This post was originally published in October, 2009.
Ex-NHL player Bob Sirois wrote a book examining the NHL’s treatment of French Canadian players called Le Quebec mis en echec: la discrimination envers les Quebecois dans le LNH (Quebec body checked: discrimination against Quebecers in the NHL.) The book contends that prejudice is alive and well in the NHL. The author uses numerous statistics to point out that French players are not held in as high esteem as Anglophone peers.
In support of the book, some Quebec fans can reel off a history of dealings that were questionable, starting from the suspension by Clarence Campbell that started the 1955 Rocket Richard Riot, the change in NHL rules governing power plays and the elimination of the exception that allowed Montreal to select the top Quebec born player each year without interference from the rest of the NHL teams. In the book Sirois also mentions Mario Lemieux’s refusal to play for the Canadian Olympic team and Shane Doan’s alleged anti-french slurs.
Anyone who saw the movie “The Rocket” or read about that particular time in Canadian history is fully aware that there was some discrimination during the early 1950’s but, despite that truth, twenty years later Quebecers got a chance to feel great pride and see dispelled many myths concerning French Canadian hockey players. The source of that pride was not the formidable NHL Canadiens but the Montreal Junior Canadiens.
Junior Canadiens: The Pride of Canada
In 1969-70, the Montreal Juniors were the most successful and dominating team in all of juniors defeating Darryl Sittler’s London Knights, Denis Potvin’s Ottawa 67’s, Marcel Dionne’s St. Catherine Black hawks, and Guy Lafleur’s Quebec Rempart’s and Bobby Clarkes’ Flin Flon Bombers. The Junior Canadiens played in the tighter checking, tougher OHA (Ontario Hockey Association) rather than the Quebec League. The Junior Canadiens were loaded with talented french teens including Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin, Marc Tardif, Rejean Houle, Ian Turnbull, Andre Dupont, and Jocelyn Guevremont. Many like Perreault, Martin, Tardif and Houle had already played several seasons together for Thetford Mines before signing with the “Baby Habs.”
The Junior Canadiens soon had fans all over Quebec travelling to the Montreal Forum to see them play. Amazingly they sometimes outdrew the parent team selling out the 18,000 seat arena with cheering fans. By comparison most junior teams considered it respectable to draw 2000 or so paying customers. The speed and finesse of the “Baby Habs” combined with the end to end rushes of the flashy Gilbert Perreault had the media speculating that they could beat many of the second tier NHL teams. The Junior Canadiens won back to back Memorial Cups significantly dominating the competition. The 1969 series was very physical and the Junior Canadian’s proved they could take as well as give outscoring The Regina Pats team 25 goals to 13 in four contests.
Junior Canadiens’ Continued Success
After the 1969 season, Marc Tardif and Rejean Houle were both drafted in the first round by the NHL Montreal Canadian’s. Houle, the captain with 108 points, won The Eddie Powers Trophy as the league’s top scorer with Perreault placing second with 99 points.
The next playoff season Montreal began where they left off winning the first game 6–2, but the Greyhounds won game two 5–4. It was the first time in history that a team from the NOHA beat an OHA team in the playoffs. Montreal quickly responded winning the next three games 10–1, 9–2 and 20–1 with Perreault, Turnbull and Martin scoring key goals.
Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur. (Photo by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
For the Richardson Cup the Canadiens would play the Quebec Junior Hockey League champions Quebec Remparts. The Remparts featured Guy Lafleur, Michel Briere, Andre Savard and Jacques Richard. The Canadiens prevailed in a 3 game sweep in front of crowds numbering over 14,000 in Quebec City, and over 18,000 in Montreal.
Their opponents for the Memorial Cup of 1970 would be the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Coached by Stan Dunn the Red Wings were a very tough forechecking squad. The games became closer as the series progressed, but the Junior Canadiens swept the series, winning on home ice at the Forum.
Junior Canadiens and the Memorial Cup
Gilbert Perreault, a crowd favorite, was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres after scoring 51 goals and 70 assists for 121 points in 54 games. Perreault came in second in the OHA scoring race to Marcel Dionne battling it out till the last week of the regular season. Dionne beat Perreault by 4 goals and 7 assists ending the season with 132 points. The Junior Canadians capped off two Memorial Cup Championships with a 9-2 defeat of the Soviet National Team featuring goalie Vladislav Tretiak.
The End of the Junior Canadiens
In 1972 the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had been in operation for three years, giving the province major junior competition for the first time. The Quebec League obviously wanted a team in the province’s largest city, and was threatening a lawsuit to force the Junior Canadiens back into the Quebec-based league.
Over the summer of 1972 the OHA granted the Junior Habs a “one-year suspension” of operations, while team ownership transferred the team and players into the QMJHL, renaming themselves the Montreal Bleu Blanc Rouge in the process. The OHA then reactivated the suspended franchise for the 1973–74 season in Kingston, Ontario, under new ownership and with new players, calling the team the Kingston Canadians. The new Kingston team had little connection with the old Junior Canadiens, but in the annual Media Guide the Kingston team is still shown as the legitimate successors of the Junior Canadiens’ legacy.
The Junior Canadiens’ Legacy
Although the Montreal Junior Canadiens team that won 2 Memorial Cups and completely dominated Junior Hockey has not played in almost 40 years, its legend has endured. It is doubtful that any team will ever be so dominant or will ever have such a stable full of French Canadian stars all on the same squad.