Carbonneau relished being part of final Forum night
Thursday, 11.29.2012 / 9:00 AM By Dave Lozo
Guy Carbonneau knew the odds were stacked against his Dallas Stars on March 11, 1996.
"I'm pretty sure we had a few dollars on the board to see if we could win that game," Carbonneau told NHL.com.
All the motivational money in the world likely wouldn't have mattered that night. The Stars drew the unenviable task of facing the Montreal Canadiens in the final game at the Montreal Forum, which was won handily by the home team 4-1 in front of a standing-room crowd of 17,959.
"You think about it a little bit before, but you know it's going to be a special night," said Carbonneau, who spent his first 12 NHL seasons with Montreal. "There was a lot of support from the fans and a lot of people I knew in the past. Once you get out on the ice, it's not something that you really worry about."
Carbonneau was drafted by the Canadiens in 1979 and played for two of the franchise's 24 Stanley Cup championship teams (1986 and 1993). The native of Sept-Iles, Quebec, was a week from his 37th birthday when Jocelyn Thibault made 21 saves and Andrei Kovalenko had three points to send out the nearly 73-year-old building in style.
"I felt really lucky at that time," said Carbonneau, the captain of the '93 team. "I was in Dallas and it just happened that the last game at the Forum was against the Dallas Stars. We had a few guys who played in Montreal and it was definitely a date that was circled in the calendar. On top of that, the Montreal organization asked me if I wanted to switch jerseys after the game and come back on the ice and carry the torch. It was really a great day."
Along with Carbonneau, Stars teammate Craig Ludwig, who spent eight seasons in Montreal and won a Cup in 1986, and general manager Bob Gainey, who captured five Cups in 16 seasons with the Canadiens, were lucky enough to return for the historic occasion. Following the game, a celebration for the ages took place to commemorate the end of an era.
It was a passing of the torch in the most literal sense. Canadiens great Emile Bouchard carried a torch onto the ice and passed it along to team captains through the years, including Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Serge Savard, Gainey and Carbonneau, two Stars who donned Canadiens jerseys for the climactic event in Forum history.
Arguably the highlight of a night of highlights was the ovation given to Maurice Richard, who tried to fight off tears as the Forum faithful gave him a nearly 10-minute, uninterrupted ovation. Even as the public address announcer tried to calm the crowd midway through with a "mesdames et messieurs," the fans only cheered louder.
The torch was finally passed to the latest captain, Pierre Turgeon, to signify the start of a new era in club history.
"The one thing I've always said was, in Montreal, I was lucky," Carbonneau said. "I got in at a time where I was drafted in '79 and my career started in '82, but it was a time when Montreal just finished winning four Stanley Cups. To come here and start your career with Guy Lafleur and Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson and Mario Tremblay, and on top of that, knowing almost every day when you came to the rink, you had Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Beliveau were always there to tell us stories. It was something that I always said was always really unique and always enjoyed."
The celebration of Habs history continued in the days following the game. There was an auction of memorabilia from the Forum – including the team's championship banners -- to raise money for charity, and a parade led up to Montreal's first game in the Molson Centre (now the Bell Centre) on March 16 against the New York Rangers. Vincent Damphousse scored twice, including the first goal in the brand-new, 21,000-seat arena.
After going 18-8-5 at the Forum that season, the Canadiens went 5-4-1 in 10 games at the Molson Centre and 0-3 at home in a six-game loss to the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite all of the accommodations in the state-of-the-art arena, for Carbonneau, there were few buildings that could match the ambience of the old Forum.
"It was like playing in the old Garden in Boston or the old Chicago Stadium," Carbonneau said. "The old building had some pizzazz. The seats were close to the rink. Everybody was tight. You had smaller ice surface in Chicago and Boston and Buffalo and now it's pretty much all the same. You have a bigger building and you have to come up with times for shows, and owners have to make money. They build those buildings now for things other than hockey games."
Carbonneau will always have a lasting memory from that final night at the Forum – a picture of him and Turgeon taking the ceremonial opening faceoff with a puck dropped by Beliveau, Lafleur and Maurice Richard.
"For a kid from Quebec," Carbonneau said, "it was quite a night."