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Overview

The Montreal Canadiens are a professional hockey team located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  They play in the Northeast Division of the National Hockey League, and play their home games in the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal.  The franchise is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season, the first such professional hockey club to do so, and has appeared in NHL-licensed video games for over fifteen years.

History

Early Years: The 1910s


The Montreal Canadiens were founded in 1909 by J. Ambrose O'Brien as a founding club in the National Hockey Association, a new professional hockey league in Eastern Canada, as a Francophone cross-town competitor to the Anglophone Montreal Wanderers.  After one season, the original Canadiens franchise was shut down due to a naming dispute with the Club Althletique Canadien, and replaced by a second franchise, transferred from Haileybury, to the ownership of the CAC, with all the original Canadiens players; that first Canadiens franchise is today considered part of the Canadiens' proper history.

The club had mixed fortunes in the NHA, but eventually came out on top of the league in 1916, and went on to defeat the Portland Rosebuds for their first Stanley Cup.  They returned to the Finals the following year, only to lose to the Seattle Metropolitans, the first-ever American club to claim the Stanley Cup.  That autumn, a dispute between the other NHA owners and the owner of the Toronto Blueshirts, Eddie Livingstone, led to the creation of the NHL, with the Canadiens, Wanderers, Quebec Bulldogs, Ottawa Senators, and a new Toronto franchise, the forerunner of the modern Maple Leafs, as members.  The early NHL's stability was questionable, but the Canadiens survived, returning to the Finals in 1919 for a rematch against Seattle, only to have the series suspended due to the Spanish flu epidemic.

The team's early stars included Georges Vezina, the man for whom the NHL's top-goalkeeper trophy is named, Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde, Didier Pitre, Jean-Baptiste "Jack" Laviolette, "Bad" Joe Hall (on loan from the Bulldogs while that franchise suffered from financial difficulties) and "Phantom" Joe Malone, who set an early NHL record with 44 goals in just 20 games in 1917-18.  The Canadiens went through a variety of team sweaters before finally settling on the familiar tricolore in 1913.  Similarly, the logo changed numerous times: in 1913, they settled on a design with an "A" embedded in a larger "C", to represent the Club Athletique Canadien.  In 1917, when the team joined the NHL, it was renamed le Club du Hockey Canadien, and the "A" was replaced with an "H".  The CH logo has remained essentially the same since, with only minor stylistic changes over the successive decades.

Rise and Fall: The 1920s and 1930s


The Canadiens would go on to win their second Stanley Cup in 1924, defeating the Calgary Tigers.  That season, their stars included Aurele Jolait and Howie Morenz, a pair of future Hall of Famers.  They commemorated that victory the following year with special sweaters that featured a globe on the front -- the Stanley Cup champion in those days was considered the "World Champion" -- and the CH moved to the sleeve; they wore those sweaters to another NHL title in 1925, before losing the Stanley Cup to the Victoria Cougars.

In 1926, the Canadiens suffered their first tragedy, with the sudden death of their star goalkeeper, Georges Vezina, from tuberculosis.  The team recognized his efforts for the game of hockey by donating the trophy that bears his name to the NHL.  Fortunately for the Canadiens, Vezina had already scouted out his replacement, a young English goalie named George Hainsworth.  That year also marked their move to the Montreal Forum, a building originally created for the Montreal Maroons, a team that had been founded to replace the Wanderers, who had folded in 1918 after their arena burned down.

The Canadiens' next taste of success would come in 1930, when they overcame a Boston Bruins team that set the record for best winning percentage in NHL history to claim their third Stanley Cup, and the first won with the trophy under the NHL's sole jurisdiction.  That championship was followed by another the following year, this time over the Chicago Black Hawks.  However, the joy would not last long: as Jolait and Morenz aged and suffered the toll playing in the violent days of the young NHL, the team fell apart, and by 1936, they were the worst team in the League.  They received a boost from the folding of the Montreal Maroons in 1938, when several Maroons players transferred to the Canadiens, but not before tragedy struck again.

