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Gainey and Robinson to be honored in 2007-08

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL– The Montreal Canadiens will honor two of the greatest players in team history during the 2007-08 season by retiring the jerseys of defenseman Larry Robinson (No. 19) and forward Bob Gainey (No. 23).

This initiative, part of the process leading up to the Canadiens’ Centennial, began in 2005-06 with the team retiring Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer’s No.12 as well as Bernard Geoffrion’s No.5. In 2006-07, two other legendary Canadiens received a similar honor when the jerseys of Serge Savard (No. 18) and Ken Dryden (No. 29) were raised to the Bell Centre rafters. Jersey retirement ceremonies will continue to be held before the Canadiens 100th anniversary set to culminate on December 4, 2009.

The Canadiens will honor Larry Robinson in a pre-game ceremony on Monday, November 19, 2007 when the Ottawa Senators will be the visitors at the Bell Centre, while the tribute to Bob Gainey will take place on Saturday, February 23, 2008 prior to the game between the Canadiens and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Larry Robinson

Born in Winchester on June 2, 1951, Larry Robinson grew up on a dairy farm in Marvelville, some 50 km south from Ottawa. He made his junior hockey debut in 1969 at age 18 playing for the Brockville Braves in the CJHL. Little did he know that this single season in Thousand Islands area would forever change his career as a hockey player. A centreman with the occasional stint on left wing, Robinson was converted into a defenseman but kept on racking up points, ending the season with 51 in only 40 games.

In 1970, Robinson who attended the Kitchener Rangers camp as a defenseman was determined to make a name for himself and get noticed by the scouts for the upcoming NHL Draft. His 51 points in 61 games during his only season on the OHL earned him to be drafted 20th overall by the Canadiens, who had previously selected Guy Lafleur, Chuck Arnason and Murray Wilson in the first round.

A prospect with much potential, Robinson learned the ropes of pro hockey with the Canadiens main affiliate team in Nova Scotia. In his first season with the Voyageurs he helped the team capture the Calder Cup. He would start the 1972-73 season in Halifax but after recording 39 points in 38 AHL games, Robinson graduated to Montreal and on January 8, 1973, played the first game of what would be a stellar 18-year career on the Canadiens blue line as one of the best National Hockey League defensemen ever.

Alongside Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, he anchored the Big Three which was arguably the most dominant defensive unit in NHL history. Adept at carrying the puck and making sharp passes, Robinson always rose to the occasion when the team needed additional firepower. He literally rewrote the Canadiens record book and by the time his career was over his name was at the top of nearly every offensive category for defensemen. He leads the all-time list for regular season games played (1,202), goals (197), assists (686) and points (883). On five separate occasions he led the Canadiens defensemen and also set team records in 1976-77 with 66 helpers and 85 points.

Big Bird, as he was dubbed, set an NHL record for most consecutive years in the playoffs with 20, including 17 seasons in a row as a Hab. He also owns the Canadiens post-season records for games (203) and assists (109) and ranks third, behind only Jean Béliveau and Jacques Lemaire, for most career playoff points with 134.

A fan favorite, Robinson was voted to the Canadiens 75th anniversary Dream Team alongside legendary Doug Harvey. Perhaps the most significant statistic that best describes just how complete a player Robinson was is his plus-minus rating. At plus 730 (+ 700 with the Canadiens), he is by far the all-time NHL leader surpassing perennial all-stars such as Bobby Orr (+ 597), Raymond Bourque (+ 528) and Wayne Gretzky (+ 518). In 1976-77, Robinson led the NHL in that category with an astonishing plus 120.

A team player and a six-time Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, Robinson also had his share of individual awards winning the Norris Trophy in 1977 and 1980. He was also the Conn Smythe Trophy recipient in 1978 as the playoffs MVP. During his 20-year career, he played in nine NHL All-Star games and represented Canada at several international events, including four Canada Cup tournaments. Larry Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Bob Gainey

Born in Peterborough on November 13, 1953, Bob Gainey comes from a family of seven, two brothers and four sisters. At age five, he received his first pair of skates from his father and learned skating on the Trent Canal and at the outside rink in his neighborhood. The following year he was playing defense with the Immaculate Conception team in the local church league. Robert, as he was known in his youth, developed a passion for the game and kept improving his skills. At age 15 playing at the midget level, his coach Red Wasson moved Gainey up front where he would blossom as a strong checker. He was called up by the local juvenile team to cover opposing star players such as a Rick Middleton, Eric Vail and Don Lever, and also scored the winning goal to give his team the juvenile championship.

In 1971 Gainey helped lead the Peterborough Junior B team to the Canada Winter Games gold-medal championship, and a few months later he joined his hometown Petes under head coach Roger Neilson. Fitting perfectly in the team’s style of play, Gainey was named the team’s mot valuable player in his first full season. Already Gainey had made his mark a one of the league’s best two-way players.

Despite his role as a defensive forward Gainey managed to rack up 43 points, including 22 goals, in 1972-73. His intensity and strong two-way play did not go unnoticed by Sam Pollock who used the Canadiens first selection, 8th overall, to claim Bob at the 1973 NHL Entry Draft.

Away from the family home for the first time in his life, Gainey is only 19 when he attends his first Canadiens training camp in 1973. He started the season with the Voyageurs in Halifax, but his minor-league career would last only six games. Gainey played his first NHL game in Minnesota on October 10, 1973 and never looked back. Two weeks later, facing the same North Stars at the Forum, he recorded the first of his 269 NHL goals. In 1974-1975, in just his second season his great skating skills and infectious work ethic earned him a spot on the second line with Jacques Lemaire and Yvan Cournoyer. Gainey would end up the campaign with 37 points and a plus 23 rating, a trend that would translate into a career plus 196.

The speed, tenacity and strength that Gainey brought to the ice made him one of the toughest competitors and earned him a spot on Team Canada for the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976. His skills were noted beyond the ice rinks of North America and one observation propelled him into superstar status. Soviet national coach Viktor Tikhonov described Gainey as the most technically perfect player in the world. At only 23, he was among the NHL elite.

Following his debut on the international stage, Gainey played a key role in taking the Canadiens to new heights with a record 132-point season in 1976-77 and an impressive streak of four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979. In recognition of the importance of forwards with outstanding defensive skills, like Gainey displayed, the NHL created the Frank Selke Trophy in 1978. Fittingly, Gainey won the honor in each of its first four years of existence, from 1978 to 1981.

During the 1979 playoffs, Gainey adds some scoring touch to his usual defensive poise and is awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP after recording 16 points in 16 games. In 1981 Gainey succeeds Serge Savard as team captain, a role he will assume for 569 games, making him the second longest standing captain after Jean Béliveau (679 games). In his 16 seasons with the Canadiens, Gainey played 1,160 games (3rd on the all-time list), recorded 239 goals and assisted on 262 others and won five Stanley Cups. With 182 playoff games under his belt, Gainey is second in Canadiens history behind Larry Robinson. A model throughout his career, Gainey was voted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

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