RICKTER SCALE: Hockey Night in New Jersey

Some things, it would seem, are never forgotten for reasons not easy to explain

The night hockey came to Wildwood, New Jersey

There are events in sports that stay securely stored in your memory vault long after moments of more importance have faded away.

The evening of May 18, 1971, found me and a dozen other Montrealers in Wildwood, New Jersey, wandering from one bar to the next in search of an establishment willing to put up with us and game seven of the Stanley Cup final.

We’d been in that resort town for a couple of weeks, the calm before hordes of sun worshippers and vacationers would fill it to overflowing once summer officially began with the closing of schools.

We were in the easy part of a five-month stretch, working regular hours preparing the boardwalks and piers for what would soon become three months of 12-hour shirtless shifts, which baked us to varying shades of tans that remained until the start of winter.

Some worked as carnies, separating families from their cash through games of chance that offered up plush St. Bernards as reward. Others worked the rides, shuffling endless lineups of people on and off machines that produced screams, squeals and the occasional spray of vomit.

The bars we entered were late-May quiet, serving the sparse handful of regulars who kept the establishments afloat during the dog days of the off season. Some didn’t even have televisions and if they did, it was a grainy black and white tucked away above or behind the bar.

Unfortunately for us, the first few places we tried weren’t about to change the channel for a motley group of long-haired hockey fans from Canada.

Although we managed to squeeze in the first period in one particularly dingy dive, we were forced back onto the streets after the resident bar fly complained about the noise we created with each close call on the ice emanating from Chicago.

We lucked out between the second and third periods, however, at the next dimly lit lounge once the owner realized we would consume much more beer in the next two hours than the Phillies fan who threatened to leave if he didn’t put the ball game back on.

I remember the euphoric stumble home, long after Henri Richard secured the 3-2 win with his second of the game. There wasn’t a hint of panic when the Blackhawks went up by two because Ken Dryden guarded our goal. The unflappable rookie had postponed his pursuit of a law degree to carry a team that included 10 future Hall of Famers all the way to the final..

We knew with an inexplicable certainty there was just no way the Habs would lose that night, a feeling reinforced when Jacques Lemaire fired a slap shot by Tony Esposito that he launched from an impossible distance closer to the red line than the blue one as the second period came to a close.

Some things, it would seem, are never forgotten for reasons not easy to explain.


Sooke resident Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired journalist.

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