March 12, 2014

Interview With Aurel Joliat

I normally do not post entire articles, but @NHLhistorygirl Jen Conway found this amazing 1986 Ottawa Citizen interview with former Montreal Canadiens legend Aurel Joliat and it is just so good that it has to be shared.

So I present to you, in it's entirety, this Earl McRae interview with the one of a kind Aurel Joliat:

If there is, indeed, a heaven somewhere for old hockey players, you can be sure of this: King Clancy will be hiding behind every available cloud today, trying to avoid his Ottawa compatriot, Aurel Joliat. And Joliat will be just as determined to find Clancy, hand out-stretched and saying, "Pay up, ya bleeping bleep, you lose."

This marvellous, untold story goes back six years, the winter of 1980, when Joliat was 78 and Clancy was 77; two ancient warriors bonded by time, memories and too many familiar names on the obituary page. Joliat, the legendary Habitant, the finest player, pound-for-pound, of his time; Clancy, the legendary Senator and Leaf, the King of hearts with the joker up his sleeve.

Hockey Night In Canada, at the time, ran a series called Showdown, pitting two players against each other in several skills. It was a popular feature and, one afternoon, Joliat and I were sitting in his Laurier Avenue apartment talking hockey and it started this way:

"Who was the toughest player you ever played against?"

"Eddie Shore, Boston Bruins. The dirtiest sonofabitch ever. He blinded me in the Forum once. I was on a rush and he'd been knocking me around good. Just like Hooley Smith with the Maroons used to do. Anyway, Shore hits me and knocks me out. I mean, jeezus, I'm only 'bout five-six and 130 at the time and he musta weighed 190.

" So he nails me and they carry me off with a dislocated shoulder. Terrible pain. But then, I sees the big bugger circling behind his net and starting up the ice. He gets half way and then I leaps over the boards, shoot across the ice and hit him with a flying block in the gut. He never knew what hit him. Went down like a tree, out cold. "

" You must have been tough? "

" That's nuthin'. I flattened Smith once at centre ice and he takes off after me, over the boards. This big cop in a fur coat grabs me. I spins him around, rips open his coat and pulls it down over his arm so he can't move. Learned that trick from my first wife. God, what a temper she had. Half Indian, eh? Then, o' course, I decked Smith with a sucker punch. "

" What do you think of today's game? "

" Ach. Sissy stuff. They call it violent, they don't know what they're talking about. Take Sprague Cleghorn. He's playing defence for Montreal and he drops Lionel Hitchman with a stick in the kisser. Then he's standing over him, laughing. OK, fine - next time Cleghorn comes down the ice, Hitchman cross checks him into the boards and then puts him into the stands with a stick under the chin. Cleghorn never came back out. Holy bald-headed, he was dirty. "

Joliat, at this point in the conversation, leaned out from the kitchen table and peered squinty-eyed down the hall, looking for his wife, Yvette, who was somewhere else in the apartment. " She don't like me drinkin', " he whispered. " I gotta be careful or she'll go nuts. " Convinced it was safe, he reached behind a kitchen cabinet, pulled out a bottle of scotch, took a deep hit and quickly put it back.

" Do you miss playing, Aurel? "

" Oh, yeah, hell. I still play old timers, but if a team today made me the right offer, I'd come back. I'm in shape. These punks don't know how to pass, how to check; I'd show 'em. "

" How long do you think you'd last out there? "

" About five minutes. "

" Only five minutes a game? "

" Game, hell - a shift. "

" Maybe you should give the Habs a call. "

" Know what? I got a better idea. You know that Showdown thing on TV? I could go on that. I could go on that against King Clancy. I'd beat the tar out of him and then Ballard would want to sign me. Whaddaya think of that? Me and Clancy on Showdown. "

" You really think you could take him? "

Take him? I'd kill him. He was a good rusher, a good defenceman, but he was mainly a needle. I tried to nail him good one night in Montreal. He ducked and, after that, took off scared every time he saw me. We're great friends now, though. That's what I'll do; I'll call Ballard."

Three weeks later, Joliat did. And Ballard was all for it. If Clancy would agree, too. Joliat phoned Clancy to arrange the supreme Showdown, but Clancy just laughed, saying he was too old and so was Joliat.

"Old?" snapped Joliat. "Yer younger 'n me, for chrissake."

"Yeah," barked Clancy, " and I betcha I out-live ya by 10 years at least."

"Ten years, eh?" spat Joliat. "Put some money down, Ballard gives ya enough of it."

So, Clancy did: $25 that he'd be around 10 years longer than Joliat, a crazy bet if ever there was one.

Aurel Joliat died this past spring.

And the other day, they buried the King. Should be a hot Showdown in heaven this week.

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