Published on October 20, 2013
Yvon Lambert (left) celebrates with teammates Doug Risebrough, Mario Tremblay and Guy Lafleur after the Montreal Canadiens win the 1979 Stanley Cup. Lambert’s overtime winner against the Boston Bruins in the semifinals helped propel the Canadiens into the Cup final.
The Canadian Press
It was a different time, in a different era when hockey players weren’t quite as big as they are today, when they certainly weren’t as fast and, perhaps, not quite as good.
Truth be told, if Yvon Lambert was growing up today, given his late start in the game, there’s not a Zamboni’s chance in hell he’d become a near 500-point player in the National Hockey League.
Then again, Lambert wasn’t supposed to make the Montreal Canadiens either, wasn’t supposed to be a 20-goal scorer through seven of his nine winters spent in the NHL.
Lambert’s story has been told often — a million times, maybe.
We’ll make it a million and one, because Lambert’s story is one every minor hockey player should heed.
Lambert grew up on a farm eight miles outside Drummondville, Que. It was on the farm where the value of hard work was instilled in young Yvon. The family didn’t have a lot of money, and Lambert didn’t play hockey until he was 13 years olds.
His first pair of skates came at the age of 12, and even then they were his father’s hand-me-downs.
Lambert loved the game and worked at it like a dog, trying desperately to catch up with the kids who had been skating since they were five or six or seven.
He eventually made a team, went on to star with the Drummondville entry in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, won an American Hockey League scoring title and, in 1973-74, made the Montreal Canadiens.
In ’74-’75, Lambert registered the first of back-to-back 32-goal seasons, won four straight Stanley Cups with the Canadiens playing on a third line with Doug Risebrough and Mario Tremblay, one of the greatest all-time third strings the NHL has seen.
“When I started playing hockey,” he said, “I fell in love with the game right away. It wasn’t work, it was fun. We would go out on a frozen lake and play.
“I kept working at it and working at it and, yes, I had a couple of breaks. I had people who helped me out, but I also worked very hard.
“It’s not because you don’t get a chance to play at six- or seven- or nine-years-old that you’re never going to play. And it’s not because you’re good at 10 that you’re going to make it.
“It’s between your ears. You have to decide that you’re going to work really hard, and when you do get up to junior hockey, you have to work harder. And if you are drafted (into the NHL), you have to work even harder still. It’s not an easy road.”
Lambert was in town last week, doing some PR work for Pascan, a Quebec-based airline which offers a direct daily flight from St. John’s to Moncton.
He looks good for 63, and much bigger in person than he appeared on the ice all those years ago. He used to run the bar at the Bell Centre, but gave that up over 10 years ago and now does a bit of work every now and again for the Canadiens.
His hair has thinned a bit and is as white as the Forum ice. Most times, Lambert goes unnoticed these days, but when the topic turns to hockey, a hockey fan will invariably go, “Oh yeah! You’re the guy who scored against the Bruins!”
Everybody remembers Guy Lafleur’s too-many-men-on-the-ice goal against Boston in Game 7 of the 1979 semifinal, but it was Lambert’s OT marker which propelled the Canadiens into the finals against the New York Rangers.
“It’s very flattering when people bring it up, and I enjoy talking about it,” he said.
Lambert has five grandsons, three of whom play hockey. So the old former pro is around the rinks a bit, and what he sees makes him shake his head sometimes.
“Like anything else, it’s a matter of what you want in life, and how badly you want it,” he says. “There are thousands of skilled hockey players out there. Thousands. But it’s not always about the skill.”
Lambert sees pre-teens with private skating coaches, personal trainers, youngsters on their Bauers 10 or 12 hours per week or more.
“It’s all because of the money now,” he says. “Not just the pro contracts, but the money for private coaching — private coach for skating, private coach for shooting, private coach for this, private coach for that.
“I don’t know if the parents are really helping out the kids. I don’t know. They’re helping them, certainly more than our parents did, but are they really helping them?
“I have friends who have kids and grandkids playing, and I’ve seen these kids play and I know they are not going to make it.
“If you have the money, it’s OK. But it’s not OK because there’s pressure on the kid. There has to be. And at 17 or 18 or 19, he’s going to quit. I’ve seen it time and time again.”