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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Snapshots of History: Noel he got in the picture.

 Marcel Dionne, the first big star the L.A. Kings had. He never won the Cup with the team, nor did Wayne Gretzky a few years later.

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs are nearing a close and the Los Angeles Kings are poised to win their first Cup in the 45 year history of the franchise, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at one of the most famous goals of a Stanley Cup Final. A moment frozen in time.
Of the six teams that entered into the NHL in 1967, only two previously have won the Stanley Cup. The Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970's and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990's and 2000's. Part of this blog will relate to how those teams came into the league and how they won the Cups. It is not what the blog is ultimately about, but it has ties to it.

The most famous picture in the history of hockey.

I like to think I know a lot about hockey and hockey history. I knew all the players,  all the names, all the stats. I had just about every hockey card there was to have from 1970 to 1980.

However, I admit, I had no idea who Noel Picard was. Nor do I remember anything about him. I knew of Robert Picard, who was a very good player when I was a bit older.

Robert Picard established himself as a highly regarded defensive prospect with the Montreal Juniors and Montreal Bleu Blanc Rouge from 1973 to 1977. He was selected 3rd overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft.
-From Wikipedia

I would venture to say that there isn't a person reading this blog who remembers Noel Picard. But if you are any kind of hockey fan, you have seen him countless times, in one of the most famous moments in hockey history.

There is very good reason for that. In the world of hockey history, Noel Picard was very insignificant. He never really did anything special. He was not very talented. He was not a difference maker. Teams did not trade for him to help improve their teams.
Simply put, he was just a guy. Just as most of us are just guys. Regular people. Doing our jobs, day in, day out. But just like Noel Picard, we all have our one or two moments to shine. Noel had that shining moment, although it wasn't really his moment.
He did two significant things in the history of hockey. One changed the game, and the other was part of a great hockey moment. Maybe the most famous moment of my generation.

While Robert Picard was the better player, with much higher hopes, as time goes on, Noel Picard will be the one who is remembered. Robert Picard will only really be significant for one detail of his career.

Patrick Roy

Robert Picard was traded to the Winnipeg Jets by the Montreal Canadiens for Winnipeg's 3rd round choice in the 1984 Entry Draft, November 4, 1983. Montreal would use that draft pick to select goaltender Patrick Roy, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career.

-From Wikipedia

Many times in life we are remembered, not for what we did, but for where we were when someone else did something great and/or memorable. That was the case with Noel Picard. But lets go back and see how he got to that moment. Without a very certain set of circumstances, he definitely would never have been in that moment and place in time. 

It was not a difficult choice for the parents of Noel Picard to name their newly born son, who arrived on the morning of December 25, 1938. Being francophones, they named their new arrival using the French word for Christmas--Noel.

Noel Picard, His short 16 game stint with the Montreal Canadians.
Picard eventually grew into a warm, affable young man who liked to joke and laugh easily. He also developed a strong team spirit that he readily applied to his budding career in hockey.
He turned pro at age 21 with the Jersey Larks of the EHL (Eastern Hockey League) in 1960-61. The move marked the beginning of a seven-year run of minor-league stints accentuated by one 16-game slice of glory with the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL in 1964-65. Otherwise, Picard spent his time playing with teams such as the Montreal Olympics, Sherbrooke Castors, Omaha Knights, Houston Apollos, Seattle Totems, and Providence Reds. Basically, he was a career minor league player and was going to stay that way until he retired.

For many years, the NHL (National Hockey League) was a six team league and players like Noel Picard had little or no chance of having any kind of a career playing in it. That changed in 1967, when the NHL expanded. Six teams were added to make a total of 12, thereby doubling, overnight, the amount of jobs available. Suddenly a marginal player such as Noel Picard could find steady work in the big leagues.

St. Louis Blues 1967 Team Picture

In the summer of 1967, Picard's hockey fortunes underwent a dramatic shift. His rights were secured by the St. Louis Blues in the Expansion Draft of that year. The burly blueliner was just the right kind of stay-at-home defenceman and seasoned veteran that the Blues needed.

Noel Picard was not a goal scorer. He didn't make fancy plays. He was no Bobby Orr.  He was as far from Bobby Orr as you could get. But he was good defensively and he was tough.  He was also extremely dirty.  You had to be that way to survive in the minor leagues of hockey,  where the rules went out the window. In many ways, the NHL became that way and as a result, the Philadelphia Flyers became a team determined to use that style to win, which they did 6 or 7 years later to win two Stanley Cups.

