By JD Lagrange – For most Habs’ fans today, what we call “the Glory Years” is just something that they’ve read on the internet and seen bits and pieces on Youtube. They live on what they’ve been told and their own experience, with some of the great names, is more negative as they have only lived through them as “old people”, some of them in coaching or management. Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay to them is the Patrick Roy story. Bob Gainey is the former GM who made unpopular moves. Doug Risebrough is a former GM in Calgary. Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson are former NHL coaches…
For some of us, it’s quite different as those guys made us live the dream, the Stanley Cups, the glory. We saw them play hockey as today’s fans saw Carey Price play, or see Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. So I propose, with this article, to get to know three players who were great contributors to the 1970’s dynasty and share some of our experience.
A lot has been said about the Montreal Canadiens 70’s dynasty and for good reasons. With names like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, just to name a few, it was a team filled with talent and future Hall of Fame members. With their skills and speed, the “Flying French Men” ended the era of terror instituted by the Broadstreet Bullies (Flyers) and the Big Bad Bruins, big teams using intimidation to win games.
There are however some names which aren’t quite as well known and yet, they played a huge role in making the team a dynasty. Here are three players whom the coaching staff could count on every game to generate energy and provide the necessary confidence to the Habs’ star players: Yvon Lambert, Doug Risebrough and Mario Tremblay.
Yvon Lambert played for the Canadiens from 1972 to 1981. A 6-foot 2-inches winger weighing over 200 lbs from Drummondville, Lambert wasn’t known for his skating abilities but he had good balance and none was better at using his big body to create havoc in front of the opponent’s net, “his office” as Danny Gallivan, René Lecavalier and Gilles Tremblay called it. Even on a team filled with skills, Lambert had his regular shift on the power play because of his willingness to take a beating in front of the net to screen the goalie, deflect shots from the point and put in rebounds. Because back in the day, players weren’t allowed to just stand in front of the net without paying the price. He was playing a physical game and he was very reliable defensively, while scoring between 20-30 goals a season. If we had to compare him to someone in the modern NHL, it would be a more physical Tomas Holmstrom.
A native of Guelph, Ontario, Doug Risebrough played center for the Canadiens from 1974 to 1982. Courageous, daring and at times reckless, Risebrough was a tenacious energy player who was efficient at both ends of the ice. Known as a pest, he was an expert at drawing penalties as he knew how to get under his opponents’ skin, allowing the Habs deadly power play to do its job. In addition to playing hard and physical, Risebrough could be counted on to contribute 15-20 goals and between 40-50 points per season. Think Brendan Gallagher at center.
Mario Tremblay, or the “Bleuet Bionique (Bionic Blueberry)”, was the youngest player to ever wear the Habs’ uniform at 18 years old and two months. The Canadiens’ right winger, a native of Alma, skated for the team from 1974 to 1986, finishing with 258 goals and 584 points in regular season and that, playing on the third and fourth line. A tireless worker, Tremblay never took a night off while playing a very aggressive, in-your-face game, while refusing to back down from anyone. We often saw him come to a teammate’s rescue against much bigger opponents, drawing tons of respect in the dressing room and amongst fans. Relentless as a waterfall, determined like no others, he would go through a brick wall for his teammates and the logo. Excellent in all facets of the game, he was the ideal prototype of the expression of “having the CH tattooed on his chest”. The was no quit in him.
The Kids Line
In 1974, Scotty Bowman had the idea of uniting the three young players on the same line in order to change the momentum in a game. He quickly understood that they formed a very special unit. Tremblay and Risebrough had immediate chemistry with a similar style of play on many aspects, sharing the same work ethics. There was Lambert, a big presence in front of the net, Risebrough, an intense player who liked to antagonize and Tremblay, who was hitting everything in sight. Mario Tremblay was the “scorer” on that line, having four 30-goal seasons in his career.
They played together from 1974 to 1979, a period in which they helped the Canadiens win five Stanley Cups. When the opponents didn’t have Risebrough on their back, they had Tremblay. With Lambert, they applied a relentless forecheck, hitting the other teams’ defensemen at every occasion they had, forcing turnovers. The trio was very liable defensively and Bowman did not hesitate to send them on the ice in any game situation, against any line.
We can often hear former Habs’ players giving credit to those three for the success the 70’s team has had, for their energy, their desire to contribute and to win, and for the fact that they didn’t back down from anyone. The three men together brought a level of fear to the opponents’ defensive core and they didn’t hesitate to drop the gloves if a player just looked at them the wrong way! Yes, they were a third line, sometimes a fourth line contributing mostly from their forecheck and physical play, but Habs’ fans cannot forget their offensive output, the key goals that they’ve scored.
“We used to be called the Kids Line. We knew what it was like to play tough, to be really physical. Mario and Dougie, they were grinders, they didn’t want to lose their jobs. So they were like that all the time. They were working really hard… They were having fun hitting everybody… and not taking any stupid penalties. That’s what you need.” — Yvon Lambert
Who can’t remember Guy Lafleur’s game-tying goal in 1979 after a too-many men on the ice penalty by Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins late in the third period? Fewer remember that it was Yvon Lambert, on a beautiful feed from Mario Tremblay, who scored the overtime winner in that game. We also don’t remember as well that it was Mario Tremblay who scored the winning goal in the Stanley Cup finals that year.
The Kids Line was the trio giving the Habs a shot in the arm when it was needed, the line responsible for the opponents’ turnovers by forcing them to get rid of the puck sooner, the line forcing the opponents to take penalties allowing the Canadiens to deploy their deadly power play, the line protecting their teammates. I must admit not having seen a similar line wearing the red, white and blue since then… and I miss it. Oh they’ve had players here and there doing some of the things the Kids Line did – Steve Bégin comes to mind – but never three guys as a line over the long run.
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