Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Today in Habs History: January 8th Edition

It was on this day in 1971 that the Big Bird officially landed in the NHL. Future Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson made his regular season debut on this day in 1973.
The Canadiens faced the visiting Minnesota North Stars and drew a 3-3 tie. The rookie defenseman was kept off the score sheet in his first game

Robinson was drafted by the Habs in 1971 in the second round and had seen some pre-season NHL action in the fall of 1971 and 1972. Lacking some self confidence that he would ever play in the NHL, and considered a diamond in the rough, he honed his pro skills with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs for two seasons.
Francis Bouchard, a fellow habs history buff, was able to find a pic of Big Bird, wearing the number 21 during a 1971 pre-season gam eagainst the Boston Bruins. The picture is from Stan Fischler’s book, “The Conquering Canadiens.”
Robinson21 (2)

In his autobiography, “Robinson: For the Defense,” the transition fro the AHL to the NHL reads, “A boy named Robinson went to the 1971 training camp of the Canadiens. A year later when they called my name, a man answered.”

He was disappointed to get sent back to Nova Scotia in the fall of 1972, but with a strong crop of defenders in Montreal, he would at least get ice time and further seasoning in the minors
Robinson’s patience would pay off that January. The defense corps was starting to pile up with injuries. Pierre Bouchard and Jacques Laperriere were both out of action and Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe were missing a game here and there due to “routine” injuries.

With goaltender Ken Dryden also hurting, the Canadiens didn’t want to take any chances and wanted the extra defenseman. The 6’4”, 200+ lb Robinson was called up, and given a pep talk from Voyageurs coach Al MacNeil, “Make your size work for you. Go up there and play tough, hit everything that moves.”

When Robinson got there, he never went back. He would spend time watching games from the press box, and saw little ice time to start out. After a couple of weeks, Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman called the rookie rearguard to his office. Bowman told Robinson to call for his family. He was staying put in Montreal. “Don’t worry about your ice time,” Bowman said. “Work hard in practice and you’ll get your time in. Count on it.”
Robinson would play 36 games (2G, 4A) to close out the season and earned the first of six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens that spring. Robinson noted scoring an overtime goal in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers as a highlight in his career.

He never missed the playoffs after that, playing for 20 consecutive years in the playoffs, an NHL record.

He would certainly get the ice time Bowman promised, becoming one of the most feared defensemen in the league. Along Savard and Lapointe, the trio would become one of the most dominant defensive corps in NHL history, commonly known as the Big Three.
Robinson would pick up two Norris Trophies in his career (1977, 1980) as well as a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1978.
He would would enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

A great write up on Big Bird at Greatest Hockey Legends.

Other notes on this day…

1959: Jacques Plante records his 41st career shotout in a 3-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1961: Jean Beliveau records his 300th assist in a losing effort, as the Canadiens lose 4-2 to the New York Rangers.

1986: Larry Robinson sets up three Canadiens goals in a 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

1998: Brian Savage has a six-point night (4G, 2 A) to lead the Habs past the New York Islanders 8-2. Savage was the first Canadiens player, since Joe Malone in 1917, to score six points in a road game.

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