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P.K. Subban's return latest in Canadiens lore

Predators defenseman joins list of stars to be welcomed back to Montreal

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- It's not the first time the circus has rolled into town, pitching its Big Top over an arena.

When the Nashville Predators visit the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, FS-TN, NHL.TV), all that might be missing is a trapeze artist and human cannonball, 60 or so minutes of hockey a lesser act to the calliope-soundtracked homecoming of defenseman P.K. Subban.

Just when this city had cleared the rubble from the June 29 earthquake that sent Subban to the Predators for fellow defenseman Shea Weber, Subban is back and the aftershocks are rumbling again.

Scores of former Canadiens players have returned to Montreal in the uniforms of other teams over the decades during the century-plus history of a franchise that predates the NHL. But Subban's homecoming joins a much shorter list of those who were larger than life in this city. Here are five of them.

Video: CGY@NSH: Subban scores with powerful slap shot

 

Howie Morenz

The Canadiens' first true superstar, Morenz was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks (then two words) on Oct. 3, 1934, in a six-player deal.

Morenz was by miles the most popular Canadien at that point in franchise history, arriving as a 21-year-old free agent in 1923-24 to score 397 points (253 goals, 144 assists) through a little more than a decade in Montreal.

His return to the Forum in a Black Hawks sweater came on Dec. 18, 1934, a 1-1 tie against the Canadiens. Though Morenz didn't figure in the scoring, "he was wildly received by the rush section and indeed the entire throng when he skated on for preliminary drill," a newspaper report read.

Morenz was welcomed home in 1936-37 to finish his career with the Canadiens after a stop with the New York Rangers. He died at age 34 on March 8, 1937, from a coronary embolism after breaking his leg at the Forum against Chicago five weeks earlier.

 

Jacques Plante

A goaltending pioneer, Plante had won five Stanley Cup championships with the Canadiens in the 1950s and played 10-plus seasons for Montreal when he was traded to the Rangers on June 4, 1963. The seven-player trade brought goalie Gump Worsley to the Canadiens while sending a less-than-delighted Plante to Broadway.

Through the summer, Plante reportedly carved the Canadiens in the press, giving his former team plenty of material on the dressing-room bulletin board for his first game in Montreal with the Rangers on Oct. 12, 1963.

Among Plante's poison-tipped darts, at least as he was quoted in a Montreal newspaper on game day: "The Canadiens are on the way down while the Rangers are going up. … Gump Worsley is just where he belongs, with a team that won't make the playoffs. … Jean Beliveau isn't half as good as he used to be. ... Boom-Boom Geoffrion can't shoot very hard any more. ... Henri Richard always ends up in the corners. ... New York has more desire."

The Canadiens reacted by bombing Plante with 59 shots, 21 in each of the first and second periods, en route to a 6-2 win.

"I didn't want to shoot it past Plante's ear," an insulted Geoffrion said after the game. "I wanted to put it in his net."

That he did, scoring two goals and assisting on two more.

Plante was given a rousing welcome at the start of the game, with Worsley getting a few jeers for having replaced a fan favorite. But the Gumper got a standing ovation at game's end and it was the Canadiens, not the Rangers, who made the playoffs that season.

 

Guy Lafleur

Another supremely popular Canadiens forward returned to the Forum in a Rangers uniform in 1989.

Lafleur had stunned hockey with his retirement 19 games into the 1984-85 season, his ice time diminished and his heart no longer with his only NHL team that by then was stressing defense under coach Jacques Lemaire.

With his creativity stifled by Lemaire's system, Lafleur was a shadow of his once-electrifying self when he hung up his skates, having scored 1,246 points (518 goals, 728 assists) in 961 games during 13-plus seasons. But he would return to the Forum with New York in 1988-89, a Hockey Hall of Famer who decided he wasn't finished yet.

Lafleur's homecoming was scheduled for Dec. 10, 1988, but a foot injury prevented that. Finally, at age 38, he returned to Montreal on Feb. 4, 1989, for what would be a colossal event, the crowd lifting the Forum roof from the minute he stepped onto the ice for pregame warmups.

Playing on a line with center Jason Lafreniere and left wing Kevin Miller, each more than a dozen years his junior, Lafleur earned the second star that night after scoring two goals and assisting on a third in the Rangers' 7-5 loss. It was a perfect result for Canadiens fans who still worshipped the legend they called "The Flower."

Lafleur finished his career by playing 1989-90 and 1990-91 with the Quebec Nordiques, the detested archrival of the Canadiens. But Montreal fans still adored their superstar sniper, even if they struggled mightily with the sight of his final NHL jersey.

 

Patrick Roy

Had social media existed on Dec. 6, 1995, when the Canadiens traded Roy to the Colorado Avalanche, the Internet might have collapsed.

Four nights earlier, Roy had famously been left in net by coach Mario Tremblay for nine Detroit Red Wings goals before finally being pulled. Roy stormed behind the bench at the Forum following his removal and told then-president Ronald Corey that he'd played his last game for the Canadiens. Which, indeed, he had: The Canadiens quickly traded him along with captain Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for goalie Jocelyn Thibault and forwards Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky.

Roy had keyed the Canadiens' two most recent Stanley Cup championships (1986 and 1993), winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs each time. He was also a three-time winner of the Vezina Trophy. Not surprisingly, Canadiens fans went berserk over a trade that was much more about a clash of personalities than it was about improving the team.

Roy returned to the year-old Molson [now Bell] Centre with the Avalanche on March 5, 1997, having won his third Stanley Cup title the previous spring.

He never publicly viewed as revenge Colorado's 7-3 defeat of Tremblay's Canadiens that night. But he was wildly cheered by fans, dozens of whom wore Roy-nameplated Avalanche jerseys, and made 34 saves in the victory. Perhaps ironically, Thibault was yanked by Tremblay after Colorado's sixth goal.

"No flashbacks," Roy said later.

At a packed news conference the day before the game, the Hall of Fame-bound goalie said he had only one thing on his mind heading into his first game back in Montreal: "Winning."

 

Saku Koivu

Koivu, the 13-season veteran and decade-long captain, changed his address on July 8, 2009, when Montreal didn't offer the unrestricted free agent center a new contract and he signed with the Anaheim Ducks.

Koivu had inspired and helped people well beyond the Canadiens' fan base with his very public 2001-02 battle against non-Hodgkin lymphoma, then later through the foundation he created, which raised millions of dollars for the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment for Montreal General Hospital that would treat fellow cancer patients he would never know.

Koivu returned to Bell Centre with the Ducks on Jan. 22, 2011, with much of the national anthems drowned out by a roaring crowd of 21,273 when he was shown on the scoreboard, shuffling nervously on the blue line.

Ducks players and former Canadiens teammates greeted the 36-year-old before the start of his emotional return, a game the Ducks won win 4-3 in a shootout. Koivu was named the game's second star only because first star went automatically to Bobby Ryan for his game-winning goal, and he was cheered every time he touched the puck.

"I think and I know that I'm a better person after all these years," Koivu said as he signed with the Ducks. "I've learned a lot from Montreal and I will never forget all the years I've spent there."

Nor have Canadiens fans, to this day, forgotten their Finnish favorite. The roar went up for him again on Dec. 18, 2014, the most recent time he stepped on Bell Centre ice, when the Canadiens celebrated Koivu's remarkable career in Montreal with a tribute night attended by his wife, Hanna, their two children and his parents.

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