August 1, 2008

Canadiens legends: Montreal's Hockey Heroes by Mike Leonetti

Canadiens Legends: Montreal's Hockey Heroesby Mike Leonetti and Raincoast Books dates back to 2004. It is a beautiful 240 page coffee table book loaded with both black and white and colour photos.

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The Montreal Canadiens are hockey's most storied team. Through biographical sketches of 85 Habs greats, Leonetti traces the lengthy history of the Canadiens. The biographies are always accurate and thorough, although Leonetti rarely digs deeper beyond profiles we often see of these players. In some spots I found some profiles to be under written or rushed.

Since the Canadiens date back all the way to 1909, Leonetti spends much of the first quarter of the book introducing us to Montreal's earliest stars such as Newsy Lalonde, Aurel Joliat, Sprague Cleghorn, and of course Howie Morenz. True Montreal historians will be disappointed to not find such important luminaries such as Jack Laviolette, Joseph Cattarinich and Skinner Poulin.

We then move into the powerhouse years when Rocket Richard, Doug Harvey, Boom Boom Geoffrion and Jacques Plante reigned supreme.

The Quiet Dynasty of 1961-1973 gets significant coverage, with more biographies than any other era. Perhaps this reflects Leonetti's youthful memories. Jean Beliveau, John Ferguson, Frank Mahovlich and Henri Richard are obvious inclusions, while he also looks at role players like Gilles Tremblay, Bobby Rousseau, and Claude Larose. That is fantastic. My only complaint is he does not treat the other eras with the same respect.

The second great dynasty of 1974 through 1979 is remembered well through Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey and company.

Much of the 1980s and 1990s were far from glorious by Montreal's standards. The author has no choice but to look at the best of what was available. Chris Chelios, Guy Carbonneau, Mats Naslund and of course Patrick Roy were hardly slouches.

Finally the author reaches the modern era, looking at the top players at the turn of the century. Only Saku Koivu remains with the team at time this review was published.

The book also has guest writers contribute some of the great moments in Montreal's history. Red Fisher looks back at The Richard Riot and at Scotty Bowman. Dave Stubbs writes about the Canadiens-Nordiques rivalry and the closing of the Montreal Forum. Frank Orr looks at the New Year's Eve game against the Russians and the Canadiens' broadcasters over the years. Jean Beliveau contributes a beautiful foreword.

Canadiens Legends is a solid book worthy of adding to any collection. This is actually the second book of the "Legends" series by Raincoast.

In 2003 Leonetti also authored Maple Leaf Legends: 75 Years of Toronto's Hockey Heroes.

In 2006 Jeff Rud picked up the series when he wrote Canucks Legends: Vancouver's Hockey Heroes. Even though Vancouver's history great pales in comparison to Toronto and Montreal, Rud's work may be the best of the series.

There has never been any mention of continuing the series, although texts on the other Original Six teams Detroit, Boston, Chicago, and the New York Rangers would be easy. Edmonton would also be a strong candidate given the Canadian marketplace and the continuing love affair with Wayne Gretzky.


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