Joseph Henri Jean-Claude Tremblay - Born January 22, 1939 in Bagotville, Quebec – Died December 7, 1994 in Montreal, Quebec was an ice Hockey defenceman.
Tremblay played his first junior Hockey with the Port Alfred Nationale and played the left wing. Tremblay joined the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens in 1957, and would play for them until 1961. During his time with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, it was brought to his attention that there was a shortage of defensive prospects in the Montreal Canadiens system, he made the switch, Not only did he gain increased ice time, but he became one of the most promising prospects in the Canadiens system. During his first year with Hull-Ottawa, they would be crowned 1958 Memorial Cup champions.
The Hull-Ottawa Canadiens would join the Eastern Professional Hockey League in 1959-60, and Tremblay would turn pro. He accumulated 25 goals and 56 points in 55 games and his effort garnered him the league's most valuable player honors. He played 11 games for the Montreal Canadiens that season and the following season he was called up to the parent club for 29 games, (including 5 playoff games), and 37 games with Hull-Ottawa (scoring 40 points).
In 1961-62 Tremblay joined the Canadiens full time, and went on to play in all 70 games for the Canadiens, scoring 3 goals and adding 17 assists. In the next three years Tremblay’s points were 18, 21, and 20.
The 1965 playoffs represented Tremblay’s coming out party. J.C. led all playoff scorers with 9 assists in 13 playoff games as the Canadiens won their first Stanley Cup in five years defeating the Chicago Black Hawks. With a Stanley Cup win, part of the burden seemed to be removed from Tremblay, as he finally began to fulfill his potential and gain the acceptance of the demanding Montreal attendance. He was equally brilliant the following season when he scored 11 points in 10 playoff games to help the Canadiens repeat as Stanley Cup champions against the Detroit Red Wings. Following the series, Tremblay thought he would win the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Instead the honor went to the Red Wings goalie Roger Crozier in a losing cause.
On November 30th, 1966 in a game against Toronto, Tremblay and teammate Bobby Rousseau became the first players to permanently wear a helmet. Unfortunately, this helped contribute at the time to Tremblay’s soft image.
In trying to explain Tremblay’s lack of recognition later on, Jean Beliveau wrote that J.C. was “essentially a shy man, a bit of a loner, who, like a bear, would growl to keep people away.” But Beliveau also went on to acknowledge that J.C. “was a very important cog in our machine.”
Tremblay was not a physical player, he never had more than 24 penalty minutes in a season, and he tended to shy away from body contact. Unfortunately, this is what some fans and members of the media focused on.
Tremblay responded to this criticism by having his best year yet in 1967-68. In addition to scoring 30 points, J.C. was also a plus 28. For the first time in his career Tremblay was named to the second all star team, and he finished second in the balloting for the Norris trophy behind Bobby Orr.
But it was in the playoffs where J.C. really shone, scoring 9 points in 13 playoff games. With the Canadiens up 3 games to none in the finals against the Blues, the Canadiens were trailing 2-1 in the third period. At 7:24 of the third, J.C. set up Henri Richard for the tying goal, and four minutes later scored the 1968 Stanley Cup winning goal.
After seven years in the league J.C. Tremblay was finally beginning to carve out a name for himself as one of the top defensemen in the NHL.
In 1968-69 J.C. was able to establish new career highs with 39 points and a plus/minus of +29 as the Canadiens repeated as Stanley Cup champions.
However, the next year, 1969-70 represented a lost year for the Canadiens and for Tremblay himself. The Canadiens failed to make the playoffs and Tremblay’s point total almost dipped to half of what it had been the previous year. This firmly put Montreal in a rebuilding mode. For the first time in his career there were whispers about Tremblay’s future with the Canadiens.
Prior to the 1970-71 season, the Canadiens were deciding which of their veteran defensemen to unload as part of a rebuilding program. Tremblay's desire to play for the club was under scrutiny for the first time. A proud competitor, he voiced his desire to stay with the Canadiens. That year Tremblay broke Doug Harvey's team record for single-season points by a defenseman. He totaled a personal high of 63 points, then went on to register 17 points in 20 playoff matches to help the Canadiens win the 1971 Stanley Cup championship. After the playoffs, he was named to the NHL First All-Star Team for the only time in his career. Another factor that helped Tremblay was when he relinquished the distracting task of being the team's representative in the NHL Players' Association.
Reflecting years later, J.C. remembered that, “a Montreal fan forgets good plays, the bad plays he remembers forever. One year (1970-71) I made a record for scoring for Montreal defensemen and I was a first team all star. Next year the first game I made a mistake – fans start booing. First game!”
In 1971-72 Tremblay was made one of the team’s assistant captains. He responded by contributing 57 points and an astonishing career high plus/minus of +52. Tremblay’s stature was never higher; he was named to represent Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series. And at the same time J.C.’s contract status was up in the air.
Into this picture stepped the newly formed World Hockey Association / WHA. Looking for star players the newly formed Quebec Nordiques targeted Tremblay and offered him a financially lucrative contract that the Canadiens couldn’t or wouldn’t match. Unfortunately, like Bobby Hull once Tremblay signed with the Nordiques he disqualified himself from playing in the 1972 Summit Series.
Tremblay was the first great star for the Quebec Nordiques, and was the WHA’s greatest defenseman. In his first four years he would be named to the league’s all star team. Twice he was the recipient of the Dennis A. Murphy Trophy as the top defenseman in the WHA in 1973 and 1975. In 1977 Tremblay, helped lead the Nordiques to the AVCO World Trophy / Avco Cup, after losing in the finals the year before.
Tremblay was a key member of the WHA All-Star squad that represented Canada during the 1974 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Named the captain of the team Tremblay led all defensemen in scoring in a losing cause during the eight game series. He scored 1 goal and 4 assists in the tournament.
Tremblay was the only player to play in all of the Nordiques seven years in the WHA. When Tremblay retired in 1979, the team was absorbed into the NHL the next year. Tremblay finished second in WHA history in assists, fourteenth in points, and sixteenth in games played. But before the Nordiques joined the NHL it was announced that they were retiring Tremblay’s number three. An interesting sidelight was that his number 3 was retired by the Nordiques for his WHA exploits. Thus gaining Tremblay the distinction of being one of only three players to have a number retired by a NHL team without ever actually playing for it (the other two being Johnny McKenzie by the Hartford Whalers and Frank Finnigan by the modern-day Ottawa Senators).
In the WHA's existence, Tremblay had a career 66 goals and 358 assists for 424 points in 455 games.
Tremblay later scouted in Europe for the Montreal Canadiens.
For years J.C. played in the NHL and didn't put up great numbers until his 11th season. Then, when he reached his prime, he left the NHL to join a league which was mostly regarded to be of lower quality than the NHL. If he had stayed in the NHL he, as it turned out, would have won 4 more Stanley Cups and be part of what many believe is the greatest team of all time (the 1976-79 Canadiens). Who knows how good the Habs defense would have been if Tremblay was added to the big three of Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, and Guy Lapointe?
So while it can be said J.C. Tremblay's jump to the WHA has hurt his chances of joining the Hockey Hall of Fame, Tremblay truly is a legend of Hockey.
J. C. Tremblay Won Stanley Cups in 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1971.
J. C. Tremblay was elected as an inaugural member to the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
An arena is named after him in La Baie, Quebec (Now part of the City of Saguenay, QC)