Butch Bouchard didn’t have a pair of skates to call his own until he was 16 years old, but five years later, having a pair of wheels was just as important to making the Canadiens as having a pair of blades.
The year was 1940 and Bouchard was just 19 years old. He had played only a few years of high-level competitive hockey in Verdun before catching the eye of the talent-depleted Canadiens, who invited him to training camp. Bouchard wanted so badly to make the team that each morning he would get on his bicycle at his home on Longueuil and pedal 35 miles to the team’s training facility in Ste-Hyacinthe.
As it turned out, Bouchard was just getting warmed up. He was 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, regarded as a freak of nature at the time, and had built up his muscle mass by lifting railway ties with steel plates added for more weight. Once he got to practice, his youthful enthusiasm took over and the young Bouchard was making an impression on his future employers and a more lasting and tangible one on his future teammates.
And he certainly didn’t pick his spots. His penchant for hitting veterans as hard and as often as young players didn’t exactly impress some of the Canadiens’ older players.
In fact, Murph Chamberlain, a tough and durable forward who did his best work along the boards, told coach Dick Irvin one day after practice: “If I were you, I would order this young elephant to calm down and show less aggressiveness because if he keeps on going the way he is going, a few more days and you will find yourself without a player to open the season.”
The Canadiens, though, were delighted. At the time they were two years removed from what still stands as the worst season in franchise history and were in the process of remaking the Canadiens with players who had both NHL talent and a desire to win. In previous years, the Canadiens had not only languished near or at the bottom of the league standings, the players they had learned to accept losing. In 1939-40 the Canadiens were a dismal lot, going just 10-33-5. They would regularly get pounded in front of no more than 3,000 fans and coach Pit Lepine would come into the dressing room, put on his coat and say, “See you tomorrow, boys.”
They found exactly what they were looking for in the young Bouchard. He became an integral part of the new generation of Canadiens who, without hyperbole, not only saved the franchise from oblivion, but set the foundation for the dynasty teams that would follow. He was a classic defensive defenseman, scoring more than 10 goals just once in a 15-year career. And despite the fact that he might have been the most imposing physical player in the league at the time, the highest penalty minute total he ever registered was 88.
Bouchard spent much of his career as the steady, defensive influence on the blueline and after starting his career with Leo Lamoureux, was partnered with Doug Harvey, who was among the best ever in moving the puck up the ice and using his skill to create offense from the back end. Much of Harvey’s ability to freelance was due to the fact that he knew Bouchard was always behind him.
And Bouchard was hockey’s indisputable strong man. Although he wasn’t terribly mobile and skating was not his forte, he managed to get around the rink well enough not to be a liability. He used his size and strength to his advantage, but didn’t fight much and refused to use his physical advantage to be anything more than a peacekeeper.
The fact he rarely fought is attributable to the fact that opponents probably realized it was a good idea not to provoke him. Bouchard often used his enormous hands to pull combatants apart.
“It was like he was chiseled out of stone,” former teammate Dickie Moore once said. “He had the biggest shoulders and the smallest waist I had ever seen.”
Bouchard was also years ahead of his time when it came to being an entrepreneur. In the 1930s and early ’40s, most hockey players were regarded as small-town bumpkins or lunkheads who had few abilities outside the confines of the rink. But early in his career, Bouchard ran an apiary that produced enough money to buy a home for his family and finance the start-up of a tavern in Montreal that was not far away from The Forum.
After a short stint in the minors, Bouchard landed in the NHL for good in 1941-42 and became a regular on the blueline in 1942-43 as the Canadiens tried to find a replacement for Ken Reardon, who left to join the effort in World War II.
And it wasn’t long before Stanley Cups followed. The Canadiens ended a 13-year drought with a Stanley Cup in 1944 and won the Cup again two years later. Goalie Bill Durnan took over the captaincy of the team for a short time after Toe Blake retired, but then the ‘C’ was handed to Bouchard in 1948-49 and he held it for eight full seasons. Only Jean Beliveau and Saku Koivu have enjoyed a longer tenure than Bouchard as captain of the Canadiens. (Bob Gainey was also captain for eight seasons.)
Bouchard was a member of two more Cup winners as captain, including his final season, which was the first in the Canadiens’ five-Cup dynasty of the late 1950s. After playing only half the season in 1955-56, Bouchard missed the entire playoffs with a knee injury, but coach Toe Blake dressed Bouchard for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings. He sat on the bench for most of the game, but with the Canadiens leading 3-1 in the series and 3-1 late in Game 5, Blake sent Bouchard out for the last shift of his career and was on the blueline when the buzzer sounded in the deciding game.
Bouchard’s legacy with the Canadiens continued when his son, Pierre, joined the team in 1970-71. Pierre, who had his father’s exact height and weight, went on to win five Cups with the Canadiens, making the Bouchard’s the most Stanley Cup-decorated father-son combination in NHL history. Brett and Bobby Hull are the only other father-son duo to have their names on the Cup as players.
The above is an exerpt from Ken Campbell’s book Habs Heroes.