NHL

Montreal Forum was like a Taj Mahal of NHL

‘Most storied building in hockey history’ lived up to billing in Fischler’s 1954 visit

Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for NHL.com. Fischler, known as “The Hockey Maven,” shares his knowledge, brand of humor and insights with readers each Wednesday.

Today, Stan continues a series of reminiscences about his first visits to NHL arenas from the Original Six era with a look at his initial trip to the Forum in Montreal in January 1954.

The Forum, home of the Montreal Canadiens, was a must-see for every hockey fan, even in the early 1950s.

In 1953-54, the Taj Mahal of hockey was home to the defending Stanley Cup champions. For me, it was a chance to see the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history, Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Canadiens, in his swashbuckling prime. As a fan, listening to Canadiens home broadcasts by Doug Smith over CBM Radio in Montreal, I always was gripped by the crowd noise whenever Richard scored. The decibel count reached a higher-than-high level, and I wanted to be there in the Forum at least once when it happened.

On my first-ever airline flight in January 1954, I travelled with my buddy, Bernie Wolk, in a Colonial Airlines four-engine DC-4 prop plane out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. For a nervous, first-time flyer like me, the trip was more exciting than a ride on Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster. Fortunately, the Cyclone and our DC-4 shared a common theme — each got to its destination safely.

Bernie and I celebrated our arrival with a robust French-Canadian meal before we visited The Hockey News office. Publisher Ken McKenzie, who later hired me as a writer, gave us a royal welcome. We took some photos, talked hockey and then got directions to the Forum, which was a short walk from Ken’s office.

My first view of the Canadiens’ home, at Atwater Street and Ste. Catherine Street West, was exciting from a historic aspect alone — The Sporting News had called the Forum “The most storied building in hockey history.” It had been home to such NHL legends as Georges Vezina, Howie Morenz, and Bill Durnan, and the fact that we were going to see a power-packed Detroit Red Wings team play the Canadiens added to our anticipation.

Like Maple Leaf Gardens, the Forum eschewed balconies for seats straight up the sides as well as the end portion. The original Forum seated 9,300, but a renovation in 1949 bumped up the capacity to 13,551 seats, with standing room for another 2,000 fans. The bilingual flavor — including a French and English rendition of “O Canada” — was unique in the NHL.

As for the game on Jan. 21, 1954, it couldn’t have been more exciting; there was intense action, and goalies Terry Sawchuk of Detroit and Jacques Plante of Montreal were in top form. It had everything Bernie and I could have hoped for — with one exception. The Rocket didn’t score. In fact, the only goal was scored by Detroit’s Metro Prystai, and Sawchuk made it stand up for a 1-0 win that was mildly disappointing to us.

Then again, all’s well that ends well: Our flight home landed safely at LaGuardia.

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