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THE FORMER RIGHT-WINGER TOOK FULL ADVANTAGE OF HIS THREE-GAME STINT WITH THE CANADIENS.MONTREAL | December 24th, 2008
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“I was unfortunate. I was a right-winger trying to break in with an organization that had Richard, Curry and Geoffrion,” he recalled.
A 5-foot-8, 140 pound forward, “Lulu” Denis, spent 14 seasons with the Quebec Senior Hockey League’s Montreal Royals, but only had a couple brushes with the big time, twice hitting the ice with the Canadiens in 1949-50 and making a third appearance the following season.
The first time he was summoned for NHL service, it took a while for the 21-year-old to catch on.
“Back then the Ice Follies and the Ice Capades would come to Montreal and they’d take the Forum for a whole week. We played Sunday afternoon and we didn’t play until the next Sunday. We’d be off for the whole week and so were the Canadiens,” said Denis.
“We’d always have exhibition games if we didn’t have any regular games scheduled so when Frank Carlin called me up and said, ‘Lou, you’re playing with the Canadiens tomorrow night. Go to the station, there’s a train ticket waiting for you.’ in my mind it’s just another exhibition game.
Catching the overnight train, he was met at Union Station in Toronto the next morning by roommate, Billy Reay, who took the newcomer out to breakfast. It was not until then, a full day and 350 miles later, that the enormity of the situation finally dawned on Denis.
“I had ordered a big breakfast, bacon and eggs, the whole damn thing. We’re sitting there and he says something about the Toronto Maple Leafs. ‘Is this a regular league game?’ I ask him and he says, ‘Yeah, we’re playing against Toronto.’ Well that’s when the butterflies started.”
Coach Dick Irvin’s declaration at the team meeting later that morning didn’t do much to settle them down.
“My linemate, Bob Fryday, came up with me and he was from Toronto. Irvin held a meeting at about 11o’clock and he held up the Toronto newspapers and said that the papers were saying that, as usual, the young guys that were being brought up would be sitting on the end of the bench and would never get on the ice. ‘I’m going to show them that they’re wrong. Lou, Bob and Elmer Lach, you start the game off.’” he recalled.
“We started the game, played the first shift. On the second shift Billy Reay took a penalty and the result was that Toronto scored two goals and we never got back on the ice.”
The next night in Boston Denis got a bit more ice time and recorded the only NHL point of his career.
“We were losing 1-0. It was nearing the end of the second period and Dick Irvin decided to put Bob Fryday and I on the ice. I forget who the centreman was but anyway I got the puck and passed it over to Bob and he scored to tie the game up. In the third we got on a couple times.”
Denis played against the Canadiens more often than he did with them, the teams scrimmaging together in training camp and meeting numerous times over the years in unofficial competition. His favorite Hab memory is of one of those matches.
“There were no exhibition games between NHL teams then so before the season we’d play the Canadiens in exhibition games. I remember one game in ’48 or ‘49, we beat them 4-2 and I got two goals. The Canadiens were mad as hell and they were trying to run at us,” he chuckled.