May 22, 2010

Montreal's New Little Men Of Iron

Much has been made of the Montreal Canadiens' unexpected playoff run, especially about their diminutive size. They the Davids in a post-season maze through Goliaths. Les Habitants slayed the giants in Washington and Pittsburgh, and today they hope to equal their battle against the big bullies from Broad Street. They persevere, against long odds.

Maybe it's time Montrealers pull out an old nickname from long ago in their glorious hockey past. For the 2010 Canadiens are a lot like the early 1900s Montreal AAA - The Little Men Of Iron.

It was the Montreal Star's sports editor Peter Spanjaardt who coined the phrase. The team, already known by another popular nickname - the Winged Wheelers - were a tiny, plucky bunch, save for their 300lb goaltender, Billy Nicholson.

They were the speediest team on ice, led by 118 pound dynamo Dickie Boon (pictured), robust Jack Marshall and sharpshooter Archie Hooper.

These particular Montrealers twice won the Stanley Cup - in 1902 and again in 1903 - at the expense of the Winnipeg Victorias dynasty. The Vics were a big bruising team that had won the Cup in 1896, 1901 and 1902 and challenged unsuccessfully three other times before the turn of the century - losing each time to a team from Montreal.

The two series between the Westerners and the AAA were said to be very spirited, physical battles. The Winnipegers tried their best to use their size to their advantage, heavily bodychecking the Montrealers at every opportunity. But Montreal hit back, using the laws of physics to utilized their speed to increase the impact that their lack of size would not allow.

The first series, played in Winnipeg, was so anticipated that the game was "broadcast" by telegraph back to Montreal where anxious fans eagerly awaited each update. When the final whistle was blown Montreal hand hung on to a 2-1 lead and was declared the winner. The fans in Montreal became delirious.

Upon the team's return a crowd of well-wishers greeted the champions at Windsor Station. The plan was to pull the team by horse and sleigh back to the AAA complex. But the fans lets the horses loose so that they could pull their heroes home. The adulation continued, with three civic receptions and with each player being given diamond rings.

The celebration was somewhat surprising given that teams from Montreal had already won the Stanley Cup 9 times prior to the AAA championship of 1902. But for some reason these Little Men of Iron captured the imagination of the city.

Much like the Montreal Canadiens of 2010 are doing today.

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