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Chocolate cake was part of Canadiens' dynasty

Saturday, 01.24.2009 / 12:00 AM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - NHL.com Correspondent

"The one thing about it, and I always said this, he treated us all the same -- he treated us like dogs. When things were really going good, he was always of the mind that you were mentally going to relax, so he was always tougher and tougher and tougher until you might lose a game or two games and then would come out the chocolate cake. And everything would be nice and easy."
-- Peter Mahovlich, on playing under Scotty Bowman in Montreal

Was chocolate cake responsible for helping the Montreal Canadiens win four straight Stanley Cups between 1976 and 1979? That question may not be on the minds of all the invited guests for this weekend's All-Star celebration, but if you listen to Peter Mahovlich, who was a member of a few of those Cup-winning teams, chocolate cake figured quite prominently in the Canadiens' success.
 
During this year-long celebration of 100 years of Montreal Canadiens hockey, there are all kinds of tributes to the franchise. But there probably won't be too many words spoken about a devilishly delicious food that hockey players probably should not eat if they want to stay in shape.
 
Chocolate cake.
 
Montreal won six Cups between 1971 and 1979. The 1972-73 team lost 10 games and won the Cup. Mahovlich thought that team could have gone undefeated and wonders how, all these years later, that team could have been beaten 10 times over the course of the season.
 
"We lost 10 games, and when you think about the games we did lose, we had an opportunity to win all the games. That is how good the team was," said Mahovlich.
 
But Montreal did not win another Cup for another three years.
 
The 1976-79 Canadiens had Scotty Bowman behind the bench, Ken Dryden in goal and a great defense led by Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard. The team had legendary forwards, Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Jacques Lemaire, Doug Jarvis, Yvon Cournoyer and Mahovlich, among others. Nine players and Bowman are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The team was a powerhouse. So where does chocolate cake fit in?
 
Ask Bowman.
 
There are stories the Canadiens players were not too pleased dealing with Bowman. There's one tale that Bowman was in a hotel fire and the players who were nearby were trying to figure out whether they should help him out.
 
"Well we joke about that," said Mahovlich, "but he never wanted to be liked or disliked, Scotty. He just wanted everybody on the same keel. He didn't want friendships to influence his decisions as a coach. And that's exactly who he was.
 
"The one thing about it, and I always said this, he treated us all the same -- he treated us like dogs. When things were really going good, he was always of the mind that you were mentally going to relax, so he was always tougher and tougher and tougher until you might lose a game or two games and then would come out the chocolate cake. And everything would be nice and easy."
 
Scotty let them eat cake when they lost.
 
Coaches always are looking for an edge, and Bowman was using chocolate cake as a coaching tool. Montreal players knew if the chocolate cake was being served, it was a reminder that it was OK over the long season to lose a game or two, but after eating chocolate cake, it was time to get back to work and winning.
 
Bowman did get some help on the bench from Claude Ruel, who coached the Canadiens to the 1969 Stanley Cup.
 
"Claude Ruel was there," said Mahovlich. "He had Claude as a buffer and Claude sort of had a better rapport with the players and was friendlier with the players, worked the players on the ice a little extra, the ones that were not playing an awful lot, he would be out there making sure they were getting extra skating."
 
While Bowman was detached from his players, the team kept winning. Mahovlich was traded to Pittsburgh with Peter Lee for Pierre Larouche on Dec. 15, 1977. In the 1975-76 Cup season, Mahovlich had 34 goals, 71 assists and was a plus-71. It was his last great season for the Habs. He was part of four Cup winners -- 1971, 1973 (the first under Bowman), 1976 and 1977. He was the MVP of the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia, was a member of Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union and played in the 1976 Canada Cup.
 
The old gang in Montreal really broke up in 1979 when Bowman left and Dryden and Lemaire retired, effectively ending the dynasty.
 
The chocolate cake era was over.
Quote of the Day

I think I'm lucky to be here and you definitely don't take very many things for granted, if you take anything for granted. I definitely put my family and my wife and my close family in perspective, that they're the most important thing in the world. I want to do whatever I can to play hockey, but like I said, under the right circumstances.

— Stars forward Rich Peverley to "The Musers" radio show on The Ticket 1310 AM in Dallas