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On the road with the Stanley Cup: Part 2

Friday, 20.01.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
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On the road with the Stanley Cup: Part 2
Gerry Heffernan spent only two seasons with the Canadiens but won a Stanley Cup with the Habs in 1944.
MONTREAL - On Aug. 9, a week after he celebrated his 80th birthday, John McCormack had his day with the Stanley Cup and opened his Oshawa home to a couple hundred of his favorite people.

"We had a great time, a real ball," said McCormack, one of the top defensive forwards of the late 40s and early 50s. "We had about 250 people here. We didn't plan on 250 but that's how many showed up."

An open invitation was tendered to a group of forty or so of his hockey peers, a group of retired players who meet for monthly luncheons in the Toronto area. Family members turned up, as did members of the church that McCormack attends and fellow volunteers with a local Meal on Wheels program.

"They all came and they all brought friends," chuckled McCormack.

His hockey buddies surprised their host with a cake commemorating his two Stanley Cup triumphs, in 1951 with the Leafs and in 1953 with the Canadiens.

Former Canadiens among the dozens of NHL Oldtimers turning up for the backyard feed were Ed Litzenberger, Paul Meger, Dick Gamble and McCormack's frequent golf partner, Ivan Irwin.

McCormack has "nothing but good memories," of his time with the Canadiens and remembers the goal that clinched the Cup in 1953.

"The year we won it, Elmer got the winning goal off a bad pass-out from, of all people, Milt Schmidt. Can you imagine Milt Schmidt giving the puck away like that? He was probably the greatest clutch player I've ever seen."

Heading westward for the first weeks of September, the Stanley Cup found it's way to Gerry Heffernan in Marin County, north of San Francisco, where he opened his home to friends and family.

A member of the Canadiens' 1944 Stanley Cup winning squad, the 89- year-old Heffernan is a Montrealer, born and bred. He learned his hockey on the outdoor rinks in his hometown.

"I went to a high school called Thomas D'Arcy McGee at the corner of Pine Avenue and rue Ste-Famille. I lived on the same street as Mordecai Richler.

"When I was skating at Fletchers Field just above Pine Avenue or playing at Parc Lafontaine and places like that. I never had any thoughts of playing on the Canadiens or playing for the Cup," he remembered.

Heffernan's stepping-stone to the big time came as a result of his performance as a member of the Montreal Royals' Razzle Dazzle Line. He and linemates Pete Morin and Buddy O'Connor were called up as a unit prior to the 1941-42 season.

Returned to the QSHL Royals for the following season, Heffernan made it back to the Habs for the 1943-44 season, one that saw them take it all.

"We didn't do too badly because that year the Rocket had 32 goals and Ray Getliffe and I had 28, " said Heffernan, who modestly claims  "Buddy O'Connor was the one who made me as a hockey player."

Heffernan, who bought numerous copies of local newspapers to send to friends and family members, has kept one particular clipping for over 60 years. After all, how often can someone claim they got top billing over the Punch Line?

"Around Christmas time Newsweek had an article that read in part 'When the line of O'Connor, Majeau and Heffernan go off and the equally powerful line of Lach, Rocket Richard and Blake come on.....' I kept a copy of that article."

Wilbert "Dutch" Hiller won his first Stanley Cup as a member of the 1939-40 New York  Rangers. Six years later he won his second with Montreal, playing on a line with Bob Fillion and Buddy O'Connor.  Last Sept. 9, he took the silverware out for breakfast near his home in Montrose, just outside Los Angeles.  Hiller, who passed away just over two months later at the age of 90, brought the Cup to a nearby restaurant to share it with his friends, signing countless autographs for awestruck children and adults alike.

Elmer Lach will never forget this classic playoff embrace with linemate Maurice Richard in the 1953 Stanley Cup final against Boston.

By Sept. 14, Lord Stanley's 50-dollar bowl had made its way back east and it was Elmer Lach's turn to play host. The eighty-seven year-old Hall of Famer, last survivor of the legendary Punch Line, decided to share the oldest trophy in professional sport with the membership at Summerlea Golf Club, where he has been an active member for over four decades.

The day started with Lach playing a round with a few invited guests from the hockey world. Between them, Lach, Henri Richard, Donnie Marshall, Phil Goyette, Dollard St. Laurent and relative youngster, Rejean Houle, represent thirty-three Stanley Cup victories. No slouch as a golfer, Richard has recorded five holes in one over the course of his years striding the fairways.

Lach was out on the course when custodian, Mike Bolt arrived with the Cup and set it up in the lobby, answering questions from club members, many of whom arrived early to have their pictures taken and stayed for a dinner later that evening.

Photos of Lach were spread on a table nearby. One frozen in time the moment immediately following the final goal of the 1953 finals, Lach's third and last Cup triumph. Lach collided in a celebratory embrace with Maurice Richard and came out of it with a broken nose. It didn't hurt as much as it might have since, as Lach remembers, "I got the winning goal that year."

Asked if he had a favourite, among his three Stanley Cup victories, Lach's answer was one that is often heard from multiple winners.

"They were all great to win but we worked for every one of them."

Mike Wyman is a contributor to canadiens.com