We remember the ghosts that lived in the Old Forum. They had migrated from the previous one into the newer modern version. They were carrying a torch of formidability for posterity. It was a place where legends were born and majestic teams ruled in the spirit of what was the grandeur of Rome. Effortlessly, artistically and powerfully they dazzled not only their fans and opponents alike but themselves too.
The ghosts made their presence felt one last time in a game between the great Montreal Canadiens, Les Habitants, Nos Glorieux, and Toronto Maple Leafs in what was the last year before they tore down the old rink. One gets the sense that the ghosts were hanging around on this somber day. It is as if they had no intentions of moving again. They did not like what they foresaw down the road. Some were fixing the banners of all those Stanley Cups, others were playing around on the ice chasing each other, still others sat back and listened to the play-by-play of a game between the Red Wings and Bruins broadcast on the radio. "Hey, do you think Terry Sawchuk, Eddie Shore, and Dit Clapper are at the Gardens tonight?" shouted Bill Durnan a standout goalie for the Habs.
"Nah" joked Aurel Joliat; "They want to stay here! Same for.The present Habs were a mere shadow of their former selves. They were a team that was mismanaged and with it its tradition of excellence. Vision was lost to designers of this once majestic franchise. No one is really sure how this was allowed to happen. Some believe that the Habs will rise again one day.
After all, the dynasties of the New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers were able to do it. Why shouldn't Les Canadiens complete the Triumvirate? Maybe one day the Boston Celtics will join in. It will be a return to a Golden Age.On this typically cold night, Montreal is losing 4-1 heading into the third period to their archrivals Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Where are these fricken ghosts" one player on the bench asks. Peetie, a strong and effective player for the Habs, tells him there are no ghosts. "Get a grip and play hard" he continues. "Just get the puck to J-P.
".In the stands, a young fan feels like his life is coming apart. "Will the ghosts come through, Dad?" he asks. "They always do son." The father unconvincingly tells his son.
Howie Morenz, the Stratford Streak, Montreal's first legend, overhears the conversation on the bench. He had spent most of the game taping his hockey sticks and wasn't much interested in the game. Suddenly he wasn't so indifferent. He summons the lads for one more round of magic."What do you say boys?" Morenz proposes.
Out of the clear, The Rocket passes by and tells them about the boy who believed in them. "I'm in" he decides. The others followed.On his next shift, Peetie gets off the bench and scores an incredible goal.
4-2. He came sweeping in from the left side and lifted a backhand shot with deadly accuracy into the top of the net. Peetie was a hustler not known for such flair.
Even the French players were impressed. "If Peetie could score like dis evry game, hostie we'd beat all de teams all de time" quipped Jean-Paul with an ear to ear smile, their leading scorer. The coach comes over "What the hell got into you? Good job.".
Even Peetie wondered. "Lucky shot" he murmurs to himself. He goes down to tighten his skate. As Peetie looks up he sees something flash by. He nudges his teammate. "Did you see that?" The team mate responds "See what?" Peetie could have sworn he saw #7 fly by.
The Habs are playing uncharacteristically with marvel and style. Their skating reminds some in the stands of the old Habs. One fan shouts, "Who do you guys think you are? The Second Coming of '56 and '78?" Jean-Paul, at that moment, breaks between two Leaf defensemen and scores. They look back haplessly and amazement as they look at each other realizing that assigning blame was futile. 4-3 with 4 minutes to go.
Jean-Paul shakes his head at an image he thinks he just saw. "#9? Nah.".No one ever thought that Mario would be the next one to tie this game up. He did. 4-4.
He could have sworn he saw #2 flash before he scored. The energy in the Forum is electric. If one could read body language, the Leafs had resigned themselves to defeat. One player remarked later "It was as if the ghosts came down and played the game.
".In the broadcast booth Danny Gallivan the sweet voice of Montreal Canadiens radio play-by-play calls the game as he winks to Dick Irvin who somehow was able to see him. Behind the bench stands a stoic Toe Blake. He glances over the coach and his notes and ensures what will work and what will not.
The ghosts have arrived.The game is not won. There are 33 seconds left in this critical game. Peetie bolts down the wing taking whacks and pushing off opponents and out of the corner of his eye he sees all past Montreal Canadien legends around him, he let's a ferocious slap shot go.
He scores! Habs lead 5-4. Doug Harvey taps Peetie's knees with his stick. Peetie was too much in the moment and did not realize what had just happened. He felt the tap and figured it was his linemate Mario.The proud Toronto Maple Leafs, however, will not leave without a fight. One of their fine players fakes the goalie with 3 seconds to go.
What a save! Habs win! Behind the net, one could have sworn Vezina and Plante were chuckling.With the arena emptying out the young boy and his father in the stands wait a little while longer absorbing the victory. "Dad" asks the young boy. "Yes, Steve" the father replies. "Dad, look on the ice." The father looks down and squints lightly.
Father and son, together they got a glimpse of the ghosts whom were congratulating each other. While they sat and watched in utter amazement, one of the ghosts, in a tuque and a woolen Habs jersey, winks, smiles, skates away and vanishes.Incredible. Later, as the lights were shutting down, the ghosts hugged one another and skated off the ice for the last time.
They were tired. They swore they would come back one day. Maybe #23 could pick up and assemble together the fragmented pieces fallen to the ground that was once a symbol of excellence that transcended sports. The illustrious 'C' may indeed shine one day like the beacon Dante saw when he left the Inferno with Virgil..
By: Alessandro Nicolo