Welcome to the second article in a series spanning 10 (almost 11) decades of the history of the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout this series, we’ll be taking a look at the history of the oldest hockey team in the NHL from their inception to where we are today. In the first article, we took a look at everything that led to the Habs formation, their inception, and their first 11 years as a team. This week, we’ll be looking at the 1920’s through to the 1930’s, including their second and third Stanley Cup wins.
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
The 1920-’21 season was not all that exciting compared to previous years. Newsy Lalonde still lead the team in terms of goals (33), followed by Didier Pitre (16), Harry Mummery and Amos Arbour at 15 goals apiece, and Louis Berlinquette at 11. The Canadiens posted a 4-6 record in the first half, and a 9-5 record in the second, though they fell short of the playoffs.
The beginning of the following season was a tragic one for the Canadiens. George Kennedy, the owner of the Habs, died at the age of 39 after suffering from the Spanish Flu that had taken the life of Joe Hall during the fifth game of the Stanley Cup finals. This meant that the Canadiens were in need of a new owner, a task that Kennedy’s widow was not willing to undertake. Myrtle Kennedy sold the Montreal Canadiens to former Habs goalie Joe Cattarinich, Leo Dandurand, and Louis Letourneau for a price of $11,500 on November 3, 1921.
Odie Cleghorn and his brother, Sprague Cleghorn, finished the season with 24 points each, and made a name for themselves as the first brother act in Habs history. They finished in third, and were out of the playoff picture for the third spring in a row. After this season, the Habs would compete in every Stanley Cup playoffs series for the next 80 years.
Growing tensions with Dandurand started to affect his gameplay, so Newsy Lalonde was sold to Saskatoon at the start of the 1922-’23 season in exchange for newcomer Aurele Joliat, who would score 13 goals in his first season with the Canadiens. The Habs were a virtual powerhouse when they played home games, but struggled on the road, even going into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They finished the season just one point behind the Ottawa Senators, who would go on to win the cup for the third time in four years. By the end of the season, veteran player Didier Pitre would hang up his skates and retire from playing hockey.
The 1923-’24 season saw two of the most celebrated players in hockey history, Sylvio Mantha and Howie Morenz, begin their NHL careers as part of the Montreal Canadiens. Before the season even began, a hesitant Morenz begged to be let out of his contract but he eventually gave in and would end up becoming the first Habs player to have their number retired after his illustrious career.
The Canadiens squared off against the Calgary Tigers in the Stanley Cup finals. This incredible series would see a 6-1 win with a hat trick from Morenz and a 3-0 victory in Ottawa. For the first time as an NHL team, the Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup.
The NHL grew to accommodate six teams at the beginning of the 1924-’25 season with the addition of the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Maroons. Aurele Joliat lead the team in goals with 30 during the season, followed closely by Morenz at 28. Georges Vézina was also improving again, boasting five shutouts and a goals against average of 1.81. The Habs unfortunately lost out on the Stanley Cup at the end of the season to the Victoria Cougars. The end of this series would also see both of the Cleghorn brothers suit up in their Montreal colours for the last time.
The 1925-’26 season was a tragic one for the Canadiens on multiple accounts. Vézina collapsed during the first game of the season, and would die of tuberculosis on March 27, 1926. Neither Alphonse Lacroix nor Herb Rheaume could replace Vézina, and despite great efforts from Albert Leduc, Howie Morenz, and Sylvio Mantha, the Canadiens finished the season in last place after a 12 game losing streak.
George Hainsworth joined the Canadiens at the beginning of the 1926-’27 season as their new goalie, where he proved to be a worthy successor to Vézina. In his inaugural season, he allowed only 67 regular season goals and achieved 14 shutouts. Hainsworth would also become the first goalie to ever receive the Vezina Trophy, given to the best goalkeeper each year.
Sylvio Mantha became team captain at the age of 24, while veteran player Billy Boucher was loaned to the Boston Bruins and then subsequently given to the New York Americans. The Canadiens made it into the semi-finals after defeating the Montreal Maroons, but the Ottawa Senators proved too much for them to handle. They proceeded to shut out the Canadiens 4-0 in the first game, and while the second game ended in a tie, the Senators still had a scoring advantage that would lead them to take the cup.
The Canadiens would enjoy a 19 game-winning streak from November 1927 until January of 1928. As such, they finished the regular season at the top of the Canadian division. The Habs would once again go into the semi-finals against the Montreal Maroons, where they finished their run against their rivals from the previous year. However, the Maroons would go on to lose their series against the New York Rangers.
Over the course of the 1927-’28 season, Hainsworth would once again prove that he was the best in the league by matching his previous season in terms of shutouts and allowing only 48 goals over the course of the regular season. This would earn him the Vezina Trophy for the second year in a row. This year, Howie Morenz would be awarded the Hart Trophy, named for former Canadiens manager-coach Cecil Hart and awarded to the most valuable player in the league.
The Montreal Canadiens had a lot to celebrate over the course of their 1928-’29 season. Not only did Hainsworth once again prove why he was one of the best, allowing only 43 goals against and achieving 22 shutouts over the course of the regular season. They finished the regular season with an eight game winning streak and with five shutouts before ultimately being defeated by the Boston Bruins.
To say that the 1929-’30 season was a stellar one for the Canadiens would be a gross understatement. Despite the fact that Hainsworth missed two games during this time period, the Habs finished out the season with an extremely solid 21-14-9 record. First, the Habs faced off against the Chicago Blackhawks where they boasted a 3-2 advantage over Chicago, earning them a place in the semi-finals.
The Habs would then go on to face the New York Rangers. In the first game of the series, the game would go into a fourth overtime period, at which point Gus Rivers, a recently signed free agent, scored the game winning goal. The second game of the series would see Hainsworth completely shut the Rangers out, with the Montreal Canadiens winning the game 2-0.
The final series was a matchup between the powerhouse Boston Bruins and the Habs. Despite having Vezina Trophy winner Tiny Thompson in net, and facing off against star players Cooney Weiland and Dit Clapper, the Bruins fell short in each game against the Habs, losing 4-3 in the second game. The Canadiens not only won the Stanley Cup for their third time as a franchise, but they were also able to boast a post-season, uninterrupted win streak.