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"Then Wayne Said to Mario ..."
The Best Stanley Cup Stories Ever Told
By Kevin Allen
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2009 Kevin Allen
All rights reserved.
Hall of Famers
Detroit Red Wings, 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955
In the 1950s, when Detroit Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay picked up the Stanley Cup and carried it to the cheering fans at Olympia Stadium, it was the 20th-century equivalent of the king's knight allowing the masses to inspect the crown jewels. It just wasn't done before Lindsay's moment of impulsiveness.
Photographs would seem to prove that Lindsay was the first to raise the Cup above his head in what is now the classic Stanley Cup pose. What did his teammates think of Lindsay's Cup-raising? "They probably thought the idiot Lindsay is off on another tangent," Lindsay said, chuckling.
Lindsay's historically significant act wasn't premeditated. "I really didn't even think about it at all," Lindsay said. "You never know what you will do in your life that will turn out to be important. This was just one of those impulsive things."
After Red Wings owner Bruce Norris and general manager Jack Adams had received the trophy from NHL president Clarence Campbell, it was handed off to Lindsay for the traditional photograph. After that snap, he picked it up over his head and carried it to the boards. There was no Plexiglas in those days, only chicken wire, and fans could actually touch the cold silver of the Cup.
"I was very public relations-oriented," Lindsay said. "I knew who paid our salary. It wasn't the owners; it was the people. I just wanted them to have a closer look. I just went around the rink and let everyone see it. This is what we dream about, maybe from the time we're born — to be recognized as the best in the world. I wanted to share it with the fans."
Did Campbell say anything? "I don't think so, but I wouldn't have heard him anyway because the fans were pretty loud," he said.
"Terrible Ted" Lindsay was a man of the people, even if he played so aggressively that opponents couldn't stand him. The Detroit Red Wings were a dominant team in Lindsay's heyday, winning eight of nine regular-season championships in one stretch from 1948 to 1957. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cup championships during that period, and it seems somewhat surprising that they didn't win more.
"Oh, we had a great team," Lindsay said. "But every year we had to hope that our farm teams in Indianapolis and Edmonton would go to their championship round because we knew that four, five, or six of those players were going to be brought up. They were supposed to be reserves in case we had injuries, but Adams always became a magician. They weren't good enough to play with us all year, but he would want to insert them in the lineup.
"And you had to give Toronto and Montreal credit at that time. They had good teams back then."
Lindsay had some classic playoff moments in that era, including one in 1955 when he became the second NHL player to score four goals in a Stanley Cup Finals game. He netted four in a 7–1 win against Montreal on April 5, 1955. Lindsay was as respected in that era as any athlete in Detroit, including young Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers and Bobby Layne of the Detroit Lions. He settled in the Detroit area after the war, starting a manufacturing business with teammate Marty Pavelich. Lindsay has fond memories of winning the championship four times on Olympia ice.
After each championship the team would gather at the Book Cadillac Hotel on Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit and party until 3:00 AM. "Washington Boulevard was one of the premier streets in America back then," Lindsay said. "It wasn't like it is now. There were no parades. But we just had a very nice party with all of the players, their wives, and their friends. Management became very generous that night.
"We would have dinner and beers. Our parade was we drove home after that."
Players received no rings back then, and the players' lack of what Lindsay considered a fair financial reward became a major source of tension between Lindsay and the team. "When we won the league championship, we got $1,000," Lindsay said matter-of-factly. "When you won in the first round, you were supposed to get $1,000 and $500 if you lost, and when you won the Stanley Cup, you were supposed to get $1,000. We should have gotten at least $3,000. When I went to school, that's how the math added up. But when we got our checks, they would be $2,365 — not after taxes, before taxes. I could never find out where the other $700 or so went. That was one of my gripes that forced me to start up the Players Association. I didn't want people like Adams to control our money."
The Red Wings would eventually end up trading Lindsay, primarily because of his union activism. Lindsay seemed to be at odds with Jack Adams, even when the Red Wings were winning. "When the Red Wings won, Jack Adams would say we won," Lindsay said, chuckling. "When we didn't, he would say, 'It was you guys who lost it.'"
Montreal Canadiens, 1973, 1976–1979
Hall of Fame right wing Guy Lafleur is remembered as one of the most dynamic, crowd-pleasing performers in NHL history. He could steal a game with one dazzling dash up the ice.
But perhaps the slickest, most flamboyant move of his hockey career came the night he stole the Stanley Cup.
