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Fischler Report: Behind the Miracle in Montreal

Stan Fischler returns for his weekly Fischler Report, looking at a Montreal Canadiens team that's thriving, the wild Red Wings/Leafs affair, the Colorado Avalanche, Mike Eruzione, why people like Pat Verbeek and so much more.
Martin St. Louis

Miracles do happen; at least in Montreal these days.

C'mon; five straight wins; as the Habs transform from hapless to happiness.

The secret is no secret at all. It's easy to see even though the wizard behind the bench is so small, that Marty St.Louis is the last one to know when it rains.

Kidding aside, St. Louis is the one and only reason the Canadiens are in colossal mode.

But, really, what is it about this fellow that has made him what he is today and made the Habitants so habitable and watchable?

I went to my sidekick – ice analyst supreme – David Kolb for the answer since he's known St. Louis from Wayback and, no, that's not a small town in Georgia. Kolb's answer is the explainer:

"Marty is the most competitive person I've ever met in hockey," says Kolb who's been around in various ice roles for decades. "When I was at his house a while back he had USA Hockey coaching materials sprawled out on his kitchen counter.

"He was diligently reading and studying all the different systems. And that was when he was getting certified to coach youth hockey. But he was preparing for anything that would come up hockey-wise."

The latest thing that came up was the offer to coach the Habs. It surprised many of us who expected something like a John Tortorella who once coached St.Louis in Tampa Bay.

In a sense, Jeff Gorton's brilliant choice was neither an accident nor luck.

Kolb: "The asset that sets Marty above others is his keen understanding of the game. Check out the videos and you'll see that – as a player – he always was in the right place at the right time.

"Now, as a coach, he can guide his Canadiens and teach these same skills and impart his knowledge."

Of course, there's more to the Habs-St.Louis surge than that. As a strategist, he's resurrected the Canadiens' first line. Putting Cole Caufield, Josh Anderson and Nick Suzuki back together as the first unit had been electrifying. That gives Cole more space. When in scoring position, he's scary-good.

Montreal's recent 4-0 win over Buffalo was the result of the top liners getting the game's first three goals. On Saturday night, St.Louis didn't need the first-liners nor a first, second or third-string goalie.

Long forgotten netminder Andrew Hammond was remembered by Gorton. Andy dusted off the mothballs for the 2-1 win over Ottawa while Artturi Lehkonen took care of the two goals. The Hamburgler now has two wins in his unique comeback. His GA is 1.44 with a .949 percentage. Not too shabby

And, in case you've forgotten this is the same burglar who, in 2014-15 went 20-1-2 for Ottawa, pushing the Sens into the playoffs.

I don't know how much St.Louis knows about goaltending but he sure hasn't hurt Hammond.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH A 10-7 WIN? A LOT!

There's nothing wrong with a 10-7 victory – unless we're talking about Toronto.

Sure, the Keefe-mobile ran over the Red Wings on Saturday night. But you would think that after a bushel of goals made their way into the Detroit net, that John Tavares would emerge with a measly assist. Sorry, not a point for the Captain.

Even that's not a problem as long as the Matthews- Marner goal machine doesn't run out of fuel. So far, so good as Matthews demonstrated Thursday night with a pair to beat Minnesota, 3-1. On Saturday in Motor City, Mitch hitched his wagon to a hat trick-plus-one.

As for Tavares, Kevin McGran is – as I am – wondering what gives with The Captain?

Writing in The Toronto Star, McGran noted that Tavares is "mired in the worst scoring slump in a decade."

Furthermore, McGran wonders whether "age is catching up to the 31-year-old."

The other ugly part of the 10-7 win was that it betrayed Toronto's ongoing defensive flaws and mediocre goaltending. One Leafs-watcher offers this to g.m. Kyle Dubas: "No D and weak in goal – good luck in the playoffs!"

And good luck trying to get Marc-Andre Fleury from Chicago. How about Alexandar Georgiev? Chris Drury might listen!

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I'M JUST SAYIN':

* The scary thing about Colorado is that the Avs' backup goalie, Pavel Francouz, looks as good as the club's main puck stopper.

* We're all captivated by The McDavid-Draisaitl Scoring tandem. Who wouldn't be? But answer me this: when you look beyond #97 and #29, is there any reason to think the Oilers should strike fear in Western powers? (Thank you, Gus Vic, for the thought.)

