Just before I put 1993 in the rearview mirror (Pearl Jam’s Vs. and Nirvana’s In Utero were both released in ’93), or at least until the next Canadian NHL franchise makes a serious run at the Stanley Cup, I’d like to share and expand on a few more vivid memories of what I was up to before (and after) Guy Carbonneau handed the Cup to Denis Savard at centre ice at the Montreal Forum. These memories, some a little hazy, come at me in waves.
I spent the last week of May (2018) and the first week of June watching as much of the ’93 playoff run that exists. Since I covered all the Habs’ home games that spring, plus the entire Stanley Cup Final, I got to see, and listen to, many of these games on TV for the first time. Bob Cole, Harry Neale, Dick Irvin and Chris Cuthbert were a sheer delight in the booth, as Chris still is.
I’d like to acknowledge and thank Gary Leeman (“Leave Marty McSorley alone. We would have won anyway.”), Benoit Brunet, Kirk Muller, Stephane Lebeau, Guy Carbonneau and Serge Savard for sharing their stories on the air in early June. I just wish we could have spoken to Jacques Demers as well.
It wasn’t easy launching Montreal’s first all-sports radio station in May 2001, followed just four months later (as hockey training camps got underway) by the events of 9/11. But Jacques helped us so much, appearing every morning at 6:55, so full of energy that it didn’t matter how badly Ted Blackman and I might have been dragging our asses. Jacques was our wake up call. And in fact, on the morning of September 11, 2001, Jacques was with us in the Team 990 (and CHOM) building on Greene Avenue, as we taped a television commercial for the morning show, when the planes hit.
What was apparent back in ’93 and driven home by the former players we spoke to on the air, is how perfect Demers was to coach them, in the immediate aftermath of Pat Burns. The hiring of Demers and the Burns hiring in Toronto was choreographed by Savard and his good friend, the super agent Don Meehan. While Burns’s old school, hard ass approach pushed the ’93 Maple Leafs to within a win of the final against his former team, it was Demers’s more player-friendly touch that allowed the Habs to breathe again, free of the tension that existed in Pat’s final year behind the bench in Montreal. A classic case of bad cop/good cop.
My own journey through 1993 began at Expos training camp in late February. Elliott Price had been hired to work Expos games on the newly rebranded CIQC Radio. The old CFCF Radio 600, where I worked in 1981, had fallen on hard times. It’s umpteenth format change was to country music. Elliott and I had been working together at CJAD since 1982. By ’93 he had tunnel vision. He wanted to be a baseball broadcaster. Meanwhile, I was doing everything in the CJAD sports department – hosting the guest heavy talk show, “Sportsphone” from 11:15 until 1 AM; covering Habs and Expos games as a reporter; working on air weekend shifts with Dave Fisher and filling in for Blackman on the morning show with George Balcan. Plus, I was hosting the “Hot Stove” Pre-Game show prior to our Saturday night broadcasts at the Forum. I had a blast moderating hockey discussions featuring Dick Irvin, Red Fisher, Steve Shutt and occasionally, Blackman and special guests Dickie Moore and Danny Gallivan. I loved the work but not the time consuming hours that went with it, a necessity since a basic salary simply wasn’t enough. With a two year old daughter at home, I yearned for a more normal schedule.
There were no plans for CJAD to send me to Expos training camp in the late winter/spring of ’93. But once Elliott jumped to CIQC and was set up in Florida he suggested that perhaps Blackman and ‘AD would give me a week in the sun as long as they didn’t have to cover the cost of a hotel. So Elliott and I were roommates again (as we had been in the 80s living on Marlowe and then at the corner of Sherbrooke and Claremont in NDG). One morning the hotel phone rang early. While I only heard Elliott’s side of the conversation, I could tell he was excited about something. Turned out he had just been informed that CIQC was again about to undergo a format change and had just hired Joe Cannon to host their morning show.
A short time after I arrived back home I received a phone call from Claude Default, who was the general manager at CIQC. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in hosting their Drive Home show. A meeting was quickly scheduled. Claude informed me that the station was serious about going after CJAD. That they would be a star-driven talk station. That Cannon’s hiring would be followed by Tommy Schnurmacher to host the mid-morning slot. And that CIQC would be the first radio station in Canada to carry Rush Limbaugh’s rapidly growing U.S. syndicated show. Rush was going to be my lead-in. (You didn’t miss it. It never happened. ) I had terribly mixed feelings. I loved working with Blackman and Balcan and the group on Fort Street. CJAD had become my home. But I seemed to be spending more time there than at my real home on Tupper Street. I knew the timing was right.
