Respect, tradition, and sportsmanship are the cornerstones of our brand. It’s no coincidence that these fundamental characteristics are also synonymous with hockey, and have a rich history throughout the sport.
Whether it’s Montreal carrying members of Boston’s “Kraut Line” off the ice before the trio headed off to the Second World War, or the iconic exchange between goaltender “Sugar” Jim Henry and Maurice Richard after the Canadiens eliminated the Bruins from the postseason in 1952, there’s no shortage of examples to illustrate that, even amidst fierce competition, respect and tradition undergird our stories from the game.
To honor this legacy, Violent Gentlemen will be going into the vault each month to bring you tales from the past. In partnership with historian Mike Commito, VGHC will be exploring notable moments in hockey history that highlight the building blocks of our brand and the reasons we love hockey.
Tales of Violent Gentlemen: Stan Jonathan Topples Pierre Bouchard
Three games into the 1978 Stanley Cup Final, neither the Bruins nor the Canadiens had taken a major penalty. The fact they hadn’t dropped the gloves was curious, but it wasn’t necessarily all that surprising. This was, after all, the championship series and there was far more on the line than simply winning a bout of fisticuffs.
Just a year earlier, the Bruins had bowed out in four games in the Final against the Canadiens, and had been forced to watch their rival hoist its fourth Stanley Cup of the decade. As a result, this matchup presented Boston with an opportunity to shake off the defeat from the previous spring and write a new script. It was, however, anything but a simple rematch. The Bruins had lost every playoff series against the Habs for over thirty years! The last time Boston beat Montreal in the postseason, 1943, Bobby Orr was still five years away from being born. Consequently, if the Bruins could vanquish the Canadiens this time around, not only would they be exacting retribution for last year’s defeat, but they would be avenging three decades of playoff futility against Montreal.
And it wasn’t as though the Bruins were oblivious to this narrative. Before the series even began, many had expected the Canadiens to repeat and sweep the Bruins in four games. Heading into the fourth contest, however, Montreal was only up by a game and was just coming off being shut out at home. The results prompted Bruins head coach Don Cherry to speak his mind. “So much for the experts and their fearless predictions,” he said. “This team has character. I keep telling everyone that and they refuse to listen,” he continued. With his team now in a position to even the series, Cherry called on the Bruins to continue playing at their peak level of intensity. “We have not had a major penalty in this series, but don’t bet we may not get our first tonight,” he said. Cherry’s words proved to be prophetic.
Six minutes into the fourth game, on May 21, 1978, Boston’s Stan Jonathan and Montreal’s Pierre Bouchard bumped into each other after the whistle and dropped the gloves.
On paper, it appeared to be an uneven matchup. Bouchard was seven inches taller and had over thirty pounds on his opponent.
Jonathan, however, had already established himself as a scrappy and pugnacious player who refused to back down from anyone.
Among the roaring Boston faithful that night was Roger Neilson, Jonathan’s coach from junior and later a legendary NHL bench boss. He’d later comment that “Stan is a little like boxer Joe Frazier. He’ll take two punches to get in one of his own – and the one is a dandy.” Jonathan would certainly live up to that reputation.
As Jonathan and Bouchard began trading blows, it became clear that the size disparity was not a factor. Boston’s truculent winger seemingly took his opponent’s punishment without blinking, and responded in kind with some vicious haymakers of his own.
As the exchange continued, Bouchard continued pounding away with his right hand. Jonathan, undeterred, alternated to his left and connected with enough force to knock Bouchard down. At that point, the Montreal forward collapsed to the ice, and after a few more quick flurries, the fight was over. Although it barely lasted ten seconds, the Bruins’ bulldog had demonstrated why he was one of the most fearsome fighters, pound for pound, in the league.
As Bouchard laid crumpled on the ice, blood was pouring from his nose, the spot where Jonathan had landed his coup de grace. There was, in fact, so much blood spurting out that it also covered the face of linesman John D’Amico, who had been kneeling over top of Bouchard.
The scene led the commentators to speculate that the official had been cut during the course of the altercation. Although it looked a lot worse than it was, it demonstrated that Jonathan, despite being undersized, was not to be taken lightly.
In some ways, the outcome of that fight mirrored the perception of the Bruins in that series. The Canadiens were a much bigger team and few had given Boston much of chance. Nevertheless, Jonathan had won that fight in dominating fashion, proving that his ferocity and determination were capable of overcoming this or any opponent. The Bruins went on to win that game in overtime and even the series.
For some, it appeared as though Jonathan’s heroics may have ignited his team and changed the tempo of the series. Following the game, Boston forward Mike Milbury noted “last year, there was none of that nitty-gritty we-hate feeling. Now there is because it’s a lot closer; it’s a more intense series, and because everybody realizes the Stanley Cup is on the line, and it’s really on the line. It’s for all the marbles.” Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be enough.
Stan Jonathan won the battle, but Boston lost the war. The Bruins dropped the next two games and were forced, once again, to watch the Canadiens parade about with Lord Stanley’s silverware. Boston would have to wait another decade before finally defeating Montreal again in the postseason.