MONTREAL – The “Big Three” will be getting back together this fall.
Three decades after hanging up his skates, Habs defenseman Guy Lapointe will be joining the franchise’s elite in the Bell Centre rafters. This season, the Hall of Fame blue-liner will become the 18th member of the organization – and the first since 2009 – to see his number dangling across from the team’s league-record 24 Stanley Cup banners, joining the two other members of the Big Three he spent his career skating alongside in Montreal, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson.
“Guy Lapointe is deserving and worthy of being up there with Larry and Serge,” stressed Canadiens owner, president, and CEO, Geoff Molson, who had a chance to watch Lapointe & Co. up close as a child after his father Eric brought the team back to the Molson family in 1978. “I can still visualize him scoring with that slapshot from the point. For over a decade together, they were the best defensive squad in the NHL, by far.”
Combining for 20 career Cups with the Canadiens – including four straight from 1975-76 to 1978-79 – the Big Three terrorized opposing forwards and goalies alike. A power play specialist with a nose for the net, Lapointe still owns the franchise’s single-season record for goals by a defenseman, a mark he set 39 years ago after lighting the lamp 28 times in 1974-75. While Savard and Robinson saw their Nos. 18 and 19, respectively, retired in 2006 and 2007, the third member of the iconic blue line trio had to wait a little longer to see his day come.
“Guy was always on our radar. In a way, he was kind of overshadowed by the Big Three. In points per game he’s one of the leaders in the history of the league among defensemen,” explained Molson of the affable rearguard, who had 622 points in 894 career regular season games, 70 points in 123 NHL Playoff games and still holds the team record for most goals by a rookie defenseman (15). “He has the numbers. In Guy’s 16-year career, Larry Robinson and Bobby Orr won the Norris Trophy a combined nine times. That was one criterion we looked at with the Hall of Famers when deciding whose jerseys to retire: all of them have won individual awards, except Butch Bouchard, because they didn’t have that award in his day. Guy never won the Norris, but it’s easy to understand why.”
While No.5 has already been off the market in Montreal in honor of Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion since 2006, the door was never closed on adding Lapointe to the exclusive list of players whose numbers have been retired by the team, which includes two other numbers that have been taken out of circulation for two different Hall-of-Famers (12 for Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer and 16 for Elmer Lach and Henri Richard).
“In the modern era, you look for the players who were the absolute best in their position for an extended time and he was one of them. I don’t think it was a miss,” explained Molson on his decision to wait five years between banner ceremonies. “You don’t have to decide everything in one year. It’s a gradual process you go through. I spent a couple of years really thinking about when the right moment was. It’s pretty impressive what he did, without necessarily getting noticed. He contributed to the team in very similar ways to Larry Robinson, with the exception of winning that individual award.”
Regarded as one of the best offensive-defensemen in NHL history, Lapointe was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993 and still owns a handful of franchise records a half-century after making his debut in 1968-69. While newer generations of Habs fans may think of Chris Chelios or P.K. Subban when it comes to high-scoring blue-liners, Molson wanted to make sure one of the premier players at that position remains etched in the minds of fans forever.
“’The Big Three was an institution in Montreal and he was part of that,” he concluded. “It was time to reunite the Big Three this year.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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