MONTREAL – Emile (Butch) Bouchard, a longtime Montreal Canadiens captain and four-time Stanley Cup winner, died Saturday. He was 92.
Friend and sports analyst Ron Fournier says Bouchard was surrounded by his family when he died.
The 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.
“He was one of the great captains in the history of the Canadiens,” Rejean Houle, the Habs alumni president, who played with the Canadiens in the 1970s and 80s, said in an interview Saturday.
“It was a period where the team really became a dynasty.”
Pierre Bouchard, member of the Canadiens himself from 1970 to 1978, said his father remained active until the end of his life.
“He was getting old, but he was in good shape,” he said.
The Canadiens issued a release saying the organization was “deeply saddened” by Bouchard’s death.
“For 15 seasons, Butch Bouchard proudly carried the torch for the Montreal Canadiens. He was a towering presence on the ice and, as Canadiens’ captain for eight of those years, a revered presence in the dressing room, as well,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “As we mourn the passing of a champion, a leader and a Hall of Famer, the National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to his family, his friends and to Canadiens fans who recall Butch Bouchard’s contribution to the team’s iconic legacy.”
Born in Montreal on Sept. 4, 1919, Emile Bouchard wasn’t planning on a career in hockey after originally wanting to work in banking or as a beekeeper.
He played many sports growing up, including baseball and boxing, but it was only around age 16 that he began to take hockey seriously.
After borrowing $35 from his brother to buy equipment, Bouchard began playing for the Verdun Maple Leafs of Quebec’s old Provincial Senior League.
The rugged six-foot-two, 205-pound Bouchard quickly got noticed and the Montreal 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.
Bouchard grabbed the big club’s attention at training camp the following year when he made the 80-kilometre trip by bicycle from his home in Montreal to the training site in St-Hyacinthe, Que.
He earned a spot on the blue-line and played the next 15 seasons with the Habs, establishing a reputation as one of the best hitters of the era.
Bouchard was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1966.
“He was one of the leaders in the 1940s for a team that wasn’t going anywhere, and then later, things went very well, with the arrival of Maurice (Richard) and all the others after that,” Pierre Bouchard said. “Those were great years for the Canadiens’ organization.
Despite his success, Emile Bouchard had to wait 43 years to have his No. 3 jersey retired. After a grassroots campaign started by his family, he was honoured alongside fellow Habs great Elmer Lach before the team’s centennial game on Dec. 4, 2009.
“It gave him a great boost in the last seven, eight years of his life,” Pierre Bouchard said. “It allowed him to be better known to the younger generation.”
Emile Bouchard was also a successful Montreal businessman. Hockey didn’t keep him from beekeeping during his playing career. From 1938 to 1950, his 1.2 million bees produced up to 6,800 kilograms of honey annually.
In 1948, he opened his own restaurant, called Butch Bouchard, in downtown Montreal. It was a mainstay in the area, hosting cabaret shows and musicians until it closed in 1983.
Houle remembers going to the restaurant with his teammates after games, and got to know Bouchard well.
“He was a great leader, just by his presence,” Houle said. “When we played a good game, he was always proud to see us win. His heart belonged to the Canadiens, that’s clear.”
Bouchard also combined business and sports, becoming the director of the Montreal Royals of baseball’s International League in 1956, which was the farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time. He was promoted to president in 1957 but the club played its final season in 1960.
Bouchard married painter Marie-Claire Macbeth in 1946 and had five children.
A funeral service is expected to be held next Saturday.