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Doug: The Doug Harvey Story
FOR DECADES, whenever the Sudbury (Ont.) Wolves scored a goal on their home ice, a stuffed wolf would emerge from behind a curtain while a loud howl sounded over the loudspeakers. Playing an exhibition game at Sudbury in the 1950s, the Montreal Canadiens jumped to a 5-0 lead before the Wolves scored. Out came the canid. Montreal defense-man Doug Harvey gazed at it, and after play resumed he promptly shot the puck past his own goaltender and into Montreal's net. "Sorry, Toe," he said to coach Toe Blake, "but it was worth it to see that wolf again."
Harvey, an off-ice hellion who responded to Blake's decree that players be in bed by 11 p.m. with, "Gee, Coach, do we have to stay up that late?" is considered the second-best defenseman ever, behind Bobby Orr. But Harvey's place in history has faded over the years. He was one of eight future Hall of Famers to lead the Canadiens to six Stanley Cups, including five in a row from 1956 through '60. If Maurice (Rocket) Richard served as torchbearer for that dynasty, it was Harvey who lit the flame.
"The Rocket was there to score goals," teammate Jean-Guy Talbot told author William Brown, a Montreal sports historian. "[But] Doug Harvey was the one who controlled the game." In a time when penalized players remained in the box for the full two minutes no matter how many goals were scored, Harvey's superb quarterbacking on the power play sometimes set up two, even three goals per advantage, forcing the NHL to revise the rule. "He could put the puck up your backside and take it out again, and you never even knew he was around you," said Detroit Red Wings forward Bill Dineen.
Athletic excellence came so easily for Harvey that the Canadiens at first mistook his relaxed style for laziness and nearly traded him. Loyal, rebellious, playful and charitable, he was a leader on and off ice, and his generosity extended beyond the dressing room. He emptied his pockets for the needy, boarded kids at his summer hockey camp, lent his car to strangers and, during a transit strike in 1974, even gave rides to commuters when he was supposed to be ferrying his daughter to prewedding appointments.
Along with Detroit star Ted Lindsay, Harvey challenged ownership in the 1950s in a failed attempt to start a players' union. Friends suspected that his activism provoked the Canadiens to trade Harvey, then 36, to the New York Rangers in June '61. Named player-coach, he directed New York to a playoff berth in '62 but quit his bench duties after the season. Released by the Rangers in '63, he wandered through the minors until asked by the expansion St. Louis Blues to assist coach Scotty Bowman. Together they guided the Blues to the '68 Cup finals, which the Canadiens swept.
The Hall of Fame selection committee unconscionably refused Harvey admission when he became eligible in 1972, and he declined to attend his subsequent induction in '73. At odds with those who ran the sport, he drifted in and out of contact, and Brown believes he suffered from an undiagnosed bipolar disorder accompanied by alcoholism. In 1985 the Canadiens retired his number 2 and hired him as a scout. Four years later, at 65, he died of liver disease. Brown concludes in this sympathetic, well-researched book that Harvey was largely free from bitterness, having lived the way he dominated hockey—at the pace he chose.