Joseph Émile Alcide "Butch" Bouchard, CM, CQ - Born September 4, 1919 in Montreal, Quebec – Died April 14, 2012 in Longueuil, Quebec was a Canadian ice Hockey player who played defence.
Growing up poor during the depression, Bouchard did not begin skating until he was 16 and had to learn on rented skates. As his abundant skills rapdly developed, Emile was encouraged to play organized Hockey, but without the monetary resouces to do so, was unable to play in a league. He borrowed $35 from his older brother and purchased his first set of equipment in order to play for the Verdun Maple Leafs, a squad in the Montreal City Junior Hockey League. Tall and fit, Emile had begun weightlifting while in high school, improvising by using railway ties with steel plates added for weight. In addition, he was a boxer, a very good baseball player and starred on his high school's field Hockey teams.
Beginning with the 1937-38 season, Bouchard played with the Verdun Maple Leafs, Emile played three seasons with Verdun. It was Verdun team-mate Bob Fillion who gave Bouchard the nickname "Butch". It originated due to the resemblance of his last name to the English word "butcher" . In 1938-39 and 1939-40, the Maple Leafs won the league championship and faced the Oshawa Generals for the George T. Richardson Trophy as Eastern Canadian champions, but were thwarted both years. Maurice Richard was briefly a member of the team in 1939-40.
'Butch' joined the Montreal Junior Canadiens of the Quebec Senior Hockey League for the 1940-41 season.
The Montreal native gained valuable amateur experience with the Verdun Maple Leafs and Montreal Junior Canadiens. Late in the 1940-41 season, the Habs sent him to the Providence Reds of the AHL for the final 12-games, and playoffs. Bouchard exhibited tremendous poise and impressed coaches by registering 3 goals, 1 assist, and 1 assist in 3 playoff games.
The young rearguard made his biggest impression at the Canadiens' training camp prior to the 1941-42 season. Invited to the Montreal Canadiens' training camp in St. Hyacinthe in September 1941, Bouchard made the 50 km. (35 mile) trip by bicycle. Unlike some of the veterans, and rare for the day, he was in top physical condition from the outset of the pre-season. He upset some of his teammates with his tough physical approach to practices. The Canadiens hadn't fared well in recent years and, if anything, they required an injection of youthful passion to help ignite the team again. This may have been one of Bouchard's most important contributions to the organization.
Along with a strong work ethic and keen intellect, Bouchard was physically imposing. At 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) and 205 pounds (93 kg) he was considered a giant compared to NHL players of the 1940s, when the average height was 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) and average weight was 165 pounds (75 kg). Moreover, since he also practiced heavy weight training in an era before NHL players were concerned about upper body strength he became a very effective defensive presence. Hockey Hall of Fame leftwinger and team-mate Dickie Moore said of Bouchard: "He appeared to have been chiseled out of stone."
In fact, he impressed Coach Irvin so much that he was signed by the Canadiens and made the roster. "I was a determined, enthusiastic young fellow in those days," he stated. "That's what you need to make a success in life. You work hard, you're enthusiastic and very disciplined at your game."
By the time of Bouchard's arrival to the Montreal Canadiens the club had not won the championship for 10 years and attendance at the Forum was very low, often less than 3,000 a game, and there was talk of folding the franchise. A few years earlier, in 1935, Canadien owners had seriously considered an offer to sell the team to be moved to Cleveland. After finishing last or near the bottom of the league for several years, apathy of the fans was matched by the players themselves who had accepted losing as way of Hockey life. In his first training camp, he showcased his physical play by body-checking players, including veterans, with abandon. When the season started other teams discovered that with Bouchard in the lineup they could no longer push Canadien players around. Bouchard's presence reinvigorated the Canadiens and he is credited with playing an important part in keeping the franchise from leaving Montreal.
