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Voices In the Rafters
E.M. Swift
June 07, 1993
Ghosts of a glorious hockey past live on in the Montreal Forum. Just listen
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June 07, 1993

Voices In The Rafters

Ghosts of a glorious hockey past live on in the Montreal Forum. Just listen

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In 1968, at a cost of $10 million, the Forum was completely renovated to the form it retains today. The demolition crews moved in hours after we had swept the St. Louis Blues for coach Toe Blake's eighth Stanley Cup, another NHL record. Everything was replaced but the seats. New roof, lobby, concourses, escalators, plus that awful new boxlike exterior. Inside, though, the old girl looked better than ever, the epitome of what a hockey arena should be. The interior pillars were removed, and the sight lines—the best in hockey—were improved. The 16,197 seats seemed to hang right over the ice.

Another 1,700 standing room tickets were made available for each game, which raised the capacity to 17,909. It's quite a show when the ushers open the doors an hour and a half before game time for the standing room patrons. Young, old, men, women—anyone with a standing room ticket sprints for his favorite spot. They run as if there is a pot of dreams waiting for them inside.

Perhaps there is. There's hardly a citizen in Montreal who can't tell you precisely when it was that he went inside the Forum for the first time. "There's only going to be one Forum," says the great Lafleur. "This place is like church for a lot of fans across Canada."

Sometimes people think they see us. Ghosts in Canadien sweaters. Not often, but sometimes. Like that time with Cherry. Canadien players sometimes think they see us in the dressing room: Vézina, Aurèle Joliat, Joe Malone, Bill Durnan, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, Sprague Cleghorn, George Hainsworth. Our faces are all up on the wall—37 Canadiens who've been elected to the Hall of Fame, from me right up to Bob Gainey. The names of every other player on every Canadien roster since our first season, in 1917-18, are on dark-brown plaques covering the dressing room walls. And above our pictures that marvelous line from In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by John McCrae, a Canadian poet who was also a surgeon at a Montreal hospital: "To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high."

The boys seem to take those words pretty seriously. Year after year they've put on a pretty good show. They've seldom lacked for effort. A time or two brought a tear to my eye. I know one thing: This old beautiful barn and I will sure miss them when they move to that big new place that's being built, that won't ever be the Forum, no matter what they call it.

I wonder if they won't missus.

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