Ralph Backstrom 1937-2021 | Great career under the giants

How many centers of the third line does history remember? To ask the question is to answer it.


Simon Oliver LawrangeSimon Oliver Lawrange
Journalism

But how many assists in the third streak have won six Stanley Cups? The answer is simple: just one.

Ralph Backstrom passed away last weekend at the age of 83 after a long illness. For those who haven’t seen him play during his career of more than 1,000 games, from 1956 to 1973, his name is a far cry from the most famous.

Yet it was a staple of what Jean Bellevue called his autobiography My life is in blue, white, and red, The “forgotten decade”. The 1960s, which, after the retirement of Maurice Richard, saw a four-time forfeiture win of the Stanley Cup.

In total, Backstrom will have played 844 matches for the Canadian, collecting 502 points. However, it has evolved under the many giants of club history: Morris and Henry Richard, Bernard Joffreon, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Jack Blunt, Jean Bellevue, Evan Cornwer, Serge Savard … history is somewhat forgotten.

Of the 24 NHL players who have won six or more Stanley Cups, only four are not Hall of Fame members. Backstrom is one of them.

Broken beginnings

“He was so young when he arrived with us … He did it really well!”

At the end of the line, Jean-Guy Talbot, the now 88-year-old defender, tells the story of an “unafraid” player, who “never stopped working”.

Originally from Lake Kirkland, a small village in Ontario located less than 100 kilometers west of Rowen Noranda, Backstrom rose through all the ranks of the Canadians organization, first with Canadian Junior, then with Canadian de Ottawa Hull, the team with whom he won the Memorial Cup in 2005. 1958.

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His NHL debut was also exciting: in his first full season with the Habs, in 1958-1959, he was crowned the rookie of the year, in addition to winning his first Stanley Cup.

Archive press photos

Frank Silk, Ralph Backstrom et Heartland de Montarville Molson in April 1959

However, for a player in his position, the stars were not ranked to become a star attacking star in Montreal, having spent 12 seasons behind Bellevue, Henry Richard, and then Jacques Lemerre.

“Like Henry, he liked to take the disk in his area and take it to the other end of the ice,” recalls Serge Savard. He’s not the one who was looking for his wing to give him a puck or a playmaker like Bellevue. But he was a talented man. ”

“He was smart on ice,” continued Rogatin Vachon, the goalkeeper who had contact with the Canadian for four seasons in Montreal and then for two more seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.

He knew where to put himself, he was very good at defense and in clashes; he had a mission to cover the big players in the other teams. He did a good job.

Rogatian Fashion

Jean-Jay Talbot also talks about a player who, despite his small size, did not allow himself to trample on him.

“When I dealt with the St. Louis Blues, he was still playing for the Canadians, so I was saying to my team-mates: When Ralph gets past you, tell him, ‘That’s just because John Ferguson is away. You’re not afraid!’” He was angry. But he knew she was from me, so we laughed at her afterward. ”

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exchange

Major hockey fans, of course, remember Backstrom for his game on ice.

But in Quebec popular culture, his name is also associated with an exchange that had an incalculable influence over the following years for Canadians.

On January 26, 1971, General Manager Sam Bullock sent Backstrom to Kings in exchange for non-professional players Ray Fortin and Gord Labosier, as well as a second-round selection in the 1973 draft.

Surprisingly, the deal is one-sided. But she’s not interested in anything: The worst team in the ring last season, the Kings are near the bottom of the standings again this year. However, Pollock wanted to ensure that the monarchs did not end up behind the golden seals of California, who played in the same division and in which Al-Kindy was the first choice in 1971.

This strategy paid off: Golden Seals finally died out in the public rating, allowing housing complexes to capture … Jay LaFleur.

Sam Bullock didn’t explicitly admit that this was his strategy, but everyone saw it coming. It was not hidden!

Michel Vignault, hockey historian

In 1968 and 1969, the Canadian NHL granted the privilege of crafting the first French-speaking players. However, that privilege was withdrawn from the team in 1970. So Bullock had done his homework to regain its advantage in 1971, Mr. Vigneault recalls.

Moreover, he adds, the six teams resulting from the 1967 expansion were grappling with “lack of punch” and cohesion. Their teams were mostly made up of Major League Soccer players, with the original six clubs protecting their best players.

Photo by Paul Henry Talbot, Press Archives

Claude Larousse, Ralph Backstrom and John Ferguson in April 1967

“They were all able to play in the NHL, but they never played together. It took them several years to perform,” says the historian.

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Thus, adding a veteran like him is likely to have an immediate effect. And this is what happened. “Even so, he played 12 years with the Canadian, and he had to be good!”, Concludes Michel Vignault.

Backstrom refers to 23H Ranking in the glorious history of the team in terms of number of points and at 19H The order of the games played.

Not so bad, for a small third line.

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