Bouchard developed into a tough stay-at-home defenseman whose physical game was a superb complement to defense partner Doug Harvey, one of the game's all-time great rushing blueliners who first played with Bouchard in 1947. And it shouldn't be overlooked that Bouchard's exceptional Hockey sense and accurate passing often started the offensive rushes for which the Canadiens became famous in the 1940s and 1950s. Physically, Bouchard was remarkably strong and often broke up fights on the ice by grabbing hold of each combatant with his enormous hands. To his credit, he never abused his powerful attributes and most opponents wisely avoided provoking him. In turn, he rarely fought.
However, Bouchard was more than just a physical presence. He learned to play good positional Hockey and became skilled at passing the puck. He also possessed a flair for judging the flow of the game and knew when to join the attack and when to retreat. Despite his role as a "stay-at-home" defenceman, due to his skills for the long breakout pass, he was a contributor to the style of firewagon Hockey for which the Canadiens exemplified.
The 1942–43 season was Bouchard's breakthrough year as he finished leading all Canadien defencemen in points and was key to the Canadiens' first season in several years without a losing record. They finished in fourth place with a record of 19 wins, 19 losses and 12 ties. Although they lost in the first round of the playoffs, the team was building in the right direction.
The 1943–44 season was Maurice Richard's first full season with the Canadiens. Richard was not just an exciting player to watch which served to increase attendance, but also had the offensive skills needed to turn the Canadiens into an exceptional team. The Canadiens proceeded to dominate the regular season finishing well ahead of second-place Detroit. In the playoffs in the first round against Toronto, after losing the opening game, they won the next four straight to win the series. Then, in the final they swept Detroit in four games to win their first Stanley Cup in thirteen years. While the "Punch Line" of Richard, Toe Blake and Lach provided the offensive power it was Bouchard and goal-tender Bill Durnan who kept the goals out. During the regular season Montreal had allowed only 109 goals, 68 less than second-place Detroit. Bouchard along with Richard and Lach were named to the NHL All Stars' second team and goaltender Bill Durnan made the first team and won the Vezina. Bouchard had become one of the most reliable defencemen in the league. He would be named to the NHL First All Star team, as one of the best defencemen in the league, for the next three seasons.
The team took the Stanley Cup championship again in 1946, beating the Boston Bruins this time. The 'Punch Line' again led the team (all three finished in the top ten through the regular season), while Bouchard was paired with Kenny Reardon, who had returned from the military and being awarded the Certificate of Merit for his service in Europe.
It was a fight involving Bouchard which led to a significant change in the role of referees. During the 1946–47 season, Bouchard became involved in a prolonged and one-sided fight with Boston's Terry Reardon. Due to the fight, Clarence Campbell, president of the NHL, added to the duties of referees; for the first time they had the responsibility of breaking up fights. Then there was the time in March 1947, in a game in Boston, as the Canadiens were coming back onto the ice for the beginning of the third period, a female fan attacked Bouchard spearing him with a hat pin. Bouchard responded by pushing the woman away forcefully. A few moments later, Boston police were leading Bouchard out to a police car. According to Bouchard, Pat Egan of the Boston Bruins, interceded and talked the police out of the arrest
A leg injury suffered in January 1948 forced veteran Toe Blake to end his NHL career. After the injury, netminder Bill Durnan had been made captain, but with the beginning of the 1948-49 season, Bouchard became the first Quebec-born captain of the Canadiens, a position he retained for eight years until his retirement. He had the perfect temperament for the role — strong yet even-keeled. Bouchard commenting on the fact that he was nominated for captain by his teammates: "I don't agree with management nominating you. I can respond to players, not be a yes-man for the proprietor."
Bouchard was not afraid to speak up to management as required. 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion recalled how the captain stood up for him during the 1949-50 season. "Mr. (Frank) Selke, the general manager, brought me up for a three-game try-out. 'Butch' Bouchard went to Selke and said, 'Why don't you give the kid a shot? He can put the puck in the net.'" Geoffrion got his shot, scoring in his first game and potting another as well during the three game look, then signed a contract with the team. Geoffrion won the Calder for rookie of the year and would be near the top of league scoring for years to come. Bouchard played an important role on the team, encouraging the youngsters and serving as both a mentor and an arbitrator, as required. Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau, a teammate of Bouchard for Beliveau's early years with the Canadiens, said Bouchard was the model for his time as captain in the 1960s. Bouchard was a well-respected leader and played a role in supporting and mentoring the younger players.
