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Canadiens celebrate 100th anniversary with a big party

by John Kreiser
Long-retired Montreal Canadiens trainer Eddy Palchak appeared with a bucket of pucks. He looked around once, then twice. On the third glance, he saw a sight that he and the 21,273 fans at the Bell Centre had been waiting for -- Patrick Roy, in full gear, clomping up the runway.

Palchak dumped the bucket of pucks as Roy, wearing the a white jersey with the blue and red "CH" in the middle, hit the ice, followed by a parade of Montreal hockey history -- Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, Ken Dryden and Frank Mahovlich, Hall of Famers and fan favorites, many with gray hair and a few extra pounds removed from their playing days. All of them part of the history of the Montreal Canadiens, who threw themselves a 100th birthday party Friday night to celebrate the founding of the franchise that has produced 24 Stanley Cup winners and 54 Hall of Famers.

For the full house at the Bell Centre, it was "Field of Dreams" come to life -- and they loved it. Wave after wave of applause bathed the ice, floating down upon the skaters like the snowflakes that once fell on the outdoor ice they skated on. Here was Roy at one end of the ice and Dryden -- still with his old mask -- at the other. There was Lafleur, still blond and stickhandling the way he did a couple of generations ago when he and his teammates terrorized goaltenders.

Roy and Dryden even took a few shots, though as Roy noted later, "I'm happy that warm-up only lasted five minutes."

After a video tribute to players, coaches and executives who had passed away over the years, the introductions began -- with the microphone being passed around at times.

Serge Savard, part of the "Big Three" on defense from the 1970s powerhouse teams, introduced Roy. After his remarks, Roy introduced actor Viggo Mortensen, a huge Habs fan who introduced his idol, Lafleur (whose jersey he wore).

“You guys partied some nights, we partied every night, and I believe that's why we were so successful,” Lafleur said.

After that came the only non-Canadien to take the ice: Gordie Howe -- always respected by the fans at the old Forum. "Mr. Hockey" carried a red Montreal jersey onto the ice and unfolded it to show the No. 9 and name "RICHARD" -- in honor of Montreal legend Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, Howe's rival as the NHL's greatest player for years in the 1950s. It was Richard's career record for goals that Howe broke after "The Rocket" retired in 1960.

"We miss a few people here tonight," Howe said softly before introducing "one of the real gentlemen I've ever faced" -- Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau.

After Beliveau's speech, the Canadiens also honored their two oldest living ex-players -- Elmer Lach, 91, and defenseman Emile “Butch” Bouchard -- by raising a banner to the Bell Centre rafters. Lach's No. 16 had previously been retired in honor of Henri Richard, while current-day defenseman Ryan O'Byrne, who will be the last Canadien to wear No. 3, did the honors for Bouchard, 89.

There followed a team picture including the Habs legends and the current squad, as well as a couple of dozen surviving luminaries.

"Hopefully this will motivate the players of today," Lafleur said of the ceremony. "Best of luck to that team starting another 100 years."

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