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'Boom Boom' an important part of Habs' colorful legacy

by Evan Weiner

Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion is credited with inventing the slap shot and won the Calder Trophy in 1952.
The 2008-09 season will be a big year of celebrations for the Montreal Canadiens as they celebrate their 100th anniversary, starting play in 1909. There is a lot of work going into making sure that everything goes off without a hitch, and a good deal of that work is being done now to get ready for the year-long salute to a century of  Canadiens' hockey.
There will be many major Canadiens moments remembered throughout the season. The NHL has pitched in by awarding the 2009 All-Star Game to Montreal, and the 2009 Entry Draft will close out Montreal's year.

The Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cup championships, the first coming in 1916 before there was a National Hockey League. Canadiens players are legends of hockey with names like Howie Morenz, Georges Vezina, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion earning a place in Hockey's Hall of Fame for on-ice excellence, not to mention coaches like Dick Irvin, Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman. General Manager Sammy Pollock put together the great Canadiens teams in the 1970s and helped build nine Cup winners. There is even one broadcaster in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Danny Gallivan.
There will be no shortage of memories in Montreal this season. Some people are gone, some remain. One of those no longer with us is Geoffrion, a superstar in the 1950s and a major contributor in Montreal's record-setting run of five straight Cups between 1956 and 1960. Geoffrion was on the 1952-53 Cup champions as well.
"Boom Boom" was a colorful character who was overshadowed in the 1950s by Gordie Howe and Andy Bathgate, along with his teammate, Richard. But Boom Boom could play, and is credited with inventing the slap shot. His nickname, his slap shot, his will to win and his personality -- along with the fact that he married Morenz's daughter -- made Geoffrion colorful. Geoffrion's first date with Marlene Morenz was at a boxing match at the Montreal Forum.

"When I was about 8- or 9-years-old, I invented the slap shot," said Geoffrion in a 1992 interview. "I was practicing a lot. One of the newspaper men in Montreal, Charlie Boire, said, 'If you can name Mantle Mickey, how about if I call you Boom Boom?' Well, do whatever you want to do, I don't care. I think a nickname is great."
Geoffrion won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie in 1952.
"Montreal was a powerhouse for five Stanley Cups in a row. When we got beat by the Chicago Blackhawks (trying) for our sixth in a row in 1960-61, we didn't have that drive after the fifth one," recalled Geoffrion. "We wanted to win the sixth one, but I have to give credit to the Chicago Blackhawks with (Glenn) Hall, (Stan) Mikita, all of those guys. Rudy Pilous was the coach. They beat us and they deserved to win it. We didn't deserve to win at all.
"I don't think that's going to be broken. I hope one team one day they are going to do it, but I doubt it very much. I think the closest one was the Islanders (Cup winners between 1980 and 1983), and they blew it." 
Geoffrion's favorite Cup team was the 1952-53 squad. Montreal beat Boston in the Stanley Cup Final, four games to one.
"When we won the first one, that was great," said a beaming Geoffrion. "You know, you can have all of the records in the world, but when you put your name on the Cup for the first time, when you are 18- or 19-years-old, it is the greatest thrill in the world. I got 50 goals (in) '60-61. That is nothing compared to winning the first Stanley Cup of your life."
Montreal and Quebec residents came out to help celebrate Geoffrion and his mates in those six Stanley Cup seasons.
"In Montreal, it was terrible, there must have been a million people there," said Geoffrion of the Montreal Cup civic parties. "It was just like when the Yankees were winning (in the 1950s and early 1960s), they used to have a parade. We weren't allowed to take the Stanley Cup, but they gave us a miniature one. We used to go all over with it.
"You are talking five in a row, it was becoming like a habit after a while. The first, second and the third, you wanted to kill everybody. But the fourth and the fifth, you win, you win. We don't win, you don't win."

It can be argued that the 1956-60 Canadiens were the best team in NHL history. Geoffrion could not tell if Toe Blake was really that good of a coach, even though he led Montreal to the five straight Cups. Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Jacques Plante and Geoffrion were Hall of Fame players.
"This is what I am saying," he said. "The talent that we had, the coach behind the bench, I mean anybody could have coached that team. You just say 'change' and you would not have any problem. That is what happened. Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Phil Goyette -- he got traded to the Rangers, he couldn't make it. Donnie Marshall and Phil Goyette (were) the best two defensive players in the League."
Marshall and Goyette went to the Rangers and had fine careers. They couldn't crack the Habs' lineup. The Canadiens' power play was so good that the NHL changed its penalty rule from a player having to serve the entire two minutes of a minor penalty -- no matter how many goals the opposing team scores during a power play to the player returning to the ice after the opposing team scored a goal. It didn't help competitive balance. Montreal was just too good.
Geoffrion finished his playing career with the Rangers from 1966-68, was the Atlanta Flames' first coach in 1972 -- the same year he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame -- and succeeded Bowman as the Canadiens' coach in 1979, but stepped down soon after because of a stomach ailment.

Geoffrion received one final honor from the Canadiens on Oct. 15, 2005, when the team announced that his No. 5 would be retired on March 11, 2006. Geoffrion passed away that day, but left great memories of a fabulous career in Montreal. Sometime during this season, Geoffrion and his teammates from the five straight Cup years will be honored, along with a lot of Geoffrion's fellow Canadiens alum and all of them who knew Geoffrion will say the same thing about Boomer.

He was one of a kind.


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