The Montreal Canadiens have retired more sweater numbers than any other NHL team, which is understandable given they’ve been around so long and won so many championships.
Jacques Plante’s No. 1, Doug Harvey’s 2, Jean Beliveau’s 4, Bernard Geoffrion’s 5, Howie Morenz’s 7, Maurice Richard’s 9, Guy Lafleur’s 10, the 12 worn by Dickie Moore and then Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard’s 16, Serge Savard’s 18, Larry Robinson’s 19, Bob Gainey’s 23, Ken Dryden’s 29 and Patrick Roy’s 33 are all hanging high above the ice.
Thus, most skaters will be wearing high numbers when the 100th anniversary of the 24-time Stanley Cup champions is celebrated with a rare Friday night home game against the Boston Bruins. Only six players on the current roster have a number under 20 because there’s little left from which to choose. There are 14 men with 40 and higher on their backs.
Morenz was one of the sport’s first superstars. He wore No. 7 because he signed on the 7th, in July 1923. The five-foot-nine forward won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1928, 1931 and 1932 while helping Montreal win three titles.
Morenz broke a leg in four places during a Jan. 28, 1937, game and he died at age 34 on March 8, 1937, when his heart was stopped by a blood clot. Thousands of fans filed past his body in the Montreal Forum to pay their respects. His number was retired on Nov. 2, 1937. In 1945, Morenz was among 12 men who comprised the first group of Hockey Hall of Fame inductees. His home town of Mitchell, Ont., maintains a roadside sign that reminds motorists of The Mitchell Meteor’s legendary status.
Maurice Richard’s 9 banner was raised on Oct. 6, 1961, shortly after his retirement.
The Rocket was MVP in 1947 and helped the Canadiens win eight championships. He was the first to score 50 goals in 50 games and he was the first with 500 in a career. He led the league in goals scored four times and the trophy that goes to the highest NHL goal scorer each year is named after him.
The fiery right-winger’s impact transcended the sport. When the league suspended him in 1955, Montreal fans rioted. Given the ferocity with which he played and all the scraps he got into during his 18 years with the Canadiens, it’s hard to believe he was only five foot 10 and 170 pounds. A biographical sketch on the team’s website states that he “represents the heart and soul of the Montreal Canadiens’ illustrious history.”
Richard wore 15 during his rookie year and broke a leg after 16 games. His wife gave birth before his second season to their first child, Huguette, who weighed in at nine pounds. So, when 9 became available with the departure of Charlie Sands, Richard quickly switched. Forever after, when he signed autographs, he added a circled 9. Richard died in 2000 at age 78.
Beliveau’s 4 went up on Oct. 4, 1971, the year he retired.
The gifted centre was a deceptively fast skater, a masterful stickhandler and an outstanding playmaker, and a class act all the way. Beliveau won the Hart in 1956 and 1964, and in 1965 was the first winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He helped Montreal win 10 championships and wore the C for the last 10 of his 20 seasons, which is the longest captaincy in team history. He was, and still is at age 78, one of hockey’s greatest role models.
Henri Richard’s 16 banner was raised on Dec. 10, 1975, also the year he retired.
The Pocket Rocket was a highly skilled two-way star who has 11 Stanley Cup rings. He was only five foot seven and 160 pounds but he relentlessly worked corners, battled along the boards and crashed nets, leaving everything on the ice. He was captain his last four years and wound up playing more games in a Canadiens sweater in his 20 seasons than any other man.
Lafleur’s 10 banner was raised on Feb. 16, 1985.
He arrived the year Beliveau retired and club executives wanted him to wear 4 to signal the arrival of the new Beliveau. Beliveau was in favour of letting The Flower wear his 4, but Lafleur declined. He didn’t need that kind of pressure.
Lafleur’s rushes and blazing shot made him the most dynamic forward of the 1970s when he was on five championship teams. He won the scoring title three times, the MVP award twice, was a three-time Lester Pearson Award recipient, and was playoff MVP in 1977.