On January 28, 1937, Howie Morenz, having returned to the Canadiens after several years as a journeyman, was checked by Earl Siebert of the Black Hawks, and suffered multiple fractures to one leg.  Complications from that break were left untreated, leading to a blood clot and stroke that killed Morenz.  A benefit game was held in his honour, between the Canadiens/Maroons All-Stars and the rest of the NHL's All-Stars, and his #7 was taken out of circulation, the first sweater retirement in club history.  His funeral was held at the Forum, which was stacked to the rafters with mourners.

Recovery and the Rocket: The 1940s and Early 1950s


The Canadiens' tailspin continued until a confluence of events led to their phoenix-like rebirth.  First, they acquired Hector "Toe" Blake from the Maroons in 1935, who would go on to captain the team for eight years through the 1940s.  Next, they hired Dick Irvin at the behest of his former employer, Toronto's Conn Smythe, in 1940.  Finally, in 1942, they signed an injury-prone but talented young player who would be come synonymous not only with the franchise but hockey itself in the province of Quebec: Maurice "Rocket" Richard.

Blake and Richard, along with Elmer Lach, formed the "Punch Line", one of the NHL's deadliest.  In 1945, Richard smashed Malone's record by scoring 50 goals in 50 games, a mark which remains an NHL standard for elite scoring prowess.  The Rocket's scoring prowess was matched by his fiery disposition, which intimidated opposition goaltenders and landed him in trouble with the law of the league on numerous occasions: he was the first NHL player to record 500 goals and 1000 penalty minutes.  Thanks to the Punch Line and the goaltending of Bill Durnan, the Canadiens broke their 13-year drought with their fifth Stanley Cup in 1944.  After losing to the Maple Leafs in the semi-finals in Richard's 50-goal season of 1945, the Habs returned to glory in 1946, winning Cup #6, before succumbing to the Leafs again, this time in the finals, in 1947.

In 1946, the Habs hired another former Leaf in Frank Selke to replace Tommy Gorman as their general manager.  Selke and his protege, Sam Pollock, would transform the Canadiens from just another hockey club to one of the greatest dynasties in professional sport over the next thirty years.  Selke started by crafting a farm system akin to that in baseball, and stocking it with players such as Jean Beliveau, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, and Jacques Plante, who would become regular players with the dynastic Canadiens in the 1950s -- and Hall of Famers.

Dynasty: Late 1950s to 1970s


Thanks to the players Selke had added through his farm system, the Canadiens were able to dominate the NHL through the 1950s, making the Finals every year from 1951-61, and winning six times: first in 1953, then a record five consecutive times from 1956-60.  During that time, the Canadiens changed the way hockey was played.  In 1956, the NHL created the rule that allowed penalized players to return to the ice after a power-play goal was scored, after the Montreal power-play ran rough-shod over the rest of the League: Jean Beliveau scored three power-play goals in 44 seconds at one point, still a club record and the second-fastest hat-trick in NHL history.  Jacques Plante, meanwhile, redefined goaltending in two important ways.  First, he became the first goalie to regularly play the puck behind his own net, and pass it to his defence to help start the breakout.  The other, more famous innovation, was the goalie mask.

Goaltenders had worn masks occasionally, usually to protect injuries, since 1929, but Plante was the first to wear one full-time.  He had worn a mask in practice for several years, as a way of avoiding injury, but began wearing one in games in 1959.  On November 1 of that year, Plante took a high shot from Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers square in the face; after receiving repairs in the dressing room, he came out wearing his mask, to the chagrin of now-coach Toe Blake.  Because spare goaltenders were not usually dressed in those days, Blake relented, and Plante won the game, 3-1, and went on to go undefeated in the next 18.  Despite his initial objections, Blake relented and allowed Plante to wear the mask full-time.  Within fifteen years of that incident, no goaltender in the NHL went unprotected.

