If I've learned anything in the last 24 hours, it's that Montreal Canadiens legend Yvan Cournoyer is one funny dude. Man can this guy own a room!
I just got back to my hotel from a riveting and supremely comical hour-long stay at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I was there to hear Hall Curator Phil Pritchard, one of the Cup Keepers, dish on various tales of the Stanley Cups travels and history.
Pritchard showed photos and told stories for 30 minutes before introducing Ron Ellis, who played 16 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs and was on the 1967 Stanley Cup championship squad, the last to date in franchise history.
Well, things only got better when Ellis introduced Cournoyer to the standing room only crowd at the Hartland Molson Theatre inside the Hall of Fame. Cournoyer, dressed casually in khaki pants, a white shirt, no tie, and his Hall of Fame blazer, had me and the rest of the crowd roaring with laughter as he took potshots at Ellis and the Leafs.
Cournoyer, of course, won the Stanley Cup 10 times as a member of the Habs. He has the second-most Stanley Cup championships as a player, trailing Jean Beliveau by one.
Ellis, who has only the one Cup, proudly introduced Cournoyer, one of his great friends, by saying, "Yvan Cournoyer and I won 11 Stanley Cups."
Right on cue, Cournoyer strolls onto the stage, mic in hand, and says, "It's always nice to come to Toronto to celebrate another anniversary of not winning the Stanley Cup."
Awesome stuff — and it only got better.
On the big screen behind the two Hall of Famers was a picture of one of the Habs' teams of the 1970s parading the Cup through downtown Montreal. Pritchard first asked Cournoyer about what a Stanley Cup parade is like, and then he asked Ellis for his impressions of the 1967 parade in Toronto.
Ellis said it was amazing, and then added, "Let's just think what will happen in Toronto when the Leafs win their next Stanley Cup."
To that, Cournoyer replied, "Let's just hope we're all still alive."
Priceless. The room exploded in laughter. Even all the Leafs fans, of which there were many, were having a blast.
"I hope I'm not once referred to as the last living Leaf to win a Stanley Cup," Ellis retorted, clearly having fun with the moment and the Leafs' drought.
A youngster in attendance brought up the fact that Pritchard was shown dusting off the Cup late in Game 5 of this past spring's Stanley Cup Final in Detroit. He was wondering why Pritchard was doing that when the game was not decided yet?
Of course, Maxime Talbot tied the game with 35 seconds left in regulation and Petr Sykora won it in the third overtime period, forcing Pritchard to load the Cup back into its carrying case and lug it to Pittsburgh for Game 6.
Pritchard, of course, said the Cup had to be ready to go, "and only the Pittsburgh Penguins knew it wasn't going to be awarded that night."
Cournoyer jumped in and said, "We didn't have that problem in Montreal. We always knew where it was going."
Like any showman, he just knows the right time to jump in with a quick-witted comment.
Want some more Cournoyer quips?
In response to a man wearing a Blackhawks jersey who told Cournoyer that the Habs broke his heart in 1971, when Montreal came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to win the Final in seven games, Cournoyer said, "I know I broke your heart and I'm not very happy about it. I'm super happy about it. But I like your jersey."
Before giving a serious and respectful answer, Cournoyer turned the question around and said, "Ask him about what it was like to play against the Montreal Canadiens."
Asked what he thinks the Canadiens' chances are of winning the Stanley Cup this year, Cournoyer said they're good, but in the playoffs everyone has a chance and it's really difficult to win.
Ellis jumped in this time and remarked, "See Leafs fans, Yvan said if you just make the playoffs you've got a chance."
"Yeah," Cournoyer said, pointing at the crowd and smiling, "but you've got to make the playoffs."
Leafs do it right — As I expected, the Leafs honored Hockey Hall of Fame Weekend in a classy manner. I felt privileged myself to be in the building to witness the 15-minute ceremony prior to tonight's game between Toronto and Montreal.
With the teams lined up on their respective blue lines and a blue carpet rolled out from the door to the Leafs bench all the way to the center ice faceoff dot, the P.A. announcer's voice boomed as he said on hand were several legends of the game.
One-by-one, he announced 16 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame and made sure to mention the year each was inducted. The Hall of Famers came out in this order:
Murray Costello, 2005; Scotty Morrison, 1999; Fern Flaman, 1990; Marcel Pronovost, 1978; Pierre Pilot, 1975; Bill Gadsby, 1970; Michel Goulet, 1998; Peter Stastny, 1998; Billy Smith, 1993; Brad Park, 1988; Bryan Trottier, 1997; Ted Lindsay, 1966; Yvan Cournoyer, 1982; Lanny MacDonald, 1992; Larry Robinson, 1995; and Borje Salming, 1996.
Of course, considering our location, MacDonald and Salming got the loudest ovations, although Cournoyer and Robinson were greeted with a roar as well. Believe me when I tell you there are a lot of Habs' fans in the building tonight, and plenty more littering the bars of Toronto. I have seen them in droves at the Hall.
Following the announcement of those 16 legends, each of the 4 honorees that will be inducted into the Hall on Monday were introduced. The P.A. announcer properly read something about each inductee before introducing them to the crowd.
He started with the late Ed Chynoweth, who was represented tonight by his son, Dean. Next up was Ray Scapinello, followed by Igor Larionov and Glenn Anderson.
Like the other three, Larionov shook the hand of all 16 Hall of Famers who were lined up along the blue carpet to greet the new legends. However, he stopped to give Ted Lindsay a hug.
I thought that was a classy gesture between two men who obviously know each other quite well from Larionov's days in Detroit.
Following a standing ovation for the inductees, Saku Koivu and Jamal Mayers (the Leafs don't have a captain, remember) were called to center ice for the ceremonial puck drop. For the record, Mayers won the draw, but I don't think it's going to be counted on the stat sheet.
As they dropped the puck, a chant of "Go Leafs Go" echoed throughout the ACC.
It wasn't over yet. Not by a long shot.
Now, I'm an American and free to admit I am not caught up on my Canadian history or the meaning of some of the traditions here. But, I have heard the war poem, In Flanders Fields, read before and it has always resonated with me.
It did again tonight.
Former Leaf Gaye Stewart, who was the NHL's Rookie of the Year in 1943 before putting his career on hold for two years to join the Royal Canadian Navy, stood at a glass podium in the faceoff circle closest to the Habs' bench and he read the poem to a silent and attentive crowd.
As soon as he said the final words — "We shall not sleep, though poppies grow, In Flanders fields" — a band of bagpipers started playing "Amazing Grace." And, then to top it all off, four legends in their own right — Canadian war veterans — were introduced to the crowd, which gave them a standing ovation. These are guys that served in World War II and one even in the Korean War. They had walkers and wheel chairs, but they were in great spirits and the crowd adored them.
During the bilingual version of "Oh Canada," which was sung by Scotty Newlands, one of the vets was shown on the big video screen shedding a few tears. After the anthem there was yet another roaring ovation, this one the loudest yet.
The lights came on. The players, who stayed at their respective blue lines for the entire ceremony, began to skate around for another quick warmup.
Three minutes later a hockey game broke out.