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Yvan Cournoyer promoting 150th anniversary of Canada's founding

Canadiens legend proud to be ambassador for 'beautiful' country

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Since he broke into the NHL in 1963-64, Yvan Cournoyer has been defined by two hockey jerseys: that of the Montreal Canadiens, for whom he won 10 Stanley Cup championships between 1965-79, and that of Canada, after playing a vital role during the historic Summit Series against the Soviet Union in September 1972.

Cournoyer, 73, is adding a third jersey to his wardrobe this summer. He is wearing the colorful, stylized maple leaf for Canada's 150th anniversary, having been named by his country to serve as an ambassador during the nation's sesquicentennial.

Throughout the year, Cournoyer will make appearances to spread the good word about a country of which he is fiercely proud. At midday July 1, the 150th anniversary of Canada's founding, the former Canadiens captain and 1982 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee will take part in a citizenship ceremony at the Old Port of Montreal, on hand as a group is sworn in as Canadian citizens.

"I'll give a Canadiens pin to each of these new citizens," he said jokingly, seeing the opportunity to instantly broaden his former team's fan base.

 

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Cournoyer, who on Jan. 27 was named one of the NHL's 100 Greatest Players, was quietly approached last winter about being added to a list of ambassadors, having been mentioned to Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly as an ideal candidate. Fluently bilingual, well-traveled and passionate about his country and all that it has to offer, he is among a group of Canadians across the land and around the world who have been handpicked for their influence and public appeal.

Figures from music, science, education, sports and entertainment are making appearances in person and on social media throughout the year to promote the anniversary, with hockey being represented by Cournoyer and Hayley Wickenheiser, a legend in the women's game. Additionally, community leaders are included in the project, involved at the grassroots level in small towns and large cities.

Admittedly not big on social media, Cournoyer had his wife, Evelyn, recently set him up on Twitter (he's @CournoyerYC12) to share Canada 150 news and his involvement in in the project.

"I trust her with it more than if I did this by myself," he said with a laugh.

There was no contract to be signed, no obligations to be fulfilled. Cournoyer can choose from various Canada 150 events that fit his schedule; he often is busy with appearances on behalf of the Canadiens, having been a popular ambassador for them for 15 years.

Born and raised in Drummondville, Quebec, about 60 miles east of Montreal, Cournoyer has seen Canada from sea to sea, from the U.S. border to the Far North, as a player and in retirement. He remains in great demand for his homespun storytelling and his profound respect for his vast country and the game that made him an icon.

"When I go to Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), I say, 'This is the first time I've seen both the front and back end of a two-mile train,'" he said with a grin, speaking about Canada's flat, seemingly endless prairies.

Cournoyer speaks affectionately of his nation's broad diversity of culture, climate, geography and population, "our beautiful water, forests and mountains, everything you could ask for in a country."

He recalls a Dutch uncle of his wife coming to the couple's home north of Montreal and being flabbergasted by a 60-mile drive up to Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian mountains, a distance roughly the width of the Netherlands.

"Good thing he didn't drive (3,100 miles west) to Vancouver," Cournoyer joked.

Never has the man known as The Roadrunner loved his country more than in 1972 during the Summit Series, an eight-game showdown that was as much about political ideologies as it was hockey.

In May, a Canada 150 stamp was introduced by Canada Post to commemorate the landmark series against the Soviet Union, one that still resonates with the country nearly 45 years later.

Video: Yvan Cournoyer won 10 Stanley Cup titles in Montreal

"Anywhere I travel in the world, they know I'm a Montreal Canadien and I'm very proud of that," Cournoyer said. "And I played in the Summit Series, which is much better known in Canada than it is elsewhere in the world.

"When I put on the 1972 sweater, it was almost like my Olympics. It wasn't just Montreal behind us, but the entire country. When we were having a hard time in Russia (down 1-3-1), we received so many nice letters from home that said, 'You're going to come back, we're behind you.' The support was unbelievable, with 2,000 or so Canadians in Moscow to support us.

"It was a country, not just a city or a province, that was behind us. We came back and won the final three games and the series with the help of the people. For me, to have both the Montreal Canadiens and Team Canada in my life, well, that isn't too bad."

Cournoyer now will happily dip his toe into Canada's 150th anniversary, eager to tell stories that he's recounted a thousand times but are always fresh to someone, be it a new fan or a new citizen.

" I consider myself very lucky to have been here for the 100th birthday of the Canadiens (in 2009), the 100th birthday of the NHL (this year), and the 1972 Summit Series," Cournoyer said. "And to have enjoyed all of it.

"Our country is about 35 million people. To be chosen as a Canada 150 ambassador, to represent my country, is a very nice honor. Timing sometimes is everything in life. I could have been too old or too young to do this, but I'm very proud to now be able do these things for my country."

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