Welcome to the sixth 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 1960’s, but before we do that, be sure to check out parts one through five 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
Part Five: 1950-1960, Welcome Beliveau, Six Stanley Cups, Goodbye Rocket
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
The 1960-’61 season proved why the Habs had successfully defended the Stanley Cup for the previous five years. For the eighth year in a row, the Habs sat in the top spot in the league in terms of scoring thanks to players like Bernard Geoffrion (with 50 goals), Dickie Moore (with 35 goals), and Jean Beliveau (with 32 goals). Henri Richard continued to show the world that hockey belonged to the Richard family, with 68 points in 70 games, comprised of 24 goals and 44 assists.
At the end of the regular season, Geoffrion won both the Art Ross trophy and the Hart trophy, while Doug Harvey won his final James Norris trophy. Despite finishing out the season at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Habs were unable to defend their Stanley Cup champion title, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Harvey was traded to the New York Rangers before the 1961-’62 begins in exchange for Lou Fontinato, who was widely considered one of the most fearsome defensemen in the sport of hockey. Beliveau added the ‘C’ to his jersey, beginning his 10 year stint as captain of the Habs.
The Canadiens displayed exceptional skill during the season, finishing with a 42-14-14 record and once again claiming the Prince of Wales trophy. This was, in part, thanks to the efforts of Jacques Plante, who maintained a 2.37 goals-against average throughout the season, and who would go on to win both the Hart and Vezina trophies that year. As well, defenceman Tom Johnson celebrated his 800th game with the Habs during his 14th season with the team. Their strong regular season would not carry through to the playoffs and the Habs fell once again to Chicago during the first round.
Not only did the Habs lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the 1962-’63 saw the end of three separate players’ careers. During a March game against the New York Rangers, defenceman Lou Fontinato went headfirst into the boards to try and avoid a bodycheck from Vic Hadfield. Fontinato’s neck snapped on contact, and after a lengthy seven hour surgery, he was forced to retire from hockey and would later find a career in agriculture. Veteran Marcel Bonin was forced to retire following a back surgery, and it was at the end of this season that Dickie Moore played his final game with the Habs.
Jacques Plante’s career with the Canadiens came to an end on June 4, 1963 following a trade to the New York Rangers for Lorne Worsley. Worsley barely made a mark on the 1963-’64 season due to injury, and was replaced by Charlie Hodge, who went on to win the Vezina trophy with a 2.26 goals-against average and a record of 33-18-11.
The Canadiens once again finished the regular season as Eastern Conference champions, with outstanding performances from Jean Beliveau, who finished with 78 points and 28 goals, and rookies John Ferguson and Jacques Laperriere. The Habs were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by long-time rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Reorganization was the name of the game at the beginning of the 1964-’65 season. Frank Selke ended his tenure as the general manager of the team, being replaced by Sam Pollock, who would serve as GM for 14 years. Toe Blake was the only member of the management to keep his coaching position during this period of reorganization.
Jean Beliveau’s record as the team’s top scorer each season was replaced by right-winger Claude Provost, who boasted 64 points comprised of 27 goals and 37 assists. Despite not making the top five for points and goals this season, Beliveau proved to be the most valuable player during the Stanley Cup playoffs with eight goals and 16 points, earning him the Conn Smythe trophy and helping the team win their first Stanley Cup since the 1959-’60 season.
During the 1965-’66 season, Jean Beliveau recorded a number of records with the team, including becoming the first player to reach the 500 assist milestone, as well as playing his 800th game with the team and scoring his 900th point days later. The Canadiens finished out the season with a 41-21-8 record and emerged as the Eastern Conference champions once again.
Due to their outstanding play during the regular season, Charlie Hodge and Lorne Worsley shared the Vezina trophy at the end of the year. The Habs swept the Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. In the second round against the Detroit Red Wings, it is Henri Richard who scored the winning point during overtime in game six, making the Habs Stanley Cup champions once again.
The 1966-’67 season began with a multitude of injuries, including Jean Beliveau, Lorne Worsley, and three of the team’s defensemen. Rookie Rogatien Vachon stepped in to help Charlie Hodge in Worsley’s absence, who boasted an 11-3-4 record in his 19 games with the Canadiens.
In the midst of the season, defenceman Jean-Claude Tremblay was knocked unconscious by New York’s Reggie Flemming. He returned seven games later wearing a mask that would catch on with the rest of the league in a few years.The Habs demolished the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs and went on to face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the finals. Henri Richard helped the team start off the series with a win in the first game, however the rest of the series played out as a consistent back-and-forth between the two teams, and the Leafs ultimately won the cup, breaking the Canadiens’ two-year streak.
The NHL expanded past its original six teams at the beginning of the 1967-’68 season, and with it came the departure of Charlie Hodge to the newly formed Oakland Seals. After a rough start to the beginning of the season, the Habs made an incredible comeback following Christmas in 1967, boasting a 21-1-2 record between December and February and finished out the season with a 42-22-10 record. Beliveau not only celebrated his 1000th career point, becoming the first player in Habs history to do so, but also his 400th career goal.
The Habs finished out the season as Eastern Conference champions, and went on to face the Boston Bruins in the quarter finals and the Chicago Blackhawks in the semi-finals of the playoffs. They met the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs, where each game of the series is decided by one goal by Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Bobby Rousseau, and Jean-Claude Tremblay, in order, making the Habs Stanley Cup winners once again.
Toe Blake was replaced as the Canadiens’ coach by 29-year-old Claude Ruel prior to the start of the 1968-’69 season after working for the organization for 12 years. Yvan Cournoyer boasted an incredible season, scoring 43 goals and earning 87 points during the regular season, surpassing Jean Beliveau by 10 goals and five points total.
After sweeping New York and Boston in the first two rounds of the playoffs, largely in part to Jean Beliveau with 15 goals in 14 games, the Canadiens were once again face-to-face with the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were defeated in four games, making the Habs Stanley Cup winners for the 16th time in franchise history.
Many of the team’s best players, including Beliveau, Cornoyer, and Richard, lost parts of the 1969-’70 season due to injuries. Gilles Tremblay‘s nine-year career was cut short as well at the beginning of the season following complications related to asthma. The Habs’ season was mostly disastrous even with various attempts at shakeups, save for the efforts of Cornoyer, who boasted 63 points in his 72 games with a total of 27 goals and 36 assists. The Canadiens finished the season with a 38-22-16 record, placing fifth in the league, and for the first time since the 1940s, the Canadiens missed out on the playoffs.