MONTREAL – Members of The First Line, the Canadiens’ official adult fan club, had a chance to grill Stephane Richer and Geoff Molson on Saturday afternoon as part of the final Q&A session of the 2013-14 season.
The youngest player in Canadiens history to score 50 goals in a season, Stephane Richer was a lamp-lighting machine during his 17-year NHL career. The team’s first round draft pick in 1984, Richer spent the first six years of his career with the Habs, winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie alongside Patrick Roy, Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson in 1985-86. The slap shot specialist spent the better part of an hour on Saturday fielding questions from First Liners ranging from how the game has changed since he played and how many goals he would score today to who he thinks will be the next Habs player to pot 50.
How did it feel to be traded to New Jersey and is it difficult to adjust to a new team? And how does it feel when you face your old teammates?
STEPHANE RICHER: I remember that night like it was yesterday. The night I was traded to New Jersey, at the time there were no cell phones and the media was not as big as it is now. We were in a preseason game against the Boston Bruins and I was out for the warmup. Mr. Palchak used to be the trainer here and I’d never seen him walking that fast behind the bench before. He was waving to me like, “Come here, Riche, I need to talk to you.” He said, “Get off the ice, you just got traded.” I thought it was a joke. Nobody knew at the time where I’d been traded to, they just told me I had to leave the ice. I took off my jersey and the phone rang. There was only one phone at the time at the Forum in the dressing room, so I picked it up and it was Serge Savard and he said, “The best thing for you is to leave Montreal and I traded you to New Jersey.” At the time, New Jersey, remember Gretzky had just called them Mickey Mouse a couple weeks before. I leave Montreal for New Jersey – first place to last place – and I remember the press conference here was packed with media. In New Jersey, nobody picked me up, nobody even knew I was part of the trade with Tom Chorske at the time and I just saw a guy with a station wagon and he said, “You’re Stephane Richer? Two things: first, welcome to New Jersey, second, I don’t like you.” (laughs) We didn’t have a great team, but we had a few good players like Scott Stevens and Claude Lemieux was there the year before. The best thing happened in the world for New Jersey when Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson came in. Everything turned around and then they won three [Stanley Cups] in nine years. I remember the first time I back to Montreal, the first practice was at the 4 Glaces rink in Brossard. My coach was Tom McVie and he was old school and didn’t really realize what Montreal was like. The Canadiens told him the practice would be sold out and Tom just laughed and figured there would be like 12 fans in the stands. When I got on the ice, the place was packed and the fans were all cheering. Even if it was tough for me to play that game, I’ll always remember how great the people were with me. Every time I came back to Montreal, with New Jersey or the Penguins when we came back with Mario Lemieux for his last game, or any of those, it was always special, especially back at the Forum.
I’ve been a fan since the 1940s. You played for several different coaches in the NHL. I’d like to know what the impact these different coaches had on you, because you performed differently and were used differently. What was their impact and who was your favorite?
SR: Good question. The best coach was Jacques Lemaire because he made me a better person. He’s the only guy in the world who traded me twice – he traded me from Montreal to New Jersey and then from New Jersey to Montreal. But this guy was a genius. He was way ahead of everybody. The way he was watching the game and looking at the players, I remember in 1995, against the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, New Jersey wasn’t supposed to even be there. We just made the playoffs and we were lucky in the first round we beat Buffalo in seven games in overtime. Jacques told us, “Raymond Bourque never turns on his backhand.” We were like, what’s the big deal? But every time we dumped the puck on the other side of the rink so he would go on his forehand to pick it up, but his buddy Don Sweeney was a lefty so every time Bourque was making a pass to Don Sweeney, he was always on his backhand. We started to learn that in Boston Gardens, which was a small rink, he didn’t have the time to pick the puck up and make the pass to Sweeney. It’s little things like that he did and he made us believe we could beat them. We ended up beating them in six games. Now with all the video they do, they all know that stuff, but in the 1980s when I was in Montreal, we didn’t have video. The game was at eight o’clock and Chris Chelios used to show up at 7:15 in time for warmups at 7:35. Now players are there two hours before a game, watching PK video and PP video and 5-on-5, but back then, we didn’t have that.
As the game has evolved with the speed of the game and the size of the players and their equipment, is there something that can be done to limit players getting injured or reduce head shots?
