Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Yvan Cournoyer
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One on One with Yvan Cournoyer

18 JANUARY 2005
Yvan Cournoyer made his debut as a Montreal
Canadien during the 1963-64 season, scoring
four goals in five trial contests.
Yvan Cournoyer circumvented concern over his size by combining blazing speed and superb stickhandling into a Hall of Fame career that saw him collect ten Stanley Cup championships.

Born and raised in Drummondville, Quebec, the second oldest of five children, Yvan began skating at the age of seven when his uncle bought him a pair of skates for his birthday. Yvan's father Paul commuted back and forth from Drummondville to Montreal, but still found time to make a rink beside the family home each winter. In order to secure more ice-time, Yvan got a job at the local arena.

The Cournoyer family moved to Montreal when Yvan was thirteen. His Dad bought a machine shop there and moved the family. Yvan's hockey career exploded. Not knowing a word of English, a fifteen-year-old Cournoyer was the sole francophone on the English-speaking Lachine Maroons, but his ability spoke volumes. Yet, many insisted Yvan Cournoyer wasn't big enough to play. "People were always telling me I was too small. But I like the fact I'm not big," Yvan smiles. "It was like a good fight to make it to the top. I remember a coach telling me I looked too small to play on his team. All I said to him was, 'Try me.'"

The 'Roadrunner' earned his nickname from a
Sports Illustrated writer, who noted
Cournoyer's blazing speed.
Yvan joined the Montreal Junior Canadiens of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1961-62, and collected 31 points in 35 games. The next season, his record shows a clip better than a goal a game — Yvan managed 37 goals and 64 points in 35 games. But 1963-64 was his break-out campaign. Cournoyer led the league with 63 goals, finishing with 111 points for the Junior Habs. In the playoffs that year, Yvan fired 19 goals in 17 games to lead all junior players.

During the 1963-64 season, the speedy right-winger made his NHL debut, impressing management with four goals in his five-game trial. "It was always my dream to play for the Montreal Canadiens," Yvan remembers. "In those days, there was the Montreal Canadiens and there was the Montreal Canadiens. There was the Rocket, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Jacques Plante — you name names, they're all members of the Hall of Fame."

Finally, in 1964-65, Yvan Cournoyer became a full-time member of the Montreal Canadiens. "It was really a dream to make the team. But even after making the team you had to work harder to stay on the team," states Yvan. "As everyone else has learned playing for Montreal, you've got to be good all the time, or else there is someone else to replace you. I had to prove myself year after year.

In fourteen full NHL seasons, Yvan was a 20-goal scorer twelve times, including two 30-goal campaigns and four times scoring forty or more goals.
You have to work hard and like it because it's a tough job. You get hurt and you have to play with pain. Today, there are thirty teams, so if you're an okay player, you survive. But back then, there were only six teams and not many spots. There is a lot of pressure in being a Canadien, but I enjoyed that pressure. It helped mold me as a person."

Although Cournoyer started wearing the red, blue and white of the Canadiens that season, in his first two seasons, he was primarily relegated to duty on the powerplay. Nevertheless, in 1964-65, his first full season in the National Hockey League, Cournoyer was part of a Stanley Cup championship. "It's a dream come true," beams Yvan. "You play outside with your friends and you say, 'One day, I'm going to play for the Montreal Canadiens,' and you're dreaming. The first year I played for the Montreal Canadiens, we won the Stanley Cup and you say, 'This is unbelievable!' It's a dream."

Cournoyer finally earned full-time icetime in 1966-67, and responded with 25 goals. It was the first of twelve consecutive seasons scoring more than twenty goals. In two of those seasons, Yvan finished with just over thirty markers, while in four others, he finished with forty or more goals. 1968-69 was a landmark season, as Cournoyer finished with a career-best 87 points.

Cournoyer and former linemate Jean Beliveau both earned ten Stanley Cup championships as a player. Only Henri Richard, with eleven, earned more.
Three seasons later, in 1971-72, he fired 47 goals; the best single season total of his magnificent career. Yvan was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team four times — 1969, 1971, 1972 and 1973. At the conclusion of the 1973 season, Yvan added the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable performer.

But personal accolades don't mean a great deal if the team doesn't respond, something of which Cournoyer had no fear during his Hall of Fame career. Through fifteen NHL seasons, Yvan's Canadiens won the Stanley Cup ten times — 1965, '66, 68, '69, '71, '73, '76, '77, '78 and 1979. "After you win one, you want to win again. It proves you're the best in the world," Cournoyer states. "If you see teams like the Islanders, Pittsburgh, Oilers — after they won the Stanley Cup, they won it again because after you've tasted it, it's hard not to try to win the Stanley Cup again. To be recognized, you have to win the Stanley Cup. That's why you play the game."

Throughout his career, Yvan's blazing speed was regularly acknowledged and earned him a nickname — the Roadrunner. "That was Sports Illustrated," laughs Yvan. "I was in New York on a Sunday afternoon. I scored a few goals and had a couple of breakaways and after the game, the reporter said, 'Yvan, that was unbelievable! Nobody could catch you. You were so fast.' He wrote,

As a member of Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, Cournoyer contributed significantly, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 2 and adding two more through the eight-game series, as well as two assists. Yvan cites the series as one of the highlights of his career.
'The Roadrunner scored two goals and nobody could touch him.' After that, the name stayed and I had to skate fast for the rest of my life!"

But an incredible career came to a crashing halt in 1978. After two operations on his back, doctors warned Yvan that if he continued, he would risk permanent damage to his spine. "It came as quite a shock to me when it happened," admits Cournoyer. "I thought at first it was nothing more than a pulled muscle so I went on playing even though there was pain. But the pain continued and another examination was made and a disc problem was discovered."

After just fifteen games into the 1978-79 campaign, Yvan Cournoyer retired from hockey. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that season, and Yvan's name was engraved onto the historic trophy, more a nod to a career of accomplishment than for contributions specific to that season. But Cournoyer struggled with retirement. "You go out of hockey and when the door closes, it seems like you're going to prison," he said. Yvan purchased a restaurant he named Brasserie Number 12 after his sweater number. "When I built the restaurant, it helped to think of something else, but I don't think I enjoyed anything more than hockey," Yvan admitted. "I was missing the adrenaline before the game. There is no place you can have that more than sport."

Yvan finished the 1968-69 and 1971-72 seasons among the NHL's Top Ten scorers, and was named a Second Team All-Star both years, an honour Cournoyer also earned in 1970-71 and 1972-73.
When the dust settled, the hockey-playing totals were incredibly impressive: 968 regular season games in which Yvan scored 428 goals and 435 assists for 863 points. In 147 playoff contests, Cournoyer added 64 goals and 63 assists. In 1982, the Selection Committee voted Yvan Cournoyer into the Hockey Hall of Fame. "It means you made it. It means you gave something to hockey after all those years," Yvan reflects. "After twenty-eight years of playing hockey, I retired. People remind me what I did — played for the Montreal Canadiens, won ten Stanley Cups. It's so nice. Even today, people come up and say, 'Thank you for all the good times we had. Thank you for the beautiful Saturday nights we had.' I say to them, 'We grew up together -- you in front of the TV and me on the ice.' To be a member of the Hall of Fame is one of the best honours after you retire."






Kevin Shea is the Manager of Special Projects and Publishing at the Hockey Hall of Fame.