LONGUEUIL – The Canadiens family didn’t just gather in Longueuil to pay homage to an iconic former defenseman; they came to say goodbye to a friend.
There’s no shortage of accolades and awards on Emile Bouchard’s hockey resume. To some, he’ll be remembered as a four-time Stanley Cup champion who wore the “C” for eight seasons in Montreal, a legendary Hall-of-Famer and a bruising blue-liner who would have earned his share of Norris Trophies if the award existed in his day. But to his former teammates and the extended Canadiens family who showed up to pay their final respects on Saturday morning, he’ll always be remembered as “Butch”.
“He was my first captain. He was a big fella and there I was just this little skinny 19-year-old kid arriving there with this big guy standing in front of me,” recalled fellow Hall-of-Famer Dickie Moore with a chuckle. “He was very gentle and he just wanted to help you. He guided us and kept the team all together; he knew that if we were going to win we had to play as a team. Guys like him and the late Toe Blake were both great at doing that and making sure you were part of things. We were a great family.”
Never afraid to mix it up in the corners or defend a teammate on the ice, Bouchard was just as quick to lend some captainly support away from the rink during his 15 seasons with the Habs.
“He helped all the young players and he helped me immensely. When I got married I had my reception at his restaurant. Actually, I also had my stag at his restaurant,” added Moore with a grin. “Butch was like a brother to me. He really helped me and guided me.”
The first Quebec-born, francophone captain in franchise history, the rugged rearguard laid the groundwork for the team’s success, leading the Canadiens to two Stanley Cups as captain in 1953 and 1956 while mentoring future leaders and Hall-of-Famers like Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard. While he was feared around the league for his bone-crunching hits, he was equally beloved inside the Canadiens dressing room for his ability to keep his teammates laughing.
“He used to play pranks from time to time on the train,” recalled Dollard St-Laurent, who spent his first five NHL seasons alongside Bouchard in Montreal. “I remember he would wait until you would fall asleep at night and he’d put soap or shaving cream in your shoes. You’d wake up and put your shoes on and they’d just be soaked. He was a funny guy, always doing stuff like that to bring us together.”
Even after falling victim to one of the 6-foot-2 defenseman’s tricks, players rarely found an opportunity to get back at the longtime captain.
“You wouldn’t say much if he played any jokes on you,” mentioned Phil Goyette with a laugh. “You took it – that’s it! He was pretty good that way. That’s what kept the team together and winning so much, because we had players like that. Even when I played with the Canadiens for six years [after Bouchard retired] we had some jokers and we had some guys who were serious but the biggest thing was we were a family and we stayed together.
“I never had the opportunity to play with him but I did play one exhibition game against him when I was 16 years old,” he added. “When he hit me, he held me against the boards and said, ‘Don’t move’. I just said, ‘Butch, I can’t!’”
A physical presence even during practice, Bouchard never passed up an opportunity to teach his teammates a valuable lesson along the boards.
“You learned to stay away from him in practice,” joked Moore, who took his share of Bouchard’s body checks during their five seasons together. “He definitely kept us with our heads up. And [in games], if anything was getting out of hand he would come in and take care of business.
“I’m just so proud of him. I have his sweater on a chair in my apartment now so I can look at it every morning,” he shared. “I liked him so much. He was so kind and he was always there for you when you needed him. That was Butch.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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