Rabid Habs

Habs History: Vol. 2 – Gone But Never Forgotten

Montreal Forum Photo - Tampa Bay Times

Throughout the history of sports there have been many iconic venues that once opened their doors as a fresh new sanctuary for sports fans to cheer on their favorite hometown team, only to end up eventually closing their doors to make way for a new, state-of-the-art building. Among these venues are the historic former home of the Boston Bruins, the Boston Garden, and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, former home of the second most storied franchise in all of hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Yes, I can’t believe I said those nice things about the Bruins and Leafs either).

If you ask fans living in Boston which old building in the history of sports is the most historic and iconic, no doubt you will get a response of “the Boston Garden, but of course,” much like you would get a response favoring Maple Leaf Gardens if Toronto sports fans were asked the same question. Although no doubt those buildings are very historic, holding many sports extravaganzas throughout the years such as high profile boxing matches, NBA championship games, and even WWF wrestling events, which back in the day were just as big as any boxing, basketball or hockey event, they both were and are in the shadow of one building in particular.

Much like a kid who lives in the shadow of his or her older sibling, those buildings will always come in second to one particular venue. Heck, venue isn’t even the right word to describe the building I speak of. Shrine is a much more suitable word to describe it. The building I speak of, ladies and gentlemen, is the former home of our Montreal Canadiens. The historic, iconic, legendary Montreal Forum. For 72 years (1924-1996) the Forum opened its doors to the 90 million people to pass through its hallowed halls. Located on the corner of Atwater and Ste-Catherine streets, the Forum will always be remembered and considered as hockey’s headquarters. After all, look at the list of legendary players who, throughout the years, suited up for the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. Those of which called its ice surface home include the likes of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, “Le Gros Bill” Jean Beliveau, “Pocket Rocket” Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy… only to name a few.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and the lifespan of the Montreal Forum was no exception. On March 11, 1996, the Forum opened and closed its doors for the final time when the Canadiens hosted the Dallas Stars. In fitting, typical Forum fashion it wasn’t friendly territory for the opposing team, and the Canadiens spanked the Stars by a score of 4-1, with Andrei Kovalenko scoring the final goal on forum ice. The sellout crowd of 17,959 were given the privilege of hearing our national anthem being performed on the big screen of the scoreboard by the legendary, and in my opinion greatest anthem singer of them all, late great Roger Doucet. Then Dallas Stars and former Habs Guy Carbonneau, Brent Gilchrist, Craig Ludwig and Benoit Hogue took the opening faceoff, and at the end of the game Habs players Jocelyn Thibault, Vincent Damphousse and Pierre Turgeon were named the three stars.

The game itself, however, would be overshadowed by what came next. One by one the likes of Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard and many others marched onto the ice for one final goodbye to the Forum, and in symbolic fashion as only the Habs can do, each former captain passed the torch along to the next in line, until finally reaching then Habs captain Pierre Turgeon, in what will be remembered as one of the greatest ceremonies, if not the greatest ceremony, in NHL history.

As great as that night was it would not have been complete if the greatest Hab of all time, the Rocket himself, Maurice Richard, didn’t get the recognition he so sorely deserved during the final farewell to the Forum. For 18 long seasons the Rocket laced up his skates for the Canadiens and gave every fan who ever watched and cheered him on not only their money’s worth, but a sense of pride, and that night in 1996 the fans finally repaid him. In what will go down as one of the franchise’s greatest, most heart warming and awe inspiring moments, the Forum faithful in attendance rose to their feet and gave The Rocket a 10-minute standing ovation, which understandably brought tears to his intense eyes. Eyes which once upon a time burned of a fire brighter than any you can imagine while playing the game he loved, for the team he loved, in the building he loved.

Although the Forum physically closed its doors that night for one final time, it certainly didn’t close its doors in our memories. For people of all generations, young and old, the Forum will always be remembered and known as hockey’s holy temple. Although the current home of the Habs, the Bell Centre, is superior to its predecessor in many ways, it will never hold a candle to the Forum.

After all, look at all the legendary events and championship victories that had taken place there throughout the decades. It’s been nearly 20 years now since the Forum closed, and I for one will never forget watching TSN’s broadcast of the final game to take place on its sacred ice. The memories I hold of the Forum are memories that will last forever, and surely its spirit, presence and aura will last forever as well. As long as we all continue the good fight and cheer on our beloved Habs, the Forum will live forever. Gone but never forgotten.

GO HABS GO!

Follow Jeff on Twitter @HabsGuru82.