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Richard or Lafleur? TSN picks The Ultimate Canadiens Team

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TSN.ca Staff
1/23/2009 1:17:10 AM
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"What, no Guy Lafleur?"

"Where's Patrick Roy?"

"How could you not include Guy Lapointe?"

That was just a few of the reactions made by some of our staff when they caught a glimpse last week of The Ultimate Canadiens Team, which was officially unveiled today as part of TSN.ca's ongoing centennial tribute to the Montreal Canadiens.

With almost 1,000 players to choose from the team's 100-year history, this project was initially a team comprised of the 22 best players of all time. Greats like Lafleur, Bernie Geoffrion, Howie Morenz and Ken Dryden made up a 'Dream Team' lineup that featured the four best scoring lines, the top six defencemen and the two best goaltenders.

But upon further review, the players that made up the initial team will ALWAYS be remembered and revered - and rightfully so. Each player in the lineup was already an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and their names will always come up first when mentioning the Canadiens' great history.

What this lineup needed was substance and texture. A deeper perspective that highlights the players you don't always hear about in the same breath as the Beliveaus, Richards and Harveys.

That being said, The Ultimate Canadiens Team was given a complete overhaul.

Some hard calls were made as we built an all-time lineup along the lines of a real team - not an 'All-Star Team.' That means a lineup featuring starting and backup goalies, three defence pairs, plus first and second scoring lines, a checking line and an energy line. On top of that, a couple of stipulations were put in place - no more than eight Hall of Famers (one goaltender, three defencemen and four forwards) could be on this team and players had to be slotted into the positions that closely matched their real roles with the team.

The result: a squad that spans seven decades of team and individual greatness.

In goal, Jacques Plante gets the nod over Patrick Roy. Plante was a pioneering goalie who changed the face of the game and the way the position was played during the 1950s. His backup - Michel 'Bunny' Larocque, the consummate No. 2 goalie to Ken Dryden during the Habs' four-year Stanley Cup reign in the 1970s.

Heading the first pair of defencemen is the brilliant Doug Harvey, who didn't win the Norris Trophy as much as he owned it during the 1950s and 1960s. He controlled games so calmly, legend has it he could have played the game in a rocking chair. His partner - current Hab Mike Komisarek, the hard-hitting, shot-blocking perfect blueliner who's the complement to Harvey.

"Doug Harvey would be the Andrei Markov for our club," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau told TSN after reading over the lineup. "And both of them - Andrei and Mike - play together most of the time. Mike doesn't play the power play, but when it's time to take on the top line or play against the best players in the league, those two do a great job."

Teaming up on the second pair are Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. The longtime 1970s teammates were brilliant all-around defencemen who share the distinction of being the only two Montreal defencemen to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Filling the No. 5 and No. 6 slots on defence are Ted Harris, who provided toughness and size on four Stanley Cup-winning teams during the 1960s, and Craig Ludwig, a goalie's best friend who used his trademark wide shin pads to block shots during the 1980s. 

The Hall of Fame first line is a tribute to the historic teams that won five Stanleys Cups from 1956 through 1960. At left wing is Dickie Moore, the relentless puck hound who won two scoring championships. At right wing is Maurice Richard, the very spirit of scoring who retired with 544 goals - a standard that stood as tops all-time in the NHL for 11 seasons. In the middle - Jean Beliveau, whose 10 berths on the first and second all-star team are second only to Wayne Gretzky's 15 in the NHL record books.

The second line is a blend of spit and polish. Nineteen-sixties left winger John Ferguson won five Cups in eight seasons and a reputation as the best policeman in hockey history. Active centre Saku Koivu is a lower case Henri Richard. Like the Pocket Rocket before him, Koivu does it with speed, skill and stick-to-it-iveness. And at right wing, Bobby Rousseau, who delivered silky skill and consistent offence during the 1960s.

The checking line is led by Bob Gainey. He was so good at his job, the NHL introduced the Frank Selke Trophy for best defensive forward in 1978 and Gainey won it the first four years. Carbonneau was a premier penalty-killer who won faceoffs and the Bob Gainey Trophy, sorry we mean the Frank Selke Trophy, three times during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Right winger Claude Provost was kryptonite to Bobby Hull's Superman in the 1960s and the Habs' diligent defensive conscience for 15 seasons.

Finally, the energy line. Four-time Cup champion Andre Pronovost was part of the 1950s powerhouse team; centre Brian Skrudland was an accumulation of flying appendages and a human java jolt who started his career with a Cup victory in 1986; and right winger Jimmy Roberts won five Cups during the 1960s and 70s, raising the utility role to an art form.

There you have it, a virtual reality Montreal Canadiens team that, like the real one over much of its 100 seasons, would be virtually unbeatable. "I think they can take on pretty much every team in the league," said Carbonneau with a smile.

The Ultimate Canadiens Team  (Photo: Getty Images/The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Getty Images/The Canadian Press)
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