The Night the Boomer Returned as a Visitor
A Journey into Hockey
It was a big deal at the time, but 50 years later it is an event that went virtually overlooked and forgotten, save for a passing reference in the excellent historical column of the Hockey Writers website.
It was on October 29, 1966 that Bernie Geoffrion returned to Montreal to play in the Forum as a member of visiting team. When he skated onto the ice for the first time in a uniform other than that of the Canadiens, it was an emotional moment for fans and player alike.
Geoffrion had missed the two previous NHL seasons, retiring with the Canadiens at age 33 in 1964 to take a job as coach with the Quebec Aces. He was successful at it, but when no jobs were made available further up the Montreal organization chain, a steamed Geoffrion decided to return to the NHL as a player.
The Rangers claimed Boom Boom on waivers in June 1966 and he played for two more NHL seasons. He put up decent but most unspectacular numbers, but that’s not why he was brought in. Emile Francis recognized that Boomer could help provide leadership on ice, on the bench and in the room – especially given Geoffrion’s winning background with Montreal as Francis tried to create a new culture after years of losing in New York. Boom Boom joined veterans such as Harry Howell, Bob Nevin, Phil Goyette and Donny Marshall to help role model youngsters such as Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Jim Neilson, Rod Seiling and Ed Giacomin. Francis’ strstegy paid off as the Rangers made the playoffs that year before bowing out to Montreal in the first round.
One highlight for Geoffrion was on November 17, 1966 when burned his old team with a goal and three assists in a victory for the Rangers (Montreal won 3-0 on October 29, 1966).
Eventually, Geoffrion would become a coach – in New York, Atlanta and Montreal. He would also become an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a beloved figure thanks to his analysis on TV and his role in Lite Beer commercials with former teammate Jacques Plante (“Tastes Great..Less Filling” in French).
Sadly, he would die on the day originally scheduled for his old #5 to be retired by Canadiens.
Through it all, though, that autumn evening when Bernie Geoffrion stepped on the Montreal Forum ice as a member of the New York Rangers was special. A later generation would experience something similar when Guy Lafleur returned to play Canadiens as a member of the Rangers. But it was different the first time in 1966. Geoffrion had felt passed over and unappreciated by Montreal twice – when Jean Beliveau was selected captain upon Maurice Richard’s retirement, and what he thought was a broken promise for him to become Canadiens coach (As mentioned above, it is ironic that he would get that chance a decade plus later).
All present that night at the Forum knew what had transpired and just what the evening meant to Boom Boom