979
Sports

Of dressing rooms and kings

Hal Quinn May 28 1979

Of dressing rooms and kings

Sports

Hal Quinn

High above the ice at the Montreal Forum are the silent and constant reminders. They are strung from

end to end, interrupted only by the gigantic scoreboard and penalty clock. They are dated, these Coupe Stanley Cup pennants, and the newest of the 21 bracket the championship seasons from 1976 to 1978. Another pair represent the opening of the decade, another three the mid-’60s, and the line begins in 1916.

The memories and legends of Les Canadiens stock the Forum—Hainsworth, Joliat, Vpzina, Morenz, Lach— and those who added to the string of pennants in recent memory still walk the corridors—Richard, Blake, Harvey, Béliveau. The faces of the architects of the Canadiens’ heritage line the walls of the Montreal dressing room, under the bilingual inscription about failing hands, a torch passed—silent and constant.

“It’s definitely not the greatest dressing room,” says Mark Napier, who now wears No. 31 of the tricolor and saw the room for the first time during last year’s playoffs. “But it does something

to you. You look at those faces on the walls and remember all the Stanley Cups they’ve won and something swells inside you. Suddenly you want to do what those men have done.”

High above the ice at Madison Square Garden in New York, strung from end to end, are the trapezes and nets of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. At one end are three pennants—not the type that fly at Yankee Stadium, but four-by-six-foot flags heralding the Rangers’ cup championships. Though dated 1927-28,1932-33,1939-40, they appear to be new, banners of Sonny Werblin’s hype. They stare at two others across the length of the ice that recall the “world” championships of the basketball Knickerbockers.

Below the Garden, the Ranger

dressing room is one of the greater ones in the league. Rock music careers through the meshed player stalls and bounces off the stick rack. Cold beer flows from plastic cups and lighters

flare cigars and cigarettes.

Back at the Montreal Forum there are other traditions, but one—great goaltending—is synonymous with cup victories. There have been Vezina, Plante, Worsley and, when this year’s finals finally got under way, there was Ken Dryden. Consistent, occasionally brilliant, Dryden has been the lanky, flopping, towering bottom line of the Habs’ domination of the league for the past three years.

In the Canadiens’ surprisingly arduous elimination of the Boston Bruins in the semifinals, Dryden demonstrated a surprising reluctance to block shots from Bruins wheeling from behind the

net. The supposedly civil patrons of the frozen art at the Forum began sounding like the rail birds at the Garden.

Game 1 in this final iced what remained of Montrealers’ love for the big lawyer from Toronto. Harry Sinden, general manager of the Bruins, has said, “You used to be able to count on one or two gift-wrapped goals per game from the Ranger defence,” but this game it was the Canadiens packaging the puck on Dryden’s doorstep. No less a stalwart than all-star Larry Robinson took to philanthropy and the Rangers waltzed to a 4-1 win.

The approach of Game 2 last Tuesday found Montreal coach Scotty Bowman unable to decide whether to play Dryden or his backup, Bunny Larocque, as a Toronto paper broke the story that Dryden doesn’t intend to play in Montreal next season. Montreal fans, and Dryden, were perturbed over the story of his pondering over playing in the So-

viet Union next year but the fans haven’t been the only ones on Dryden’s back. The Law Society of Upper Canada, while not opposed to six-figure salaries, prefers that those who have articled (as Dryden did in 1973) eventually come before the bar to be examined and defend something more animate than a net.

Bowman finally decided to start Larocque, but Hab Doug Risebrough changed all that. With just 53 seconds remaining in the pre-game warm-up, Risebrough’s stick arced for a slapshot: “Just as I hit it, the puck bounced up on its side and the shot sailed”—right onto Larocque’s forehead. Bunny’s moment of destiny was spent in the hospital and Dryden was back on the ice.

“In a situation like that you almost anticipate a Hollywood scenario,”

Dryden articulated after the game. “The goalie comes off the bench, makes miraculous saves and the team is carried to victory. It didn’t quite turn out that way.” The script went sour after 62 seconds. Ranger Anders Hedberg parked a 35-foot screen shot over Dryden’s shoulder.

The merciless jeers of the Forum crowd grew frenzied when the third Ranger shot of the game went through Dryden’s legs as Ron Duguay accepted a gift from Canadien defenceman Brian Engblom. “Goalies are a negative factor, they are scored against,” Dryden explained. “The booing has happened to all Canadien goalies, even the great ones.”

As Dryden philosophized, “concentrated on constructive aspects” and tried to “normalize the situation,” his teammates finally started to play their normal, traditional way.

The Rangers, in front of the unchar-

acteristically brilliant goaltending of John Davidson, had upset the Philadelphia Flyers and the heavily favored New York Islanders to reach the finals. Their Cinderella spring seemed headed for a champagne ball as they led by one game and by two goals in the second. But before the clock struck to end the period, Yvon Lambert, Guy Lafleur and Bob Gainey gave the Habs a lead they would not relinquish for the next five periods.

The Canadiens have stopped being tentative and, ahead in that second game, afforded the luxury of six defencemen. Rick Chartraw, Rod Langway and Gilles Lupien spelled Robinson and Serge Savard—overworked in the absence of injured Guy Lapointe. And the Canadiens, particularly Steve

Shutt, demonstrated a belligerence not usually associated with the Flying Frenchmen. “You can’t hit like that all year—it takes too much out of you,” said Shutt. “But you have to play rough in the playoffs. Besides, they’re trying to take money out of my pocket.”

As the circus moved out and the players moved into Madison Square Garden for Game 3, it was the ticket scalpers who were removing up to $250 from pockets—for single seats. Inside, the trapezes shook to the crowd’s roar as rock star Billy Joel stood where Roger Doucet would in the Forum, and finished off the national anthem.

But the cheering by the New York crowd, known as the “Brain Surgeons,” was more for past deeds as the Rangers moved as if their blades had turned to pumpkin rinds. After the visit by the elephants and lions, the Garden ice surface was “brutal,” in Dave Maloney’s word, and both teams played as if reluctant to interrupt either goaltender’s musing. Dryden was at his familiar posts, but only briefly was the success of his “normalizing” tested. Ron Duguay won a face-off from Doug Jarvis and dribbled the shot to Dryden’s right for the Rangers’ only goal.

The Habs played well enough to win, breaking past a Ranger defence extended in attempts at offence. Shutt scored on the first shot at Davidson, Doug Risebrough scored on the fifth on a play innocent in its somnambulance. It was all the Canadiens needed to take a 2-1 lead in the series but there was little in the game that could warm the heart of Morenz or Joliat. With little more than five minutes left, Mario Trembley ticked in a neat pass by Lambert and three minutes later Jacques Lemaire brought the crowd to its feet and toward the exits shouting “yecch” when he scored on a perfect centring pass by Shutt to make the final score 41. Arms crossed, leaning on the butt end of his stick, Dryden was credited with an assist.

Removing the brace from his right knee after the game, Dave Maloney talked about the Canadiens. “They’ve been in this situation so many times before they’re winners.”

The elephants wandered in and out again before Game 4 on Saturday night. The game started later than usual but things were getting back to normal. The scalpers had to shave their prices as New Yorkers contemplated other entertainments of a Manhattan night.

By beating the Rangers again in New York, the Canadiens were a step closer to their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. The ’79 Habs were proving they have players whose portraits may one day hang in the Forum dressing room and whose pennants will join those of the legends who have gone before.^