MONTREAL -- It is a quality of life issue, Montreal Canadiens legend Yvan Cournoyer says. But somehow, you can't help but wonder whether the man known as "The Roadrunner" just wants, in baseball terms, to touch all the bases.
Early Friday morning, Cournoyer will be in an operating room at Montreal General Hospital, on the business end of orthopedic surgeon William Fisher's scalpel, for the repair of his right shoulder, which has been a mess for as long as he can remember. He will have hit for the cycle, with both knees and his left shoulder having been operated on.
Cournoyer's surgical scorecard is impressive. The 73-year-old Hall of Famer has had his left shoulder cut into twice, first "to have some junk cleaned up" and then again in 2005 for the insertion of an eight-inch titanium rod. Cournoyer's knees have been operated on twice each, the left joint replaced in full in April 2006. He's had four back surgeries, two during his career, two in retirement. Add a broken nose, shattered collarbone, torn Achilles tendon "and other things I'm probably forgetting," he joked.
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It's a running gag at airports that Cournoyer almost sets off alarms when he simply walks in the door. He'll often head straight for the body scanner, bypassing the metal detector, which he knows won't end well with his replaced
knee and bionic left shoulder.
"I got to know one Montreal airport security agent pretty well and he couldn't figure why I wasn't setting off alarms one day, as I should have been," he said. "He was so happy to see me, he forgot to pick up his security wand and was waving just his hands over me."
In 1972-73, Cournoyer entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a torn abdominal muscle. In excruciating pain, he had a numbing injection in his stomach before each of the Canadiens' 17 postseason games, during which he scored 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs while leading Montreal to the championship.
At last, Cournoyer says now, it's time for the right shoulder to be cleaned up by Fisher, who's stickhandled inside his joints so often that the surgeon would probably shine in an NHL shootout.
"I told Bill not long ago, 'Before you retire, before we're both too old for this, I think I need you to fix the (right) shoulder,' " Cournoyer said, laughing, of a chat with his friend and surgeon. "It's like the Montreal General is my second home. They have my life story in their records."
Perhaps you could trace Cournoyer's shoulder issues to his having pressed the Stanley Cup overhead too often, his 10 championships equal to the playing total of his late dear friend and captain Jean Beliveau and one fewer than the NHL-record 11 won by Henri Richard, who was followed by Cournoyer as Montreal's captain from 1975 until his retirement in 1979.
With 175 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame, earning his nickname from a New York sports writer for his explosive, blazing speed, Cournoyer was sledgehammered by larger opponents, night after night, between 1964-79, through 1,115 regular-season and playoff games. It finally was a second back operation that forced his premature retirement from the game.
"Wear and tear," Cournoyer said of his regular trips to the body shop.
While growing up, and during many offseasons, he spent long hours developing formidable strength in his wrists and forearms by shooting heavy steel pucks that had been fashioned in his father's machine shop.
Now, his beloved golf game having been hampered for years by lingering pain in his right shoulder, Cournoyer heads into another operation. He hopes to be comfortably swinging a club by mid-May.
"Sleeping isn't comfortable," he said. "Right now, to shave, I can't even splash water on my face with my right hand. The shoulder has been sore for six, seven, maybe 10 years. It won't be a big operation, just a few days at the hospital and then rehab. I hope it's my last operation."
Cournoyer, whose No. 12 was retired by the Canadiens on Nov. 12, 2005, along with the No. 12 of fellow legend Dickie Moore, suspects he won't be lucky enough this week to get the same hospital room he had for his knee replacement: Room 1212.
"I don't know how many times I've had Seat 12D on planes," he joked. "My doctor knows 1212 as Roadrunner's room, but I won't put in a request. I might wait a long time for it."
And Cournoyer heads into surgery again poking fun at his own rebuilt body, enjoying the teasing he takes from his wife, Evelyn.
"I've said if they cremate me when I'm gone, they'll find a scrapyard," he said, laughing again. "And Evelyn, well, she says with all the precious metal in me, I'm worth more than I realize."
Evelyn couldn't resist.
"Yvan would be a good candidate for recycling," she said. "And whenever he's on a diet and says he needs to lose just five more pounds, I remind him that he's carrying five pounds of metal."