When you think Montreal Canadiens and the 1971 amateur draft, one name typically comes to mind: Guy Lafleur.
And well it should.
Indeed, The Flower, as Lafleur was known, evolved into one of the greatest Canadiens ever.
But there was another Habs draft pick that year who was also pretty special. His name was Larry Robinson. Selected in the second round, he went on to win nine Stanley Cups, six as a player and three as a coach.
He, too, is regarded as one of the greatest Canadiens ever, at least on the blue line.
Interestingly, as a kid, Robinson never liked the Canadiens.
“I was a Chicago Blackhawks fan,” he said in his Hockey Hall of Fame bio. “I really liked their uniforms and Bobby Hull was my idol. The reason I didn’t like the Montreal Canadiens was because they won all the time.”
And that didn’t change during Robinson’s time with the Habs.
Robinson, who played his final year of junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers, went on to become a pillar on that great Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s.
Funny enough, after the draft, the Canadiens were still not high on his list of favorites.
“When I first got drafted, I was kind of disappointed,” he continued in his bio. “I had been talking to a few scouts from Los Angeles and a couple of other teams. When I got drafted by Montreal, I looked at the lineup and thought, ‘Holy Mackerel, I’m never going to make it with them.'”
That’s how deep the Canadiens were on defence and how much seniority meant in their system. Robinson didn’t actually play his first game in the NHL until January 8, 1973, when the Canadiens had injury problems. Heck, that spring he wasn’t even used in the first round of the playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres. But he was still a Stanley Cup winner that year.
Soon after, the one they called “Big Bird” made his mark on Canadiens teams that were great offensively and among the very best defensively.
With the likes of Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard on the blue line, the Habs had four seasons allowing less than 200 goals against and five more at 240 or less during the 1970s. The team won the Stanley Cup six times in that decade.
Big, strong, mobile, skilled and feared by many because of his size, Robinson won two Norris Trophies and was First or Second Team all-star six times.
Born in Winchester, Ontario, Robinson spent 17 years in Montreal and three more with the Los Angeles Kings. Not once did his teams fail to make the playoffs.
Robinson was a presence on the ice in so many different ways. Tall and rangy, he could rush the puck up the ice. He possessed a powerful shot from the point, and was a punishing body checker. Few ever dared to drop the gloves with him.
Indeed, legendary Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden remembered back to the 1976 Stanley Cup final. The Canadiens were facing the Philadelphia Flyers, also known as the Broad Street Bullies. Dryden reflected on the impact Robinson had on that series, scoring a key goal early in the series and establishing a strong physical presence and push back with his body checking.
“They had to bring hammers and crowbars to fix the dent in the boards,” recalled Dryden.
Robinson won his first Norris Trophy in the 1976-77 season, finishing with 19 goals and 85 points. The season after that he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs most valuable player. The second Norris came in 1980 after Robinson amassed 75 points.
Robinson’s final Stanley Cup win as a Canadien came in 1986. By the time he left the Habs in 1989, Robinson was offensively the best Canadiens’ defenceman ever, regular season and playoffs.
He won another Cup, this time as a coach, with the New Jersey Devils in 2000.
“Considering how long I played hockey and how many Cups I got to win as a defenceman with Montreal, it was my first Stanley Cup win as a head coach that is actually my greatest day in hockey,” said Robinson.
Not surprisingly, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2007, his number 19 was raised to the rafters in the Bell Centre in Montreal.