Habs greats honoured

Former Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy greets Jean Beliveau during a ceremony to celebrate the 100th...

Former Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy greets Jean Beliveau during a ceremony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens hockey club in Montreal, Dec. 4, 2009. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:46 PM ET

MONTREAL - It was only a red, plastic bucket of pucks.

A plastic bucket carried by a portly, grey-haired man with thick glasses and wearing a red satin windbreaker.

But in that moment, when retired Montreal Canadiens equipment man Eddie Palchak walked out and dumped the pucks on the fresh sheet of Bell Centre ice, the sense something special was about to take place crackled through the building.

Moments later, former Canadiens goaltending legend Patrick Roy, in full equipment, came rocketing out of the gate and took to the ice, the first in a stream of Canadiens immortals to flood onto the ice. Robinson, Lafleur, Savard, Lapointe, Cournoyer, Dryden, the appearance of each one wringing another wave of cheers from the crowd.

When your franchise’s A list includes the names of 54 Hall of Famers, many of whom can perform a living, breathing Field of Dreams on ice, you can throw a hell of a birthday party.

The Canadiens celebrated their 100th anniversary Friday night before their meeting with the Boston Bruins, a red, white and blue group hug, the passion in it unique to a city and a franchise hopelessly intertwined in a 100-year affair.

Larry Robinson, the Hall of Fame defenceman who was part of "The Big Three" on those 1970s Cup-winning Canadiens teams, summed up the feelings of most of the Canadiens on hand.

"It’s an honour for me knowing, that in a small part, I’ve been part of the history of this team. I feel blessed," he said, adding that the place the Canadiens occupy on our cultural landscape extends far beyond Montreal.

"When you think of Canada, you think of hockey," said Robinson, "and when you think of hockey, you think of the Montreal Canadiens."

The Canadiens used the occasion to retire the numbers of 91-year-old Elmer Lach, who wore 16, and defenceman and former captain, Emile "Butch" Bouchard’s No. 3, which was worn this season by defenceman Ryan O’Byrne. He stripped it off to reveal the No. 20 on his back, laying his old sweater in the lap of the wheelchair-bound Bouchard.

Special introductions were reserved for Roy, Guy Lafleur -- introduced by actor Viggo Mortensen, a huge fan of Le Demon Blond -- and classy former captain Jean Beliveau, introduced by long-time adversary Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings.

Former coaches on hand were Scotty Bowman, Jean Perron and Jacques Demers, the last coach to win the Cup here, in 1993. Demers didn’t hesitate to name his favourite moment in the last 100 years.

"June 9, 1993, raising the Stanley Cup not far from the poverty of my backyard in Cote des Neiges," he said. "I came from nothing to this. It’s just a very special night."

The tributes were on a multi-media canvas, but the greatest was the legends skating out of history and back onto the ice.

"It was the first day I’ve worn (goaltending) equipment since the last day I played for the Montreal Canadiens, May 19, 1979," said Ken Dryden, who backed the Habs to five Stanley Cups. "It was a bit terrifying. Most of the equipment I was wearing was contemporary equipment, (current Canadiens goaltender) Carey Price’s.

"It was a lot bigger than what we wore, which is a nice feeling. I felt better than I thought I would."

"I’m glad that warmup only lasted five minutes," Roy told the fans.

Lafleur’s passion on and off the ice personified the Habs’ last great dynasty in the late ’70s.

"You guys partied some nights," Lafleur to the crowd. "But we partied every night. I really believe that’s why we were so successful."

On this night, 100 years in the making, the fans didn’t have to be asked twice.


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