Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some of Charron's memories . . .

Guy Charron, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers,
has some great memories of his professional career.

(Photo by Christopher Mast / mastimages.com)

(Hockey cards courtesy Joe Pelletier / Greatest Hockey Legends)
By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor 
Guy Charron’s hockey résumé reads like a well-thumbed travel diary . . . Montreal, Detroit, Kansas City, Washington, Switzerland, New Haven, Calgary, New York, Landshut, Grand Rapids, Anaheim, Hull, San Antonio, Florida . . . Kamloops.
And that doesn’t include all the stops he made while on the coaching staff of Canada’s national junior and senior men’s teams.
When someone in the hockey business has made as many stops as Charron has, it stands to reason that he has come to know some characters.
Players like the late Steve Durbano.
Mention Durbano’s name to Charron and his first response is: “Oh, my gawd.”
That is followed by laughter.
Midway in the 1975-76 season, Eddie Bush, who had never coached in the NHL, replaced Sid Abel as the Kansas City Scouts’ head coach. Abel had gone 0-3-0 after taking over from Bep Guidolin, who was 11-30-4. Bush would finish up at 1-23-8.
You’re right. This wasn’t a very good team.
Bush loved to use pylons in practices. He would put sticks across them and the players would have to pass pucks under or over the sticks, depending upon his whim. Perhaps he thought opposing teams were using midgets on defence. Who knows?
Anyway, Charron recalls one night when Durbano, who collected penalty minutes like some people collect coupons, got an early ejection.
“He gets kicked out and he grabs every pylon in the hallway and throws every pylon on the ice,” Charron said. So why was Durbano so excited?
“Toupee,” Charron says. “He got into a fight. The guy hit him pretty hard and the toupee flipped up.”
Wait. There’s more.
Durbano’s wife, Lisa, worked as a masseuse. When Durbano, who also had a dog that he really, really liked, was on the road, Lisa would call his hotel room on a regular basis.
“She ended up hanging the Doberman because he didn’t return the phone call one night,” Charron says.
Following the 1975-76 season, the Scouts, who finished on a 27-game winless streak, headed to Japan on a four-game tour with the Washington Capitals.
Durbano, it seems, was one of those people who was habitually late. Charron, as team captain, took it upon himself to try and keep Durbano on point while in Japan.
“I’d go and get Durby and (his wife) would show up at the door half-dressed . . . oh, my gawd,” a laughing Charron says.
“They were,” he concludes, “a unique couple.”
By the way, the Scouts lost their first three games on that tour, to run the winless streak to an even 30. Charron and his teammates can say, however, that they won their last game, as they closed out the trip with a victory.
That would be the Scouts’ final game. After two seasons in Kansas City, the team relocated to Denver — remember the Colorado Rockies?
When the next season arrived, Charron was with the Capitals. Colorado general manager Ray Miron, Charron said, didn’t “have a high opinion” of him and goaltender Denis Herron. So the two were traded to Washington for forward Nelson Pyatt, which is how Charron missed out on playing for Don Cherry, who coached the Rockies.
Tom McVie, one of hockey’s great storytellers, was Washington’s head coach. He had watched Charron in Japan and liked what he saw. The roster included the likes of Garnet (Ace) Bailey and Bryan (Bugsy) Watson.
Watson was one of the NHL’s great pests. When he was with the Detroit Red Wings, his specialty was playing ‘Me and My Shadow’ with Chicago Blackhawks star Bobby Hull.
“I had played against (Watson) when I was with Kansas City and he was in Detroit,” Charron says. “They had Dennis Polonich, Dan Maloney, Watson. They knew the type of player I was so they made life very miserable for me.”
In Washington, of course, Watson and Charron were teammates. That meant Charron got to watch Watson work up close.
“We were playing the Canadiens one day and we were up 3-0,” Charron recalls. “He ran (Guy) Lafleur. That was the end of it. We lost the game, 6-3.
“But that was the way Bryan was. We could easily have cruised to a win without disturbing anything. But he ran Lafleur and that was it.”
At the same time, though, Watson and his wife, Lindy, got Charron involved with Special Olympics and charities.
“Off the ice, he wasn’t what he was as a player,” Charron says. “He was caring. He was involved with charities. He was a quality, super type of individual.
“But when he played, he played the way he felt he needed to play and he would do those things, (and you would wonder), like, ‘Bryan, why are you doing this? You just created a monster.’ ”
In 1976-77, Charron put up 82 points in 80 games with a Washington team that finished 24-42-14. Charron’s linemates were Bailey and Bobby Sirois. It’s safe to say that Bailey had as much impact on Charron as anyone.
“We were a good fit,” Charron says, wondering if Bailey had a soft spot for him “maybe more to protect me . . . I don’t know.”
“Ace was different,” Charron continues. “He was a special individual. He was good for me. He could abuse his body . . . the next day you would put him through hell and he lived through it. He was an unbelieveable individual.”