The brawling brothers’ (The Plagers) reputation followed them directly into Philadelphia.  On January 6th, 1972, the Blues defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 at home in the Spectrum.  This was in the pre-Broad Street Bullies days, but it was the game that inspired the Flyers’ GM at the time Keith Allen to beef his team and their style up.  There were a few fights that game, but the real problems began at the end of the second period.  A Flyers fan decided to dump a beer onto Blues coach Al Arbour, and the team took exception to that. Led by Bob Plager and Phil Roberto, a gaggle of Blues players that included Barclay went into the stands to find the offending fan.  If this sounds familiar to anyone who isn’t a Blues fan, pop in a copy of Slap Shot for a refresher.  This scene, along with the Plager Brothers in general, was the inspiration for the Hanson Bros. in the movie.  Much like some of the Chiefs wound up having to be bailed out later that night, so did some of the Blues.

In 1977,  Paul Newman made a movie, Slapshot, which documented minor league hockey and how violent it was. The truth was, once the NHL expanded to 12 teams, it became very much the same.  Noel  Picard fit right in.

The brawling Plager brothers as they were known.

Along with two brothers,  Barclay and Bog Plager (The Plager brothers), Picard and the Blues went to the Stanley Cup Finals the first 3 years they were in the league. This mainly happened because of the intimidation they used on other teams.
“Before expansion none of them would have made it to the NHL. Bob was the only Plager fighter I considered to be a legitimate tough guy, but they got into their share of scraps and between the two of them, Barclay and Bob turned the Blues into the first fighting expansion club.”
– John Ferguson, Thunder and Lightning

Because these new expansion teams were short on talent, they used circus tricks and theatrics to sell hockey. One of those was causing brawls to sell tickets. Bob and Barclay were busy being the cause of sellouts – both at home and in other cities. 

  “Barclay and I are hated everywhere,” Bob says. “People buy tickets just to see if the Plagers will get theirs. Hey, we even sold out Pittsburgh. Barclay and I had a brawl with a dozen Pittsburgh guys and Barclay had his nose broken. Of course, it took three of them to break it. The next time we went into Pittsburgh they had a sellout, the first one ever.”

-Bob Plager

The St. Louis Blues didn't just bully their way to the finals in their first three years. They were also smart enough to acquire two very old goaltenders that no one else wanted anymore. Both of those goalies were legendary. One of those was Jacques Plante,  who had had a very successful career to that point. However, he will  always be remembered for something else. He was the first goaltender  to wear a face mask.

The other goalie was Glenn Hall. For years,  Glenn Hall had been one of the best goalies in the league.

"He was one of the greatest that ever put on a pair of goal pads."

-Brian McFarlane

While Noel Picard was a nobody in the hockey world, Glenn Hall was legendary and famous. He had been in the league many years and was known for his skill and durability. He played in more than 500 straight games as a goalie---without a mask--and that is a record that will never even be approached for eternity. He was an all star and in today's world would be a superstar. But by the time the St. Louis Blues came into the league, it was felt that time had caught up to Glenn Hall.

"He was a great goaltender. He was the reason we (St. Louis Blues) went to the finals."

-Dickie Moore

Glenn Hall was a 15 year veteran in 1967 when the Blues drafted him from the established Chicago Black Hawks. He went on to play 3 seasons in St. Louis and all 3 or those resulted in the Blues making the finals. He concluded his 18 year career in that last final. Had he never played a game for the Blues, and retired before expansion,  he would be remembered for all he had done before that. Growing up as a young boy in Canada,  we all knew who Glenn Hall was. As obscure as Noel Picard was,  that is how famous Glenn Hall was. He was considered to be one of the top 5 goalies ever, to this day. 
 But as time goes on, the most memorable moment he had in hockey history is one he shares with Noel Picard. But more about that shortly. 

In this screen cap, you see Noel Picard sucker punching Claude Laforge from behind. It ended Laforge's career.
As mentioned before, although the Blues were shrewd in drafting famous,  experienced goalies like Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall, the main reason they were that much better than the other expansion teams that came into the league was the intimidation they used over them. 
There was no greater example of that than the 1967 playoffs, where Noel Picard, in the middle of a brawl on the ice, sucker punched Philadelphia Flyer player Claude Laforge,  sending him crashing to the ice.  The incident effectively ended Laforge's career. An incident such as that today would probably get Picard suspended for up to one year,  as it did Marty McSorley when he did the exact same thing about 30 years later.

This is how Gene Hart described the Picard suckerpunch on Laforge in his book:

 "...From behind, Picard poleaxed and brutalized LaForge, who then lay face down, unconscious in an ever-widening pool of his own blood, while Picard and the rest of the Blues took on the entire Flyers' roster, and quite successfully."

