LONGUEUIL, Que. – Montreal Canadiens greats gathered to remember one of their own on Saturday, longtime captain and Hall of Famer Emile (Butch) Bouchard.
The funeral for the four-time Stanley Cup winner, who died last Saturday at age 92, was held at a church in Longueuil, just off the island of Montreal where he grew up.
Montreal native and current Canadiens winger Mathieu Darche was too young to have watched Bouchard, but said he heard stories from his parents and grandparents.
“He was one of the greats,” he said before the funeral. “It’s these kinds of players that created a winning history for the Canadiens.”
The church was packed with family, friends, members of the Canadiens organization, including owner Geoff Molson, and fans decked out in Habs gear.
“He means so much to the organization,” Molson said. “It’s great to see a (92-year-old) person who has such a great impact, who brings old and new generations of hockey people to this event. It’s a sign of a great person.”
A giant Canadiens logo was placed to the side of his casket and Habs ushers greeted mourners at the church entrance.
Bouchard, a defenceman, scored 49 goals in 785 games during his 15-year NHL career, captaining the Habs for eight seasons before retiring in 1956.
The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup four times while Bouchard was with the team, twice while he was captain.
Former teammate Dickie Moore, 81, said Bouchard helped him starting out as a rookie with the Canadiens.
“He was the greatest captain that I had,” said Moore. “He was a real gentleman.”
For Habs fans, Bouchard remains a symbol of the team’s glory years, when he skated alongside Maurice Richard and other stars.
Despite his success, Bouchard had to wait 43 years to have his No. 3 jersey retired.
After a campaign spurred by his family, he was honoured alongside fellow Habs great Elmer Lach before the team’s centennial game on Dec. 4, 2009.
“He wasn’t a big star, but he was a real leader,” said Guy Gagne, a 72-year-old fan wearing a Habs baseball cap, who came to pay his respects.
Bouchard wasn’t initially banking on a career in hockey.
But the rugged six-foot-two, 205-pound Bouchard quickly got noticed and the Canadiens offered him his first professional contract to play with their minor league club in Providence, R.I.
He played 12 games for the team in 1940-41.
The following season he earned a spot on the blue-line and played the next 15 years with the Habs, gaining a reputation as one of the hardest hitters of the era.
After retiring, he became a successful businessman and a community leader where he settled in Longueuil. He also served as president of the Montreal Royals of baseball’s International League.
For years, he owned and operated a restaurant in downtown Montreal. It was a mainstay in the area, and a frequent gathering place for players.
“He was a great captain and a great person,” said fellow Habs defenceman Serge Savard, who began playing after Bouchard retired and used to come by the restaurant after games.
“He used to give us advice… like protect your smaller stars. And that’s what he did.”
Bouchard married painter Marie-Claire Macbeth in 1946 and had five children, including son Pierre, who also played for the Habs.