One of the most difficult phone calls I ever had to make was to inform Ted that I was going to start working at the new 600 and their studio and offices on McGill College. I’ll never forget his response. It was loud and profanity driven. I didn’t say much while he ranted. When he finally calmed down, he did manage to bring himself to wish me luck. But then he added, “I figured one of these days you’d leave but not for that fucking barn down the street!”
And so, for the first time since Ted Tevan had hosted a 4-7 show on CFOX in the 1970s, Montreal had a Drive Home sports show. My on air debut was Monday, March 1, 1993. But it was very emotional. Danny Gallivan, whom I had kept in touch with on a regular basis, had agreed, during a brief phone call, to be my first guest. But our conversation was among the last that Danny ever had. He died a day later, five days before I was scheduled to start. Instead of a freewheeling couple of hours with one of the greatest broadcasters the country has known, I ended up inaugurating my first show the same day of Danny’s funeral, helped out by a series of special guests who made their way downtown following the service. Among them were Red Storey, Dickie Moore and the CBC’s Bob McDevitt. It was the on air equivalent of an Irish wake.
I can’t stress often enough how hearing Danny Gallivan’s voice as a child changed my life. The effect it had on me was like magic. It was electrifying and colourful and intelligent and very warm. The fact that he later thought highly enough of my own work to let me know about it meant everything to a young broadcaster who aimed high. Not because of ambition. But because I had no choice, since the bar had been raised to a level of excellence that eventually required tip toes and heels to even think of reaching. On top of the sports broadcasting industry is where Danny Gallivan lived. And he was still around. Not working, but listening. No matter what it was I was up to on the air in my 20s and 30s I always spoke to myself and asked “what would Danny think?” (Another great voice from my youth was Claude Mouton, the P.A. announcer at Jarry Park who later became the voice of the Forum and the Habs media relations director. Claude was especially in his element at playoff time on the road when he’d host poker games in the Habs’ hospitality suite. Claude died of cancer at 61, about a month after Danny died.)
In March of 1993 the Montreal Canadiens were in the homestretch of a very good season. But offered no real hint at being a championship calibre team. When they fell behind two games to none to Quebec in the first round of the playoffs there was a heavy shift to the 1993-94 season. And it was largely based on what Serge Savard would be able to get in return for Patrick Roy.
And then Daniel Bouchard, the former Nordiques goalie who famously melted after the Good Friday brawl at the Forum in the deciding game of the 1984 Montreal-Quebec playoff series, decided it was the perfect time to speak up. By this time he was Quebec’s goalie coach. Bouchard matter-of-factly stated that he had found a flaw in Roy’s game. The comments did nothing but reenergize and refocus Roy into a zone he didn’t leave until his team won the Stanley Cup. Roy’s record post-Bouchard comments was a staggering 16-2 with 10 wins in overtime. On home ice, where they wrapped it all up on June 9, the Habs were 10-1.
Sensing a strong opportunity to establish a presence during the important spring ratings I arranged to cover the Habs in Los Angeles during the final. While almost everybody can remember the back to back overtime goals by John LeClair, what stands out to me to this day is a series of snapshots I wish I could show off, if only I had the good sense to bring along a camera.
- All the NHL trophies – including the Stanley Cup – were on display in the lobby of the media hotel which also served as the league’s headquarters. As some of us circled the Cup, Ron Francis, the radio voice of the Habs on CJAD, pointed to the bottom of it and proclaimed, “Yep, there’s my name.”
- One of the best Mexican meals I ever had was with some of my colleagues, including Ron, Randy Tieman and Michael Whelan at a terrific spot that might have been called El Compadre. Montrealers were simply not aware of top notch, authentic Mexican food in the early 90s. It was an eye opener, a gateway to my never ending search for the perfect Mexican meal in my own city. I also remember that Whelan always carried around his own mini bottle of hot sauce to add to his meals. But I don’t think he pulled the bottle out in LA.
- A bumpy taxi ride with too many of us squeezed into the car headed to Chavez Ravine. It was our first visit to Dodger Stadium, with last minute tickets arranged by Expos Media Relations Director Rich Griffin, through Los Angeles native Tim Wallach. We were way up along the first base side but the cold beer and Dodger dogs were the perfect compliment to a scene that never fails to thrill me whenever I see the full television shot looking out beyond the park to the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. I don’t remember a thing about the actual game but I’ll never forget the sights.
