It may be the most talked about opening round playoff series in many years.
Original Six, National Hockey League fabled foes, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are facing off in a best of seven playoff for the first time since 1979.
Prior to this year, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs met in 15 Stanley Cup playoff series with Montreal holding the edge 8-7.
Although the rivalry is no longer influenced by its historical associations, it remains symbolic of the relationship between Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal.
To me, one of the coolest facts of the Toronto-Montreal rivalry is that two legendary Hall of Fame forwards with northern Ontario roots won Stanley Cups with both teams — 12 in total.
Kirkland Lake native Dickie Duff won four Stanley Cups with Montreal and two with Toronto. And Timmins product Frank (The Big M) Mahovlich took home four Stanley Cups while with Toronto and two more with Montreal.
How amazing is that!
Further to that, the 85-year old Duff and the 83 year-old Mahovlich are, to this day, close friends.
There are, to be sure, feelings of nostalgia when thinking about the Leafs-Habs rivalry and the many Montreal players who I idolized during the glory years of the 1960s and into the 1970s.
Besides Mahovlich and Duff, other Canadiens favourites of mine were Rocket Richard, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Gump Worsley, Serge Savard, Peter Mahovlich, Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden.
My favourite Montreal coach? Without question, it was Hector (Toe) Blake.
My favourite hockey broadcaster of all time? Hands down, it was Danny Gallivan, the Hockey Night In Canada play by play man for the Habs.
Thrill of a lifetime? Being in Detroit to watch the Red Wings play host to the Habs and being able to get into the hotel where Montreal was staying and, along with my dad, get every player’s autograph, including the legendary Beliveau.
Whenever I think of anything to do with the old Canadiens, I think of my dad, Fred Russon. It my was my dad that I got my love of hockey from. It was with my dad that I watched dozens and dozens of Saturday night hockey games on the old black and white television set in our Maple Street and Retta Street homes, in the Sault.
Funny story about my dad. When both Frank Mahovlich and Dickie Duff were starring with the Leafs, my dad couldn’t stand either one of them. When both ended up with the Habs, though, they became two of my dad’s favourite players, even remarking to me that he had “always been fond” of both of them. (I knew that wasn’t true but I just nodded my head and smiled at my dad.)
When I think about my dad and hockey, it is not just about how much he loved the Canadiens but how much he loathed the Maple Leafs, especially their coach, Punch Imlach.
Nowadays, there is still a Leafs-Habs rivalry among family members that includes my nine-year old great nephew, Owen.
Yes, Owen is a Leafs fan. Oh well. No kid is perfect.