* Corey Perry's 400th career goal was admirable. Then again so was Bolt GM Julien BriseBois' decision to add the gritty Peterborough, Ontario product to the Champs roster.

* After scanning his lineup and then watching the Habs perform, Marty St.Louis provided a bit of insight: "We have a lot of winners on this team."

* Scouting Caufield, David Kolb cites a special move. "He went far side on a one-timer as the goalie slid to the short side. It was an excellent one-time placement. Most would have fired the puck into the goalie's chest."

* Nathan MacKinnon is fortunate that he escaped with nothing more than a "naughty-naughty" after his blatant stick whack against linesman Michel Cormier. It was not a pleasant sight.

* The Latest Comparative Greatness Report: Auston Matthews will make the playoffs. Connor McDavid, perhaps.

* Patrik Laine always had the goods. Somehow Torts stifled them.

* Kids become hockey fans after being taken to their first games by their father. It happened with me and it happened with pal-newsman, Allan Kreda. Bert Kreda took his son to Madison Square Garden and that was that.

* Bert Kreda, 94, passed away the other night; secure in the knowledge that his son grew up to be one of the most dependable and readable hockey writers on either side of the 49th parallel. R.I.P. Bert. You did well by Allan.

* Here's the inside word on why Sean Avery's "comeback" turned into a "come home." He found the game too fast for his snowshoes and he had a kid at home. Or, as an admirer summed it up: "He had fun while it lasted."

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THE INSIDE SCOOP ON HOW DON CHERRY BECAME A SUPERSTAR

Amid the many encomiums heaped on sports TV pioneer Ralph Mellanby, one of the most meaningful was that he turned a fired NHL coach named Don Cherry into the biggest name in Canadian television.

However, what's been omitted is precise how and why Mellanby chose to gamble on The Great Cherry Experiment. At last, the revelation was made on Paul Patskou's "Hockey Time Machine," courtesy of Glenn (I'll Find Out) Dreyfuss, the seer of Seattle.

While Mellanby was responsible for launching the tv careers of Howie Meeker, Dick Irvin,Jr. and Dave Hodge, among others, nothing compared to the supersonic ascent of Cherry, alias Grapes.

The circumstances were bizarre to say the least. This was in Montreal's Forum during a 1979 Bruins-Canadiens playoff. Cherry – he always liked a good fight when one of his guys won it – watched one of his beloved Bruins lose a particular bout and he was fuming.

But instead of staying on his bench, Grapes bolted for The Hockey Night In Canada control room, home of crack producer Ralph Mellanby. Cherry recalled in his Hockey Time Machine interview precisely what happened:

"I left the bench during the game and ran down to the studio. There was Ralph sitting there and he said: 'Aren't you supposed to be behind the bench?' I said, 'Never mind that. I suppose you're going to show that fight over and over again.' He said: 'We don't replay fights.'"

Cherry's blend of impulsiveness and bravura instantly told Mellanby that a star was born. Ralph eventually hired Grapes to do guest spots during the 1980 playoffs. Once the Colorado Rockies got fed up with Cherry, Mellanby hauled him in as a full-time commentator on "Coach's Corner."

Cherry: "CBC tried to get rid of me after my first month but Ralph said, 'If he goes, I go.' He also said, 'Canada has two official languages and Cherry doesn't speak either of them.'"

Upon leaving HNIC, Mellanby had a few last words for Grapes: "The only thing I ask is don't turn professional."

Ever grateful, Don wasted no time laying it on the line: "Everything I have I owe to Ralph Mellanby." Then, a pause: "And if you watched 'Coach's Corner,' I didn't turn professional!"

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WHO SAID IT? "It's a chance for a shy person to be onstage." (Answer below)

HERE'S WHY PEOPLE LIKE PAT VERBEEK: My roving ambassador Joltin' Joe Dionisio was delighted to learn of Verbeek's new gig in Anaheim. Writing from L.A. Joe lets us in on a neat interlude about one of Joe D's first interviews as a hockey reporter.

"I was writing player profiles for the Devils and left Pat a voicemail requesting a chat. The good news was that he couldn't have been more accommodating and friendly, returning my call the very next day. The bad news was that Verbeek – who infamously severed a thumb in a farming mishap – did adhere to farmer's hours, calling me at 6 a.m. Somehow I awoke from my dream and half incoherently proceeded to ask Pat about his up-and-coming Jersey squad.

