Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Today in Habs History: September 18th Edition

Canadiens forward Ryan Walter finds himself tied up in Central Red Army’s crease on Sept18, 1990. (Photo: Andre Pichette)

Habs 1990 Friendship Tour Was Not So Friendly

It certainly was not a normal training camp for the Montreal Canadiens in 1990. A  two-week excursion to Sweden and the Soviet Union was indeed a new experience for the club, but with families in tow it wasn’t what coach Pat Burns really wanted. With his experience from behind the bench at the 1987 World Junior Championships still fresh in his mind, Burns was still uneasy about Soviet-NHL relations. He wouldn’t be wrong.

The Berlin Wall had fallen but life in the Soviet Union hadn’t changed too much. It was certainly an experience for the Canadiens players to see how life was on the other side of the Iron Curtain. “It makes you appreciate what we have,” said forward Denis Savard. “You don’t realize until you come here how poor this country is.”

“It’s a bit scary,” added Ryan Walter. “I hope Gorbachev can come up with some bread,” he added, in reference to a bread shortage observed when the team visited Leningrad.

Travelling outside after dark was limited, primarily due to language restrictions and no place for the players to visit or even go for a burger. The players were more focused on hockey than to play tourist and their wives were afraid to go out without their husbands as many were thought to be hookers. A sense of home arrived following the second last game of the tour, when Patrick Roy discovered a Pizza Hut in Moscow.

One thing was for certain, the Soviet hockey fans recognized the sweater and logo of the Montreal Canadiens. “You would not believe how widely recognized the CH is internationally. It’s phenomenal,” said Habs tough guy Todd Ewen. “That logo means so much across the world. We’d put on our Canadiens gear and everyone wanted to get a hold of it – it’s the tradition and the pinnacle of hockey.

When Ewen said everyone wanted to get a hold of it, her really meant it. The notorious Soviet black market would get anything they could get their hands on. Luxurious items from the west were no exception. Team track suits vanished, Stephan Lebeau had his clothes stolen and even the players wives makeup was reported stolen. If it wasn’t locked up in a hotel room safe, there was a good chance it wouldn’t be there when one returned to their hotel room.

Then there was focusing on camp and the games against the Soviet Clubs. “To us this is pre-season hockey, it doesn’t have too much importance,” said Burns. “But the Soviets have put a lot of emphasis on these games, too much emphasis sometimes.” Montreal managed to win their first two games against lesser squads SKA Leningrad and Dynamo Riga, but perhaps worn out from the unusual camp found themselves undisciplined in a 4-1 loss to Dynamo Moscow.

Up next to close the tour would be the Soviet League’s top team, Central Red Army (CSKA). The Canadiens and CSKA history dated back to 1975 during the famous New Year’s Eve game, deemed by many as the finest hockey game ever played. The 1990 version would be far from it as “Cold War on Ice” tensions would most certainly rise again.

The game was started off spirited with the teams exchanging goals in the first period. Mark Pederson scored first for the Canadiens on the powerplay. Minutes later a speedy ypung Russian named Pavel Bure dashed in and shoved his own rebound past Patrick Roy.

(Photo: Andre Pichette)

Goals were exchanged again by the two teams in the second period as Sylvain Lefebvre would score another power play goal, only to have that answered by another future NHLer, Sergei Zubov.

But late in the period, things began to get ugly. Mike McPhee of Montreal and future Canadiens defenseman Vladimir Malahov dropped the gloves at 18:53 of the period, earning game misconducts. Other players received roughing minors.

In the third period, Peter Svoboda was tossed for a deliberate attempt to injure and by this time fans had started to throw bottles onto the ice and at the Canadiens bench. Play was stopped on a couple occasions as the rink crews cleaned up the ice.

Then at 13:33, things got out of hand at the Canadiens blueline as several scuffles broke out. Shayne Corson and Stephane Richer jumped off the Habs bench to join the melee and a brawl ensued. Footage of what happened next can be seen below from a Russian YouTube upload.

More bottles made their way from the stands and coins struck the Canadiens players. As a bottle of vodka shattered in from of the Montreal bench, Burns had seen enough. “Let’s get out of here,” Burns shouted as he ordered his players off the ice. “They (the crowd) were throwing things," Burns said. "I wanted to make sure nobody would get hurt."

The Canadiens stayed in their locker room for 10 minutes until president of the Soviet hockey federation Leonid Kravchenko, at Burns’ request, urged the fans to calm down. Not wanting to see his NHL visitors leaving on negative experiences (it was already too later for that) Kravchenko apologized for the actions of the fans and Burns agreed to bring the players back onto the ice.
The game would continue and go into overtime where Andrei Kovalenko would win the game for the home squad.


Soviet response was all over the Canadiens for their actions. Viktor Tikhonov who coached both CSKA and the Soviet National team responded first. “They started this fight and they had no right to leave the ice,” he said. "I've seen the Montreal Canadiens play many times and this is the first time I've seen them play this kind of roughhouse game."Before, Montreal always played close to our style and I have no idea how to explain this new behaviour."
Vladislav Tretiak, the Russian goaltending legend who had always admired  the Canadiens organization, also spoke out. “Canadian players have always been clean sportsmen,” he said. “But in this match they used the dirtiest moves, hitting players already down on the ice and jumping out from the bench to help their teammates in hand-to-hand fights.”

“It hasn’t been much fun,” said Burns remarked afterwards, as he vented on the game and the tour as a whole. “I don't think it's fair. I don't think it is worth it. We’ve been stalled and lied to and and we’ve been almost shafted in every corner in nearly every place we’ve been.
“I don't think it is something we should be doing. Maybe it is hurting our
The Canadiens headed back to Montreal where they, as Burns put it, “had to start training camp all over again.”
Also on This Day:
1922: Edward "Newsy" Lalonde is traded to Saskatoon (WCHL) for the rights to Aurel Joliat and $3,500
1985: The Canadiens trade a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick in 1986 traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Dominic Campedelli
Habs Born on This Day: Scotty Bowman (1933), Ralph Backstrom (1937), Tom Chorske (1966), Peter Budaj (1982), Brock Trotter (1987)
Sources:, Aug 23,2013, “Mother Russia”
Bangor Daily News, September 18, 1990, AP, “Canadiens’ Exhibition series in Soviet Union eye-opener”

The Globe and Mail, September 19, 1990 , CP, “Habs abandon ice amid fan barrage Donnybrook sparks incident”

DiManno, Rosie, “Coach: The Pat Burns Story”

Special thanks to Francis Bouchard


  1. There is a mistake about the trade of Newsy Lalonde. This happened on November 3th, 1922.

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