Life was going well for Bouchard. Newly-married, he had sold his apiary in 1947 and purchased an eponymous tavern in the heart of Montreal's downtown, not far from the Montreal Forum. But during that season, 'Butch' suffered a severe knee injury that curtailed his game substantially. "I had been an All-Star before the injury, but after I got hurt, I couldn't make it," he said. "I was playing good Hockey not All-Star-outstanding." 'Butch' used a stationary bike to re-hab the knee but never regained his full strength. "The doctors thought I couldn't play anymore," he admits. Yet, retirement simply was an option for Bouchard. His physical conditioning and great efforts to strengthen the knee allowed him to return to the team late in the season and contribute in the playoffs. "I played hockey and ran the restaurant for another eight years," he states.
In 1951, Bouchard was involved in a legal first when he was a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a New York Rangers fan. The fan claimed Bouchard had struck him with his stick when he was waving to a friend watching the game on TV. Bouchard said the fan had actually raised his fist towards a fellow Canadiens player who was being taken off the ice with an injury and his stick hit the fan accidentally as he tried to ward off the blow. In what may have been the first time in legal history, evidence was taken during a trial from someone witnessing an event on a television as the fan's friend testified he'd seen Bouchard strike the blow. Bouchard won the case when Otis Guernsey, president of Abercrombie and Fitch, who was at the game testified he heard "vile language" and saw the fan raise his fist and not wave.
The Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup final in 1951 against Toronto and in 1952 versus Detroit.
In 1952–53, Montreal and Detroit battled for first place with Detroit coming out on top by the end of the season. In the first round of the playoffs the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings were upset by the Boston Bruins and Montreal won a close seven-game series over the Chicago Black Hawks. The Canadiens then defeated Boston in five games and Bouchard won his third Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens reached the final again in 1954 and 1955 against Detroit.
At the conclusion of the 1954-55 season, Bouchard contemplated retirement. Dick Irvin, the only coach under which he had played in the NHL, was released, and Butch saw it as an appropriate time for him too to leave the Canadiens. For a brief period of time, 'Butch' was considered for Montreal's coaching position, which ultimately was given to former teammate Toe Blake. Blake and Bouchard sat down and the new coach convinced the captain to give the team one more season, maintaining his strong leadership abilities and assisting in the development of younger defencemen like Jean-Guy Talbot.
Then, in 1956, Montreal won the first of a record five consecutive Stanley Cup championships. But for 'Butch,' it was the beginning of the end. "Age caught up with me," he shrugged. "I was 36 with a bad leg. I was surprised I played that much. According to the doctor, I should have quit when I was 29 years old."
In his final game in the NHL, on April 10, 1956, the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 to capture the Stanley Cup. Although he had been a spectator through the latter part of the season and through all of the playoffs to that date, Coach Blake had Bouchard dress for what was hoped to be the final game of the season, which in fact, it was. 'Butch' sat on the bench through most of the game, but as the final moments were being counted down, the coach sent his captain over the boards so he could proudly conclude his career on the ice amongst his teammates as the Stanley Cup-winning game came to a conclusion. Bouchard took his spot on defence, grinning ear to ear, and when the buzzer sounded to conclude the game, he led the team over to congratulate goaltender Jacques Plante. The hometown fans cheered wildly, and as the hubbub subsided, NHL president Clarence Campbell called for captain 'Butch' Bouchard to come to centre ice to accept the Stanley Cup, and the cheers again rained down onto 'Butch' as he cradled the Cup. As he skated off the ice, he knew that it would be for the final time.
Bouchard played in 785 regular season NHL games, scoring 49 times, assisting on 144 others and collecting 193 points. He added 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points in 113 playoff contests.