Harvey’s 2 banner was raised on Oct. 26, 1985.
Harvey, one of hockey’s first offensive defencemen, was a teammate of the Richards and Beliveau for the five consecutive championships that were won beginning in 1956 and he won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman six times. He quarterbacked from the point the potent power play that helped maintain that dynasty. He was 65 when he died in 1989 of cirrhosis of the liver.
Plante had the league’s lowest goals-against average each year of that record five-year run and his 1 was raised on Oct. 7, 1995. He’d died in 1986 of stomach cancer at age 57.
Jake The Snake, an agile crease magician who played the angles to perfection, was a true innovator and was the first goalie to regularly wear a mask during games. He liked to knit, too. In 1961-62, he was the first goalie to earn both the Vezina and Hart in the same season, which only Dominik Hasek and Jose Theodore have done since. He appeared in more games and posted more wins than any netminder in team history.
Beginning Nov. 12, 2005, when the 12 worn by Moore and then Cournoyer was taken out of use, the Canadiens would retire eight numbers in three years to bring themselves up to date.
Moore was the sixth member of the 1956-60 dynasty to have his number retired. The tireless left-winger was an outstanding all-around player who won the league scoring title in 1958 and 1959.
Cournoyer’s exceptional speed earned him the nickname Roadrunner. He was one of the most colourful forwards of his era. From 1963 through 1979, Cournoyer earned 10 Stanley Cup rings, getting the playoff MVP nod in 1973. He’d worn Moore’s 12, and when the team decided to honour Cournoyer it appropriately recognized Moore as well.
Geoffrion was the seventh 1956-60 star to have a banner raised. They called him Boom Boom because he popularized the slap shot. A skilled passer and playmaker, he twice was the league points leader, and he was MVP in 1961.
Geoffrion’s 5 went up on March 11, 2006, which was the day he died of stomach cancer. Geoffrion had insisted that things proceed as scheduled. Family, friends and many of the 21,000 spectators shed tears during the poignant ceremony.
Geoffrion had once told his wife, Marlene, that his number would one day join that of her father, Morenz, above the ice. They lowered the Morenz banner halfway. When Geoffrion’s banner was level with it, they raised the two together. It was 69 years to the day after Morenz’s funeral and exactly 10 years after The Montreal Forum closed.
The next four banners to go up recognized the contributions of four men who were Lafleur’s teammates during the 1970s: Savard’s 18 (Nov. 18, 2006), Dryden’s 29 (Jan. 29, 2007), Robinson’s 19 (Nov. 19, 2007) and Gainey’s 23 (Feb. 23, 2008).
Savard earned eight Stanley Cup rings from 1966 to 1981. A fast and skillful stickhandler for a big defenceman, he sometimes dazzled opponents with what broadcaster Danny Gallivan referred to as the Savardian Spinarama.
Dryden played only six regular-season games but was good enough in lifting Montreal to the title in 1971 to be named playoff MVP. He was on six title teams in all, and he won the Vezina Trophy five times. The six-foot-four goalie had a patented pose with his chin resting on his crossed arms at the top of the shaft of his stick.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: Dryden was drafted by Boston and traded the same day with Alex Campbell for Paul Reid and Guy Allen. His agent told him he’d been drafted by Montreal and he didn’t learn until years later that he’d briefly been a Bruin.
Robinson was one of the premier blue-liners of his time with six Stanley Cup rings and two Norris Trophy wins. Big Bird holds the club records in every offensive category for defencemen. The Canadiens made the playoffs in every one of his 17 seasons. Only Henri Richard played more regular-season games for the team.
Gainey was in on five championships, winning the Smythe in 1979, and was the NHL’s best defensive forward, winning the Selke Trophy four times. The team’s current general manager wore full equipment for his banner raising and took some final laps around the ice as the fans cheered.
The last banner to go up, on Nov. 22, 2008, took Roy’s 33 out of play. Roy’s butterfly style influenced a generation of goaltenders. He was playoff MVP the last two times Montreal won the Stanley Cup, in 1986 and 1993.