Habs 100th

By Alidor Aucoin on December 18, 2008

The Habs observe their 100th birthday, next year, but the centennial celebrations got off to a head start earlier this month.

 No team in the National Hockey League  is  as decorated as the Montreal Canadiens, Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge, and their formidable marketing machine is determined to create a phony frenzy and stretch the centennial party by several months.

The Canadiens were founded on Dec. 4, 1909 and since 1916  have won 24 Stanley Cups, and seen  44 of its players inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. So far this season the club is off to a respectable 16-8-5 start, trailing Boston, but still a respectable showing, if you don’t count their humiliating 3-1 defeat last week to the  3-1 to the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.

To kick off  the centennial, four players, Howie Morenz, Jean Beliveau, Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Guy Lafleur, have been immortalized in bronze on a new plaza outside the bell centre that was dedicated on Dec.4. The mint has struck 10 million one-dollar coins with the CH logos, and Canada Post will issue four million Habs  stamps.

Players medallions have been struck,replica jerseys produced, and several books about the team have hit the bookstores in time for Christmas, none of them better than The Montreal Canadiens, 100 years of Glory, by veteran Toronto journalist D’Arcy Jenish. (Doubleday, 336 pp. $35.00)  Its a history you might have thought  veteran Montreal sports columnist Red Fisher would have written.  The irony, of course, is that it took Jenish, a Maple Leaf’s fan, to  tell this compelling, dispassionate, story of Canada’s most revered hockey club.

“So much has been written by so many that there is a tendency to wonder: What’s missing? What more can be said?” he writes, “The history of the Canadiens is like an old house that has seen too many coats of paint. In the telling and the retelling, much of the story’s original sparkle and freshness have been lost.” Jenish sets out to write about the thrill of the game, and succeeds.   His compact, anecdotal, account, is the result not only to four years of painstaking research, but also because of the author’s longstanding friendship with the club’s general manager,  Bob Gainey.  The two played together on the Peterborough Junior B Lions Club that won gold at the 1971 Canada Games.

“Bob and I were team-mates, we spent two winters playing hockey together,” Jenish said in an interview when he was in Montreal earlier this month  to speak to the Womens’ Canadian Club.  “Our lives only intersected in the arena. But when I was rolling ideas around in m y head for my next book and realized the Habs centennial was approaching, my friendship with him opened doors for me. He introduced me to the club’s owner, George Gillett and its president, Pierre Boivin, to coaches, players and to the team historian.” Jenish claims the team was late getting off the ground because French Canadians at the turn of the 20th century preferred to “dine, dance and fraternize,” instead of  play hockey. The truth is a bit more nuanced. In the late 19th and early 20th century, French Canadians weren’t allowed to play on Montreal’s storied English-speaking hockey teams like the Winged Wheelers and he Victorias, because those teams were exclusively for Protestants, and Roman Catholics were not welcome. If French Canadians wanted to play, they had to join the Shamrocks, which was dominated by Irish Roman Catholics. The book chronicles the team from its first game,  to how George Kennedy came up with the distinctive  'C' and 'H' logo and made the team profitable. It touches on all the highlights and all the heroes, Georges Vézina (The Chicoutimi Cucumber)  AureleJoliat , Howie (The Stratford Streak)  Morenz, Maurice (Rocket) Richard, and the celebrated, 1955 riot,  Jean Beliveau, Guy (The Flower) Lafleur, Ken Dryden,  Patrick Roy, right up to Carey Price and the  Flying K’s  on the present team: Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, and the Kostotsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergie, Mike Komisarek and Tom Kostopoulos.  For all of the hype building up around the centennial, all  the blogs,  quick hits and glossy coffee table books, 100 Years of Glory is the definitive Habs story inside out in terms of what has been written  to date about the club.

Bob Gainey endorses the book, which is an unofficial, independent effort,, saying Jenish “has resisted the fluffy, romantic versions (of Habs history) which have become common, and delivered the nitty-gritty, real-deal story.” Even those with a marginal interest in hockey will be rewarded, and no die-hard Habs fan should be without it. The French-language version is expected in January.

An ideal companion volume Honoured Canadiens, by Andrew Podnieks (Fenn, 240 pages, $45) profiles all of the Habs who have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.



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