The Canadiens have announced that they'll have a ceremony next season to retire Guy Lapointe's number 5.
I loved, loved Guy Lapointe as a player, he had the more exciting style compared to the sedate ‘Sénateur’ Serge Savard. I’d tell that to my dad and he’d repeat that Serge Savard was just as spectacular and offensively-oriented as a young player, but became more defensive after the broken leg he suffered colliding with a goal post, before the advent of E-Z release goalposts, which facilitate kreideration of goalies nowadays.
One thing I kind of thought was unfair was that of the Big Three, Guy would play on his own. Well not really, he got Bill Nyrop or Brian Engblom as a partner, someone like that, while Larry Robinson and Serge Savard got to play together. I just felt bad for him for being the Big Three who was the third wheel.
The cool thing back then is that since no one wore helmets, except Jacques Lemaire and Réjean Houle and the newer players, and Guy Lapointe was a very emotive player, you could see his facial expressions while he played. I can’t imagine how much better we’d have seen him mug and grimace with the HD TV’s we have now, and how many more fans he’d have, to see him working so hard, seemingly caring so much when he stickhandled or fought for the puck.
So yes, he should be honoured with his jersey retirement, kind of a no-brainer, the number 5 is already out of circulation and hanging from the rafters. It doesn’t diminish Bernard Geoffrion’s honour that Guy be credited with #5 as well.
This news re-ignites the old debate about jersey number retirements though. And this is another instance of Canadiens fans being split into two camps on an issue and talking at cross-purposes to each other.
One side says there are too many jerseys retired, they don't like seeing linebacker or offensive linemen numbers on player sweaters.
The other side says "Are you crazy, Guy Lapointe was a great player!"
And we go around and around, with the former faction talking about hockey numbers, about different kinds of ways we can honour former greats, about the Toronto-method of honouring the player, but keeping his number in circulation. About Jean Béliveau being open and direct in offering to take his number out of mothballs, telling Vincent Lecavalier he could have it if he came to Montréal to play.
The other camp is greatly offended that a player with multiple Stanley Cups, who was a major part of the 1976-79 dynasty, who was great with the puck, yet could play tough, is being slighted by those who would begrudge him this honour.
So let's get it straight: Every proper Hab fan thinks Guy Lapointe was a great hockey player, and deserved to be honoured in such a manner or otherwise, it was long overdue. A subset of this group who think that Guy was awesome also kind of thinks that maybe we shouldn't be retiring numbers at all though, or maybe it should be restricted to a very select few.
I'm part of the subset. Hall of Fame great Howie Morenz died playing for the team, his number doesn't get used anymore.
Neither does Maurice Richard's '9'. L'idole d'un peuple. Symbol for a few generations of Quebecers. Catalyst for social change. He was larger than life. His jersey shouldn't be worn by any other Canadiens.
Jean Béliveau, playing almost two decades as the consummate star professional, and a decade as captain. Embodied class, was respected by foes and admired by all. Bridged the fifties, sixties and seventies generations. No one uses his jersey.
All the other players can be remembered in different, other ways.
Having said that, I don't imagine we're going back, the course is set, so I can live with it. I understand my rant will change nothing, so I can tilt at other windmills.
Like how the Hockey Hall of Fame should be reserved for great players only. Then I remember. Dino Ciccarelli. That ship has sailed too.