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Etched in History

Canadiens began historic Cup run in 1955-56

First of five straight champs featured in series about teams being removed from trophy

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Every 13 years when the bottom band of the Stanley Cup is filled with names of champions, the top band is removed and retired to be displayed in the vault of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The current top band, featuring NHL championship teams from 1953-54 to 1964-65, is coming off, and four bands below it are sliding up one place to make room for a fresh fifth band at the bottom that will begin with the 2017-18 Washington Capitals. Each day through Oct. 2,, NHL.com will look at one of the 12 Cup-winning teams leaving hockey's most coveted trophy.

 

1955-56 MONTREAL CANADIENS

Regular-season record: 45-15-10 (100 points), first in NHL
Coach: Toe Blake
Captain: Butch Bouchard
Names on the Cup: 27
Players on the Cup: 19
Future Hall of Fame players on the Cup: Jean Beliveau, Butch Bouchard, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead, Jacques Plante, Henri Richard, Maurice Richard

 

Stanley Cup engraving anomalies: Manager is misspelled MANEGER for general manager Frank J. Selke; captain Butch Bouchard appeared with his given name, Emile, in 1944, 1946 and 1953, but appears here as nicknamed, BUTCH BOUCHARD; Bob Turner appears as B TURNER TRAINER, though he was a defenseman; Claude Provost appears as C PREVOST; assistant trainer (title unlisted) Gaston Bettez appears as G BETTEX.

A name on the Cup: This is the first Cup appearance for Henri Richard; the younger brother of teammate Maurice "Rocket" Richard was playing in his first NHL season. The Pocket Rocket had his name added another 10 times by 1973, two years before his retirement. His 11 championships as a player are an NHL record that seems likely to last forever.

 First-year Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake behind his team's bench at the Montreal Forum. Players visible in front of him, from left: Donnie Marshall, Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau.

 

How they made history

Patience was wearing thin in Montreal, the Canadiens "slumping" after having not won the Stanley Cup in three long years; they lost in the Final to the Detroit Red Wings in 1954 and 1955, each in seven games. Rookie coach Toe Blake, a Cup winner with the Canadiens as a player in 1944 and 1946, took over for Dick Irvin in 1955-56. He would help guide them through a dominant 70-game regular season; Montreal finished 24 points ahead of runner-up Detroit.

After eliminating the New York Rangers in five games in the NHL Semifinals, Montreal defeated Detroit in five games in the Final, losing 3-1 on the road in Game 3. There would be no denying the Canadiens this season, or in the four that followed during their historic run of five consecutive championships.

 Coach Toe Blake in the Canadiens dressing room at the Montreal Forum with players, from left, Jean-Guy Talbot, Tom Johnson, Bernie Geoffrion, captain Butch Bouchard and Ken Mosdell.

 

It was Montreal's record-setting eighth Cup win of their 24; the Toronto Maple Leafs had won seven.

"This was my great hockey ambition," a champagne-soaked Blake said in the dressing room after Cooper Smeaton, the senior trustee of the Stanley Cup, presented the trophy on the Montreal Forum ice to captain Butch Bouchard.

Blake was hoisted onto his players' shoulders and carried around the rink following the Cup presentation while they serenaded him with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

Bouchard, a four-time champion, retired after the game, with Maurice Richard having been groomed to replace him as captain. Bouchard took the team to his popular Montreal restaurant for a victory party that lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

Canadiens forward Maurice "Rocket" Richard, his famous eyes wide, celebrates Montreal's Stanley Cup championship.

 

The rivalry between the Canadiens and Red Wings was ferocious. Detroit was the NHL's powerhouse in the first half of the decade with four Cup titles from 1950-55, but the balance of power was changing.

Rookie goaltender Glenn Hall had seized the Red Wings' No. 1 job after Terry Sawchuk was traded the Boston Bruins on June 3, 1955, and Hall won the Calder Trophy in 1955-56 as the NHL's best rookie. But Hall and Detroit were no match for Montreal in the Final, allowing 18 goals; veteran Jacques Plante and the Canadiens gave up nine.

Detroit general manager Jack Adams shrugged off Montreal's Cup victory, saying his 1951-52 team was superior; those Red Wings also finished with 100 points but won the Cup in the minimum eight playoff games.

Canadiens captain Butch Bouchard was a tower of strength on Montreal's blue line in his final NHL season.

 

Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau scoffed at Adams' claim, saying, "I have never seen such a terrific game. The Canadiens played to win and as though they knew they would win."

So confident was Drapeau that after Game 1, a 6-4 Canadiens win at the Forum, he began working on plans for their Stanley Cup parade through the streets of the city.

Drapeau's parade, held four days after the Cup victory, covered 30 miles and lasted more than six hours, prompting Blake to tell the mayor on the City Hall steps that the exhausted Canadiens would refuse to win another Cup if forced to endure another marathon.

The Canadiens were feted with four civic receptions from 1957-60 before Drapeau staged their next parade in 1965. It lasted two hours, the route shortened to 7 miles.

Canadiens forwards Bernie Geoffrion (left) and Henri Richard ride in a seemingly endless Stanley Cup parade.

 

"Everyone talks about us winning five in a row," Hall of Fame defenseman Tom Johnson told author Dick Irvin Jr. in his 1991 book, "The Habs: An Oral History of the Montreal Canadiens, 1940-1980."

"I often think how close it was to eight in a row. We won in 1953. In 1954, we lost in Detroit in overtime in the seventh game. The next year we lost again in the seventh game. When you think about it, we were just two or three goals away from winning the Stanley Cup eight straight years."

Two enthusiastic fans enjoy a moment with Canadiens defenseman Tom Johnson at the Montreal Forum in 1956.

 

[Read all Etched in History stories: 1953-54 Red Wings | 1954-55 Red Wings | 1956-57 Canadiens |

1957-58 Canadiens | 1958-59 Canadiens | 1959-60 Canadiens | 1960-61 Black Hawks |

1961-62 Maple Leafs | 1962-63 Maple Leafs | 1963-64 Maple Leafs | 1964-65 Canadiens]

 

Stanley Cup Playoffs

Won Semifinal 4-1 vs. New York Rangers

Won Stanley Cup Final 4-1 vs. Detroit Red Wings

Game 1: March 31 at Montreal: Canadiens 6, Red Wings 4
Game 2: April 3 at Montreal: Canadiens 5, Red Wings 1
Game 3: April 5 at Detroit: Red Wings 3, Canadiens 1
Game 4: April 8 at Detroit: Canadiens 3, Red Wings 0
Game 5: April 10 at Red Wings: Canadiens 3, Red Wings 1

Stanley Cup-winning goal: Maurice Richard, Game 5, 15:08 of the second period

Canadiens' leading scorer in Final: Jean Beliveau (10 points; seven goals, three assists)

Winning goalie: Jacques Plante (4-1, 300 minutes played, nine goals against, one shutout, 1.80 goals-against average)

 

Regular-season trophy winners

Art Ross Trophy: Jean Beliveau

Hart Trophy: Jean Beliveau

Norris Trophy: Doug Harvey

Vezina Trophy: Jacques Plante

Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante celebrates Stanley Cup victory with teammates; the original NHL scoresheet from Game 5 of the Final.

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