When they say time flies… Yvan Cournoyer celebrates his 80th birthday today. It’s almost unimaginable for hockey fans who saw him play in his early days with the Canadian. Next Tuesday will be 60 years since Cournoyer, then a junior, played his first game with the Habs. He scored the first of his 428 regular season goals in a 7-3 win at Detroit.
Cournoyer smiles when I ask him what it’s like to be 80 years old.
“If you have health, age is secondary,” he replies.
Photo author: PHOTO AGENCY QMI, MARIO BEAUREGARD
Just by looking at it, we can see that the new eight-year-old is keeping in shape. His hair may be bald, but his shirt fits the shape of his strong frame.
Man is still entirely composed of arms and legs.
The conversation lasted a good twenty minutes when he returns to his age.
“It’s hard to be 80 years old,” he adds, still in a serious tone.
“But I don’t celebrate my birthday. I’m celebrating because I’m still alive at the age of 80!” he says with a chuckle.
Typical of his reaction.
Cournoyer has a good sense of humor. It’s his way of putting things into perspective.
Photo author: PHOTO AGENCY QMI, MARIO BEAUREGARD
But know that he is happy and comfortable in his own skin. She exudes happiness. He has a good life with his charming partner Evelyn, who for her part prefers to stay in the shadows. For her, the public side of their relationship is entirely dependent on her famous husband.
A member of two dynasties
Not surprisingly, Cournoyer gives a positive assessment of what life has brought him so far.
“I would probably do the same thing again,” he says.
“Hockey is my life and still is. When a Canadian loses, I don’t go to bed in a different mood. It’s fun when the team wins. When she plays in the playoffs, my hands still sweat during the games.”
The Canadian won the Stanley Cup 10 times during Cournoyer’s full 15 seasons with the team, which was mostly made up of Quebec talent.
We will never see such dominance again.
Does this reality sadden Cournoyer?
“Yes and no,” he replies.
“I told Vincent Damphousse recently that he was lucky to win the cup in 1993. The boys from that edition are still together. At my age, there aren’t many players who were there when I started.”
Cournoyer divides his 10 Stanley Cup titles into two parts. His first five wins were with Jean Béliveau, Henri Richard, Claude Provost, Jean-Tremblay, Ralph Backstrom, Lorne Worsley and other players of the era.
The next generation of Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Ken Dryden, Guy Lapointe and others were the architects of the conquests of 1973 and those covering the period 1976-1979.
“THE time is really an important factor,” explains Cournoyer in this regard.
Photo author: MARIO BEAUREGARD/AGENCY QMI
Series of the century or 10 Stanley Cups?
Cournoyer saw the National League transform during his 15 seasons with the Canadiens.
In its first three years, the NHL had six teams, and the Habs still traveled by train. Canadian juniors, including himself, attended home team practices, which made it easier for them to integrate with the team when they joined the pros.
The players were a big family.
“The teams played each other 14 times a year,” he recalls.
“The rivalry was exceptional.”
Then the expansions followed one another at high speed. The list grew to 17 when a back injury forced Cournoyer to retire from competition in 1979.
But the 1972 Century Series is probably the event that marked Cournoyer most deeply in his career.
“This series completely changed hockey,” he says.
“We didn’t know anything about the Russians. We’re told they play with worn out skates, bad sticks and don’t count on good goalies. As for me, I told Frank Mahovlich that they must be good judging by the many victories in the championships and the Olympics.
“Sometimes I wonder if I prefer our Century Series win to the 10 Stanley Cups I’ve won.”
Ultimately, Cournoyer had the kind of career that admirers of Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau dreamed of at the time. It was the Rocket who opened the door for a host of great Quebec players to move to the National League during the second half of the 20th century.
Not only did Cournoyer want to play in the best league in the world, he absolutely wanted it to be with a Canadian.
What if it didn’t work?
“I would become a machinist,” he says.
“My father had Store in Memory Street, in Lachine. When we were younger, we didn’t have the opportunity to go to school often because of the many bus trips.
“That’s how I learned the trade with my father. I liked it, I liked the smell that the machines gave off and that spread everywhere Store. Ten employees worked for us. My father offered Store to my brother who said no.
“As far as I’m concerned, I was wrong. I played hockey!”
It is impossible to summarize the career of a Canadian legend like Yvan Cournoyer in two texts. I would need a book.
So let’s start this review with his famous nickname, the Road runnerwhich was given to him by Mark Mulvoy, a former reporter for Sports Illustrated: “When I met him, I told him that I would have to skate even faster for the rest of my career!” says Cournoyer.
“I was lucky to have that speed of growth. In those years I always played with older players because of my skating. I had great acceleration power. Guys told me I don’t look young. My speed allowed me to reach the National League.
His first NHL game
“I arrived at a hotel in Detroit with my skates and my stick. When I saw Henri Richard, I told him I was coming to help the team. He looked at me with a look that said: oh yes, you’re coming to help us, of course! But in my head I wasn’t there to face Detroit. I was there to play against Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchi and the best players in the National League. We won 7 to 3 and after the game I told Henri that I scored the winning goal. It was the seventh goal! That’s how it started in the National League.”
Lost Cup 1967
“People often ask me if I remember every one of my 10 Stanley Cup wins. I say no, but I add that I remember the year we lost (1967 final against Toronto). This defeat helped us realize that we have to respect the opponent in front of us more.”
Availability of Jean Béliveau
“He was a truly exceptional captain. He told us that he is our captain during the winter, and if we have problems between seasons, he is our captain during the summer as well. He was like a father to me.”
Meetings on Saturday evenings
“I often tell people who have seen me play that we grew up together, me on the ice and you in front of your televisions. We had meetings every Saturday night. We knew you were watching us and that we had to win.”
Yvan Cournoyer gave his best throughout his career, but we felt the anger in him when he faced the Soviet teams, as they were called at the time. “The Russians said they played better than us in the Century Series. We were waiting for them when we faced them at the Forum on New Year’s Day in 1975. We knew them, we knew what we had to do. We dominated 38-13 in shots on goal (but Vladislav Tretiak was better than Ken Dryden in a 3-3 tie).
“Years later, while we were passing through Montreal, I invited Tretiak to my home. As it was hot, I asked him if he wanted to cool off in our pool. I had a red bathing suit that I gave him. I told myself that there can’t be a Russian in my pool. We became good friends.”
At Forum snowmobiles!
“It was during the winter of 1973. Jacques Lemaire and I were forced to return by car on our way to the Forum for a match due to a snowstorm. I lived in Baie-d’Urfé and Jacques in Beaconsfield. We each took our snowmobiles and used the 2-20 to get to the Forum. I wouldn’t miss this game between us and the Flyers for anything in the world.”
“I like it, I don’t like it. Everything is going too fast. The equipment is superb, the players are better trained. But I always said the rinks were too small. Without mentioning that we should adopt Olympic dimensions (200 feet long and 100 feet wide), we should expand our surfaces by 10 feet (from 85 to 95 feet).”
Would you have fun playing three-on-three in overtime?
“Recently, someone pointed out to me that I should not have gone beyond the red line in time. But there they are no more!”