Canadiens, hockey mourn passing of former trainer/equipment manager Eddy Palchak

Eddy Palchak

Eddy Palchak in his prime and upon retirement in 2000.
Gazette photos

Longtime Canadiens trainer and jack of all trades Eddy Palchak, who tended to players’ needs during some of the club’s finest moments, passed away Wednesday night at 8:30 pm at the Montreal General Hospital. The Canadiens’ release of this morning:

Eddy pours a pail of pucks on Bell Centre ice on Dec. 4, 2009 before a legends skate prior to the Canadiens-Bruins centennial game:

I wrote a feature on Eddy in July 2000 as he took his retirement from the Canadiens. Here is that piece.

And at the bottom of it: a wonderful old postcard of Eddy, courtesy of Erle Schneidman at his Habs memorabilia website.

DAVE STUBBS
The Gazette
Published July 2, 2000

Wearing a Canadiens golf shirt and wristwatch, his heart as heavy as his massive Stanley Cup ring, Eddy Palchak walked into the Molson Centre garage on Friday afternoon, squeezed his body and a million memories into a 12-year-old Buick Riviera, and drove off into the new life he’s not terribly eager to begin.

Perhaps it’s like that when you’ve given 35 years to one employer; when the most famous and successful franchise in hockey is not merely your employer, but your family.

On Friday afternoon, Eddy Palchak – assistant trainer, trainer, equipment manager and, finally, supervisor of hockey purchasing – left the payroll of the Montreal Canadiens.

His retirement was not the thunderclap that rumbled over the city last Tuesday when Molson Inc. declared it was selling the Canadiens. But his quiet departure just three days later marked another era’s end, a fork in life’s road for a little fellow whose plentiful jowls and snowman’s physique are more familiar to longtime fans than many of the players who have passed through town during his stay.

Now, Friday noon, Palchak is sitting alone in the dressing room one last time, beneath the photographs of many of the Hall of Famers whose skates he sharpened and jerseys he washed, and his mood brightens when he says: “I went to the bank this morning, and the cheque, my last cheque, was there.”

It was the Canadiens’ suggestion, not Palchak’s, that he retire. The idea was broached a year ago, in fact, but the club agreed to his request that he stay until he turned 60, which he did in May. Recently, he was feted by his extended family, Canadiens and personal friends of then and now, and a few relatives compromising the truth over prime rib and ale at Magnan’s.

Three seasons ago, Palchak had stepped from behind the Montreal bench, where he’d worked for 30 years, to the Molson Centre’s executive offices on the seventh floor. A gimpy knee, poor mobility and the march of time decided the move, one he detested at first, but eventually grew to love.

The Canadiens put him in charge of purchasing, responsible for ordering anything required by his successor, equipment manager Pierre Gervais, and two assistants, Bobby Boulanger and Pierre Ouellette. Now, Gervais and Ouellette will make the orders.

It’s been 50 years since Eddy Palchak made himself at home in the Forum, befriended by a hot-dog vendor who frequented his father’s Ahuntsic restaurant. The vendor, Frank Nucci, would smuggle young Palchak into the Forum late on a Saturday afternoon – “not on a school night” – and let him hide among the weiners and buns, springing him 10 minutes before the doors opened so the eager boy could stake out a prime standing-room spot.

Palchak played good hockey as a youth, even winning local scoring titles in bantam and midget leagues, and at 19 he coached an Ahuntsic midget club to a Quebec championship.

But as he commuted by bus from home to Loyola College, he often found the pull of the Forum too powerful to resist.

“The No. 55 from Ahuntsic to Ste. Catherine and St. Lawrence,” he recalls, “then another bus to Atwater, and another to Loyola. But half the time, I’d miss that third bus and just cross the street – to the Forum.”

Palchak coached an N.D.G. junior B team in the arena, and in the mid-1960s, in Toronto to watch the Marlboros vs. the Junior Canadiens, he was pressed into emergency service as an assistant trainer. He joined the Baby Habs as trainer the next year, and in 1966-67 was called up to the NHL Canadiens, an assistant to Larry Aubut.

Montreal lost the Stanley Cup that final pre-expansion year to Toronto, then won it the following season, the first of 10 Cups Palchak has shared with the Canadiens. Only Henri Richard has more, with 11. Palchak is tied with two other brilliant captains, Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer.

Palchak wears his 1986 Stanley Cup ring, and has a fistful of others in safekeeping. Four of them have been gifts – to a childhood friend, a cousin, the cousin’s daughter, and a woman with whom he shared his life and downtown apartment for a few years.

