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A century of captains
MONTREAL | July 16th, 2009
A century of captains
From Jack Laviolette to Saku Koivu, they number 27. The Canadiens captains have always been men who put themselves above the fray, ready and willing to do anything necessary to motivate their troops.
The letter, once sewn on the sweater, is a monogram of symbolic importance reflecting much more than a simple paragraph in the NHL rulebook. Just how important is a point driven home by a quick glance at the list of men who were named captain and what their teams accomplished. Jean Béliveau, Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Toe Blake – each and every one a Canadiens great who proudly wore the “C” symbolizing the esteem in which they were held by their peers.
During the Canadiens’ infancy, from the team’s birth in 1909 through 1913, two players filled the captain’s function. Jack Laviolette was the first to wear the “C”, while also serving as coach and general manager. One of his charges, Newsy Lalonde, took over the captaincy twice, in 1910-11 and 1912-13. Returning to the club after an absence of a few years, Lalonde was the captain in 1917, when the Habs were among the NHL’s founding teams. He would remain in office until 1922.
Needle and thread were put to use during the 1947-48 season, with two men named captain before the schedule came to a close. Following an injury to Toe Blake that proved to be career-ending, Bill Durnan became the last goaltender to wear the “C” on his sweater, following in the steps of another netminder, George Hainsworth. An NHL rule change the next summer removed goalies’ eligibility to wear the third letter of the alphabet on their chests.
More recently, 1995 was an active year where Habs captains are concerned. After Guy Carbonneau’s August departure, Kirk Muller inherited the captain’s mantle. As the old saying would have it, things happen in threes. At midseason, GM Serge Savard, who had served as captain himself from 1979 to 1981, traded Muller to the Islanders and Mike Keane assumed the captaincy.
Two men share the team mark for longevity as captain. Jean Béliveau has described his teammates’ 1961 vote of confidence as the greatest honor of his hockey career. Over the next decade he was the Canadiens undisputed leader, pushing his teammates to five Stanley Cup titles, adding them to the five others he’d contributed to under his predecessors Doug Harvey, Maurice Richard and Émile Bouchard.  
The only other captain to serve as long was Saku Koivu, who wore the “C” for ten years, from 1999 through 2009.
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