MONTREAL, QC. — The evening started out normally until… he got ‘the’ call.
It was 5:45 pm. on March 11, 1996 and his cousin just offered a ticket to the game. He couldn’t believe it. He had a ticket to the most coveted game of the year.
The year? Well, that’s an understatement.
His birthday was the next day, and George just received the ultimate birthday present. He was going to help say “farewell” to the Forum, the mecca of hockey in North America.
He was happy!
Within twenty minutes he was meeting his cousin at the Forum with a video camera in tow.
The atmosphere in the building was just as electric as a Stanley Cup Game seven.
To his surprise, he was sitting in the reds, in the south horseshoe, and next to him was Ken Dryden and his wife, and the Big M, Frank Mahovlich with his wife.
What a thrill! What are the chances that he would have been sitting next to two Hall of Famers?
As the evening progressed, both Ken Dryden and Frank Mahovlich were offered drinks from the fans that surrounded them. Dryden declined but the Big ‘M’ accepted ginger ale!
Yes ginger ale!
George later found out that the Montreal Canadiens had placed former greats strategically around the Forum for the fans to have an opportunity to interact with them.
The game had its expected result. Montreal won 4-1 with Andrei Kovalenko scoring what proved to be the last goal in the Montreal Forum. The Russian Tank, as he was referred by his teammates, finally earned an honored place in Canadiens’ history.
At the conclusion of the game, George took out the video camera and filmed the entire closing ceremonies. At first, he was scared that an usher would tell him to turn it off, but he quickly realized that the show was on the ice and no one would notice.
One thing he realized was, that other than the house of Windsor, no one does ceremonies like the Montreal Canadiens.
They saw the red carpet being rolled out in a large square. Saw Dick Irvin in a tuxedo, and then, one by one, all the Hab greats were introduced as the cheers became louder and louder.
Even Vladislav Tretiak was introduced to a tremendous roar!
The greatest ovation however, was saved for The Rocket, Maurice Richard.
The announcer tried many times to get started again, but the fans wouldn’t let him. Over eleven minutes went by as the fans cheered.
The Rocket was shown on the screen, thanking everyone, telling the crowd to stop, and then, when he started crying, the chanting got louder, and louder and louder.
It was then that Elmer Lach and Emile Bouchard went over to raise Richard’s hands in the air.
But it wasn’t enough to stop the crowd!.
Few in the building that night, ever saw Rocket Richard play “live.” Yet, the generations of Canadiens fans realized that he was to them, what Babe Ruth was to baseball, and treated him to the ultimate show of respect.
The ceremonial torch then made its appearance. Bouchard, the oldest living Captain, started the procession inside the Canadiens dressing room. He looked up at all the faces, and the inscription from the famous “In Flanders Fields” poem was behind his head:
“To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.”
Bouchard passed it to Richard, and the torch went from captain to captain, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, to Bob Gainey, who surprised everyone in the building when he passed it to Guy Carbonneau, who had showered and changed out of his Dallas Stars jersey so that he could receive it.
Guy then passed it to captain Pierre Turgeon.
Turgeon then led the team around the Forum in a procession that is usually reserved for the Stanley Cup.
This was the final goodbye from the current team, the former greats and all of the ghosts who inhabited the famous Montreal Forum.
During and following that game, everyone was looking for memories, and that was when George caught my memorabilia bug. His first purchase was a commemorative book, hat and program from that evening.
A week later, he bought a white Montreal Forum Chair.
Over the years, he acquired signed Canadiens jerseys of Guy Lafleur, Henri Richard, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Gump Worsley & Saku Koivu, autographed photos of Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Carey Price’s first game and many, many more.
George was also lucky enough to acquire a red Montreal Forum chair.
If you have a seat from the blues, he wants it!
“With the Forum as their home address, the Canadiens would record over 1500 wins, score over 10,000 goals and hoist the Stanley Cup 22 times.”
George is President of AHEPA Canada, a non-profit philanthropic organization, with chapters worldwide, whose mission statement includes promoting Hellenism, Philanthropy, and Education. He works at Randstad Canada as a Senior Strategic Account Manager. He is also my brother.