NHL honors Canadiens’ 1950s dynasty
By Scott Erskine PA SportsTicker Hockey Editor
OTTAWA (Ticker) - There are dynasties and there are dynasties. Then there are the 1956-60 Montreal Canadiens.
Numerous teams have won consecutive Stanley Cup championships since the NHL began to challenge for the prestigious trophy in 1918. But only those Canadiens have captured it five straight times, posting a combined 40-9 record during those postseasons and a 20-5 mark in the Finals.
A dozen players competed on all five of those championship teams, and the NHL honored the six remaining living members Friday with a “Salute to the Stanley Cup Legends.”
On hand for the deserving celebration were defensemen Jean-Guy Talbot and Tom Johnson, left wings Dickie Moore and Don Marshall and centers Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard, who won a record 11 Stanley Cups during his 20-year career.
The younger brother of the legendary Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Henri Richard shares the record for games played in the Finals (65) and is fourth all-time with 47 points. A Montreal native, the 71-year-old “Pocket Rocket” does not believe the Canadiens’ record of five straight Cups ever will be broken.
“There’s no way, not with 30 teams now,” he said. “It’ll never be done.”
“It is a record that I, along with the rest of the players from that era, are proud of,” he said. “It is a great team record. It is one that just may stand the test of time.”
Beliveau, 75, won a total of 10 championships with Montreal, serving as the captain for five. He holds the Finals records for points (62), power-play goals (11) and game-winners (nine) and is tied with Henri Richard with 12 appearances.
In the 1960s, Beliveau nearly helped the Canadiens duplicate the mark of five consecutive titles. Their only Finals loss during a five-year span beginning in 1965 came against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1967.
“We had a good team in the ’60s, but maybe not as many top players (as) we had between 1956 and 1960,” Montreal’s all-time leading scorer among centers said. “We lost to Toronto in ’67, and I always thought that we had the better team.”
The Canadiens began their string of success three years prior to the mega-dynasty, capturing the Cup in 1953 and coming within one win of the championship each of the next two seasons before going on their tremendous run. They also appeared in the Finals in 1951 and 1952, making it 10 consecutive seasons in which they played for the title.
A former Norris Trophy winner who also won Cups with the Boston Bruins as a coach and general manager, the 79-year-old Johnson - along with Bernie Geoffrion and Doug Harvey - was there for all 10 of those Finals appearances.
“You’re never satisfied,” he said. “In the room, they expected to win it. The expectations were there. There’s no second-place rings.”
Marshall, a seven-time All-Star who was known for his hard work as a checker and penalty-killer, echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
“We always thought we could win,” the 75-year-old Marshall said. “We thought we were going to win every game we’d ever play. We didn’t, but we thought that. … It was just natural. When I played minor hockey, I was always on winning teams, so winning was just normal. And then it got very difficult.”
Bert Olmstead also played in the Finals each of those 10 years from 1951-60, the final two with Toronto. But he, Harvey and Johnson had more in common than Cup victories.
“I didn’t feel like shaking the hand of a guy I played against for seven games and we’ve been trying to knock each other’s brains out,” Johnson said. “There were three of us. We didn’t feel it was right, so we went to the dressing room and we never saw (the Cup) presented.”
They also did not see any celebratory parties thrown by the organization toward the end of their run. And when the team fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1961 semifinals, the reality of their invincibility hit hard.
“We didn’t get a party the last year,” said Moore, a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner who also captured the Cup in 1953. “The owners said, ‘We got tired of giving you parties.’ But it hurt when we got beat, I’ll be honest with you. When we got beat in ’61, it hurt.”
So what was the secret formula for Montreal’s dynasty? Talent, teamwork and the fact everyone played their role to a T.
“Jean was the smooth guy, Dickie was the worker, the ‘Rocket,’” said the 74-year-old Talbot, a seven-time All-Star who appeared in the first of his 11 Finals as a rookie in 1956. “We had different types of players, that’s what made us good teams.”
But the 1956-60 Canadiens were much more than a team, at least in each other’s eyes.
“We were like a family,” Henri Richard said. “We used to go out together after the game and go around together, except for the goalie. Goalies are different, they go their own way.”
“We had a family team, everybody cared for each other,” the 76-year-old Moore added. “The memories we have are getting tougher to remember, but…”
Henri Richard still has vivid memories of Montreal’s dynasty era. And despite the fact he and his five former teammates are in their 70s, he doesn’t think much has changed over the years.
“It seems like yesterday,” he said. “We still act like kids. We’re still the same.”