Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion
Bernie "Boom Boom'' Geoffrion, the hockey Hall of Famer credited with inventing the slap shot, died Saturday March 11th on the same day his Number 5 jersey was retired by the Montreal Canadiens.
Geoffrion, who helped lead powerhouse Montreal teams to 6 Stanley Cups in the 1950s and early '60s, died after a brief battle with stomach cancer. He was 75.
Geoffrion died in an Atlanta hospital, the Canadiens said, where his cancer was discovered during surgery last week. He didn't live to see his number retired, but still was able to relish the knowledge that his place in history was secure, said Rejean Houle, former Montreal general manager and current head of the Canadiens alumni. "He had known 6 months ago, and he enjoyed every minute of it,'' Houle said. "At least it's not like we decided to do it after he passed away.''
The Canadiens went ahead with the ceremony before Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers, with. Geoffrion's wife, Marlene, his three children and his grandchildren were in attendance. His number went up right next to the Number 7 of Marlene's father, Canadiens great Howie Morenz, just as Geoffrion predicted many years ago when the couple was dating.
"Tonight marks the realization of his life's dream and brings closure to a magnificent career,'' said Danny Geoffrion, who was coached by his father with Montreal in 1979-80. "Dad, your family loves you more than you'll ever know.'' Danny addressed the crowd in English, while brother Bobby spoke in French. A moment of silence was observed in Bernie Geoffrion's honor just moments after Marlene and their children raised his banner.
Geoffrion's passing came exactly 69 years after Morenz's casket was viewed by thousands of fans as it laid in state at the Montreal Forum, three days after he died on March 8, 1937. Marlene, married to Bernie for 54 years, flew from their home in Atlanta along with their daughter, Linda, as the ceremony proceeded according to Geoffrion's wishes.
With the lights dimmed and spotlights in the shape of No. 5 moving throughout the crowd, the first big cheer of the ceremony came when a clip was shown on the videoboard of Geoffrion at an October 15, 2005 press conference explaining his reaction to learning that his number would be retired.
Former teammates Emile "Butch'' Bouchard, Dollard St. Laurent, Andre Pronovost, Phil Goyette, Marcel Bonin, Dickie Moore, Jean-Guy Talbot and Henri Richard were introduced to the crowd, each wearing vintage jerseys with the numbers they made famous. Richard's Number 16 and Moore's Number 12 are among the eight numbers previously retired by the team.
Geoffrion's friends in Atlanta were caught off guard by his death. "He left really quick,'' said Dan Bouchard, who played for the Atlanta Flames when Geoffrion coached the team in the 1970s. "I just found out last week that he was not doing well and, boom, he's gone.''
Geoffrion was the first coach of the (now Calgary) Flames, guiding the team to the playoffs in only their 2nd season. He also had brief coaching stints with both the Rangers and Canadiens.
But it was as a player that Geoffrion really stood out. He was the first to bring his stick far above his head when shooting, creating a powerful shot that gave led to his nickname - the sound of his stick hitting the puck made a boom and the sound of the puck hitting the boards made another boom.
Geoffrion was a scoring star on Canadiens teams that also featured Hall of Famers Maurice "Rocket'' Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante. Montreal won a record five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-60. In 1960-61, Geoffrion won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP after joining Richard as the only players to score 50 goals in a season.
Born in Montreal on February 16, 1931, Geoffrion played 16 seasons in the NHL, including 14 with the Canadiens. After a two-year retirement, he made a comeback with the Rangers in 1966. He retired for good following the 1968 season, finishing his career with 393 goals and 429 assists in 883 regular-season games. In 132 playoff games, he had 58 goals and 60 assists.
He was hired as coach of the Rangers, but didn't even get to start the season because ulcers forced him to have surgery to remove part of his stomach. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, less than a month after being hired to coach the expansion Flames.
"I can't believe this,'' Geoffrion said at the time, according to the book "The Babes of Winter'' that chronicled the Flames' first three seasons. "First I get the new team, now I make the Hall of Fame.'' He led Atlanta to a 77-92-39 record from 1972-75, including a playoff berth in Year 2.
Geoffrion, with his thick French-Canadian accent, moved into broadcasting for the Flames until he went back to Montreal as Coach in 1979, replacing Scotty Bowman, but stepped down after only 30 games due to conflicts with the team's management.
Geoffrion's supporters say the Canadiens waited too long to retire his number. "They procrastinated a long time,'' Dan Bouchard said. "Everybody else in Montreal who made the Hall of Fame had their jersey retired. His jersey should have been hanging up in the old Forum. That was the mecca.''
In his last hockey appearance, Geoffrion presented Thrashers forward Ilya Kovalchuk with the Rocket Richard Cup on October 22nd. The "Boomer'' received a standing ovation from Atlanta's fans.
"Today is a very sad day across the hockey world and here in Atlanta,'' Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "Boom Boom was an incredible man who meant a great deal to me, and I'm fortunate to have called him a friend and a mentor.''