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Grumpy Old Memories

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

The beauty of spending enough time around NHL rinks is that sometime, somewhere, you’re going to run across something that sparks a very vivid memory.

Tuesday night in Montreal, a specific memory reappeared.

Seeing Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller, as Montreal prepared to take on New Jersey and Devils assistant coach John MacLean, I had to wonder exactly what Mike Keane was doing at that moment.

Mike Keane
Yep. I was thinking of the “grumpy old men.”

While nostalgic Stars fans reminisce about the 1999 Stanley Cup championship season, there are other great memories created while traveling with a team long enough, even in years where your team doesn’t reach the holy grail.

One of those memories was the 2000-01 season, and the aforementioned “grumpy old men” line of Keane, Muller and MacLean.

A combined 105 years of age when the 2001 playoffs started, the trio was paired together, and named, by former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock. Keane later made light of the name, labeling MacLean as “grumpy” and Muller as “old.”

The group was anything but, combining for 12 points in the 2001 postseason. They also registered two huge goals in the opening round of the playoffs, as MacLean scored late in the third period of Game 5 to force overtime. In the extra frame – with the series tied 2-2 – Muller registered the game-winner and series shifter, of assists from MacLean and Keane.

Fun times, for sure. You don’t see characters like those three very often. Keane was the consummate teammate, ultimate prankster and guy who could make everyone feel like part of the group at all times. Muller, a former Montreal captain and Stanley Cup champion, was always armed with a smile – understandable considering his 959 career points and Stanley Cup title earned with the Canadiens in 1993. MacLean was the quiet one of the group, but still, even at age 36, possessing a deadly accurate shot, one that resulted in 413 career goals.

That season was somewhat of a swan song for MacLean and Muller, who only played a combined three NHL seasons following the 2000-01 campaign with the Stars. Keane has stayed in the game, playing three more seasons entering the NHL lockout and spending the last few seasons with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

But it was more than just a swan song. It was a reminder for Stars fans, who might not have seen the group player earlier in their career, just what the trio was capable of accomplishing. It also showed how experience, cunning, wisdom and can sometimes be just as lethal as young legs, slick skating and an explosive slapshot.

John MacLean
OK, so it may not be Hull’s cup winner, Belfour’s breakaway stop on Alexander Mogilny or any number of Joe Nieuwendyk’s playoff game-winners. But sometimes, the smaller stories stand out just as much as the headline-grabbing plays, and for my first season traveling with a professional sports team, the “grumpy old men” provided some of the most entertaining, memorable moments, both on and off the ice. Plus, how many lines ever had a name that good?


Two days in Montreal got me thinking about a few other things as well.

Like, for starters, how much fun would a Dallas Stars/Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup Final be?

Seriously. Just imagine the storylines for that series. First, the Canadiens are returned to the Stanley Cup Final by a general manager (Bob Gainey), head coach (Guy Carbonneau) and assistant coach (Muller) who all served as captain in Montreal at one point. Of course, Gainey was also the GM in Dallas when the Stars won their only Stanley Cup in 1999, while Carbonneau was a player for the Stars that season. And Canadiens assistant coach Doug Jarvis served in the same capacity in Dallas during that memorable 1999 season.

So many links. So many compelling stories.

Oh, and there’s the fact that Montreal’s coach (Carbonneau) is the father-in-law of Stars captain Brenden Morrow. And his linemate, Mike Ribeiro, is a former Hab who came to Dallas via a seriously lopsided trade. Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas is also a former Canadien, who was brought to Dallas at the urging of a former Stars front office member named Carbonneau.

Give the networks seven overtime games. They’ll need all that time to explore each tie between the two squads.

Once you get away from all the interesting tales to tell, the hockey might just be pretty freaking good in itself. The Stars do have one of the league’s best win percentage in the NHL since the all-star break (despite the current slump), and the addition of Brad Richards has given Dallas three legitimate scoring lines.

Montreal? All they’ve done is take over first place in the Eastern Conference of late, and if you happened to see Tuesday’s 4-0 victory against New Jersey, two things are quite apparent: The Canadiens are capable of playing an incredibly exciting brand of hockey, and they’ve got an atmosphere in the Bell Centre that is unequaled in the NHL today.

Trust me: Even the most rabid Stars fans would be hard pressed to match the playoff intensity provided at the Canadiens’ home. History tells me they would gladly take on that challenge, which would just make the dream final that much more exciting.

Carbonneau and Morrow. Kovalev and Modano. Koivu and Lehtinen. Ryder and Richards. Komisarek and Ribeiro. Price and Turco. So many possible heroes. So many stories that could still be written.

And it could all come together in the fine cities of Dallas and Montreal – neither of which is exactly a terrible place to be in June. OK, so there are selfish reasons too. But hey, we’re dreaming here, right?

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