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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canadiens Bid Sad Adieu to Fabled Forum

MONTREAL -- From the frail grasp of 76-year-old Emile Bouchard, the oldest living former captain of the Montreal Canadiens, to the vigorously uplifted arm of current captain Pierre Turgeon, the torch of greatness has been passed for the last time at the Montreal Forum.


For nearly 72 years, the Canadiens set standards of excellence on the Forum's elegant, understated stage. To inspire them, a line from John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" was inscribed in their locker room: "To you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high."


Those words came to life Monday during a touching closing ceremony, which ended with the relay of a brass torch from the old warriors to those entrusted with writing additional triumphant chapters at the new Molson Centre.


Built in 1924 for $1.5 million, the Forum initially housed the Montreal Maroons, a rival of the Canadiens. Two years later, the Canadiens moved in and appropriated it as the backdrop for championship celebrations that occurred almost as regularly as the arrival of spring.


Said Jean Beliveau, the still-regal Hall of Famer: "Other cities have some great buildings, if you're talking strictly about facilities, but they didn't have great success like here. What makes this a shrine is having such a good team. This organization through the years was always favored with great hockey players and won the Stanley Cup."


Playing for the last time beneath their 24 Cup banners -- some commemorating achievements that predate the birth of the NHL -- the Canadiens defeated the Dallas Stars, 4-1, in their 3,228th game at the Forum.


After an auction Tuesday of everything from the banners to the penalty box door, and a symbolic cross-town parade Friday, they will open their $230-million arena Saturday against the New York Rangers.


The building will hold 21,000 fans in luxury-boxed comfort, but the Forum had class without frills. It hosted concerts and prize fights, happy events such as gymnast Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10 in the 1976 Olympics and sad occasions such as the 1937 funeral of Canadien star Howie Morenz.


Above all, it will be remembered as the haunt of countless ghosts of former players, whom opponents claimed gave Montreal an unearthly edge.


"We are going to try to put the ghosts in our bags and take them with us next Saturday," said former defenseman Guy Lapointe, one of 40 Canadien Hall of Fame players.


"It was a great place to play hockey, especially for me," he said. "I was born in Montreal. You see all those people outside waiting for autographs? When I was 13, 14, I was one of them.


"I'm sad the Forum is closing, but I guess we have to go along with it."


Some go grudgingly. "This is a sad day for me," said Henri Richard, who played on a record 11 Cup winners in 20 seasons. "I have a lot of memories, but you've got to look ahead. You can't look back."


Guy Lafleur, however, endorsed the move. "When people see the Molson Centre, they're going to forget very easily the Forum because what creates atmosphere in a building is the organization," he said. "The organization isn't going to change at the Molson Centre."


First, though, they basked in nostalgia. It began with the ceremonial opening face-off, which was taken by Lafleur, Beliveau and Maurice "Rocket" Richard, continued through the 17,959 fans' standing ovation in the final seconds of the game itself and peaked with a post-game tribute that left 20 of hockey's greatest players standing on a red carpet like jewels on a necklace.


Maurice Richard, who got the loudest reception, wept. He was not alone. "I don't think there's any team that can put names on the ice like that," said Serge Savard, Lapointe's longtime defense partner.


It was a stirring occasion, one that avid fan Doug King considered worth a trip from Calgary to witness with his 14-year-old son, David. "We couldn't miss this. This is hockey history," King said. "It's a shrine."


"I scored the last goal in the last game in the Forum," said Montreal forward Andrei Kovalenko. "Before the game, our coach told us we had to win this one. I will have good memories of this evening. It's a great celebration for me -- one goal and two assists.


"Imagine, I'm not even a Canadian, I'm a Russian and I had a big game here."


Even Finnish rookie Saku Koivu knew of the Forum's magic before he ever set foot in it. "It's a big thing in Finland," said Koivu, who scored Montreal's third goal Monday.


"The first time I came into the locker room and saw all the pictures, I felt the tradition. I wish I could have played here more, but I can be happy I got a chance to play here even a little."


Blackhawks 8, Panthers 4. In Chicago, Denis Savard had two goals and an assist as the Blackhawks raced to a six-goal lead and snapped a four-game losing streak with an 8-4 victory over the struggling Florida Panthers, Reuters reported.


Johan Garpenlov had a goal and an assist for the Panthers, who matched franchise records with five straight losses and an eight-game winless streak (0-7-1). Florida remained two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Eastern Conference.