Unless of course it’s a win against the Montreal Canadiens, the legen - wait for it – dary Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s, who won six Stanley Cups in a span of nine years and had 19 Cups in franchise history by 1980.
A win against those Montreal Canadiens would be colossally gargantuan, and it was for the Canucks on November 18, 1979.
The man between the pipes that night 31 years ago was Glen Hanlon, who will be saluted by the organization for his time in Vancouver when the Canucks face, fittingly, the Canadiens on February 22nd.
Looking back, it seems silly to Hanlon, the pride of Brandon, Manitoba, how big of a deal was made of Vancouver’s 5-2 win over Montreal, but considering it was the first time in team history the Canucks beat the Habs at the Pacific Coliseum, there was cause for celebration.
Going into the game Vancouver had only beaten Montreal once in nine seasons, a 6-4 win at the Montreal Forum on February 12, 1976; the Canucks were 1-35-8 overall against the Canadiens and 0-15-6 at home.
Only Hanlon can put that into terms we can understand today.
“If you can imagine for nine years losing to a team…it would be like never beating Chicago, losing to them for nine straight years and you go to the game in Rogers Arena and there’s 12 thousand Blackhawks fans. That’s about the best comparison to use.”
And now you understand why the win in question was more than just a win.
The Canucks, finally sick of being knocked around like a punching bag by the Canadiens, approached this Saturday night game (a 5 p.m. start to accommodate TV viewers) with a new attitude. Determined this was going to be the night, Hanlon and company respected Guy Lafleur, Pierre Larouche, Steve Shutt and others, but they didn’t automatically give the win to Montreal.
Riding a three-game winning streak having not lost in five outings, the Canucks took it to the Canadiens and little brother finally gave big brother a run for his money.
Goals were aplenty for Vancouver as the Canucks took a 4-2 lead before an empty net goal set off a festival worthy of the Canucks having won the Stanley Cup. A major component of keeping the Canadiens at bay was Hanlon, who was slightly injured and wasn’t even sure he’d start the game. He did and the biggest of his 43 wins in Vancouver came at the expense of Lafleur, the victim of a few stops Hanlon remembers vividly.
Oddly enough, what truly turned the tide in Vancouver’s favour were Canucks fans, despite being heavily outnumbered. When either Toronto or Montreal came to town back in the day, Vancouver fans had trouble holding their own.
That also changed on this night.
“The big piece of this was the momentum of the fans going from the Canadiens fans to our Vancouver fans, who were working like crazy to make more noise and be more boisterous than these Montreal fans. Just as the game went on, it became more and more evident that we were going to win and the fans were more into it and by the end it was crazy.”
‘The Franchise,’ as Hanlon was dubbed that year, truly reflected his nickname against the Canadiens and the win remains a stepping-stone to where the Canucks are today.
“It was a great night for us, it was a great night for Vancouver,” said Hanlon. “I remember Stan and I going out after the game for dinner at Sevrin's [formally in Burnaby] and you could just feel the buzz in the whole town after just that one game. It seems so silly talking about it now.
“And I just remember us looking at each other and us saying that we wanted to play our whole lives here – for one of us it worked,” he laughed.
Hanlon was with the Canucks from 1977 to 1982 before a stint with the St. Louis Blues paved the way for four seasons in New York as a Ranger and five years with the Detroit Red Wings. He won 167 regular season games and 11 in the post-season and more behind the bench with the Washington Capitals upon retirement, but the victory versus the Canadiens remains high above the rest.
“It was just one of the things we needed to accomplish as part of our development. I think everyone in the room felt pretty darn good about it and again, I don’t think we really felt the impact of it until Stan and I went out for dinner and all the people were very, very excited for it. That was when it really hit home.”