Join Date: Aug 2005
Entertaining story of Aurel Joliat
One of Montreal's greatest early-day stars was little Aurel Joliat. The Mighty Atom, a native of Ottawa, came east from Saskatoon to join the Habs in the spring of 1923, replacing Newsy Lalonde, who had been sold to the western club.
For the next 16 seasons, Joliat toiled for the Habs, often lining up with Howie Morenz to provide Forum fans with some of the most astonishing playmaking and scoring ever seen.
Montrealers never knew how fortunate they were to have a hale hand hearty Joliat in their midst. For he never told them of that night in Iroquois Falls, and how he escaped the wrath of two seedy gents bent on murdering him.
Here's what happened. Joliat, fresh from a good season in amateur hockey, went west from Ottawa to seek his fortune. His path took him to Iroquois Falls, where he hooked up with an intermediate team. The Falls team was scheduled to play a championship match against a rival club and Joliat was approached on the afternoon of the match.
Two sinister-looking types whispered an offer in his ear. They'd give Aurel $500 if he'd throw the game and let the rival team win.
Joliat asked for a peek at the cash because he'd never seen $500 before. The wad was flashed and Joliat couldn't help himself; he grabbed the money and pocketed it.
The gamblers showed up at rinkside, satisfied that the many bets they'd made would pay off handsomely. Joliat showed up with a train ticket in his pocket and his travelling bag packed.
Iroquois Falls won the game easily, thanks to Joliat's six-goal scoring spree. After the match, the gamblers fought their way through the jubilant crwod to the Falls' dressing room. It was clear they had murder on their minds. But their intended victim proved to be just as slippery a target in street shoes as he was on skates.
While the gamblers seethed outside the dressing-room door, Joliat slipped out another exit, raced to the railroad station, and climbed aboard the night train headed west. Only when he reached Regina did his pulse return to normal. Needless to say, he never went back to Iroquois Falls.
Putting one over on a pair of gamblers may have been Joliat's inspiration for some of his on-ice shenanigans. Throughout his long career he was noted for taunting opponents, needling them until they ended up making mistakes and wearing goat horns. As one wag put it, "Joliat was so good at getting guys to mess up he should have started a goat farm."
When Aurel Joliat hung up his skates at the close of the 1937-38 season, hockey lost one of its most picturesque characters. Joliat's career as a left winger extended over 16 years of play at the major-league level, and he was always a superstar. Joliat was often the target of opponents, for he wore a little black cap on his head - a cap with a peak - like a baseball player. Opposing players, when Joliat sifted by, would swipe at that cap with a gloved hand, and if they dislodged it, a mighty roar of yeahs and boos was bound to follow. Infuriated by this lack of respect, Joliat would retrieve his cap, cover his bald spot with it, and vow to make the hated rival suffer. Sometimes he did it by scoring one of his patented goals; more often he cracked the cap-disturber acros the ankles with a two-hander - hard enough to make him think twice about a repeat offence.
They called Joliat the Mighty Atom of hockey and it was no mosnomer. He weighed in at 130 pounds. He was a marvellous stickhandler and had an unusual abundance of "hockey sense," which is simply a way of saying that he did the right thing at the right time.
One Montreal writer of his era said, "He rolled away from 200-pounders, faded from the path of charging rivals and sidestepped and hurdled his way clear of smashing body-blows, flying elbows and jabbing butt-ends. His amazing quickness saved him from untold punishment over the years and kept him going, like a brook, apparently forever."
"Oldtime hockey players like me were the dumbest bunch of athletes in the world," Aurel Joliat once said. "We never got paid what we deserved and most of us didn't have sense enough to save what money we got."
Joliat, then 85, was reminiscing about the pioneer days of the NHL and his career with the Canadiens. Born in Ottawa, he joined the Habs in 1922 (traded for a fading Newsy Lalonde) and played left wing on a line with Howie Morenz and Billy Boucher. He stayed around until 1938, when he retired as the highest-scoring left winger in history, with 270 goals.
"Retired hell!" he'd often snort. "They fired me when the Montreal Maroons folded and some of their players moved over to the Canadiens. I'm still damn mad about that."
"And don't say I played with Morenz," he added with a wink. "Although I tried to. Morenz was so fast I had to scoot well ahead of him on a rush or I was always lagging behind him, trying to catch up. Nobody ever played that as a teenager when he fell off a roof, tumbled 35 feet to the ground, and landed on his back. He played 13 seasons in the NHL with two displaced vertebrae, which caused him great pain and forced him to wear an elaborate truss at all times. Then there were stomach ulcers that he mostly ignored. He was tough enough to become a star kicker with his hometown Ottawa Rough Riders, until a broken leg caused him to think seriously about concentrating full-time on hockey.
"Well, I guess I was tough enough," he once said. "You had to be to survive. But I wasn'tthe toughest. That mule-headed sonofabitch Eddie Shore was the meanest, toughest player I ever met. I was rushin' up the ice at the Forum one night when my lights went out. Shore hit me with a check that almost killed me. I was what? 130 pounds at the time and he musta been 190. He dislocated my shoulder and they carried me off in a lot of pain. Then I look around and Shore is leading a fancy rush. Forget the sore shoulder. I leaped over the boards and intercepted the big bugger. Hit him with a flyin' tackle. Hit him so hard he was out cold on the ice. He had it comin' I'd say . . ."
Joliat led the NHL in goals with 29 in 1925, played on three Stanley Cup teams, and was named MVP in 1934. Strangely, when the Habs won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1930 and 1931, Joliat failed to score in any of the 16 games. In 1985, 60 years after he played in the opening game at the Montreal Forum, he was invited back as an honorary member of the Canadiens' "dream team." Then aged 83, he delighted the fans with a display of vigorous skating and stickhandling. He even took a couple of pratfalls, one of them caused by the red carpet laid on the ice. "The ghost of Eddie Shore must have put that damn fug in front of me," he would mutter.
The late Bill Galloway, a hockey historian and one of Joliat's best friends, recalled a time when Joliat, then in his 70s, was invited to Boston for a reunion of living hockey legends. Among the celebrities was Punch Broadbent, another tough customer who had been a thorn in Joliat's side throughout their playing days.
In the press room prior to the dinner, the two oldtimers became embroiled in an argument over an incident that had occurred in a game played back in the '20s. Soon they were nose to nose and their voices, raised in anger, silenced the other conversations in the room. Then punches were thrown and a dandy fight developed. Finally, scratched and bleeding, the two old adversaries were pulled apart by half a dozen bystanders. They were marched off to their rooms and told to cool off and behave themselves. But the fight wasn't over. Moments later Joliat barged into Broadbent's room, flew at him with clenched fists, and round two was underway. Once again the peacemakers came running.
Finally, stated Galloway, NHL president Clarence Campbell was called and persuaded the two legends of the game to call a truce. By then they were so battered and bruised Campbell barred them from a group photo of the celebrities and told them to forget about attending the dinner that night. "Order room service and we'll pay for it," he barked as he departed. The following morning, Joliat was seen roaming the hotel lobby. "I'm looking for my old pal Broadbent," he told acquaintances. "I'd like to buy him breakfast, or better still, a few beers if we can find a bar that's open."
Not long after the Boston shenanigans, Joliat told Ottawa sports columnist Earl McRae he'd like to make a comeback in the NHL. "If a team made me the right offer I'd come back," he said straight-faced. "I'd show 'em."
"How long do you think you'd last out there?" McRae asked.
"About five minutes."
"Only five minutes a game?"
"Game hell - five minutes a shift!"