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Sports >  NHL

Canadiens make first visit to Seattle since 1919 Stanley Cup Final, this time to face the Kraken

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 25, 2021

Seattle Kraken’s Vince Dunn (29) is congratulated by Adam Larsson after Dunn scored against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Kraken’s Vince Dunn (29) is congratulated by Adam Larsson after Dunn scored against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

Hockey royalty pays a Seattle visit some 102 years in the making Tuesday night against a different Kraken opponent, but amid a familiar pandemic backdrop.

When the storied Montreal Canadiens last rolled into the Emerald City, it was to face the Seattle Metropolitans in a 1919 Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Spanish Influenza pandemic raging through the latest of numerous surges. The Canadiens then were coming off a Cup Final loss to the Metropolitans two years before, whereas “La Sainte Flanelle” – one of the Montreal team’s many nicknames and meaning “The Holy Sweater” in English – this time around is arriving amid COVID-19 and lost the championship only four months ago to Tampa Bay.

There is plenty considered holy about the Montreal team and its uniform within its home province of Quebec, where reverence at times surpasses mere sport for a squad that has won a record 24 championships and lost more Cup Finals than all NHL teams, except the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, have actually won.

“All of the Quebec people follow their team religiously,” said Kraken defenseman Jeremy Lauzon, raised in the remote mining city of Val d’Or some 300 miles northwest of Montreal. “So it’s really special every time I get a chance to play against them, because I grew up watching them forever. So it’s always special for me and my family.”

Lauzon played Montreal in just the second game of his NHL career in 2018-19 and didn’t become a regular with his Boston Bruins squad until last season. He was asked to compare the affinity Boston fans have for the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins compared with Montreal supporters and their hockey team.

“Hockey is obviously the No. 1 sport in Canada, and the Canadiens, they’re one of the oldest teams in the league,” he said. “There’ve been a lot of legendary French Canadian players there like Maurice (The Rocket) Richard.

“Boston is a really unique sports city, because they have four legendary teams, but in Montreal there’s only one major one. All of the attention is on it, and the media can be crazy. They all love the team so much. So I would say Montreal is more special for sure. The fans are crazier there.”

Kraken forward Yanni Gourde grew up in Saint-Narcisse-de-Beaurivage, near Quebec City, and was only 3 when the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado – once again leaving the Canadiens as the province’s lone NHL team. Gourde grew up a Canadiens fan, but as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning had some of his biggest games against them – including in the most recent Cup Final.

“It’s always so much fun playing against them,” Gourde said. “You know how much history there is on that team and in that organization.”

Gourde said he knows the Metropolitans beat the Canadiens in the Cup Final, but not many of the finer details.

These Canadiens bear little resemblance to Cup champions of decades past – Montreal’s most recent title came in 1993 – or even the surprising finalists of last summer. Goaltender Carey Price, of Tri-City Americans junior hockey fame, won’t play Tuesday as he continues a mental leave from hockey. Also missing from last summer’s squad are injured team captain Shea Weber, defenseman Joel Edmundson and since-departed veterans Phillip Danault, Corey Perry and Eric Staal.

With the heart of the team’s leadership gutted, it’s small wonder the Canadiens began the season 0-5-0 before routing Detroit the other night.

Still, a franchise with nearly as many nicknames as the Kraken has players – including le Tricolore, les Glorieux, le Bleu Blanc Rouge and the more colloquial Habs, which is shorthand for the early Habitants settlers of New France – remains one in which the laundry often transcends present-day rosters wearing it. Past greats to wear the “Bleu, blanc et rouge” – red, white and blue in English – uniform with the stylized “CH” logo include, perennial scoring champion Richard, his kid brother, Henri (The Pocket Rocket), Georges Vezina, Howie Morenz, Toe Blake, Jacques Plante, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.

Another enshrined was Canadiens defenseman Joe Hall, who’d arrived in Seattle with teammates for the 1919 Final only to leave in a coffin. Hall was among six members of the Canadiens’ entourage hospitalized following a taxing first five games that left the series tied 2-2-1.

Game 4 had gone to double-overtime scoreless with Seattle just a goal from clinching a second Cup title. But the game, considered one of the greatest ever played and featuring a Hall of Fame goaltending duel between Vezina and Metropolitans netminder Hap Holmes, was ruled a draw with players from both sides collapsing to the ice in exhaustion.

The Metropolitans had a 3-0 lead entering the third period in Game 5 but again couldn’t clinch as the Canadiens stormed back and won in overtime. Fatigue and exhaustion were prevalent once more – wrongly attributed to valiant play from both sides.

Before a decisive Game 6 could occur, Hall lay sick in his room at the Georgina Hotel along with future Hall of Famer Newsy Lalonde, Billy Coutu, Jack McDonald, Louis Berlinguette and coach George Kennedy. The game and series were called off, with Metropolitans coach Pete Muldoon famously refusing to accept a Cup forfeit.

Hall would check into the Columbus Sanitarium – which later became Cabrini Hospital – at the corner of Madison and Boren Streets and died two days later.

Kennedy would die two years later at age 39, having failed to fully recover. And Muldoon, one of Seattle’s most famous sportsmen and promoters from the first half of last century, suffered a fatal heart attack a decade later at age 41.

Many attributed Muldoon’s fate to his heart being weakened by his own bout with the flu that series, which didn’t really take hold until after its cancellation.

Back then, there was no Spanish flu vaccine, also limited ability to track pandemics and no instant means of communicating. Today, there are all of those things plus, in addition to mask-wearing being mandated inside Climate Pledge Arena as it was at the Seattle Ice Arena a century ago.

And that has been enough for the NHL to proceed with Montreal’s latest visit to an expansion city providing the league a hopeful glimpse of its post-pandemic future. A royal hockey tour nonetheless backdropped by the solemnity of Seattle, the Canadiens, and an unforgiving pandemic of a century past.

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