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For some rookies dreams do come true

by Evan Weiner
In the century-long history of the Montreal Canadiens, historians might look back to 1985 as the "year of the rookie."

In training camp, a trio of unknowns -- goaltender Patrick Roy and forwards Stephane Richer and Claude Lemieux -- were getting ready for the season with the team that last won a Stanley Cup in 1979. At the time, the Habs didn't seem to be a Stanley Cup contender. But rookies can dream. Roy, Richer and Lemieux were local guys and just getting drafted by the Canadiens was a thrill in itself. But what happened over the next 10 months would be a thrill of a lifetime, according to Richer.

"My first Stanley Cup was in 1986 with Montreal. I was 19 years old, first year in the NHL, me win the Cup -- what else can you ask for?" Richer said.

"Brian Skrudland was a rookie. I was the youngest one at 19, Patrick was 20, Claude 21, I think. What a year. What else can I say? I credit goes to Mr. (Serge) Savard (Canadiens general manager) and Mr. (Ronald) Corey (the Canadiens president) at the time to give us a chance to play in the NHL."

Richer, Roy, Petr Svoboda and Sergio Momesso were teenagers. Lemieux didn't even make the team until late in the season as he spent most of the season with the AHL's Sherbrooke Canadiens. Kjell Dahlin was another rookie on the squad. The team was loaded with young veterans like Chris Chelios, Tom Kurvers and Craig Ludwig, the core of the defense all under the age of 24. Clearly this team was a long shot to win it all.

Richer, Lemieux and Roy were not first-round picks. Montreal took Lemieux in the second round in 1983. Richer was a second-round selection in 1984, while Roy was taken a round later. Montreal's first-round pick that year was Shayne Corson, who had a fine NHL career, so the Habs did very well at the draft table that year. Corson also was a rookie on that 1986 Cup team.

For a kid growing up in Quebec, playing for the Canadiens is a big thing, but winning a Cup as a rookie is a dream come true.

"I never expected that, you know?" said Richer. "As a French-Canadian, I saw (the Stanley Cup) parade on TV in the past. All the years they won with Yvan (Cournoyer) and with Mr. (Guy) Lafleur, I watched all of them on TV and then I realized I was a part of this as a French kid. Can I say a dream come true? Maybe that is what it is.

"For the rest of my life, I will remember … every time I look at the picture, I remember everything from Day 1.

"It was crazy."

Richer's memory of the 1986 parade is something of a cross between New Year's Eve in Times Square, the Woodstock celebration in upstate New York in 1969 and Beatlemania in the 1960s.

"I remember I lost my T-shirt, I lost my shoes," said Richer. "It was a pretty hot day. I mean, people was freaking out. I had so many phone numbers on my arms, on my chest, it was scary. Me and Patrick, we were young … what a day. It was a great day."

Just who was writing phone numbers on Richer's arms and legs? It seems Richer developed a case of amnesia.

"I don't remember," he said. "People were crazy. I saw kids quit school to make sure they didn't miss the parade. It was fun, first year as a pro winning the Cup. What else can I ask for?

"I think I saw one picture of Patrick, he had no shirt on, we were all skinny and young. For us French-Canadians to be on (Rue) St. Catherines in front of so many people, I don't know -- it was unbelievable."

Richer was part of the Sherbrooke Canadiens' American Hockey League Calder Cup championship run in 1984-85, joining the team for the playoffs after his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season was done. In nine games in the AHL playoffs, Richer had 6 goals and 3 assists. Skrudland and Roy also were on the playoff roster for Sherbrooke.

"My first Stanley Cup was in 1986 with Montreal. I was 19 years old, first year in the NHL, me win the Cup -- what else can you ask for?"
-- Stephane Richer

Richer ended up in New Jersey and was part of the Devils' first Stanley Cup championship team in 1995, where he was surrounded by a lot of old Montreal teammates.

"The first Stanley Cup for the franchise," he said. "Mr. (Larry) Robinson (assistant coach) was there, (coach) Jacques Lemaire was there, a lot of players from Montreal -- Claude Lemieux, (Tom) Chorske, myself. I miss New Jersey a lot. People were really nice to me.

"Ten years after (the Canadiens Cup in 1986), we were the underdog at the time, Boston was supposed to win the Cup with Ray Bourque. It was a great, great feeling for New Jersey."

Back in 1985, there was no indication Montreal was capable of winning a Stanley Cup, but rookies can dream. Two rookies, Roy and Lemieux, were the major contributors to the 1986 Cup winners. Somewhere in the world, whether it is in Canada, the U.S. or Europe, there are rookies wondering how their first season in the NHL will go. For Stephane Richer, his first NHL season ended with a parade, complete with a lost T-shirt and shoes, and rock star adulation on Rue St. Catherines.

Not a bad start to a career.

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