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It was a long time ago, but it’s one of those moments you never quite forget.
We were young, a group of us in Montreal to watch a couple of hockey games and party on Crescent St. (we were able to go deep into the night back then, without a lingering hangover the next day).
Anyway, after one of the games, one of the boys was hell-bent on collecting autographs. He was intent on camping in front of the Montreal Forum, on Sainte-Catherine St., despite our protests that players often entered and left the rink at the rear of the building.
After a while, the Canadiens began filtering out of the Forum. One of our group dashed down Atwater Ave. to retrieve our friend, whose notebook was empty of signatures.
He streaked up Atwater, just in time to greet Lemieux leaving the rink.
“Mario,” our friend croaked, gasping for air, “can I get your autograph?”
Claude Lemieux never broke stride.
“He plays for the other team.”
Then there was the time me and another friend, after watching a Chicago Blackhawks game at the Forum, came up with the brilliant idea of posing as hockey players to impress the ladies at the Old Munch Beer Garden.
Idiots we were, he was Troy Murray, and I Adam Creighton, the 6-5 Chicago centreman. It didn’t pan out quite as we’d hoped.
As an aside, many years later, I wrote a story — a freelance piece for The Hockey News, one of those ‘Where are they Now’ things — on Troy Murray. I wanted to share with him the story, but opted not to for fear of being portrayed as a complete loser.
I don’t get to Montreal a lot these days — maybe once a year — but usually when I do, I make the trip to the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Atwater, where the site of many of my favourite hockey memories unfolded.
There is no cheering in the press box, so my fandom these days is reserved for a great story to pen, as opposed to a team or an athlete. Today’s athletes mean nothing to me, whereas the hockey players of yesteryear — Lafleur, Robinson, Dryden, Orr, Gretzky and Lemieux (Mario, not Claude) — were my heroes.
It was in the Forum I watched my beloved Canadiens back then. And I can still hear Dick Irvin’s voice opening Hockey Night in Canada, “Live, from the Forum in Montreal …”
I was back in the Forum last week, whilst in Montreal covering Bob Cole’s last game. It’s an entertainment complex now, complete with shops and restaurants and movie theatres.
It’s been 23 years since the Canadiens last played there — 33 since we were young fools in Montreal to watch hockey, drink and meet women — and the place now is full of students from nearby Dawson College looking to grab a coffee at the Tim Hortons which sits about where one of the faceoff dots were once located.
And these kids, I’m certain, don’t know Rick Chartraw from Adam (no, not Creighton).
The Montreal Forum, Bob Cole’s favourite rink.
“I remember walking into the Forum,” Cole told me, “and you’re walking over a catwalk to get to the booth and the building is quiet. Already you’re getting worked up. The ice is brand new and gorgeous looking, and the next thing the Canadiens are coming out and Detroit is coming out. The fans are in their seats. You hear the siren to start the game.
“And here you go, ‘Five, four, three, two, one ... you’re on the air.’ C'mon. You kidding me? You can’t help but get worked up and into it.”
Where ex-Canadiens great Dollard St. Laurent sat and drank beer in the bar near the front of the of the building.
“Dollard St. Laurent, comment ça va?” I recall overhearing a stranger barking to the former defenceman, since passed on, as he and a group of oldtimers sat and pounded the beers hours before to the start of a game years and years ago.
The Forum, where across Rue Lambert-Closse was Le Texan, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where you could get a decent steak.
“Jean Beliveau eats here,” our friend, Freddy Jackson, promised on a trip to the 1985 Grey Cup, before the Canadiens entertained the Edmonton Oilers.
Half-way through the steak, another friend, Kelly Thompson, wondered aloud, ‘Hey Freddy, where’s Jean Beliveau?’, just as the Habs icon was coming through the door.
I remember the Montreal Forum when Brian Rogers and I saw Eric Desjardins score three goals, including the game-winner in overtime, against the Los Angeles Kings in the 1993 Stanley Cup final.
Earlier in the day, after the morning skate, the Canadiens’ dressing room was blocked with players and media. Half the reporters surrounded Kirk Muller, the other half gathered around Patrick Roy. I recall seeing Mario Roberge sitting alone at his locker, and thinking the media’s missing out on the best story here (four years prior to him suiting up for the Canadiens, Roberge was the player-coach for the Port aux Basques Mariners in Newfoundland senior hockey).
In the Forum, where I watched a young Petr Svoboda with the conspicuous mullet, who barely spoke English, skating around in practice, wailing, “I love rock and roll, so put another dime in the jukebox baby!”
In the Forum, where I saw Bobby Hull sign autographs during the pre-game warmup, as if you’ll ever see that again.
Fans today have little or no contact with the players, who drive in and out of the arenas through underground garages.
Aside from its outer shell, there is nothing to suggest the Forum was the Montreal Forum, save for the outline of where the centre ice faceoff dot once was.
But it’s still the Forum, still the place where I like to go every so often and sit and remember.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort