Stu Cowan: Hall of Famer Pierre Turgeon had a wild ride with Canadiens

Former captain only played 104 games with Habs, but so much happened during that time including the Patrick Roy trade and closing of Forum.

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Pierre Turgeon only played 104 regular-season games with the Canadiens and his time in Montreal can best be described as a hockey soap opera.

But on Monday, Turgeon became the 60th Canadiens player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and before Tuesday night’s game between the Canadiens and Calgary Flames the 54-year-old Rouyn-Noranda native will be added to the Ring of Honour at the Bell Centre.

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Buffalo selected Turgeon with the No. 1 overall pick at the 1987 NHL Draft and four years later traded him to the New York Islanders in a deal that brought future Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine to the Sabres. On April 5, 1995, the Canadiens acquired Turgeon from the Islanders, along with Vladimir Malakhov, in exchange for captain Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby.

The late, great Red Fisher reported after the trade in the Montreal Gazette that Turgeon wasn’t the player Canadiens GM Serge Savard really wanted to acquire. He was hoping to get Joe Nieuwendyk from Calgary instead, but couldn’t work out a deal with the Flames. Nieuwendyk was traded to the Dallas Stars the next season.

Savard settled for Turgeon, hoping the centre could jump-start Vincent Damphousse and Mark Recchi. After the trade, Mike Keane was named captain to replace Muller. Turgeon posted 11-9-20 totals in his first 15 games with the Canadiens after the trade, but they missed the playoffs with an 18-23-7 record in a lockout-shortened season.

After the Canadiens started the next season with an 0-4-0 record, Savard was fired, along with head coach Jacques Demers, replaced by Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay, respectively. After Tremblay left Roy in net for nine goals in an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the Forum on Dec. 2, 1995, the goalie demanded a trade. Four days later, Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, along with Keane, in exchange for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and goalie Jocelyn Thibault.

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After the trade, Turgeon was named captain. Turgeon posted 38-58-96 totals in 80 games that season to lead the Canadiens in scoring, followed by Damphousse (38-56-94) and Recchi (28-50-78). The Canadiens made the playoffs with a 40-32-10 record before losing to the New York Rangers in the first round with Turgeon posting 2-4-6 totals in the six-game series.

The next season, Turgeon had 1-10-11 totals in nine games before getting traded to the St. Louis Blues, along with Craig Conroy and Rory Fitzpatrick, in exchange for Shayne Corson, Murray Barron and a fifth-round pick at the 1997 NHL Draft (Gennady Razin). Turgeon had asked to be traded after being relegated to third-line centre behind Saku Koivu and Damphousse, saying his hockey philosophy conflicted with Tremblay’s.

“If I was 32, it would be a different story,” Turgeon said after the trade. “I would have adjusted my style. But I’m 27. I have a lot of good years in front of me. I think I’m not a third-line guy.”

During his final game with the Canadiens the night before getting traded, Turgeon had four assists in a 4-4 tie with the Phoenix Coyotes.

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After the trade, Fisher wrote: “Turgeon, whose numbers may, in time, make him a candidate for the Hockey Hall of Fame, is in St. Louis.”

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After five seasons with St. Louis, Turgeon would play three years with the Dallas Stars and two years with the Avalanche before retiring with 515 goals and 812 assists for 1,327 points in 1,294 games.

During his acceptance speech Monday in Toronto, Turgeon talked about how he was inspired by his older brother Sylvain, who was selected by the Hartford Whalers with the No. 2 overall pick at the 1983 NHL Draft and later had a brief stint with the Canadiens.

Turgeon also thanked his wife, Elisabeth, who he first met in Rouyn-Noranda when he was 12 and told a friend: “I will marry this girl one day.” They have been married for 30 years now. Tragically, one of their four children, Elizabeth, died on Dec. 23, 2010, in a car accident at age 18. Elizabeth had been part of a Team USA squad that won the U-16 World Hockey Championship and was a freshman at the University of Minnesota when she died. Turgeon described her death as “the hardest day of our life” in his speech.

While Turgeon’s time in Montreal was brief, it was certainly eventful. He was captain of the Canadiens for the final game at the Forum and the first game at the Molson Centre (now the Bell Centre) in 1996. The last game at the Forum was his most memorable moment.

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“I was part of history with the Montreal Canadiens,” Turgeon said when I interviewed him a few years ago. “That memory will always be there, which is very cool having grown up in Rouyn-Noranda and watching the Montreal Canadiens and then being a part of it. Having that torch, looking around at who was on the ice and the standing ovation for Maurice (Richard). Everything about that was just an amazing night.

“For me, it’s just being in the right place at the right time,” he added. “I was there for just over a year, but a lot happened in that time.”

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