Ummmm no. But it sure is a good talking point. This started with my old pal David Winch, who just might be the biggest Habs fan residing in Geneva, who started talking 1971 in response to my recent post about this year’s sad-sack Hab-nots maybe actually making the playoffs. David started a word association game in the plethora of comments on my Facebook page about the blog, writing; ‘1971, MacNeil, and…???’ Then he went on to say: ‘I was daydreaming. Outsider team, 2nd half surge, upset Bruins, Anglo coach fired….ha’
If you are not a regular Red Fisher reader, Nos Canadiens de Montreal stunned the hockey world – and my Bruins-crazed older brother Dermot – in the 1971 playoffs by upsetting the Stanley Cup champ Bruins in the first round and going on to win the Cup. That would a Bruins team led by, as Mr. Fisher might put it, chaps named Orr, Esposito and Cheevers. In the final, the Canadiens beat-out another pretty decent hockey club in the Chicago Blackhawks, that included folks like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and my hero at the time, goalie Tony Esposito. (I still have my Espo-style mask that I wore for street hockey!)
The common wisdom is that that extraordinary 1971 playoff run was all about a rookie netminder in Montreal, Ken Dryden. But Mr. Winch was quick to underline that his man Frank Mahovlich also had a word or two to say in that Cup win. David’s point is, in part, that Mahovlich doesn’t get the credit he deserves for that playoff run just like Cammalleri doesn’t get enough respect for his goal-scoring surge in the 2010 post-season (a run that we all routinely attribute entirely to another phenomenal netminder, my man Jaroslav Halak). Mahovlich scored 14 goals and notched 27 points in the 1971 playoffs, with Cammie winning the playoff scoring title in 2010 with 13 goals (in spite of the fact that his team only went to the conference final!).
Now I have a soft spot for David Winch but I’m afraid the 2012 Habs just ain’t the 1971 Habs. Brian Gionta ain’t Jean Beliveau, Carey Price ain’t Ken Dryden, and…..well you get the idea.
But where this comparison gets interesting is in the coaching department. In 1970-71, Claude Ruel was head coach at the start of the season, but he stepped down when it looked like they might not make the playoffs and assistant coach Al MacNeil took-over. With MacNeil running the bench, they won the Cup – and it was in large part because he played a hunch and rolled the dice on a young goalie who’d only played six games during the regular season.
Habs management thanked MacNeil by promptly firing him that summer and sending him down to coach the Habs’ farm team in Nova Scotia. MacNeil, a unilingual anglophone, had clashed in a very public manner with Henri Richard that year and was said to have a bad relationship with many of the franco players.
MacNeil was the last unilingual anglo coach of the Habs…..until this fellow Randy ‘Parley-vous’ Cunneyworth came along this year. (Bob Berry, who coached the Habs in the early 80s, was not fluently bilingual but could carry on a conversation in the language of Beliveau.)
So maybe there’s something to this whole ‘2012-is-the-new-1971’. Imagine. Following the All-Star game, building on improbable wins against Toronto and Detroit, the Habs go on a major-league second-half upswing, sneak into the playoffs in 8th place, use their speed to beat the Big Bad Cup champion Bruins in the first round, and take it all in a classic seven-game series against the heavily-favoured Chicago Blackhawks (who are back-stopped by former Bruin Timmy Thomas who was traded to the Hawks at the trade deadline following his controversial decision to snub President Barack Obama).
Then the day after the parade – which follows the usual route – manager Pierre ‘Major Major’ Gauthier fires Cunneyworth, sending him back down to the farm-team in Hamilton. (Team president Geoff Molson has already made it clear the coach next year will need to be bilingual…..so it won’t be Mr. Cunneyworth.) May the All-Star-weekend dreaming continue…..