Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sainte-Flanelle: illustrated history; 1935-36

The 1935-36 Canadiens pose outside of the Forum

Twenty-seven seasons into their existence, the future of the Canadiens was very much in doubt.

Caught in the teeth of the ongoing depression, the team was hemorrhaging money to the point where owners Leo Dandurand and Joseph Cattarinich sought permission from the NHL to suspend operations for a year in a bid to get costs under control. The league denied the request, citing that although the Canadiens weren’t drawing particularly well at the Forum, they were still good for a boost in attendance at other rinks around the league.

The fact was that the NHL couldn’t afford to lose two teams prior to the season. The owners of the St. Louis Eagles, formerly the Ottawa Senators, had also sought permission to suspend operations for a season in preparation for a move back to Canada’s capital. Instead, the league purchased the franchise and player contracts on October 15th for $40,000 and the Eagles were no more, their players dispersed amongst the remaining teams.

Faced with having to endure mounting losses, Dandurand and Cattarinich sold the Canadiens to the Canadian Arena Company, who already owned Montreal’s other NHL team, the Maroons. Unbeknownst to their rivals, a mid-season trade, one of the most lop-sided in Hab history, would set the Canadiens up for success for many years to come.

Goalie Lorne Chabot, who had previously played 47 games for the Canadiens in 1933-34 before moving on to the Chicago Black Hawks and winning the Vezina trophy the following season, was suspended by the Hawks for refusing a demotion to the minors. Luckily for the Habs, they picked up Chabot’s contract and flipped it to the Maroons for a talented young winger named Hector Blake, who had played 8 games the previous season with the Maroons, winning the Stanley Cup in the process. As a Canadien, he would go on to win 10 more Stanley Cups, including 8 as head coach, a Hart Trophy, a Lady Byng Trophy, a scoring title, and 4 All-Star selections. Getting centre Bill Miller along with Blake was just icing on the cake.

As for Chabot, he went on to play a further 22 games in the NHL, winning 10.

Jean Bourcier, who with his brother Conrad played just one season, 1935-36, with the Canadiens

Success, however, was still a ways off for the Habs. The 1935-35 season saw the team go 3-2 in their first 5 games, but a string of 11 winless games to round out December 1935 plus a steak of 3-14-5 to end the season was good (or if you prefer, bad) enough to land the Habs the worst record in the 8-team league.

If the Canadiens of 1935-36 were superstitious, perhaps their lack of success on the ice had something to do with their sweaters. No one knows why (perhaps it was from Dandurand and Cattarinich trying to save money by using a blind seamstress) but the CH logos were stitched upside-down onto the sweaters. That’s right… with the serif on the ‘C’ facing downward. Oops!

One other major change in the Sainte-Flanelle was the omission of the secondary logo that had adorned the left sleeve the previous season, centered on the arm stripe. Another cost-saving measure, perhaps? Also of note, the extra-wide shoulder yoke encompassed a solid-white collar. The sleeves and the hem of the sweater were cuffed, and interestingly, the team photo from outside the Forum also appears to show a single white stripe on the waist, instead of the now-traditional one white above one blue.

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