Right in the middle of their 100th birthday party, the Montreal Canadiens had a huge surprise in store for two of their oldest living legends.
Emile Bouchard and Elmer Lach, among the team's 44 former players in the Hockey Hall of Fame, had their jersey numbers retired Friday night to cap a nostalgic on-ice ceremony prior to the Canadiens' centennial game against the Boston Bruins.
Hockey legend Gordie Howe was brought out to introduce Jean Beliveau, the last of 29 former Montreal players to walk out onto the red carpet before the jersey retirements were announced to the delight of the sold-out crowd of 21, 273.
"I'm very happy to be here to take part in this celebration," said the 78-year-old Beliveau, who won 10 Stanley Cups with Montreal from 1953-71.
Guy Lafleur was introduced by actor Viggo Mortensen, a lifelong fan of the team who addressed the crowd in French. Serge Savard introduced Patrick Roy, who led the Canadiens to their last two of a record 24 Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993.
Bouchard, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with Montreal from 1941-56, was then wheeled out onto the red carpet by son Pierre Bouchard, a former Montreal defenseman.
The 91-year-old Lach, the oldest living former Canadiens player, won three Stanley Cups from 1940-54. He joined his former teammate as Canadiens defenseman Ryan O'Byrne presented the 90-year-old Bouchard with a No. 3 banner.
O'Byrne then took off his jersey while the banners were being hoisted to reveal a No. 20 jersey. Lach's No. 16 was previously retired in honor of Henri Richard, who won a record 11 Stanley Cups and was on hand for the ceremony.
The lengthy pregame ceremony began with a video tribute to the events leading up to the team's 100th anniversary, beginning with the dual retirement of the No. 12 jersey in honor of Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer on Nov. 12, 2005.
The Canadiens, founded on Dec. 4, 1909, had previously retired the numbers of Howie Morenz (7), Maurice Richard (9), Beliveau (4), Henri Richard (16), Lafleur (10), Doug Harvey (2) and Jacques Plante (1), but none had been added to those ranks since 1995.
In a bid to update the honor roll in time for the team's 100th anniversary, Moore and Cournoyer's shared number was retired followed by Bernie Geoffrion, whose No. 5 was retired posthumously on March 11, 2006, after he passed away earlier in the day.
The numbers of Serge Savard (18), Ken Dryden (29), Larry Robinson (19), Bob Gainey (23) and Roy (33) were retired over each of the next three seasons and the team had said that no further numbers from the past would be retired.
That is, until Friday night.
With the addition of Bouchard and Lach, the Canadiens have now retired 15 numbers in honor 17 players, by far the most of any NHL team. Boston is next, with 10 retired jerseys.
Eddie Palchak, the Canadiens' former trainer, got the pregame ceremony underway when he came out to the team's bench and dumped a couple of buckets of pucks on the ice.
Roy then led a parade of 26 former Montreal players onto the ice in full uniform, including Lafleur, Cournoyer, Savard, Dryden, Robinson, Gainey, brothers Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Guy Lapointe, Rejean Houle, Pierre Bouchard, Steve Shutt, Yvon Lambert, Doug Jarvis, Chris Nilan, Guy Carbonneau, Mats Naslund, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Eric Desjardins, Mike Keane, Lyle Odelein, Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon and Patrice Brisebois.
With former Canadiens coaches Scotty Bowman, Claude Ruel, Jacques Demers and Jean Perron standing behind the bench, chants of "Guy! Guy! Guy!" from Lafleur's heyday in the 1970s were once again heard as the players skated around the ice, with Roy and Dryden _ currently a member of the Canadian parliament _ facing shots at opposite ends of the rink.
"I'm going to let you in on a little secret, because I'm sure there were only a few people watching this, but I'm glad that the warmup was only five minutes," Roy joked to the crowd.
Current members of the Canadiens joined the former players in uniform on benches set up on the red carpet, and more former players were introduced to the crowd before a huge team picture was taken.
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