"Pat generously answered every question with aplomb, at no point rushing me off the phone as a few other NHLers were apt to do. I expect him to do a very credible job helming the Ducks."

Me, too!

MIKE ERUZIONE – THE VOICE OF REASON

It's gratifying to know that Uncle Sam's 1980 Olympic captain Mike Eruzione still is talking up hockey and – most important; making sense. His recent appearance on Morten Anderson's "Great Dane Nation" podcast was revealing in a lot of ways. To wit:

1. Eruzione bucks the players' view and argues that the NHL did right by staying out of the Olympics. "It was the right business decision," Mike insists.

2. Bettman, Inc. would benefit greatly if Connor McDavid played in a market larger than tiny Edmonton.

3. NHL rinks should be wider.

4. Olympic hockey should be played in the summer.

5. American talent has reached a level where it can beat Team Canada.

6. Patrice Bergeron is the all-time underrated player.

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HOCKEY PLAYERS CAN BE FUNNY

I got a kick out of Habs goalie Sam (The Man Mountain) Montembeault's reaction to his first NHL shutout the other night. After the game, he quipped, "I'm going to speak to the timekeeper. As I watched the arena clock, it seemed to tick slower and slower in the third period!"

LOVING THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Although he should, Gary Bettman doesn't go around bragging about one of his most successful ideas – staging NHL games outdoors. But who – three decades ago – could have imagined that 68,619 fans would jam Nashville's Nissan Stadium for an outdoor tilt between the Predators and Lightning.

These Stadium Series games have become such a wonderful staple and this one, in particular, was a well-played gem. The Pred Filip Forsberg put it succinctly: "The weather was perfect and the ice was good."

And from winning coach Jon Cooper: "If the NHL is trying to sell the game in towns that bought into hockey, this was no better way to do it."

Nice going, again, Commish!

ERIC HORNICK'S FINAL FAVES

We celebrated super stat man Eric Hornick's 40th year in the biz with an exclusive interview. He delivered so many good stories that I divided them up. Here's the final segment – Hornick's Favorite Moments:

"My play-by-play man Howie Rose's last call was one that meant so much to my kids. That was John Tavares' second overtime winner against Florida. It also was a tremendous book end to Howie's Islanders broadcasting career. What was amazing was that Howie waited two decades before calling an Islanders playoff OT goal and then called three in the space of a week.

"I should add that I'm a graduate of Union College and one of my biggest thrills in hockey was watching Shayne Gotisbehere go plus-seven in the National Championship Game in 2014." (And thank you again, Friend Eric, for all the insights.)

A COMMISSIONER IS BORN:

During one of the more intense NHL work stoppages, years ago, the league's chief outside counsel, Bob Batterman, and I had dinner together. During the conversation, we discussed the rise of NHL (law V.P.) Jessica Berman. "Someday, she's going to become the first female NHL Commissioner," I predicted. To which Batterman shot back, "I agree."

Granted it just was small talk at the time. And now it turns out that we missed by one sport. This week, Jessica Berman will become the Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League. Another female first.

KUDOS TO PORTLAND: 

Mike Johnston's Portland Winterhawks continue to maintain their level of excellence – 34-13-3-2 ,at last look. The Hawks clinched their eleventh straight playoff berth, sprinkled with prospects. Up front some of those who bear watching include future Red Wing Cross Hanas and Sabres hopeful Tyson Kozak. Then there's Draft hopeful James Stefan. Co-captain - defenseman Clay Hanus has been looking exceptionally good; not to mention goalie Taylor Gauthier. I'll be following the Hawks – my favorite Junior team – once the postseason begins.

RHODE ISLAND HOCKEY HALL NAMES 2022 INDUCTEES;

1. Bob Bellemore was a goaltending legend at Providence. I later got to know him as Lou Lamoriello's goalie tutor with the Devils. What a great guy and super teacher.

2. Harvey Bennett, Jr. is the son of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League's Harvey, Senior.

Junior played for five NHL teams. Personally, I thought his dad belonged in the NHL.

3. Robbie Gaudreau produced the first two hat tricks for the San Jose Sharks.

4.Tom Mellor: He played for the Red Wings and was part of Uncle Sam's Silver Medal Olympians of 1972

5. Ralph Warburton, starred for Dartmouth and was the first from his state to play on an Olympic team in 1948. Good job all around, guys!

ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Glenn (Chico) Resch on goaltending. 

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