Dollard St. Laurent had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup five times, an achievement for a rugged player often overshadowed by his teammates.
A reliable, stay-at-home defenceman, Mr. St. Laurent won four NHL championships with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s before adding another with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1961.
The five titles in 11 full campaigns should have earned greater acclaim for Mr. St. Laurent, who has died in his native Quebec at 85. Instead, the rear-guard's star was eclipsed by playing alongside the likes of Émile (Butch) Bouchard, Tom Johnson and Doug Harvey in Montreal, and Pierre Pilote in Chicago. All four of those defenceman have been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mr. St. Laurent was a smooth skater more concerned with defence than offence. Though his 5-foot-11, 175-pound physique was not intimidating, he could muscle opponents away from the front of his goal, a skill that made easier the jobs of goaltenders Jacques Plante in Montreal and Glenn Hall in Chicago.
Dolly, as he was known, was a brittle player, suffering numerous broken bones. With eyes as black as hockey pucks, thick eyebrows resembling horizontal parentheses and a brush cut that seemed to leave him with a puzzled expression, Mr. St. Laurent relied more on guile than intimidation in protecting his net.
The Canadiens had won three consecutive Stanley Cups when the stalwart defenceman was inexplicably traded in the summer of 1958 to the sad-sack Black Hawks, who had missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. The defenceman felt he was being punished for having dared help to organize a players' union.
Dollard Hervé Joseph St. Laurent was born on May 12, 1929, in Verdun, Que., a city since amalgamated with Montreal. He grew up on a street that ran from an aqueduct canal to the St. Lawrence River, on whose frozen surface he skated.
A scout for the Canadiens signed him for $100 while he was still a teenager. The defenceman spent two seasons with the Montreal Junior Canadiens before joining the Montreal Royals, a senior team whose players were often called up to the NHL club.
He was a rare player of his era to be pursuing higher education. Skating for the Royals at night, he was a dentistry student at McGill University by day, learning to repair the damage he inflicted – and might possibly suffer – on the ice.
"We played almost every second night in Ottawa or Chicoutimi or Quebec City and I couldn't keep up with the studies," he told Ian MacDonald of the Montreal Gazette in 2003. "I had to make a big decision: Do I want to go out every night and risk getting my teeth broken, or do I want to learn how to fix broken teeth?"
After an uneventful three-game tryout with the parent Canadiens in 1950-51, Mr. St. Laurent and his No. 19 sweater became a fixture on the Canadiens' blueline for the following seven seasons, though he was often out of the lineup with nagging injuries.
He won his first Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1953. In the middle of the 1955 finals, the defenceman spent two days in hospital with severely chafed legs (some accounts describe boils on this thighs). Despite the pain, he returned to play in the series, which Detroit would win in seven games, showing dedication that impressed his coach, Dick Irvin Sr. "Look at him, he's dying on his feet," the coach told a reporter at the time. "He's skin and bone but he played a great game."
He suffered a broken right cheekbone in a regular-season game on March 15, 1958, and was wearing what the newspapers described as "strange headgear" to protect his face during the playoffs. He was ineffectual on defence and was briefly replaced by rookie Albert "Junior" Langlois. Mr. St. Laurent returned to action only to suffer a concussion and a broken left cheekbone when checked by Leo Labine of the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. The Canadiens went on to win what would be their third of five consecutive Stanley Cups.
Meanwhile, Mr. St. Laurent and his teammate Mr. Harvey had become activists in the fledgling NHL Players' Association, which sought a pension and free agency for veteran players. The owners of the six NHL teams refused to recognize the union. Mr. St. Laurent was representing the players at a meeting with owners in Montreal when general manager Frank Selke Sr. announced his sale to the lowly Black Hawks. The deal "was something of a shock to Montreal fans," according to a report by The Canadian Press.
Mr. St. Laurent got his revenge in the 1961 playoffs, as Chicago upset the favoured Canadiens in the semi-finals before defeating the Detroit Red Wings in six games. (Chicago had last won the Stanley Cup in 1938, and the team would not win it again until 2010.)
Chicago sold Mr. St. Laurent to the minor professional Quebec Aces before the 1962-63 season. He ended his playing career near the end of the season after suffering a broken leg.
In 652 NHL games, he scored just 29 goals with 133 assists. He had two more goals and 22 assists in 92 playoff games. Mr. St. Laurent also skated in five NHL all-star games.
Away from the rink, he owned his own insurance company and worked as an insurance broker. He collected a modest hockey pension, for which he had fought so hard.
Mr. St. Laurent died on April 6 at Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que. He leaves three daughters, four sons, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandsons. He also leaves his companion, Gloria Loiselle. He was predeceased by his wife, the former Jessie Fitzpatrick, who died at 64 in 1993.
The Canadiens held a moment of silence before Thursday's game at the Bell Centre to honour the memory of Mr. St. Laurent and Elmer Lach, one of the Canadiens' all-time greats and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who died on April 4. Even in death, the defenceman shared the spotlight.
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