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The History of the Montreal Canadiens

James Murphy
by in NHL on
  • The Montreal Canadiens are the longest continuously operating professional hockey team in existence.
  • Known as the ‘Habs’, or ‘Les Habitants’ they were a founding member of the NHL.
  • The Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups.

My wife and I are going to spend the next few months in Canada. In preparation for our trip, I’m learning about the extended history of Canada’s major sports teams and some other cultural icons. I figured since I’m doing the research anyway that I should share it with the readership of SportsInsider. We’ll start with our first destination–Montreal–and look at the history of the Montreal Canadiens.

The Montreal Canadiens, affectionately known as “Les Habitants” or the “Habs,” hold a special place in the annals of ice hockey, representing not just a sports team but a significant chapter in the cultural and sporting history of Canada. Founded in 1909, the Canadiens are the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team and one of the oldest in North America. Their storied past intertwines with the development of the National Hockey League (NHL) itself, of which they were a founding member.

The Canadiens’ early years were marked by their participation in the National Hockey Association (NHA), the precursor to the NHL. Their establishment was strategic, aimed at attracting the Francophone fan base in Montreal. In their inaugural season, the Canadiens played their first game on January 5, 1910, against the Cobalt Silver Kings, signaling the start of an illustrious journey.

In 1917, the Canadiens, along with four other teams, became founding members of the NHL. This transition was pivotal and marked the beginning of a new era in professional hockey. The Canadiens won their first Stanley Cup in 1916, before the formation of the NHL, and their first as an NHL team in 1924, under the leadership of player-coach Sylvio Mantha.

The 1950s and 1960s were a golden era for the Canadiens, dominated by legendary names like Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Jean Beliveau, and goalie Jacques Plante. Richard, famous for his fiery playing style and scoring prowess, became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season. This era witnessed the Canadiens winning an unprecedented five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956 to 1960.

In the 1970s, under the coaching of Scotty Bowman, the Canadiens continued their dominance with another group of stars including Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, and Larry Robinson. This period was highlighted by four consecutive Stanley Cup wins from 1976 to 1979, a testament to their sustained excellence.

The Canadiens’ success is not just confined to the ice rink. They have been an integral part of the Quebec and Canadian identity, embodying the French-Canadian spirit. The team’s influence extends beyond sports, contributing to the social and cultural fabric of Montreal and Canada.

To date, the Montreal Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups, the most by any team in the NHL, a record that stands as a testament to their enduring legacy. Their last championship came in 1993, under the captaincy of Guy Carbonneau, and marked the last time a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup.

The Montreal Canadiens continue to play a significant role in the NHL, with a passionate fan base and a commitment to excellence. Their rich history, filled with legendary players, iconic moments, and a deep connection with their fans, ensures that the Canadiens remain a central part of the hockey world and Canadian culture. As they move forward, they carry with them a legacy of triumph, resilience, and an unwavering spirit that epitomizes the heart of hockey.

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