And then came Sept. 11, 2001.
Charron was in Anaheim, preparing for his second training camp with the Mighty Ducks. He had finished 2000-01 as the interim head coach, having replaced the fired Craig Hartsburg. Now Charron was an assistant coach under Bryan Murray.
Charron, who says he isn’t much of a TV watcher, happened to turn on the TV that morning.
“I saw this plane crashing . . . I see this happening and just thought it was something rare . . . and then hearing what had happened, and him wanting to leave for Boston .. . it touched me,” Charron said.
Ace Bailey, his good friend and former linemate, was on United Airlines flight 175 that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Bailey, the Los Angeles Kings’ director of pro scouting, was on his way west from his home in Lynnfield, Mass., for training camp.
“It goes to show you . . . you’re here on earth for something and you don’t have control,” Charron says. “When He’s going to decide, it’s your time.”
Charron played 734 NHL games over 12 seasons, totalling 530 points, including 221 goals. But he had the misfortune of playing for some mediocre teams, so mediocre, in fact, that not one of his teams qualified for postseason play.
What makes that somewhat ironic is that as a junior, Charron played for the Montreal Junior Canadiens. In 1968-69, he was the fifth-leading scorer on what may have been the greatest junior team of all time.
The Junior Canadiens won the 1969 Memorial Cup, sweeping the Regina Pats in the best-of-seven final.
The Montreal roster included the likes of Gilbert Perreault, Rejean Houle, Marc Tardif, Jocelyn Guevremont, Bobby Lalonde, Richard Martin, Andre (Moose) Dupont . . .
The Baby Habs played out of the Montreal Forum and Charron recalls games regularly being sold out.
Later, while with Hockey Canada, Charron ended up at a dinner table that included Sam Pollock, the legendary general manager of the NHL’s Canadiens.
“He said that was probably one of the best junior teams that was ever put together, from his time and what he had experienced,” Charron recalls. “Hearing those comments from Sam Pollock meant something to me.”
So . . . just how good was Perreault?
“Oh my goodness!” Charron enthuses. “People would say, ‘Gilbert, you could be the leading scorer in the NHL.’ You know what his comment was? ‘I don’t want to do it because if I do it they’ll expect that of me every year.’ ”
Before moving up to the Baby Habs, Charron played in his hometown of Verdun, and he remembers watching a defenceman named Bobby Orr. He feels Perreault was comparable.
“I would go to Oshawa and watch Bobby Orr at 16,” Charron says. “Gilbert Perreault, to me, was just an unbelievable forward. You wanted to see this guy play. That’s how good he was.”
Two other forwards on that Montreal team, Houle and Tardif, were pretty good, too. Houle led the team with 108 points, while Perreault put up 97 and Tardif 72. Houle finished with 53 goals; people forget he could score, because when he played for the NHL’s Canadiens he was a superb checking forward.
“Gilbert could dominate the game. Rejean was explosive, he had speed,” Charron says. “But if you had to choose a player to make a difference in a game, I think Perreault was that player. Because of his strength, his size, his speed . . . he had it all. It was all packaged up in one person.”
Charron thinks Houle became a better defensive forward in order to stick with the Canadiens.
“Rejean was a good player,” Charron continues. “He was explosive. He skated well. He went to areas where you have to go to score goals.
“He recognized he had to be checker, as I was when I first broke in with (Montreal’s system),” Charron continues.
That thinking ended during Charron’s first year as a pro when he scored 37 times for the AHL’s Montreal Voyageurs.
(It was in his rookie season with the Voyageurs when Charron roomed with Peter Mahovlich, a legendary free spirit who would go on to have a pretty good NHL career. “He was easy going and a good teammate. He looked after the younger guys,” Charron says, before chuckling and adding: “But I couldn’t follow him on his outside activities. I was too young and he was a veteran.”)
“I had a lot of opportunities and goals went in,” Charron says. “I scored 37 goals my first season of pro hockey and people thought I was a goal scorer now.”
Charron would approach that goal total only twice more, scoring 36 and 38 goals with Washington in the 1976-77 and ’77-78 seasons. When healthy — he had a history of knee problems — he was a consistent point producer, at one point having four straight seasons of at least 70 points, one with Kansas City and three with Washington, during a stretch in which he missed only two games.
But the playoffs just weren’t meant to be.
Not that long ago, Charron held the NHL record for most regular-season games played (734) without appearing in the playoffs. That record was torched by Olli Jokinen, who played in 827 regular-season games before he got into the playoffs with the 2008-09 Calgary Flames.
“Looking back,” Charron says now, “I would have given up a lot more to play a lesser role on a good team.”

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