|Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey will see their trademark No. 19 and No. 23 retired on Nov. 19 and Feb. 23, respectively.
Seated side-by-side with their game-worn jerseys hanging over their shoulders, it take didn’t long for Gainey and Robinson to pick up where they left off in their playing days.
“Hey Bob, your jersey looks older than mine,” smiled Robinson as he and Gainey were introduced to a jam-packed press conference room at the Bell Centre.
“I don’t look old enough for that one to be mine,” replied Gainey of his tattered home jersey from the 1976-77 season.
With five combined Stanley Cups as teammates with the Canadiens, it’s fitting the pair will both be honored this season. While Gainey made a name for himself as the top two-way forward of his era, Robinson’s thunderous hits and huge numbers made him an integral part of the Canadiens' Big Three on the blue line.
“My favorite memory would have to be the feeling in the dressing room just prior to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Flyers in 1976,” recalled Robinson of the night the Canadiens went on to sweep the mighty Broad Street Bullies. “We were all pacing around the room before the game and the feeling in the room was unforgettable. No one could have beaten us that night.”
While not as dramatic, Gainey’s top moment still feels like it was yesterday to the Canadiens’ GM.
“I’ll never forget my first game. It remains a vivid memory,” remembered Gainey. “It was a preseason game in September of 1973 held in Moncton. During the pre-game warm-up, I just couldn’t stop looking at my reflection in the glass. All I kept thinking was, what was I doing wearing this famous jersey.”
Of the many incredible feats that made up Robinson’s brilliant career - including still boasting the league record with 20 straight years in the playoffs - one in particular still stands tall—his club-record +120 rating set in 1976-77. That mind-boggling stat had one scribe in attendance wondering if any current player could even dream of reaching such heights in today’s NHL.
“Sure it’s possible,” grinned Robinson. “It’s possible if you get to play with guys like Serge Savard, Frank Mahovlich, Steve Shutt and Guy Lafleur.”
“If it wasn’t for Don Cherry and the Bruins getting us that power play and if Guy Lafleur doesn’t score that goal, we would have never even reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1979. And I would have never gotten that quote from Tikhonov,” smiled Gainey. “I’ve sure gotten a lot of mileage from that quote. I should really give Don a call to thank him.”
When asked how these two Canadiens legends ended up with their respective numbers on their backs, it was revealed the same culprit was behind it all. Longtime team trainer Eddy Palchak handed them their No. 19 and 23, and the rest is soon to be history.
“I always wore No. 14 in junior with Peterborough, but I wasn’t about to ask for that number instead, even though it was available,” admitted Gainey. “The No. 23 was just fine with me.”
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com