50 Years Ago in Hockey: Baby Habs Upset Soviets

The Montreal Junior Canadiens, bolstered by the standout goaltending of Jacques Plante, posted a shocking 2-1 upset over the touring Russian nationals last night at the Forum in Montreal. The win for the  Baby Habs was the first a Canadian team has managed in four games against the Soviet stars during this tour. In fact, it was the first time a Canadian team had beaten the Russians since 1962 when the Windsor Bulldogs whipped them 9-2.

Norm Dennis Scores Winner

Norm Dennis, who plays for the Houston Apollos of the Central Professional Hockey League, scored the game winning goal with just 29 seconds left on the clock in the third period. Dennis was one of several pros brought in from the Canadiens’ Houston farm team to augment the Juniors’ lineup. He is a former captain of the Junior Canadiens.

Norm Dennis netted the game winner with 20 seconds left.
Norm Dennis netted the game winner with 20 seconds left.

The game was scoreless until nearly the half-way point of the second period. The Russians drew first blood at 9:04 when Vladimir Brezhnev beat Plante with a blazing shot from the blue line. The goal came on a power play with Houston defenseman Noel Picard in the penalty box.

The teams exchanged chances but no further scoring took place until 7:43 of the third. The Juniors finally tied things up when American-born Larry Pleau of Boston cashed in a nice setup from Norm Ferguson. It was a picture goal, as Ferguson drew Russian goalie Viktor Zinger over to his side of the net before sliding a perfect pass to Pleau, who made no mistake.

Pleau’s goal came just a couple of minutes after referee Frank Daigneault disallowed a goal by Montreal’s Andre Boudrias. Boudrias had fired a loose puck into the net, but the official had lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle scant seconds before it crossed the line.

The late winning goal was engineered by the Houston line of Boudrias, Dennis and Billy Inglis. Boudrias started the play when he won a battle in the corner and slipped the disk to Inglis by the boards. Inglis fired a shot that Zinger was able to handle. Before Russian netminder could corral the rebound, Dennis pounced on the loose puck and flipped it into the net.

The Forum exploded into a wild celebration and the ice was littered with programs, rubbers and other debris.

Plante Given Standing Ovation

Jacques Plante makes one of his 25 saves last night.
Jacques Plante makes one of his 25 saves last night.

However, this night belonged to Plante. Recognized as one of the great National Hockey League goaltenders of all time, Plante retired prior to the 1965-66 season after a long career with the Canadiens and New York Rangers. He made 25 saves, many of the difficult variety, as the Russians held an edge in play. His finest work came in the opening period when he stopped 13 Soviet shots.

As Plante helped clear the ice after the winning goal, he skated back to his net and slowly circled the cage. This prompted another lengthy standing ovation as the fans saluted their former hero as much for his career as for the outstanding show he put on during this game.

Plante was visibly moved the collective display of affection by the Forum fans.

I’ve never had anything like this in the Forum. I had a big ovation in New York when we shut out Detroit 3-0 in my first game for the Rangers. But this, it comes right at home and it’s too wonderful.

My knees began shaking and I choked right up.

Plante went into the game not knowing what to expect from the visitors. He said he was very nervous and that the pressure he experienced in this game was greater than that he faced during Stanley Cup playoff games in Montreal. He assessed the Russian thusly:

“They’re a good junior club. They shoot the puck well, but it’s not very hard. If they played in the junior league, we would soon get used to their back-passing. We began catching on to it in the third period.”

Those who have seen the Russians before noticed a trend in their play towards a more physical, even rougher game. A key for the Juniors was the strength of Houston defensemen Picard and Jean Gauthier, who were able to out-muscle the Soviets.

Bowman: Kids Played Well

Toe Blake and Scott Bowman
Jr. Habs coach Scotty Bowman with mentor Toe Blake.

Coach Scotty Bowman concurred with the idea that the Russians were more physical:

“The kids played well, especially in the third period. The thing I noticed with the Russians is that they are rougher, particularly in their own end. But they weren’t as sharp as before – they had more bad passes and offsides.”

Bowman was asked if his team had any specific game plan that they followed. His response surprised a few observers:

“We didn’t plan to play a tight game against them and we didn’t follow any set pattern.”

He went on to say that after the Russians took the lead in the second period, his team opened things up, and that ploy was successful.

Serge Savard
Serge Savard

While the Houston additions helped immensely, the junior players more than held their own against the tourists. Best of the Baby Habs were Serge Savard, Carol Vadnais, Pleau, Christian Bordeleau and Jacques Lemaire.

Russian assistant coach Arkady Chernichov praised Plante:

“It was he who held us from winning and I consider him the best player we have faced on this trip.”

Chernichov also commented that his team was playing its ninth game in 13 days and they were tired. He said that they had never faced such a gruelling schedule before.