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"Tom took that experience of not making the Olympic team and turned it into something positive," says Duluth coach Mike Sertich, whose team Kurvers captained and led to the NCAA championship game, which they lost to Bowling Green in quadruple overtime. "Tommy stopped taking unnecessary penalties and acquired a remarkable sense of poise." After missing five games because of an Oct. 23 injury to his right eye, Kurvers came back to play an unsteady game in Detroit. But on Saturday in Calgary he scored a shorthanded goal, burying a low slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle as Montreal tied the Flames 3-3.
"Keep 'em coming," says Ludwig of the two American rookies. Ludwig, a big (6'3", 212), easygoing blond Surfer Joe type who plays a punishing physical style and willingly throws himself in front of speeding pucks, has a theory that it's more than coincidence that American college players are making their impact as defensemen rather than forwards. Other Yank defenders: the Islanders' Ken Morrow, Detroit's Reed Larson, Buffalo's Mike Ramsey and Washington's peerless Rod Langway.
"In college you have five practices for every two games, so you get a lot of coaching," he says. "In juniors it might be just the reverse. Lots of games and travel and not as many practices. And defense is a more coachable position."
Kurvers and Chelios agree, and Kurvers points out that the physical style of the WCHA—where all three Canadien Yanks played their college hockey—is similar to that in the NHL.
These days the Montreal dressing room seems loose and fraternal. As a photographer assembles the American players for a group shot, Nilan yells out, "Some of the toughest guys in hockey in this picture."
"Toughest to look at," says veteran forward Steve Shutt, regarding the shaved heads of Chelios, Kurvers and Turcotte.
"You guys going out with girls with a hair fetish or something?" asks Robinson.
The day before, as the rookies were led, naked and blindfolded, to a table to be shorn with electric clippers, there were signs that Canadien solidarity cuts across nationalistic lines. As Robinson led an ashen-faced Svoboda—who at this point was probably wondering why he had defected—down the hall, the veteran said quietly, "Hey, it's all right. We're not going to hurt you." Meanwhile, Nilan had no compassion for his fellow Americans and was cackling with undisguised sadistic glee as he led Kurvers to the table. "I'm here to make sure nothing happens to the Americans. Stick with me, Tommy. Heh, heh, heh."
"It [the rookie shaving] brings the team together," says Lemaire, who willingly looked the other way while the team resumed the hazing that had been banned during the 2�-year reign of former Montreal coach Bob Berry. Though he repeats Savard's dispassionate assessment that the Canadiens are "simply going with the best players," Lemaire, veteran of 12 seasons as a Montreal center, must know that, whatever else happens, 1984-85 will be the season of the passing of that famous torch first mentioned in the 1915 poem by Canadian John McCrae, two lines of which, printed in French and English, adorn a wall in the Canadiens' Forum dressing room. Beneath pictures of former Montreal greats are the words TO YOU FROM FAILING HANDS WE THROW THE TORCH, BE YOURS TO HOLD IT HIGH.
Though it may be passing into some American hands, so far the Canadiens' flame has not flickered.