Awaiting the Montreal Canadiens legend at the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend was an exhibit honoring 100 years of Habs' history. It's an exhibit that takes Cournoyer, who won the Stanley Cup 10 times with the Canadiens, back to his youth.
And what better way to get to the exhibit that represents your youth than to relive an old experience?
"When I left Montreal, I left by train and I'm staying at the (Fairmont) Royal York," Cournoyer said. "This is what I did when I was young — and this week, that's what I did. I was supposed to take a flight, but I canceled just so I could take the train to remember that, hey, I was there in 64-65, in my first year, and we took the train and walked to the Royal York. The memory is still in you. The memories are the power."
For Cournoyer and fellow Montreal legends Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Frank Mahovlich, Friday's opening of the exhibit honoring the Canadiens' centennial season gave them a chance to reflect on something that was incredibly personal, yet so much bigger than any one of them.
"It's not mine, it's ours," Savard said. "In Montreal, we were built to be a team. If you had a 2-on-1 and the other guy didn't pass the puck, guys were mad. We weren't thinking about our own selves. We were thinking about the team. The team was most important. When I see all this (the artifacts in the exhibit), I am just happy and proud to be part of it."
All four of the Habs' Hall of Famers in attendance Friday for the unveiling are represented in some way in the exhibit, which is open to the public for a limited time and contains features, videos, showcases and a specially designed dressing room.
The unveiling kicked off Hockey Hall of Fame Weekend in Toronto. It culminates with Monday's induction of Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov, Ray Scapinello and Ed Chynoweth (posthumously) into the Hall of Fame.
"I think of it more as, 'You know what? I was part of that,'" Robinson said. "I sometimes think back and realize how lucky I was to play with some of these great players or to have the success that we had."
Also included among the plethora of artifacts in the exhibit are: the first goalie mask worn by Jacques Plante; the final pair of skates worn by George Vezina; the puck with which Maurice "Rocket" Richard scored his 500th goal; the last pair of skates worn by Ken Dryden; the program from "The Greatest Game Ever played," the 1975 New Year's Eve game between the Habs and the Central Red Army that finished in a 3-3 tie; the sweater Patrick Roy wore during the 1986 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the stick he used to win Game 5 of the Final against Calgary; the final game program sold at the Montreal Forum on March 11, 1996; and the wool toque worn by Jose Theodore at the Heritage Classic in Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2003.
"I hope the guests love the experience of what the Canadiens started at in 1909 and what they have become today," Hockey Hall of Fame VP and curator Phil Pritchard said. "Obviously it's the first team in hockey to reach the 100th anniversary plateau, and there will be many more to come in the years — and hopefully we can do the same job. But when you have a team like the Canadiens that are the first to have a 100-year anniversary, we have to make sure we have good stuff. Fun is the No. 1 word, and excellence is the No. 2 word. I hope the guests are entertained."
Digesting the history the exhibit offers is one thing; making that history is altogether different. Robinson said it's not something he ever thought of during his 17 seasons as an All-Star and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman for the Habs.
"As a hockey player you're so busy playing and staying in shape and trying to make yourself the best that you can be and you're worrying about your next opponent that you don't think about it," Robinson said. "Really, you're just part of it. You don't think about any mystique or that anybody will see a sweater or a Cup and think it's the greatest thing they've ever seen. I think it's just part of being a successful organization."
The organization was what the four legends wanted to talk about most Friday.
Cournoyer used the words class, prestige and proud to describe the Canadiens, for whom he still works as an ambassador.
"They do some things so well," Cournoyer said. "I think they work harder than any other organization that I have ever seen work. When they moved from the Forum to the Bell Centre, they made it an incredible night that people still remember. When you're a winner you need good players, a good coach and a good organization. That's why Montreal has done well for so many years. They know what it is to work hard."
Robinson traces the tradition of the Canadiens back one simple thing: Winning.
Montreal, of course, has won the Stanley Cup 24 times (23 as a member of the NHL), the most of any franchise in history. The Canadiens have won at least one Cup in every decade, though time is running out in this one.
"Tradition is the word," Robinson said. "They have this tradition about them. When you go (to the Canadiens) you don't have to be told to wear a tie or a suit. You don't have to be told to be at your best behavior. That was just part of it. You didn't have to be told to work hard. You knew you had to work hard."
The tradition is on display now inside the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Many of the game's legends are represented in the artifacts preserved by the Hall, which to date has honored 52 Canadiens with induction, the most of any franchise. They all did something special to gain the recognition, but they were all part of something bigger than any one person.
"The best comment I heard, and I feel the same way, was from Jean Beliveau a couple of years back," Savard said. "He said, 'I want to be remembered as a team player.' Coming from Jean Beliveau — that tells you the whole story of the Montreal Canadiens."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org