SR: It’s no secret: it comes down to respect. Every time I do speeches at schools or when I go around and speak at prisons to juveniles there, that’s always the first question and the answer is “respect”. When I started in the NHL, Lee Fogolin was the captain of the Edmonton Oilers at the time and he didn’t wear a helmet. I came in and I hit him from behind. He was a monster. I hit him so bad and he turned around and looked at me and I thought he was going to kill me. He grabbed me and I was looking around for John Kordic or Shayne Corson to help me and he just said, “You know what kid? Next time you do that, I’ll kill you.” I told him I was going back to Junior tomorrow anyway so it would be three years until I’d see him again. (laughs) I went to the bench and Larry Robinson told me, “Never hit a player when the name of the player is in your face.” That was it. Don’t hit from behind, don’t crosscheck from behind. Now it’s different. The game is so fast. You see guys crosschecking each other all the time. If you’re coming in and a guy is two feet from the boards, stop. It’s bad for the game. With any sport, you go into schools and talk to kids about respect, but they watch on TV and they want to make money and be stars but the respect isn’t there and that’s what they see. It’s sad. You see guys in the NBA with tattoos down to their wrists and then how do you tell kids it’s bad to get tattoos? They see it and they think, “I’ll get a tattoo and it’ll make me play better.” You can’t defend that. That’s the new generation – do you think Jean Beliveau has a bunch of tattoos? I doubt it. Things have changed and respect is one of them. Respect for the game and respect for each other.
Following Richer in the hot seat, Canadiens owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson took his turn fielding questions on everything from how he keeps the business running smoothly to how much things have changed since his family first bought the Canadiens five decades ago.
After watching the Olympics and seeing what happened with John Tavares, are you still in support of seeing NHL players go to the Olympics the next time around?
GEOFF MOLSON: I was very supportive of it for these Olympics. I think all the players want to represent their country. The level of hockey is the best because it’s the best players who go over there. I love the Olympics and I particularly liked watching Carey Price win a gold medal for Canada. I think he allowed three goals in five games over there. Today, I support it. I think it’s great for Canadians and Quebecers to see the best players in the world representing their country.
Mr. Molson, I’d like to know what has prepared you in your educational or experiential background to become the president of the Canadiens?
GM: I think life’s experiences all add up to prepare yourself for what you want to be in life. Whether it be at the beer company or with the Montreal Canadiens, I always wanted to be a president. Everything I tried to do in my career was to learn and remember the important things so I could be the best I could be as a president. I’m also a strong believer in being surrounded by great people. I put a lot of emphasis on making sure the best people are helping me accomplish the goals of the organization and I have that. It’s a combination of those two things. I don’t think I’m any different from anyone else; I knew what I wanted and I went after it starting from when I was a kid.
Your family owned the team when you were really young. Now it’s your turn. How much has the team and organization changed and what did you take from the model your family established back in the day to help you today?
GM: Good question. I’ll answer your second question first. My grandfather and great uncle bought the team in 1957. My family has been involved for a long time and one thing they always did was keep a distance. We were close, but we respected the team by realizing how special the team is to Quebecers. We’re close to the team and we’re involved, but we don’t run it; we find the best people to run it. As for what’s changed, you’re here because we’ve gotten a lot more open. Communication is more open. I’m sure there are people on Twitter and Facebook who know right now what I just said in my last answer because we have people here tweeting things out. It’s a different world now; you have access to the president and GM and coaches in real-time thanks to social media.
The team has been a part of your family since you were a kid. Who is the player that impressed you the most, both on and off the ice?
GM: There are a lot because I’ve had a chance to meet and see a lot of them over the years, but by far the best of the best is Jean Beliveau. He’s 82 years old now and he’s spent 62 years representing this organization in the best possible way. Whenever someone wants to speak to him, he takes the time to talk. When someone writes to him, he responds with a handwritten note. He signs autographs, he always responds to questions with respect and he won 10 Stanley Cups for the team. He was a great captain. We have other great ambassadors, too. Rejean Houle represents us well all over the community across Quebec. There are a lot of great players who represent us well.
I think you’re the luckiest owner in the league because you get to own the best team in the league. But if you could own a different team for 24 hours, which one would it be and why?
GM: To help the team win or lose? (laughs) No, I have the utmost respect for all 29 other teams in the league. They’re all well-run organizations. We get along – off the ice. The owners and GMs are close and there are some organizations I really respect in terms of how they’re run like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago, among others. Those are all businessmen I enjoy working with and I have a lot of respect for them, but I don’t want to own any of those teams. This is the one I want to own.
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Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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