The lost love, he recalls, was not nearly as precious as the second ring she stripped for parts.

“When we broke off, she had a jeweler pull all the diamonds out to make herself a ring,” he says. “One day she wanted to give me back the empty shell, but I was so mad I told her what she could do with it.”

Palchak doesn’t leave the same career he began 35 years ago. In his first season with the Canadiens, there were two or three equipment suppliers; now there might be a dozen. In the late 1960s, the team’s stick bill for a season was $30,000; in Palchak’s first year as purchaser, it was nearly $140,000.

A pair of skates, once $75, now cost the team $375. Palchak chuckles that, during 49 games with the Canadiens in 1983-84, Perry Turnbull went through 11 pairs, while Beliveau, one of the finest skaters ever, wouldn’t use more than two pairs per season – one at home, one on the road.

The Canadiens are notoriously generous when it comes to outfitting their players, from Palchak’s days under Sam Pollock, Scotty Bowman, Serge Savard and his most recent boss, general manager Rejean Houle.

“I’ve always been told: `If you need it, buy it,’ ” Palchak says. “To try to control costs, the coach would give the boys a list of rules at at the beginning of the season, and one of them was: `No equipment or sticks are to be given away without Eddy’s permission.’ Guy Lafleur was really bad, but you had to understand, he was Guy Lafleur.”

The Flower typically would use 24 dozen sticks a year. In his last full season with the Canadiens in 1983-84, he went through 65 dozen – 780 sticks – most of them souvenirs.

The equipment itself has revolutionized the game. Palchak remembers Cournoyer’s so-called shoulder pads: a pair of longjohns with felt sewn on the arms, a plastic cap fastened by Velcro on each shoulder. By contrast, today’s NHL player is a tank.

Equipment repairs are done the same day, if not by the manufacturer, then by a local shoemaker or in-house by Boulanger. In the early 1970s, Palchak recalls goalie Ray Martyniuk, a first-round draft choice who never played an NHL game, sitting at the Forum until 10 p.m., stitching his own gear with a needle and thread.

“But what’s changed most is the size and speed of the boys,” Palchak says. “Small guys used to be fast and the big guys were slow. Now, a 6-foot-4 guy skates like (5-foot-7) Cournoyer.”

Palchak has been preparing for his retirement the past year, scaling back to two- and three-day weeks as work would allow, and hopes to find something part-time to keep himself busy.
He admits to a fondness for gambling, once a partner with Savard and others in standardbred horses, and a regular at casinos.

“On the road, I’d often go to dinner with Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis, and they wouldn’t let me pay a dime for anything,” Palchak says. “So I’d take the meal money I’d saved, maybe $3,500 U.S., and drive to Atlantic City.”

The roulette wheel and blackjack table might or might not be in his plans now. But first he’ll be back in his office for a few days this week to settle a few accounts, at the request of Houle, and to pack up and leave for good. When the Canadiens reassemble for training camp in September, he’ll return only as a fan.

“I know I’m going to miss being involved in the game,” he says. “I’ll miss ordering two dozen sticks for this guy, skates for that guy.”

Then Eddy Palchak steals one last look at the legendary faces staring down in the Canadiens’ dressing room, his own home for as long as he can remember, pulls himself to his feet and says: “But mostly, I’ll miss the boys.”

37 Comments

  1. The Pickle says:

    Stephen, that is probably one of the nicest and most well written posts ever written on the internet, thank you for that.

  2. Habifax says:

    Behind every great team is a great Trainer!

    Rest in Peace Eddy.

    I’m sure he could have written a great book

  3. Bradzerker says:

    I echo everyone’s comments. Eddy was a fixture on the Canadiens teams of my youth. What an amazing life!

  4. habs_moleman says:

    Every summer, Eddy would come by the Dairy Queen I worked at on Parc and Mount Royal. He’d stroll up in his Cadillac, hobble his way over, and we’d have his small vanilla cone ready everytime. I always loved watching him pulling out the change he needed just to see that beautiful Habs ring and his right hand, and he’d always leave us a 15 cent tip. Sometimes I’d ask him a thing or two about the team and he was always friendly, usually smiling or chuckling a little. A small little anecdote.

    Hi passing is really unfortunate and he will be dearly missed.

  5. GJH10 says:

    As a Habs fan & kid growing up in NY during the 70s, I would hang around the Habs hotels whenever in the NY area and would always bother Eddy, before he headed to the rink, with a question “Hey Eddy what do you keep the team sticks in when you travel ?” or “Eddy what kind of tape does Guy use on his blade ?” etc. He was always polite in answering my questions usually with a snort and a 2-3 word response but he always made time for me and to that I will be forever grateful !