In retirement Bouchard remained as active as he was during his NHL career. He received coaching offers soon after his retirement, but his business interests prevented him from leaving Montreal. Bouchard owned a popular restaurant Chez Émile Bouchard which operated for many years in Montreal. Bouchard was a tough opponent even outside of Hockey. When the Mafia of the day in Montreal attempted to intimidate him into hiring their people for his restaurant, Bouchard invited the head man for dinner. Bouchard's wife, Marie-Claire, recalled he told them, "Il lui a dit over my dead body. Je n'embaucherai jamais un de tes hommes." which translates "Over my dead body, I will never hire one of your men."
Bouchard was also president of the Montreal Royals Triple-A baseball club, the top farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers (who moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season). The Royals won the Governors' Cup as champions of the International League in 1958, but the team folded following the 1960 season when the Dodgers moved their farm team to Syracuse.
Bouchard was unafraid to speak his mind when he felt the occasion demanded. In 1957, after an International League game in Toronto between his Montreal Royals and the Maple Leafs baseball team President Bouchard complained about Toronto's excessive conference trips to the mound. He called the Leafs "showspoilers" and then said, for the entire press room to hear, "They're a lot of punks, just like in Hockey!"
In 1961, 'Butch' was elected to Longeuil's municipal council and was a well-liked local politician for two years. Always a leader, he later involved himself in the Chamber of Commerce and was on the board of directors for Ste. Jeanne-d'Arc Hospital.
Bouchard never lost sight of his Hockey roots. He was named president of the Metropolitan Junior 'A' Hockey League in 1968-69 and insituted an All-Star Game pitting the best of his MJAHL versus the finest in the Quebec Junior Hockey League, with proceeds going into an emergency fund reserved for players suffering injuries. Later, the QMJHL named its defenceman of the tear trophy in Bouchard's honour.
Perhaps his greatest thrill was watching his son Pierre take the ice for the same Montreal Canadiens in 1970-71. Both big, strong defenceman, the junior Bouchard was, like his father, also a Stanley Cup champion, winning the Cup with the Canadiens in five of his eight seasons. His coach, Scotty Bowman, admitted, "There's nothing tougher than for a son to come into a town where his father is a legend." 'Butch' couldn't have been more proud when he stated, "It was the first time a father and a son played for the Canadiens, and for me, it was a great honour. I felt that, in some way, he had taken my place. I felt like part of the team again."
With Butch's four and Pierre's five they have the distinction of winning the most Stanley Cups of any father-son combination in NHL history. Bobby and Brett Hull are the only other father and son to have won the Stanley Cup.
A reporter once asked the canny Bouchard what he thought of coaching methods in the NHL. He replied, "Hockey should be more like football, with a coach for the defence, one for the offence and maybe one for the goalies." Indicative of his usual foresight it would be many years before such practices would become common in the NHL.
Emile 'Butch' Bouchard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.
The QMJHL's Defenceman of the Year Trophy (Emile Bouchard Trophy) is named in his honour.
On October 15, 2008, the Montreal Canadiens celebrated their 100th season by unveiling the Ring of Honour, an exhibit along the wall of the upper deck of the Bell Centre, paying tribute to their 44 players and 10 builders who are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Bouchard along with Elmer Lach, the two oldest surviving members, were on hand to drop the ceremonial puck at centre ice.
In 2008, a grass roots movement had begun to pressure Canadien management to retire Bouchard's #3. During the Quebec provincial election Independent candidate Kevin Côté made one of his platforms to force Canadiens into retiring the number. By March 2009 it reached the Quebec National Assembly where a motion was presented and carried "That the National Assembly support the steps taken and supported by the population of Québec in order that Montreal Canadiens management retire the sweater of Émile "Butch" Bouchard eminent defenceman from 1941 to 1956."
On December 4, 2009, as part of an 85 minute pre-game ceremony celebrating the Canadiens' 100th anniversary, Bouchard's No. 3 and Elmer Lach's No. 16 were retired. They become the 16th and 17th Canadien players to have their numbers retired.
On June 18, 2008, Bouchard received the National Order of Quebec (L'Ordre national du Québec) presented to him by the Premier of Quebec Jean Charest.
On December 30, 2009, Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, announced Bouchard was made a Member of the Order of Canada "for his contributions to sports, particularly professional Hockey, and for his commitment to his community"