So when Reardon visited 16-year-old Ralph Backstrom and
his parents in their Kirkland, Ontario, home in the summer of 1954, he brought credibility through the front door as well
as money and a contract in his pockets.
Chattily, he told the Backstroms their son would be better
off signing with the Canadiens on the spot and playing with one of their junior affiliates in the Quebec League than playing
junior in the Ontario League and probably ending up with someone other than the Canadiens.
Reardon pulled five $100 bills out of his pocket.
you sign today," he told the wide-eyed Backstrom, "these are yours."
After Backstrom's parents nodded,
nearly 47 years later, Parker resident Ralph
Backstrom still laughs - and not entirely
mirthfully - about what Reardon did next.
"I swear on my kids' heads," Backstrom said, "when he walked out
of our living room and was putting his coat on, he took another $500 out of his other pocket, waved it at me and said, "I
was authorized to go up to $1,000.' He put it back in his pocket and said, "I'll see you in Montreal.'"
kid, we just pulled one over on you. Welcome to the organization.
In the fall of 1958, at age
21, Backstrom made his first appearance in the NHL All-Star Game. Like the money figures of the game's bygone era, the All-Star
Game was drastically different. It was a real game, and not the defenseless, no-contact circus it has become. The event Backstrom,
the former University of Denver coach who now scouts for the St. Louis Blues, will be watching in Denver next Sunday won't
much resemble what he played in six times, from 1958-67.
it a circus isn't a criticism of the modern All-Star Game. There's nothing wrong with visiting the circus once a year - as
long as the cotton candy machine is working, and it hasn't been billed as a high-minded art form.
Game has evolved into something different.
In Backstrom's era, the game matched the defending Stanley
Cup champions against the NHL all-stars, in the champions' home rink, shortly before the start of the next regular season.
The 1958 training camp was typical for the Canadiens. They were the three-time defending NHL champions,
and the players - as was the custom throughout the league - had spent the summer indulging in the pastimes of drinking beer,
working on the farm, fishing, hunting and maybe even selling insurance. In camp, the Canadiens traveled all over the province
of Quebec, sometimes playing two intrasquad games in different towns in one day.
The "kids" were on display, including prospects from the two junior
teams owned by the Canadiens, the Regina Pats and the Hull-Ottawa Junior Canadiens. The teams had met in the 1958 Memorial
Cup finals, and Backstrom was the captain and MVP as the Junior Canadiens, who won the championship of Canadian junior hockey.
The Junior Canadiens' head coach was Sam Pollock, Montreal's future legendary GM, and their assistant coach was a young Scotty
Backstrom played three games for the Canadiens in 1956-57 and two in '57-58 as an emergency callup,
but he was a junior hockey star at the time. When Backstrom made the big league roster in the fall of 1958, it meant he would
play in the All-Star Game before he took to the ice in a regular-season game that season. The Canadiens won 6-3, with Rocket
Richard scoring twice.
"I remember being awestruck," Backstrom said. "We played it in Montreal, and I looked around at who
we were playing against - Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and those guys.
"But it's pretty comforting to look around
your own room and see Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante. Anytime I was awestruck
by the opposing team, I would look around my own room and see who I was playing with."
ended up playing for the Canadiens in the All-Star Game five times and once with the all-stars against Toronto in 1962.
think the only ceremony we ever had was the player introductions before the game," Backstrom said. "We were excited
about it, ready to play, and there was a lot of body contact. It wasn't as vicious as a league game, but there were grudges
going on. The all-stars didn't want to lose to the Stanley Cup champion. It would set the tone for the season.
played everyone 14 times, seven at home and seven away. So those grudges that not only went from game to game, but from week
to week, or month to month, and they didn't stop in that game. Actually, they'd go from year to year. If someone popped you
in the first game, you'd just wait your chance because you had 13 more times to go. And the All-Star Game could be part of
that. There still are guys I played against 30 years ago I wouldn't say hello to if I walked right past them, which is stupid,
I know. You're always taught to forgive, but there aren't too many hockey players who paid attention to that."
center from Ontario had to be good - or far more than that - to make that roster. The Flying Frenchmen were tearing up the
league, and Backstrom was the third-line center, behind Beliveau and Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, Maurice's brother.
Backstrom's nickname was the "Merchant of Speed."
After playing in that 1958 All-Star Game,
Backstrom was the NHL's rookie of the year that season, getting 18 goals and 40 points.
made $7,000," he said. "I was rookie of the year. We finished in first place. We won the Stanley Cup. And I got
a $1,000 raise. The rationale was, "Look at all the money you made in bonuses!' I think it was about $3,500."
Stanley Cup seemed the Canadiens', by regal right.