It was May 22, 1979, the day after his Montreal Canadiens had defeated the New York Rangers 4–1 to claim their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup championship. The "Flower," as he was often known, had cause to explore his mischievous side. He had run amuck yet again in the postseason, netting 10 goals and adding 13 assists in just 16 games. For the third consecutive season, he had finished the postseason tops in points. In 1979 he and teammate Jacques Lemaire had tied for the playoff lead.
Lafleur's plan for the heist was as well thought out as any move he ever made on the ice. Knowing Canadiens' vice president of public relations Claude Mouton would be entrusted to safeguard the Cup while it was in Montreal, Lafleur schemed to separate Mouton from the Cup while the team was all gathered at Toe Blake's tavern.
Having ridden with Mouton to Blake's establishment, Lafleur pretended to have forgotten something in Mouton's automobile. Mouton didn't suspect anything when Lafleur asked for his key. He hustled outside and gave the key to a friend who had a duplicate made. Later that day, when Lafleur knew the Cup was in the trunk, he put his plan into action.
"Yes, we stole the car," Lafleur said, laughing. "Actually we just borrowed it, but he did have to report it stolen with the Cup in it." The car actually was taken to the parking garage right across from the Montreal Forum, and the Cup went home with Lafleur.
It didn't take all that long for word to filter back to Mouton that Lafleur probably was in possession of the stolen property. Lafleur and friends had taken the Cup to several clubs in downtown Montreal.
According to Lafleur, the late Mouton finally reached him via the telephone, and the conversation went like this:
Mouton: "You've got the Cup."
Lafleur: "Which Cup?"
Mouton: "You had better bring it into my office Monday, or I'm in trouble and you are in trouble."
Lafleur: "I will try to find it and bring it in."
In hindsight, Lafleur was simply 15 years ahead of his time. The motivation for his Cup theft was just to share the championship experience with his family and friends, something players now have the opportunity to do. One of Lafleur's favorite pictures features his then-five-year-old son watering the Cup with a hose on his front lawn.
He also took the Cup to the Thurso, Quebec, home of his parents, Rejean and Pierrette Lafleur.
"It was unbelievable," Lafleur remembered. "Old people were crying and kissing the Cup. They couldn't believe the Cup was there. The Cup means a lot to them, especially when they could see it and touch it. They were never able to approach the Cup before. My sister had had a baby, and she put the baby in the Cup and took pictures. It was something special."
Mouton eventually received his car and the Cup back, and Lafleur has a bundle of memories that players from his era simply don't have. Lafleur was among the few who understood the true significance when the NHL decreed in 1995 that all members of the NHL championship team would be able to have the Cup for 24 hours without resorting to crime to acquire it.
"For the players, it is a great, great prestige and honor to win the Cup," said Lafleur. "When they have the opportunity to show it to friends and family, it means a lot to them."
Montreal Canadiens, 1956–1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1973
Henri Richard was only six years old when his brother Maurice played his first National Hockey League game with the Montreal Canadiens, but his father used to tell folks that Henri would end up being the best player in the family.
"That wasn't true," Richard said, laughing. "But it certainly was nice for him to say that, and it gave me a lot of [confidence]."
Although Maurice "Rocket" Richard's stature was legendary, the Richard brothers' father may have been prophetic if one views championships as the only measure of success. Henri Richard's 11 championships as a player stand as an NHL record that may never be broken. To appreciate the immensity of that accomplishment, consider that Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth won only seven World Series championships each while with the New York Yankees. With 11 titles in 20 NHL seasons, Henri Richard was a champion 55 percent of his career. His brother's championship percentage (eight in 18 seasons) was 44.4 percent. Wayne Gretzky's championship percentage was 20 percent (four in 20 seasons), while Mark Messier's is 28.5 percent (six in 21 seasons). Today, in a league that boasts 30 teams, players hope for just one title in the course of a career. Richard's consistency was at the heart of the Canadiens' dominance in the 1950s and 1960s.
"I just feel fortunate to be on so many good teams," Richard said. "I was in the right place at the right time."
Richard couldn't pinpoint one particular celebratory moment that stands out over the 11 years, although he remembered that winning for the fans of Montreal was almost an honor for a native Quebec son. His favorite Cup triumph may have been in 1970–1971 because it was one of his toughest seasons. He had feuded with coach Al MacNeil, at one point calling him the worst coach for whom he had ever played. "I didn't mean it when I said it," Richard said. "You just say things when you are frustrated."
What made that Cup win special was that Richard scored the Cup-winning goal in Montreal's 3–2 victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Chicago Stadium. "That was special," he said.
One sad footnote of Richard's championship era is that his championship rings were swiped in a house robbery. "But they didn't get the one that was on my finger," Richard said.