This is also one of the many brutal incidents in which the St. Louis Blues bullied the Philadelphia Flyers in the late 60´s and early 70´s, and which contributed to Ed Snider starting the formation of the Broad Street Bullies.

In this way,  Noel Picard can be remembered for starting a chain of events that to this day affects how hockey is played and the way teams are constructed. No team is now without an enforcer and the penalties are very strict for anyone who tries this tactic.  Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks did the exact very same thing, ending Steve Moore's career and he was suspended a year and charged in court.

"and the score settling has gone too far."

-play by play man Jim Hughson

As mentioned before,  the Blues were the most successful expansion team for the first 3 years they were in the league.  Although they never won the Stanley Cup,  they made the finals those first 3 years. In the third year, they faced the Boston Bruins. 

The Bruins were also a noted tough team. They had players such as Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, Ted Green and assorted other players who were skilled but also didn't shy away from the fighting and physical game. 

They also had the two best players in the league.  One was Phil Esposito, who had the record for the most goals in one season.

The other is one who is widely considered as the greatest hockey player of all time. Bobby Orr, who was so famous he even showed up in a famous movie from the time.

"the greatest hockey player in the world,  number 4, Bobby Orr."

-Eddie Coyle

For years,  the Bruins had been one of the better teams  in the league, but had not won the Stanley Cup in many years. The Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Maple Leafs were the two dominant teams. But with expansion diluting the league, and with stars like Orr, Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Derek Sanderson, plus a very solid core of other players,  it was the Bruins time to shine.

During the third final in 1970, the Blues squared off against the Bruins. In what was voted as the most famous photo in hockey history, Orr is seen floating through the air in celebration of his Cup winning marker against the Blues' goalie, Glenn Hall. A closer examination of that picture will reveal Noel Picard's stick latched around Orr's ankle, providing a catalyst for his flight.

In this picture,  while most remember Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the series winning goal,  in the background is Noel Picard, who had tripped him, and Glenn Hall, who was in net and scored upon.
While Bobby Orr would go on to play another 8 seasons,  and many as the best player in the game, this was the beginning of the end for the other two. Glenn Hall retired right after this series,  while Noel Picard had his good luck run out shortly after.

In all, Picard lasted just over five seasons in St. Louis. During that time, he became one of his club's most popular players with the fans. All appeared to be unfolding like a well laid plan until he went on a hunting trip in Novemeber of 1971. While his mates were relaxing in the cabin, he hopped aboard an old horse for a trot around the area. But a second horse got tangled with the first causing Picard's transport to fall to the ground with his foot caught squarely under the old mare's rump. By the time the horse got up, Picard's foot was crushed so severely that three bones were seen protruding through his boot. Hours passed before he was finally admitted to a St. Louis hospital. The doctors were seriously contemplating an amputation, but decided to at least attempt to save some aspects of the original foot. Picard was delighted with the prospects of rehabilitating his limb. He swore in the face of medical doomsayers that he would eventually return to the NHL.

-from Wikipedia

His stayed true to his word and did recover sufficiently to resume his career with the Blues in 1972-73. But the deeper price paid was a noticeable loss of mobility that limited his effectiveness in defensive coverage. He was soon put on waivers and claimed by the Atlanta Flames. He lasted only until the end of the season at which time he hung up his blades for good. 

In contrast to Noel Picard,  a very similar player to Picard was Don Cherry. However,  Cherry had his one chance at the very beginning of his career and blew it. After that, he never really got another chance to shine as a pro player.  He spent 20 years playing in the minor leagues, only to make his name as a coach and media personality.
Like Picard,  his lucky break came as a result of the change in how hockey was organized and presented.

If hockey had expanded in 1957,  instead of 1967,  then Don Cherry would have likely had the career that Noel Picard did. But the world didn't change in that way,then. 
Don Cherry got his big break as a coach, and because of expansion yet again in the 1970's,  another chance. After that, due to the rise of televised hockey in the 1970's and 1980's, and his outspoken nature, he became famous for other reasons.

The world changes,  and you never know when it will change and give you a chance to shine, and be remembered. Right place and right time are just never revealed until the very last minute.

You just have to hang around and be ready for it.
Noel Picard, Glenn Hall and Don Cherry did that.


  1. The blog states that no one reading this remembers Noel Picard, but do. I was his paper carrier when he played for the Omaha Knights, where he and other players rented a house two doors up from me.

  2. I remember Noel Picard. It was a lot easier to know all the players in the NHL when there were only 12 teams.


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