- Unimpressed by the immediate area of the NHL’s hotel and the bus ride to and from the Forum in Inglewood, I discovered Santa Monica and the beaches thanks to the Habs’ decision to not practice between games and make coach Demers and a couple of players available in their hotel lobby. I sat at the pool for a bit with, among others, Jacques Lemaire and travelling secretary Michelle Lapointe. But spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. And for the first time since landing in Los Angeles, I understood the attraction.
- At night, it was Manhattan Beach that beckoned. In particular a spot called Harry-O’s. (Harry-O was a TV show in the 70s starring David Janssen of “The Fugitive” fame, and a pre-Charlie’s Angels Farrah Fawcett.) Many of the Kings lived in the area and it became a popular hang out. In 1993 it was partly owned by former NHL’er Billy Harris. The entire hockey world seemed to be there following game three and again the next night. But what I most remember is the sheer volume of spandex and cleavage.
- There was no press box at the Forum. Owner Bruce McNall had to turn over an entire section to the media and visiting teams. My seat mate was Larry Wigge who covered the NHL for years in The Sporting News. In between the second and third periods of game four I decided to make my way down to the concession stands at ice level. It was a mob scene. But I did run into actor James Woods. As passers by shouted out at him he flashed a smile that could only be described as maniacal.
- Following the Habs’ 10th overtime win, on the long flight back to Montreal (and as somebody who didn’t enjoy flights, especially long ones) I kind of pleaded with Steve Shutt to tell me that we would not have to make the trip back. “No way, don’t worry about it.” said Shuttie. “They’re done.” He said it so convincingly that I didn’t contact the Habs again about a seat on their charter or a media pass for game six.
- I watched the on ice celebration following the Habs 4-1 win in the clincher from ice level, just behind a veteran police officer and Habs’ Assistant GM Jacques Lemaire. I was in the hallway between the end of the bench and the Montreal room, where many of my media colleagues were standing in line. I didn’t see the point of getting in line since I knew it was going to be awhile. It was from the exact same spot I stood and watched four years earlier when the Calgary Flames became the only visiting team to win the Cup on Forum ice.
- Once inside the room it was joyous mayhem. I spent so much time observing, with the Cup so close, that I purposely just stood and watched, to try to take it all in before having to turn on my tape machine. I didn’t socialize with players but certainly had my favourites. And it was a thrill to see those guys – Kirk Muller, Mike Keane, Guy Carbonneau and Lyle Odelein – as happy as they’d ever be. I vividly recall an incredibly crowded room with family and close friends also taking part in the celebration, including Kirk’s wife Stacey. The only post-game interview I remember conducting was with Lemaire – in the other hallway outside the room near where the coaches offices were. It was just the two of us. Lemaire was full of pride and a terrific source of background info on how Serge Savard and the staff had put together Montreal’s first championship in seven years. A few weeks later Lemaire would resume his coaching career with the New Jersey Devils, where he’d go on to win another Cup the following season.
- The parade was a bit of a downer, compared to the one in 1986. And especially because it was moved from Sainte-Catherine Street to Sherbrooke in the aftermath of the rioting. I watched the big flatbed trucks roll by from the north side of Sherbrooke near St. Mathieu. I was standing next to Pat Caporali. Mike Keane spotted us and gave us a big wave while flashing a shit eating grin. I couldn’t see his other hand, since he was up against the side of the truck and our full view was blocked by the side of the truck. Later, I asked Keane about it and he told me that he had consumed so much beer that he had to relieve himself into a large plastic beer cup just as we made eye contact.
What a fitting way to remember the final moments of the celebration of the 1993 NHL season. I don’t recall anything beyond that, other than turning my attention to the Montreal Expos. Three months later one of the great moments in franchise history went down at Olympic Stadium.
The Expos went on quite the run in the late summer of ’93 but just ran out of time, finishing three games back of the eventual NL champion Philadelphia Phillies. But they sure did serve notice of what was coming in 1994. When it seemed possible, perhaps probable, that the city of Montreal would move from one sports champion to the next.
Thanks again fellas.
Mitch Melnick is host of Melnick in the Afternoon, weekdays from 2-6pm on TSN 690. Find more of Mitch's writing at MitchMelnick.com.