The two girls are about 17 and cute and are wearing their hair in the short, neat style you see all over Montreal. They recognize the handsome kid in the sports car right away. They smile and giggle and wave. Yvan Cournoyer, who is stopped at a traffic light and is busy manipulating the automatic window controls of his $7,100 Corvette Sting Ray, notices them and smiles back for a moment, with the same cheerful grin he has just given the 10 youngsters who stopped him for autographs as he left a hockey practice at the Montreal Forum. "Everybody here loves hockey," he says, "Everyone seems to know who you are. You can see that, eh?" You can also see that Yvan likes the idea of people knowing who he is.
The light turns green, and Yvan presses the gas pedal down into the plush carpeting on the floor. The motor roars loud enough to be heard over Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, who are making another very loud noise on the radio. The back wheels spin for a second in the snow and slush of St. Catherine Street, and the driver smiles with pride as the green car races away from the young hockey fans. Yvan likes fast driving, too.
On this winter weekday he has a special reason to drive fast. He is on his way to buy clothes. But not merely to buy them—to study them, to caress them, to exchange them and have them adjusted until they are just right for both his Continental wardrobe and his powerful build. Yvan drives to the Place Ville Marie, an underground shopping center full of fashionable stores and wealthy business people and more pretty girls wearing short hair and miniskirts, although it is 5� below zero outside. He parks his car and enters Holt-Renfrew Lt�e., one of the very best stores in the area. " Monsieur Cournoyer," someone says. He is immediately surrounded by four salesmen. It is well known in Montreal that Yvan likes nice clothes nearly as much as neat girls and fast cars.
His problem of the moment is a $17 baby-blue sport shirt that does not fit properly. "The neck size is all right," he says, "but the shoulders are too tight." This is understandable, for Yvan has the shoulders of a small bull on his taut and muscular 5'7" body. As notable as the shoulders are his large wrists, which have been strengthened by long shooting drills with a homemade two-and-a-half-pound steel puck to the point where Yvan now possesses one of the best wrist shots in hockey. A young salesman begins searching the shelves for a suitable shirt. While he waits, Yvan spots a pair of light-green slacks with a single square pocket, sleek lines and a rope-textured belt. He tries them on and buys them for $25.
The young clerk still can't find the right size shirt, but now another clerk, speaking quickly and smoothly in French, has Yvan's attention. He brings out a hand-tailored calfskin jacket. "Beautiful," Yvan says, "but I've got one just like it."
Cournoyer is 23 and single and makes something like $18,000 a year playing right wing for the Montreal Canadiens, the Stanley Cup champions of 1966. He lives in Lachine, a suburb of Montreal, with his family, and his father needs no financial help from him. This leaves Yvan in an excellent position to save money. But he is an exciting hockey player who is just beginning to get a real chance to become a star. He has many good years ahead in which to worry about saving. For the moment he'd just as soon spend a little. He works hard at the game he plays for his living, and he enjoys its reward: a kind of suspended and untroubled state of happiness in the town that is the ultimate goal of every French-speaking kid who even thinks about playing hockey in Canada. "Playing for the Canadiens," Yvan says, "is like a dream for me."
To most outsiders there is a magical quality about the whole Montreal hockey scene. A tradition, a heritage, a mystique remain with the team and the city even in years like this one, when the Canadiens are struggling just to stay above the .500 mark and are in imminent danger of losing the cup in the April playoffs. Separate and somewhat mysterious, Les Habitants are swarthy, dashing men whose native tongue is foreign to the ears of most hockey fans and who only occasionally deign to speak the fluid, accented English that makes them seem even more distant from the mere mortals who oppose them in the National Hockey League. Other teams skate; the Canadiens fly. Other teams have heroes; the Canadiens have demigods, of whom the greatest was Maurice (Rocket) Richard. English-speaking Canadians are important to the team, of course, yet the flavor of the club, like that of Montreal itself, is distinctly French. If a number of so-so hockey players have slipped in among the gods, the heritage still lives. Surely La Belle Province will produce yet another marvel to repel les �trangers and lead Montreal back to the top. In fact, many people around Montreal hockey have already decided that the new star will be Yvan Cournoyer.
Pete Morin has coached and owned hockey clubs in Montreal for 17 years. "In that whole time," he says, "I've only seen two kid players that I knew would definitely make it as successors to the Rocket. One was his brother Henri. The other, whom I first spotted when he was 15, is Cournoyer."
"Cournoyer had the shooting ability of an NHL star when he was 16," says Claude Ruel, the Canadiens' chief scout for eastern Canada, who coached Yvan in junior hockey. "From the first day I laid eyes on him I knew he'd make it. He's a natural scorer, always going to the net and always thinking when he's in front of it. You've either got that scoring knack or you haven't, and Yvan's always had it." Ruel pauses and then adds the highest compliment available to him: "Like the Rocket."
Such comparisons naturally embarrass Yvan. "The Rocket was everything in hockey to me," he says. "I guess it was the same for most kids in Montreal. Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, sure, they're great players. But you can't tell many people who grew up here that the Rocket wasn't the greatest that ever lived. How could I ever compare to him?"