Welcome to the fifth 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. This week we’ll be taking a look at the 1950’s, but before we do that, be sure to check out parts one through four below.
Part One: Birth and Early Years of the Canadiens
Part Two: 1920-1930, Morenz, Hainsworth, Two Cups
Part Three: 1930-1940, Trading Hainsworth, Return of Lalonde, Tragedy Strikes
Part Four: 1940-1950, The Rocket, Two Canadiens Cups, Shakeups
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
The 1950-’51 season saw the beginnings of Jean Beliveau‘s career with the Habs in a game on December 16th against the New York Rangers. The rest of the Habs’ season was marked by achievements from Maurice Richard and Elmer Lach. Richard finished the season with 66 points in 65 games, consisting of 42 goals and 24 assists.
His 66 points was good enough for second in the league for scoring, second only to Gordie Howe. Lach finished the season with 45 points, consisting of 21 goals and 24 assists. The Habs made the playoffs, however they fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round.
The real drama of the season came when Richard faced off against Detroit’s Leo Reise after being handed a penalty. Reise taunted Richard with derogatory comments, resulting in Richard punching him and striking Jim Primeau with his stick when Primeau tried to intervene. The trio came face-to-face again the next day, and while there was no true physical altercations, Richard was charged $500 by NHL president Clarence Campbell for damaging hockey’s reputation.
The 1951-’52 season very much belonged to Bernard Geoffrion, a rookie who joined the team officially at the same time a Beliveau had in the previous season. Geoffrion’s 30 goals and 24 assists for 54 points, led to him winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, (given to the league’s top rookie.) Richard ranked third overall for the team, scoring just 44 points with 27 goals and 17 assists, in an injury reduced season.
The Habs made the playoffs, facing off against Boston in the first round and subsequently producing one of the most famous images in all of hockey. In it, a concussed Maurice Richard, who had taken a knee to the head, shook hands with Boston goalie Jim Henry after scoring the game-winning goal. Despite this run against the Bruins, the Habs ultimately fell to Detroit in the finals.
Jacques Plante, one of the best goalies in hockey, let alone Habs history, suited up for the first time with the Canadiens during the 1952-’53 season. In his first three games, Plante only allowed four goals, cementing himself as a solid goaltender. Richard once again led the team in terms of points and goals, earning 28 goals and 33 assists for a total of 61 points. Richard was followed closely by Bert Olmstead with 45 points and Elmer Lach with 41 points.
With Plante in net, the Habs were easily able to overtake the Chicago Blackhawks in round one of the playoffs by winning four of the six games they played. This incredible winning attitude continued into the finals, where the Canadiens faced off against their rivals from Boston. The Habs easily thrashed the Bruins in games four through six, with Elmer Lach scoring the game winning goal less than two minutes into overtime. For the seventh time in franchise history, the Habs were Stanley Cup winners.
While the 1953-’54 regular season was an unremarkable one for the Canadiens, there were many noteworthy moments and achievements for the team. Maurice Richard, who played in all 70 of the regular season games, scored a total of 37 goals and 30 assists for a total of 67 points.
Defence continued to improve as it had over the past few seasons thanks to the combined efforts of Emile Bouchard, Tom Johnson, and Doug Harvey, establishing the Habs’ blue line as a force. Jacques Plante only played 17 times during the regular season, however he maintained an average of 1.59 goals-against. Even with the youthful efforts of Geoffrion, Beliveau, and Dickie Moore, who led the team for scoring during the playoffs, the Habs were unable to defend their Stanley cup against the Detroit Red Wings.
Having played extraordinarily well during the previous season, Jacques Plante became the Habs’ primary netminder at the beginning of the 1954-’55 season. As in previous seasons, Maurice Richard proved to be a troublemaker. Following conflict with Hal Laycoe, Clarence Campbell suspended Richard for the remainder of the season. The city of Montreal exploded into chaos and rage, sparking what would become known as the Richard Riot. Unfortunately, Richard’s absence also played a key role in the Habs falling to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final.
The 1955-’56 season was an incredible one for the team. In addition to the stellar addition of Maurice Richard’s younger brother, Henri Richard, who proved himself as a centre, the Habs earned a total of six trophies throughout the season.
- Jacques Plante earned the Vezina trophy.
- Jean Beliveau earned the Hart trophy as well as the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the player who lead the league in points during the regular season.
- Doug Harvey earned the James Norris trophy, awarded to the league’s top defence player.
- The Prince of Wales trophy was awarded to the Habs as the Eastern Conference Champions.
After two tough playoff series’, the Montreal Canadiens became the Stanley Cup winners for the eighth time in franchise history. They would not relinquish the Cup again until 1960.
At the beginning of the 1956-’57 season, reigning captain Emile Bouchard retired, and the team’s captaincy passed to Maurice Richard. Thanks to the combined efforts of Beliveau, the Richard brothers, Moore, and Harvey, the Canadiens finished the regular season as the league’s top goal-scoring team. The Habs entered the playoffs as the reigning Stanley Cup champions, and defended their title against the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins.
The 1957-’58 season started off poorly for the Habs as Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, and Bernard Geoffrion all suffered injuries that kept them from playing. Thankfully, players such as Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, and Doug Harvey stepped up until the injured players were ready to return at the end of the regular season. The Habs finished the season 19 points ahead of their rival, and were easily able to defeat the Red Wings and the Bruins in the playoffs to defend the Stanley Cup for the third year in a row.
The 1958-’59 season marked the second time where the Habs earned six trophies over the course of the year.
- Jacques Plante, earning his fourth Vezina trophy in a row.
- Tom Johnson earned the James Norris trophy.
- Dickie Moore earned the Art Ross trophy.
- Ralph Backstrom earned the Calder Memorial trophy.
Once again, the Habs also won the Prince of Wales trophy as the Eastern Conference champs. During the course of the regular season, the team scored a total of 258 goals, putting them at the top of the league in that category. Unfortunately, Maurice Richard lost most of his season and post-season to injuries, though he was still able to contribute 38 points over the course of the 42 regular season games. After a tough series against Chicago, the Habs went on to face off against the Maple Leafs. Toronto won only the third game of the series, and the Habs were once again Stanley Cup champions.
The 1959-’60 season marked the 50th season for the Montreal Canadiens. Jacques Plante, who would once again win the Vezina trophy, changed the face of hockey forever as he becomes the first goalie to don a mask during the game against the New York Rangers on November 1, 1959. Other goalies would follow his lead and in a few years time, the goalie mask would become a regular part of hockey attire.
Montreal finished the regular season as the Eastern Conference champs once again, finishing the season 13 points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs left the Chicago Blackhawks in the dust in the first series of the playoffs, and swept the Maple Leafs in four games in the second round. For the sixth time in 10 years, the Habs were once again Stanley Cup champions.
Unfortunately, the 1959-’60 season ended with the retirement of Maurice Richard. Over the course of his career, Richard scored 544 goals and 965 points, finishing out his time on the ice as the league’s top goal scorer.
Here are a few additional notes on the Rocket.
Richard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame one year after his retirement, and his jersey was raised to the rafters in the Montreal Forum on October 6, 1961. In honour of his achievements, the league has awarded the Maurice Richard trophy to the league’s top goal-scorer every year since 1999.
Maurice Richard died on May 27, 2000 after suffering from abdominal cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. He was given a state funeral that was not only attended by thousands, but was broadcast on national television, the first ever televised state funeral for an athlete.