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Dickie Moore: Tough and relentless

Saturday, 01.17.2009 / 10:00 AM / 2009 NHL All-Star Game

By Red Fisher - Special to NHL.com

Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher is in his 54th season on the Canadiens beat. Let's agree he is supremely qualified to name the 10 greatest Montreal Canadiens all-stars of all-time, which are all forwards and defensemen.Today's column considers No. 9 on Red's list, the great Habs goal-scorer Dickie Moore.

It is possible, likely perhaps, that Dickie Moore still remembers this visit to Maple Leaf Gardens. It was late in the second period when Henri Richard moved in to check Frank Mahovlich, who was in control of the puck deep in the Toronto zone. Mahovlich had all kinds of room to deal off the puck to linemates on either side of the rink but, being the fierce competitor he always was, had been growing increasingly frustrated in a game the Leafs were losing.
 
So instead of passing to a linemate either to the left or right, Mahovlich released a shot at the oncoming Richard. Blood poured from an ugly gash in Richard's face. In a matter of only seconds, both benches emptied, with Moore leading the charge onto the ice.
 
What ensued was a bloody affair before some semblance of order was restored -- with the promise of more ugliness to erupt in the third period.
 
Canadiens General Manager Frank Selke, who once described Moore as the best junior player in Canada, had other ideas. He raced down to the Canadiens room between periods. "Don't put out Moore in the third period," Selke told coach Toe Blake.
 
"Why not?" Blake asked.
 
"I don't want any more trouble out there," Selke said. "We're in control of this game. We don't need any more of the kind of trouble we had after Moore and Mahovlich got into it."
 
Moore was on the ice for the start of the third period and, happily for everyone, starting with Blake, there were no further incidents. Moore, the player, was like the Park Extension district in which he grew up: tough and relentless. His heart was almost too big for his own good. Anything less than playing all-out was unacceptable.
 
He was a grim, unflinching athlete with strong ideas of what was needed to win. If fighting was needed, Moore would fight. If playing with pain was needed, nobody had to ask him twice. He won consecutive scoring titles during the late 1950s (Henri Richard finished No. 2 in 1958, Jean Beliveau was second in '59) even though his wrist was in a cast the entire second half of the first scoring-title season.
 
Speed wasn't among Moore's strong points. But few players performed with more finesse despite bad knees that plagued him almost throughout his career. This bad: The Canadiens held their training camp in Victoria one year during the early '60s. Moore and I were strolling through the hotel's greenhouse one afternoon.
 
"What's that funny sound we're hearing?" I asked Moore.
 
"What sound?"
 
"Don't you hear it? That cracking noise we've been hearing for the last few minutes," he was told.
 
"Oh, that," he said with a laugh. "Those are my knees. Every step I take ..."
 
He didn't outskate opponents; he stayed one step ahead of them by out-thinking them. Few players handled the puck as well as he did, and hardly anyone was better one-on-one against a goaltender. He was in control of his game, and nobody wore the Canadiens jersey with as much pride.
 
Even now, Moore can tell you about the night he was sitting in the Forum seats watching Beliveau, who had been brought to Montreal for a three-game tryout, scoring three goals while wearing Dickie's No. 12.
 
"I was hurt," Moore recalled. "He was wearing my sweater and the guy was scoring three goals. Anybody would have been mad, watching a guy wearing his sweater scoring three goals."
 
Moore became even more incensed when coach Dick Irvin approached him after the game: "Do you think you can wear that sweater now?" Irvin asked.
 
Moore overcame adversity better than most players, but what he couldn't handle was the frustration of not playing, which happened -- as it does to most players -- late in their careers. The Canadiens were in Chicago on this night, only a few days before Christmas. The cracks had widened in the dynasty that had won five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1955-56 through 1959-60. Maurice (Rocket) Richard had been forced into retirement before the start of the 1960-61 season and Doug Harvey had been shipped to the Rangers after the 1961-62 season.
 
In the two seasons since they had won five in a row, the Canadiens had done well during the regular season, finishing first in their division, but they had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. It was tight-collar time. The Canadiens were looking for fresh blood and Moore was among the veteran players putting in time on the bench.
 
 
That night, against Chicago, he had spent most of the game there. He tapped on my door at 2 a.m.
 
 "You awake?" he asked.
 
"Yeah, I'm always awake at 2 o'clock in the morning. What's up?"
 
"I'm going home," he said. "I can't take this any longer."
 
"This" was sitting on the bench.
 
"I'm going home in the morning," Moore said. "There's no point hanging around if I'm not playing. I'm not gonna sit on the bench any longer."
 
"You're quitting the team? Do you want people to remember you as a quitter? If you leave now, that's the way you'll be remembered," he was told. "And face it, Dickie, you're not doing a hell of a lot out there."
 
"Can't score sitting on the bench," he argued.
 
"You haven't scored much when you're on the ice, either. Have you talked to Toe about it?"
 
"I haven't told him I'm going home, but I've made up my mind. If I can't play, I'd much rather be at home with the family," Moore said. "I can handle anything the fans will say about this. They're not sitting on the bench, I am."
 
We argued about it for the next couple of hours. Finally, Moore said: "OK, here's what I'm gonna do. I'll go with the team to Detroit. If I don't play, I'm gone after we get home. I'm not scoring any goals," he muttered. "I'm playing pretty well when I get on the ice, but I can't buy a goal."
 
"Try shooting more often," he was told. "Whenever you're on the ice, all you do is pass to Henri (Richard)."
 
Moore was in the starting lineup two nights later in Detroit. Richard won the faceoff and dropped the puck back to Moore, who skated one stride across centre ice and let fly with a shot at Terry Sawchuk. Goal!
 
The press box in the old Detroit Olympia was fairly close to the ice. The instant the puck beat Sawchuk, Moore raced down the left side of the rink, swept around behind the net and skated along the right boards, raising his stick as he approached the press box. Later in the game he scored a second goal. He was to score 24 goals in 67 games that season -- his last with the Canadiens.
 
He stayed out of hockey the next season, returned to play 38 games with Toronto, stayed out of hockey for the next two seasons, but answered Scotty Bowman's call in St. Louis and helped the Blues reach the Stanley Cup Final in the first year of expansion.
 
Moore made it easy for me in my business. He was an achiever. There was always something to write about Moore, but his early morning visit to my hotel room in Chicago never made it to my newspaper. It's never a good idea to get too close to athletes, but his visit was a private matter between friends.
 
Moore didn't ask me not to mention his visit, and it wasn't necessary to ask. On my part, it was the fair thing to do and "fair" always has been my favourite four-letter word. It's something you feel after working alongside an athlete for many years. It's also a feeling for an athlete and his for you. It's called trust.