"Henri and I used to go at it pretty good in practice," Backstrom said, "and
(coach) Toe Blake would tell me, "Ease off.' I was trying to rise in the ranks, and Henri wasn't going to let me. There
was so much tradition in Montreal. If you lost, you were lucky if the milkman left the milk for you."
Canadiens' dynasty was temporarily derailed, Backstrom and the all-stars lost to Toronto in 1962.
"Glenn Hall was our goalie, and I'd heard all the
talk about him throwing up before a game," Backstrom said. "And there he was, his head in the bowl. I'm thinking,
geez, an all-star goalie, one of the best in the history of the game, and he has got his head in the toilet bowl. And when
I got back to Montreal, Toe Blake was all over me for playing a (bad) game. It was taken pretty serious."
1971, in the fourth season after the NHL's original expansion from six to 12 teams, Backstrom was traded to the Los Angeles
went from 20 below to 75 degrees," he said. "I went to my first practice and nobody was there. We had people watching
our practices in Montreal like they were games. In L.A., we practiced in Culver City, and after practice we were going on
a short road trip. I asked Hank Cahan, "How far is it from the practice rink to the airport?' He said, "About a
six-pack.' That was such a culture shock for me, I knew I was in trouble."
Wait a minute. Culver City to Los Angeles International Airport isn't very
far. A six-pack?
"But you should have seen those guys drinking," Backstrom said.
In the offseason, Backstrom found a new way to train.
He put roller skate-type wheels on skates, or primitive roller blade technology that that was revolutionary at the time. His
neighbors looked at him skating down the street and reacted as if he had just stepped from a spaceship. He patented the design
and tried to sell it to a Canadian sporting goods manufacturer.
"I skated through the factory past these
ladies working on their sewing machines, and I was going backwards and doing crossovers and all those things," Backstrom
said. "They said, "Thanks, but nothing will ever replace the roller skate with the wheels on the four corners.'"
his rights to the patent.
In February 1973, the Chicago Blackhawks traded
for Backstrom when Stan Mikita was injured late in the season. He scored six goals in 16 games and seemed rejuvenated. The
Blackhawks lost to the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. Backstrom was so angry when the Blackhawks gave him only a one-fifth
share of the divisional first-place money, it helped convince him to jump to the World Hockey Association's Chicago Cougars,
and he ended up in Denver as a member of the Denver Spurs in 1975.
"I bought a home in the Pinery and I'm still paying for it," he said,
smiling. "Nowadays players pay cash for houses. Twenty-five years later, I'm still paying for mine."
didn't last nearly as long as the mortgage. In midseason, they headed to Cincinnati for a game against the Stingers. On the
plane flight, Backstrom sat next to assistant coach Bob McCord. "He's rubbing his chin saying, "I don't think we're
coming back.' That gets your attention on a plane," Backstrom said. "I asked him what he was talking about.
said, "I was in my office this morning and they were moving the furniture out.' I said, "Where we going?' He said
he had heard rumors we were going to Canada. I said he was crazy. So we get to Cincinnati, and we have the Cincinnati Stingers
on one blue line and the Denver Spurs on the other. We get to the national anthems. And they play, "O Canada.'
"O Canada'? All the guys are looking down the line
and trying to hold back from laughing. I guess that sort of confirmed we were going to Ottawa."
not only went to Ottawa, they went immediately. They played three games in Ottawa as the Civics, but then financing for a
new ownership fell through and the franchise folded. Backstrom signed with the New England Whalers, played two more seasons
and finally retired in 1977. He was 39. He came back to his home in the Pinery.
He was a DU assistant, a Kings assistant and then DU's head coach from
1981-90. After a two-year stint as head coach of the minor league Phoenix Roadrunners, he got back to roller hockey. As the
commissioner of Roller Hockey International, he wrote the game's rules - which are still in use around the world - and presided
over a league that hired a handful of former NHL enforcers as coaches, including Tiger Williams, Nick Fotiu and Dave "The
years ago , he signed on with the Blues as a special assignment scout, looking at players coming through Denver and
also traveling for the Blues. He went to Anchorage, Alaska, to check out and coordinate St. Louis' training camp facilities
there for next fall. The Blues have lined up tickets for all of the all-star events for him, and he'll watch them, not as
an embittered former player, but as a man who recognizes that the world has changed - and that the world has come to the NHL.
don't begrudge these guys what they're making now, not at all," he said.
Nowadays, when a hockey man
pulls $500 out of his pocket, it's not called a bonus.
At the October 2017 news conference officially announcing the Eagles would become the Avalanche's AHL affiiate in
the 2018-19 season: Avalanche assistant GM Craig Billington, Eagles owner Martin Lind,
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, Eagles founder Ralph Backstrom, and Eagles President/GM Chris Stewart.