The 1950s were not without their pitfalls, with the most notable starting March 13, 1955.  The Canadiens were in Boston, visiting the Bruins, when an incident occurred between Rocket Richard and Bruins defenceman Hal Laycoe.  Laycoe high-sticked Richard, but while the delayed penalty call was in effect, Richard took a swing at Laycoe with his stick.  A brawl broke out, and in the ensuing chaos, Richard struck a linesman who had been trying to restrain him, after breaking free once already to resume his assault on Laycoe.  The referee assessed a match penalty, and NHL president Clarence Campbell came down with swift retribution: Richard was suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.  Four days later, Campbell defied warnings from his security staff and attended a game at the Forum, as was his custom.  Canadiens fans, incensed that their star was suspended while the team was in a race for first overall and Richard himself was leading the League in scoring, pelted Campbell with debris, until a tear gas bomb was set off near Cambpell.  The Forum was evacuated, the game against the Detroit Red Wings suspended (the score was 4-1 Detroit at the time) and a night of looting and rioting ensued.  Only when Richard went on the radio and begged Montrealers to stop did the violence finally end.  The incident served to demonstrate not only the importance of the Canadiens and their star to the city of Montreal, but to demonstrate the growing unrest between Francophones and Anglophones within the province of Quebec.

While the Canadiens lost the Stanley Cup to Detroit that year, they won the next five Cups in a row, before the Rocket retired in 1960.  His #9 was retired that year, and Doug Harvey became captain.  The following year, the Canadiens' streak ended when the Chicago Black Hawks defeated them in the semi-final, on their way to their first Stanley Cup since the Depression.  Over the next four years, the team would be rebuilt, with new stars from the farm replacing the 1950s heroes who had retired or been sent on down the line.  Led by veterans such as Jean Beliveau, as well as youngsters like Yvan Cournoyer, the Habs returned to the top in 1965, touching off a streak of five Cups in seven years, a second dynasty in as many decades.  During that run, however, major changes came to the NHL.

In 1967, the NHL doubled in size, from six to twelve teams.  Over the next seven years, it would grow again out to eighteen teams; by 1979, the merger with the WHA, along with the merger of the Cleveland Barons and Minnesota North Stars franchise, would end up with the NHL finishing at a stable configuration again with 21 teams.  Throughout that era, despite the changes to both the structure of the League, and the style of game, the Canadiens continued to dominate, as stalwarts of the 1970s like Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe made their debuts.  After winning in 1965 and 1966, the Canadiens lost the last pre-expansion Stanley Cup in 1967 to Toronto.  However, they resumed their winning ways in 1968 and 1969, both times over the champion of the expansion division, the St. Louis Blues.  In 1970, the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 1948, thanks to an odd tiebreaker, based on goals-for, which the NHL quickly abolished the next year, due to an unintended side effect that saw Montreal play without a goalie for the last eight minutes, surrendering five empty-net goals because they needed to score three more goals of their own, whatever the result.  The 1971 Cup run was historic in many ways: it was the last championship with longtime captain Jean Beliveau, and the first with future Hall of Famer Ken Dryden in net.  It was considered a miracle run, as the Habs upset the defending champions from Boston, featuring the likes of Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, in seven games en route to a date with the Black Hawks in the finals.

The Canadiens continued to win despite being in a rebuild mode, thanks to the talent Sam Pollock had assembled: they won the Cup yet again in 1973, the sixth Cup in nine years and the first for young Guy Lafleur.  After a two-year hiatus, which saw the "Broad Street Bullies," the Philadelphia Flyers, goon their way to the top, and keeper Ken Dryden leave the team for a year to finish law school, the club went on a four-year run of Stanley Cups, coached by the legendary Scotty Bowman, and led by talents like Lafleur, Savard, Dryden, Larry Robinson, and Bob Gainey: today, all five of those men have had their numbers retired by the club.  During this time, they set NHL records by recording 60 wins and just eight losses, for 132 points in an 80-game schedule in 1976-77.  In fact, they lost just 29 games over three seasons from 1975-78.

