With the Leafs now well into their prolonged post-season hiatus, here are some recent posts that might be of interest, in case you missed them...
- On the MLSE corporate apology and season-end media session
- An honest assessment of the direction the Leafs are headed
- Which Leafs does the organization keep with Carlyle behind the bench?
- How the playoffs and the way the games are played at this time of year are both a reminder of where the Leafs need to get
- If you'd like to listen to a Maple Leaf "year in review" and look-ahead discussion, I took part in the Globe podcast (click here). I can't promise it's uplifting (it's not), but you might enjoy the chat!
Watching Game 3 of the Nashville-Detroit series on Sunday, Hockey Night in Canada offered a quick but wonderful shot of former Red Wing legend Ted Lindsay as he was viewing the game from one of the suites overlooking the rink at the Joe Louis arena. I’ve written about Lindsay here a few times, because he is one of the seminal memories that I still hold dear as a very young and engaged hockey hockey fan in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.
When seeing Lindsay, my thoughts jumped right away to another legend of the game who just died last week, Emile “Butch” Bouchard. He was 92. I never saw Bouchard play, at least not that I recall. (One of his sons, Pierre, was a somewhat prominent player with the Habs during their great run in the mid and later 1970s…). I was born in 1953 and Bouchard retired after a Cup-winning 1955-’56 season, so I was not even three when he stepped away from the game. But my Dad was such a devout and devoted Montreal fan, and we talked about the great Montreal teams of the ’30s, ’40s and early ‘50s so much when I was young, that whenever I would see (to this day) old films of certain guys (like Bouchard) in action, it’s like I’ve been watching them all my life. I knew their style of play, the type of player they were. And I somehow understood, or at least had a sense, of what they meant to a great winning franchise like the Montreal Canadiens.
“Rocket” Richard was the biggest name in Montreal hockey circles in the 1940s and ‘50s, but if you listened to my Dad (and many other accounts, as well) Bouchard was the leader, the guy who kept an emotional, volatile group of individual temperaments together. My Dad adored Richard, but had deep respect for Bouchard.
He was, for his time, a big hockey player (six feet, two inches and weighing 205 pounds), and as the saying goes, tough as nails. No one, and that meant no one, messed with Bouchard. He was that hard to play against, and that well respected—and feared. (Above, I've included a great old picture from the 1950s. I wish I knew who the photographer was. But the action shows Bouchard, the Hab captain, at right. I believe that is Sid Smith of the Leafs in the middle of the picture, with Gerry McNeil in goal for Montreal.) Early in his career he was, if not exactly an elite offensive defenseman, someone who put up points from the back end. Later, he settled into a role as the rock of the Hab defense. Born in Montreal, he never played for any other team. He was pivotal in the Habs winning three Cups, a more modest conttributor in his final season when they captured a fourth during his tenure in that 1955-’56 season.
Interestingly, for as tough a guy as he was, he never put up more than 100 minutes in penalties in any given season.
Bouchard played close to 800 regular-season games over his 15-year career (seasons were a fair bit shorter in those days). Even though there were only two playoff rounds in his era, he still played well over 100 playoff games.
Some of you may be interested in listening to an interview I did here a couple of years ago with Bouchard’s teammate, Dickie Moore. Moore thought very highly of Bouchard, and as I recall, still visited regularly with his former Montreal teammates like Bouchard and Elmer Lach.
This site is very much about Maple Leaf memories, of course, but I can’t let the death of one of the hockey heroes of my youth pass without acknowledgement here. Bouchard meant a great deal to my Dad, so he means a great deal to me.