Canadiens Hold Unique Place in Hockey's Heritage MONTREAL — In all of hockey's history, there is no team quite like the Montreal Canadiens.

The club in the iconic red, white and
blue jerseys with the CH logo is the leader in Stanley Cup victories
with 24, trailing only the New York Yankees — 27 World Series titles —
for most championships by a franchise in one of the four major sports.

On Friday night, with a game at the
Bell Centre against longtime rival Boston Bruins, the Canadiens will
celebrate the 100th anniversary of their founding as a French-Canadian
professional team at the old Windsor Hotel in Montreal on Dec. 4, 1909.

The Canadiens have sent 44 players to
the Hockey Hall of Fame and another 10 have gone in as builders of the
sport. There is fiery goal-scorer Maurice "Rocket" Richard, elegant
center Jean Beliveau and dashing winger Guy Lafleur.

They had the player who popularized
the slap shot, Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, and the one who made
wearing a mask standard equipment for goaltenders, Jacques Plante.

Such is their history that their
arena until 1996, the Montreal Forum, was said to be haunted by ghosts
who would cause the puck to bounce in their favor at critical times in
important games.

Most of Montreal's mystique springs
from a 24-year period from 1956 to 1979 during which they won 15
Stanley Cups, including a record five in a row from 1956 to 1960, four
in a five-year stretch from 1965 to 1969 and four straight from 1976 to
1979.

For Rejean Houle, a solid winger who
played 11 seasons from 1969 into the early 1980s, later served as
general manager and still works for the club in public relations, the
Canadiens have been a lifelong obsession.

"I thought I was privileged to play
with guys I had seen in the 1960s — Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan
Cournoyer
, Jacques Laperriere, J.C. Tremblay and Gump Worsley," he said
recently with a big laugh. "That was special to me."

The Canadiens started a century ago
in a dispute between the owners of the Montreal Wanderers and their
league at the time, the Eastern Canadian Hockey Association. Frozen out
by the other teams, the owners of the Wanderers started a new league,
the National Hockey Association, and needed teams to fill it.

The free-spending owner of the
Renfrew Creamery Kings, 24-year-old Ambrose O'Brien, financed a startup
team in Montreal, which as a drawing card was made up of players of
French-Canadian descent.

It was called Le Club de Hockey
Canadien. At the time, many Francophone Quebecers referred to
themselves in French as habitants, or settlers, and the nickname Habs
was taken up by some, although that name is almost exclusively used by
English-speaking fans now.

Their first game was Jan. 5, 1910,
at 3,500-seat Jubilee Arena in Montreal's east end. Star scorer Edouard
"Newsy" Lalonde
netted the team's first goal and Georges Poulin got the
overtime winner in a 7-6 victory over the Cobalt Silvers Kings.

The Canadiens finished last with a 2-10 record in their first season.

They were sold the following season
to local wrestling promoter George Kennedy, owner of the Club
Athletique Canadien. He gave them a CAC crest on their jerseys, moved
them to the larger Westmount Arena, and their fortunes turned with the
signing of a brilliant goaltender from Chicoutimi, Que. — Georges
Vezina
, for whom the NHL's top goaltender award is now named.

It was also when they dropped their French-only rule.

In 1916, at the height of the First
World War, the Canadiens won the NHA and then defeated the Portland
Rosebuds of the Pacific Coast league to claim their first Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens joined teams in
Toronto and Ottawa to form the NHL in 1917, and Kennedy split the team
from his other interests and gave them the CH (for Club de Hockey
Canadien) crest they still wear.

In 1924, they moved in to a new
arena, the Forum, built by a new NHL entry, the Maroons, the city's
so-called English team that folded after winning two Stanley Cups
during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In the 1920s, the NHL found its
first superstar in Howie Morenz, who teamed with Aurel Joliat on a line
that helped the Canadiens to Stanley Cups in 1924, 1926, 1930 and 1931.

Then came lean years until 1943-44,
when a young winger from the city's north end, Rocket Richard, made the
team and completed the powerful Punch Line with Toe Blake and Elmer
Lach
, and ended a 14-year Cup drought.

In 1944-45, Richard dazzled the
hockey world, becoming the NHL's first 50-goal scorer in only 50 games.
Another Cup followed in 1946.

The Canadiens of the 1950s were
all-but unbeatable, with Blake behind the bench and with Richard,
Beliveau, Geoffrion, scoring ace Dickie Moore on the wing, Plante in
goal, the dominating Doug Harvey on defense and many other top players.
They won in 1953 and then took five in a row to close out the decade.

Beliveau and Henri Richard, who
would go on to win a record 11 Cups in his career, continued into the
1960s on another dynastic team with Worsley in goal. A chance for
another five in a row was interrupted in 1967 when the Toronto Maple
Leafs won their last Stanley Cup.

The win in 1971 was Beliveau's last
and marked the debut of a lanky, intellectual goaltender from Cornell,
Ken Dryden. Lafleur arrived with the first overall draft pick that
year, and became the successor to Richard and Beliveau in the line of
French-Canadian stars.

Scotty Bowman, who had grown up in
the Montreal system, took over as coach and led a team with Lafleur,
Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire, Pete Mahovlich, Bob Gainey and the Big
Three on defense — Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson — to
five more Cups, the last in 1979.

Savard, who took over as general
manager in 1983, rebuilt the Canadiens. Led by goaltender Patrick Roy,
they won another Cup in 1986.

In 1993, Roy was unbeatable as an
upstart team led by Kirk Muller and Vincent Damphousse won 10
consecutive overtime games en route to its 24th and last Stanley Cup.