After the 1978 season, Pollock stepped down as GM.  The following year, Dryden and top-line centre Jacques Lemaire retired, and Scotty Bowman took over as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, having been rejected in his bid to be GM of the Canadiens.  Over the next few years, every major contributor to the dynasty either retired or was traded away.  The 1979 Cup was the Canadiens' 22nd overall, and their 16th in the past 27 seasons, a feat that compares favourably with the Boston Celtics' 16 NBA championships in 29 years (1957-86) and the New York Yankees' 16 World Series titles in 26 seasons (1936-62).

A New Challenge: 1980s to Mid 1990s


The dawn of the 1980s saw the dawn of a new dynasty: the New York Islanders, led by Mike Bossy, a man Rocket Richard unsuccessfully urged the Canadiens to draft.  Montreal continued to succeed in the regular season, but suffered playoff disappointment.  From 1980-83, they were eliminated in early each year, by the Minnesota North Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, and Buffalo Sabres, respectively.  During that time, many of their 1970s-era stars retired or left town, leaving room for a new generation of players, like Mats Naslund and Guy Carbonneau, to take over.  In 1984, the Canadiens, despite a sub-.500 regular season, advanced all the way to the conference finals before being eliminated in six games by the four-time champion Islanders.  That summer, they drafted in the third round a player who would become synonymous with Montreal's fortunes through the latter half of the decade and the early part of the next: Patrick Roy.

Roy, at the age of 20, led the Canadiens to their 23rd Stanley Cup in 1986, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his heroics.  He made a name for himself quickly for his many quirks, which included talking to his goalposts (to practice his English), hopping over the lines in the ice, rather than skate over them, and at the behest of pioneer goaltender coach Francois Allaire, adopte the discredited "butterfly" style of goaltending.  While it earned the early disapproval of his teammates, most notably Larry Robinson, he got results.  The most famous example came in the Wales Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, when he stopped the first ten shots of an overtime game before Claude Lemieux (no relation to Mario) scored the winner.  After overcoming the Rangers, the Canadiens defeated the Calgary Flames to win the Stanley Cup.

Throughout the 1980s, the Canadiens remained one of the better teams in the regular season, but again suffered continual playoff disappointment, most consistently against an unexpected kryptomite: Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, and the Boston Bruins.  The Canadiens had owned the Bruins in the playoffs, not losing to them since World War II.  But from 1988-94, they played six series in seven years, with the Bruins emerging victorious five times.  The two times the Canadiens beat or avoided the Bruins, 1989 and 1993, they went to the Finals, winning their 24th, and to date final, Stanley Cup.

The year 1993 proved to be a particularly special one: the Canadiens tied an NHL record with eleven straight victories, and smashed the existing record with ten OT wins during the playoffs.  After beating the Quebec Nordiques in a hard-fought first round, they swept the Sabres and finished off the Islanders -- who had defeated the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins the previous round -- in just five games.  The final series saw a dream matchup: Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings against Patrick Roy's Montreal Canadiens.  The Kings took the first game, and were leading late in the second when an untimely illegal-stick penalty allowed Montreal to tie the game and win in overtime, all on defenceman Eric Desjardins' hat trick.  Montreal went on to take the series in five games, winning the final championship on Forum ice.

Over the next couple of years, more veterans from 1986 and 1993 were dealt off or driven out of town; by 1995, only a handful remained.  Roy himself wound up on the outs with his teammates, and a deal was nearly pulled off with the Colorado Avalanche -- the former Quebec Nordiques -- at the start of the season, but ultimately fell apart when GM Serge Savard was fired.  On December 2 of that year, Roy was left in the net for the first nine goals of an 11-1 rout at the hands of Detroit.  After finally being pulled, he told team president Ronald Corey, in front of coach Mario Tremblay, that he had played his last game in Montreal.  Four days later, a new deal -- less favourable to the Canadiens -- was pulled off; that year, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, while Montreal went nowhere.

