The end of the season is nigh. Tonight will mark the end of a lengthy Stanley Cup drought for someone, either Boston (who haven’t won since ’72) or Vancouver (joined in ’70-71 and haven’t won one at all). This follows on the heels of Chicago ending their drought last year. This sort of trend could bode well for my Leafs if they could break with past form do something bizarre like make the playoffs. Stranger things have happened.
The second card in the long-neglected 1964-65 Tall Boys set is Gilles Tremblay of Montreal. The Habs of ’64-65 would end their longest Cup drought of their 24-year romp through the NHL. Between 1956 and 1979, Montreal would win 15 of 24 possible championships. The longest time without a Cup in that span was the four seasons between 1960-61 and 1963-64. During this time, they underwent a remarkable retooling that left them poised to win four of the next five, all while finishing first three times and third once.
The key to Montreal’s success was the farm system put together by Frank Selke, a pipeline that churned out player after player and let Montreal deal off any part that wasn’t working. They were able to lose players like the Rocket, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and Tom Johnson and not miss a beat.
One of the players brought in during this mini-drought was Gilles Tremblay. He made his first appearance in 1960-61 and though he wouldn’t be part of the 1964-65 Cup win (his season ended in December 1964 with a leg injury), he’d be a big part of the wins in ’66 and ’68.
Gilles was one of those rare players that championship teams need to have around. He was one of the fastest skaters in the game, could check the best opposition forwards and kill penalties all while popping 25 goals per season. If there had been a Selke Trophy in those days, Gilles and Bob Pulford would have fought over it every single year. (There were other great checkers, to be sure, but none who put up that sort of offensive numbers.)
The thing that did in Gilles was injuries. Only twice did he play a full season (though he was close on one other occasion). He missed 10 games in ’62-63, 9 in ’63-64, 44 in ’64-65 and another 8 in ’66-67. He had a mostly-healthy ’67-68, then had his career ended half-way through ’68-69 due to complications from asthma. He was finished at age 33. Given how expansion had stretched the careers of many of his contemporaries, this probably cost him 5 seasons.
Gilles became a fixture on “La Soirée du Hockey” (Hockey Night in Canada on French CBC), being part of the broadcast team for 27 seasons. He won the Foster Hewitt Award for broadcasting in 2002.