Growing up in the 1960’s I was one of many lads who was raised on Hockey Night In Canada. Missing the Saturday night hockey game for me was like missing church on Sunday morning for others. Saturday night was reserved for Bill Hewitt or Ward Cornell on the Toronto Maple Leaf games or Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin broadcasting the Montreal games.
Up to 1970 there were only two Canadian hockey teams in the NHL. Hard core fans were divided into two camps; one was either a Toronto fan or a Montreal one. There was no middle ground as one loved one team and hated the other. Much ribbing went around the school yard where I attended school when one of Canada’s teams beat the other especially by a lopsided score.
Loyalties to Toronto and Montreal ran deep. When the NHL expanded into Vancouver and Winnipeg, cheers at times rang louder for Toronto or Montreal rather than for the Vancouver or Winnipeg teams.
I could only carry the Toronto – Montreal so far. There was the pre-game build up but once the game was over and done with, no grudges were held on my part. In fact if one put a roster of the Montreal teams from the 60’s and 70’s in front of me, I would like as many players on the Canadiens team as I did on the Leafs team. During the 70’s I loved watching Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald working together in the Toronto games and watching Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe playing on Montreals defense.
Though Montreal won more Stanley Cups than anyone else, on thing they haven’t matched is Darryl Sittlers having a ten point game in February 1976. In the last few years both teams have seen some ups and downs. Toronto suffered the ill effects of Harold Ballard’s ego in the 1980’s and his meddling ways. In the last few years Montreal has missed the playoffs nearly as many times as they get into them.
It is doubtful that the Toronto – Montreal rivalry will ever be like it was prior to the 1970’s Teams no longer face each other 14 teams in a hockey season like they did when the NHL was a six team league.