On March 11, 1996, the Canadiens defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 to close out the Montreal Forum after 70 years of occupancy.  The emotional closing ceremony drew imagery from the famous Canadian war poem "In Flanders Fields," a line from which was posted in the Canadiens' locker room by Frank Selke in the 1950s: "To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be it yours to hold high."  A torch was passed symbolically to each surviving captain down the line, covering more than fifty years of Canadiens history, from Emile "Butch" Bouchard to Pierre Turgeon.  They moved to the Molson Centre -- now the Bell Centre -- that spring; while some would blame that move on the loss of the franchise's long-held mystique, its je ne sais quois, the truth is, it was being run into the ground by consistently poor decisions in the front office, which traded away several team leaders, often for non-hockey reasons, including four consecutive captains in just five years -- Chris Chelios, Guy Carbonneau, Kirk Muller, and Mike Keane.  A long decade of mediocrity would follow.

Fall From Grace and Possible Return: Mid 1990s to 2000s


The events of the mid-1990s left little for Montreal to work with: the team missed the playoffs three consecutive years, from 1999-2001.  With interest fading, the team was sold in 2001 to American investor George Gillett, after nearly 45 years of being owned by the Molson Brewery.  The sale sparked brief, yet unsubstantiated, fears that the team could move, especially with interest waning in light of the club's first extended slump since the 1930s.  The Canadiens were dealt another blow when captain Saku Koivu, one of the few bright spots on the team, was diagnosed with cancer in 2001.  After months of treatment and recovery, Koivu rejoined the team, making his emotional debut near the end of the season.  His return, coupled with brilliant goalkeeping from young Jose Theodore, led the Canadiens past the Boston Bruins and into the second round for just the second time in ten years.  Neither Theodore nor the Canadiens could follow up that surprise finish, and missed the playoffs again in 2003.  That summer, they hired former player Bob Gainey to sort out the team's on-ice personnel.

On November 22, 2003, the Canadiens played the Edmonton Oilers at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, a football and track and field venue that seated over 57,000.  After an old-timers game featuring stars from Montreal's 1970s teams and Edmonton's 1980s teams, which Edmonton won 2-0, the Canadiens won the game proper 4-3.  It was the first outdoor game in NHL history, and the first outdoor game the Canadiens had played since the NHA days.  That year, Montreal went on to another first-round upset of the Bruins before losing in the second round to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the first team since the Original Six era to beat Montreal and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

Since the NHL's 2004-05 lockout, the Canadiens' fortunes have fluctuated, from a first overall finish in the Eastern Conference in 2008 to missing the playoffs or bowing out in the first round on multiple other occasions. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, the Canadiens celebrated their centennial with a variety of historical sweaters from ages long past and by retiring a number of sweater numbers from historical greats from Emile "Butch" Bouchard to Patrick Roy. The celebrations culminated in a 100th anniversary game against the hated Boston Bruins on December 4, 2009, which the Canadiens won 5-1.

Appearances in Video Games

The Canadiens franchise has appeared in all NHL-licensed video games since at least 1991's NHL Hockey, EA's first NHL-licensed title. They had a few players who appeared on the cover of European versions of the game. Saku Koivu appeared on the cover of Finland's NHL 2003 and Mark Streit appeared on the cover of Switzerland's NHL 08, both wearing Montreal's jersey. They have had their history honored in NHL games in other ways as well: unlicensed "all-time" rosters have appeared in some recent 2K Sports games, as well as several historical sweaters, including the 1924-25 "World's Champions" sweater, which has been unlockable since at least 2003's ESPN NHL Hockey.  The "Heritage Classic" outdoor game, between the Canadiens and Oilers, has been an unlockable feature of 2K Sports games since ESPN NHL 2K5.

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