June 30, 2010

Canadiens Players Save Scotty, Guests From Hotel Fire

March 10, 1972 started out like any other night on the road for the Montreal Canadiens. Having just beat the St. Louis Blues 5-1, the team was settling into their hotel for the night. Head coach Scotty Bowman was on the phone in his room on the fourth floor, while assistant GM Floyd Curry was preparing for bed across the hall. Some of the players, like Jacques Laperriere, were already in bed asleep. The rest were downstairs in the Hilton dining room enjoying a late meal.

Suddenly, the fire alarms went off, thought not everybody knew what the sounds were. Montreal sports reporter George Hanson thought it was a malfunctioning heating/cooling unit in his room. Bowman thought it was the phone in another room. However, the dense smoke filling the hotel quickly convinced people otherwise. Without hesitation, the Habs in the restaurant began leading people out of the hotel. Guests who were on lower floors of the hotel managed to escape with relative ease. Those on the upper floors were trapped by heavy smoke and were forced to break “unbreakable” glass in order to escape to the room balconies.

Of great concern to the team was the whereabouts of Bowman. Curry had tried opening Bowman’s door; it wouldn’t open and Curry feared Bowman was unconscious and blocking the door. Because Curry had stayed behind to find Bowman, he too became trapped and was forced out onto a balcony. Serge Savard kicked his way through the “unbreakable” glass in an effort to reach Bowman’s room, while Dale Hoganson made his way into Bowman’s room but found it empty. Unbeknown to everyone still inside, Bowman had already made it onto his balcony, where he was eventually rescued. Jacques Laperriere had a close call as well: he was sleeping so soundly that only when a firefighter pounded on his door did he awaken and evacuate the building.

J.C. Tremblay, who had been a volunteer fireman in his hometown, grabbed a ladder, and with the assistance of Guy Lapointe, Pierre Bouchard and Rejean Houle, began rescuing guests from the balconies. By the time the police and fire squads arrived, the majority of guests had been evacuated, thanks to the hockey players. The players were so focused on evacuating guests that when they saw a light go on in a fourth floor room, “Lapointe making better time than Tarzan and brandishing an axe” stormed up the ladder, shattered the window, and found a surprised firefighter staring back at him.

Ten people were treated for smoke inhalation, and Serge Savard was sent to the hospital, where he received 18 stitches for the gash in his leg that resulted from kicking the glass out. Floyd Curry was treated for a lacerated hand, and Bowman was treated briefly for smoke inhalation at the scene.

“There is no way we can thank those hockey players,” said Sally Myers. She and her elderly father were rescued from a balcony by J.C. Tremblay. The Woodson Terrace (suburb) chief of police, John Stuller, said “we have nothing but praise for those Canadian hockey players. They were great.”

-- by Jennifer Conway

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