Boston Bruins, 1939 and 1941
General Manager, Boston Bruins, 1970 and 1972
When Hall of Fame center Milt Schmidt thinks about the 1939 Stanley Cup championship postgame revelry at Boston Garden, it's what he heard, not what he saw, that instantly comes to mind.
As NHL president Frank Calder tried to present the Stanley Cup to the Bruins after they had vanquished the Toronto Maple Leafs 3–1 in Game 5, the boisterous, appreciative Boston faithful wouldn't quiet down to allow the event to continue. The reason: their hero, Bruins' defenseman Eddie Shore, had inexplicably left the ice and headed to the dressing room. Schmidt remembers the noise level was deafening until Shore's teammates coaxed him out of the dressing room for the celebration.
"To think about that still gives me goose pimples," Schmidt said more than 60 years after the fact. "Only a couple of other times I dare say someone received as loud and lengthy an ovation as Shore got that night. When they retired [Bobby Orr's] No. 4 and when they retired [Phil] Esposito's No. 7. It was really loud then, especially when Ray Bourque took his No. 7 jersey off, and he was wearing No. 77."
Schmidt was 21 when the Bruins won in 1939. "To win that championship at that age was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in hockey," Schmidt said. "I had various All-Star nominations and the Most Valuable Player trophy, the Hall of Fame. But that championship was the best. When you think of all the great things this game has seen, and so many great players have come and gone, to have won the Stanley Cup championship is the best thing that can happen to you."
Young players, usually somewhat blind to long-range thinking, aren't supposed to savor the Cup's sweetness with the same level of understanding that a veteran player has. But Schmidt appreciated the magnitude of his accomplishment even then. He was indeed mature beyond his years. The Bruins signed him at age 18, but they really had wanted him in the lineup at age 17. He rejected their offer even after attending training camp. "Here I was in 1935 at training camp on the same ice surface with Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, Tiny Thompson — all the guys I heard about on the radio," said Schmidt. "I'm not ashamed to say they offered me $2,000 to sign. I didn't have an agent back then because your bus ticket would have been waiting for you if you had an agent. But I said, 'I'm 17 and I'm too young. I'm going back to play another year in junior hockey, and I can probably make that money working over the course of a year.'"
They did, however, convince him to join the team in 1936, and he ultimately wound up being part of two Stanley Cup championships. The feeling in the 1940s was that the Bruins might have actually won more titles had Schmidt and others not given up three years of their lives to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II.
Schmidt doesn't recall much about the Cup celebrations, other than he was happy just to be part of a group that included Shore, Clapper, and famed goaltender Frank Brimsek. He remembers the people better than the event. "Eddie was kind of a loner. He liked to be by himself on the road, to get his proper rest because he played a lot," Schmidt remembered. "But when it came time to look after the younger players, he did look after us. He would say, 'You are going out to dinner with me,' and we would all go."
Schmidt clearly would like to call Brimsek the best goaltender of that era, but he said he can't "because I never played against him." ("The best I ever played against," he said, "was Montreal's Bill Durnan.") But he remembers Brimsek was highly competitive, even in practice. "He and Clapper were close, and they would play a game after practice," Schmidt said. "Clapper would take shots from 20 to 25 feet, and they would [bet] some kind of ice cream drink. Brimmy would always win."
When it comes to celebrations, Schmidt has more colorful memories of being general manager when the Bruins won in 1970 and 1972.
"We had this big parade, and when we got on the balcony at city hall, John McKenzie found a couple of seconds to pour a can of beer on Mayor White's head," Schmidt said. "That's one of my favorite memories."
Schmidt did end up with the Cup in his possession at 3:00 AM after one night of celebrating in 1970, and he couldn't make up his mind what to do with it in his house.
He and his late wife, Marie, finally decided to tuck it into a baby crib that was no longer in use in their home. "I couldn't think of any better place to put it than the sack," Schmidt said. "We tucked it in, and it slept soundly through the night where it should be." Considering that the Stanley Cup usually parties with players through the night, Schmidt's action may have allowed Stanley the best night of rest it ever had.
Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion
Montreal Canadiens, 1953, 1956–1960
When Gordie Howe used to see Montreal Canadiens great Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion unwind the long backswing for his slap shot, he would joke that "he was going for yardage" until one of Geoffrion's missiles broke his foot.
"The first thing you thought was, Get out of the way," Howe said. "But I was dumb. I turned my foot sideways, and he hit it. He had an extremely heavy shot."
When it came to competing for the Stanley Cup, few did it with more zeal than Geoffrion, who still shares the NHL record of competing in 10 consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. He was Montreal's leading points producer in two of his championship series.
Excerpted from "Then Wayne Said to Mario ..." by Kevin Allen. Copyright © 2009 Kevin Allen. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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