Montreal Canadiens players David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher are roughed-up by Carl Gunnarsson (left) and David Clarkson of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period of an N.H.L. game at the Bell Centre in Montreal Saturday, November 30, 2013. The season ahead will be the sixth straight that the Canadiens and Maple Leafs have met to raise the curtain.
Photograph by: John Kenney, THE GAZETTE
The demise of the Canadiens was being trumpeted in Toronto newspaper pages following the first meeting of the season between the teams.
“Canadiens are the Flying Frenchmen no longer,” one story crowed. “A few years ago, very few teams in their third game of the season would have stopped Canadiens by superior speed and persistent backchecking. Things have changed, and with their speed gone, Canadiens are trying to win games by their grey matter.”
Don’t clutter the drama with the fact that this report appeared in the Toronto Mail and Empire on Dec. 27, 1917, seven days into the life of the National Hockey League and after the first-ever game between the clubs.
Or that Toronto’s 7-5 win at Mutual Arena, at the time Canada’s only artificial-ice rink east of Manitoba, came with the visiting Canadiens falling back into an ill-fated attempt to protect a 5-3 third-period lead.
The 1916 National Hockey Association Stanley Cup-champion Canadiens were easy pickings that night for Toronto, which at the time was a temporary franchise 10 years away from becoming the Maple Leafs and a club loosely stitched together by hockey men in that town who were squabbling over franchise ownership.
This wasn’t exactly Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment at the helm. That 1917-18 season, Toronto boss Charles Querrie posted this among his rules on his wartime dressing-room blackboard:
1. First and foremost, do not forget that I am running this club;
2. It does not require bravery to hit another man over the head with a stick. If you want to fight, go over to France.
Fast-forward nearly a century, and the Canadiens and Maple Leafs will meet at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 8 in the 2014-15 season opener for both clubs.
And then, on April 15, they’ll meet in the same building for their 82nd game of the campaign, one or both or neither side headed into the playoffs.
(Not in the lineup for the home team on either night will be hulking defenceman Harry Mummery, a former and future Canadien who was a huge presence for Toronto in that first-ever meeting. A part-time firefighter with Canadian Pacific Railways, Mummery was known to rush into the Mutual Arena boiler room straight from the train by way of a local butcher shop, frying up two thick steaks on a rinsed coal shovel and washing them down with a pint of cream just before a game.)
Today’s half-full glass says: “Is there a better way for the Canadiens to begin their 2014-15 season than against the Maple Leafs?”
The half-empty tumbler replies, “You realize the Canadiens have lost four consecutive season-opening games against the Leafs, right?”
The Canadiens would lose 10-7 to Toronto in a two-game total-goals NHL final, the gloating “Arenas” then winning the Stanley Cup by defeating the Pacific Coast league’s Vancouver Millionaires.
(And now we consider that Toronto’s 2017 celebration of their franchise centennial almost surely will also mark the 50th anniversary of their most recent Stanley Cup victory.)
The NHL’s 2014-15 schedule was released Sunday at 4 p.m. and within a few heartbeats, on a glorious summer afternoon in Montreal, it was bedlam on the Internet.
The season ahead will be the sixth straight that the Canadiens and Maple Leafs have met to raise the curtain. And don’t think that more than a few Habs fans aren’t considering the fact that against Toronto, their heroes are riding a four-game, season-opener losing streak; their last win came in 2009 when Josh Gorges slammed home the overtime winner at the ACC, Habs goalie Carey Price having faced a blizzard of 46 shots in the 4-3 win.
For those fans who believe the Canadiens’ fierce rivalry with the Maple Leafs is a ship that long ago sailed, the reviled Boston Bruins will be Montreal’s home-opener foe on Oct. 16.
It’s been just over a week since the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, their second in three seasons. But the Canadiens have hardly been idle since their May 29 elimination at the hands of the New York Rangers.
In reverse order:
June 21: Assistant coach Gerard Gallant is named head coach of the Florida Panthers, leaving an important Montreal post to be filled on Michel Therrien’s staff;
June 19: It’s announced that Hall of Famer Guy Lapointe’s No. 5 is to be retired and hung in the Bell Centre rafters this season, joining Big Three comrades Serge Savard and Larry Robinson;
June 17: Forward Dale Weise, a shrewd February pickup from Vancouver for defenceman Raphael Diaz, is signed to a contract, locking up his rugged, inspirational brand of play for two more seasons;
June 14: Within a half-hour, it is announced that Therrien has been extended for four more years and that 2009 first-round draft pick Louis Leblanc has been dealt to Anaheim for a conditional fifth-round selection.
The week ahead will prove that there is no such thing as an off-season in Montreal.
It begins with Tuesday’s annual NHL awards in Las Vegas, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin a finalist for the prize of the league’s top GM this past season.
Defenceman P.K. Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenceman, will be an award presenter, and he’ll learn whether he or Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron will be featured on EA Sports’ NHL 2015 video game.
Subban, on the cover of the Canada Day edition of Maclean’s magazine, is the biggest fish in Bergevin’s frying pan this summer, the restricted free agent either bridging to UFA status or signing a blockbuster long-term deal.
There are other matters on Bergevin’s desk, most prominent among them the UFA files of captain Brian Gionta and veteran defenceman Andrei Markov. But they may simmer until after next weekend’s entry draft in Philadelphia and, just 72 hours later, the annual July 1 opening of free-agency.
The NHL is milking every ounce of buzz, having released the pre-season schedule last Friday, home openers on Saturday and the full slate of 1,230 games on Sunday.
The league’s Hall of Fame announcement comes Monday, followed by the televised red-carpet awards show, draft hype and the event itself, and then free agency. Less sexy will be the player- and club-elected salary arbitration deadlines of July 5-6.
All of this will unfold in the hockey universe as mandated by the league. But the weekend tease of the coming season’s schedule, then Sunday’s release of the whole enchilada, stirred in Canadiens fans the embers of a fire that hadn’t been extinguished.
But then, in this city and in its far-flung fan base, you’d need more than summertime — say a water cannon — to put that out.
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