    Eddy P was the Habs for me ! Seeing him for years with the red satin jacket behind the bench will always be in my memories. So tonight I go to the Nassau Coliseum with a heavy heart knowing ONE OF THE GREATS will be looking down watching !

    RIP Eddy

  6. Habinator says:

    “Guy Lafleur was really bad, but you had to understand, he was Guy Lafleur.”

    Too funny !

    I will always remember seeing Eddy in the background throughout the 70′s…What a special time for a boy to tune in to watch the mastery of his team…God Bless, Eddy

    Gerry Hancock
    Waterloo, Ontario

  7. stephen says:

    At the peak of my young, impassioned fandom in the early 90′s, I felt I knew everything there was to know about the team: the players, the coaches, the Forum and its rich, fabled history. I had the trading cards, the magazines and a bedroom canvased with posters.

    There was, however, one figure who remained ticklishly unknown to me.

    In the fleeting glimpses I would catch during a TV broadcast, the man stood stoutly behind the bench, his rotund profile amply filling a white knit sweater emblazoned with the familiar CH.

    He had what seemed to me an unalterably jolly visage, a warm and kindly expression of bonhomie.

    But who was he? I knew, of course, he must be some sort of trainer or equipment manager, but I never knew his name. In those occasional appearances on screen, he simply became ‘the jolly fellow in the white knit sweater’ and in the end there was a simple, satisfying familiarity in that. Where the team went, so too did he.

    It was this very familiarity, this inseparability that made the night of June 9th, 1993, all the more memorable. Bob Cole proclaimed the Canadiens as champions, the Forum girders shimmied and shook in rhythm with the crowd’s delirium, the goalie I emulated even in my sleep had earned the Conn Smythe and I was a twelve year old devotee experiencing the height of hockey exaltation for the first time.

    Then came the gathering at centre ice. The tradition we have come to expect of champions; a final rallying of the troops on the ice, all huddled around their sterling silver prize.

    My eyes were naturally transfixed on my hero, St.Patrick, as he lay front and centre with the Cup. But as I let my gaze excitedly take in the rest of the triumphant group, it stopped again, anchored, though this time not on a player.

    There he was, draped over the shoulder of Lyle Odelein, a euphoric smile beaming from his familiar round face: the jolly fellow in the white knit sweater.

    I still didn’t know his name, but that didn’t much matter. As jubilant as I was for my valiant heroes hoisting the Cup, I found myself just as proud to see this familiar face in celebration. Whoever he was, whatever he did for the team, I was genuinely thrilled that he was there.

    I don’t remember when I eventually learned Mr. Palchak’s name. Perhaps, sadly, it was when he retired. To this day, however, I can’t help but smile in casting my mind back to those feverishly delirious spring nights in 1993, when behind the bench, no matter what the score, no matter what the stress, stood that jolly fellow in the white knit sweater.

    Thank you, Mr. Palchak, for being there.

  8. Danno says:

    Nobody dropped a bucket of pucks on the ice quite the way dear Eddy did.

    We love you Eddy.

    Our hearts go out to you and your family.

    You will be missed.

    ________________________________________

    “Hey Richard, two minutes for looking so good!”

    • Rinkrat12 says:

      I played briefly for Eddie and the NDG Monarchs till I hurt my knee. I didn’t realize that he too had gone to Loyola……always felt I knew someone on the HABS with him behind the bench. I’m sure he will turn everyone upstairs into a Habs fan!! Miss you EDDIE

      Lee McNaughton

  9. Habitant in Surrey says:

    …Eddie Palchuk …for most of Us older coots, Eddie was as much of an icon of Our Montreal Canadiens as many of Our Players …R.I.P. Eddie …and, off …to The Big Casino In The Sky
    …really enjoy Your writing Dave

    Habitant means PASSIONATE HOCKEY
    http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=423049

  10. joshua94k says:

    You knew it was going to be a special night when Eddie came one more time with the pail of pucks before the Centennial game. He is a big part of ten Stanley Cup championships. One can’t imagine the long tiring days the equipment guys go through to help the team.

    I almost feel bad for any guy who plays his whole NHL career without ever experiencing what it’s like to be a Montreal Canadien. – Mike Cammalleri

  11. Thurston says:

    RIP Eddy. Sad news to hear of his passing.
    It hasn’t quite been the same not seeing him behind the bench, even though he retired over a decade ago.
    My condolences to his family, friends and everyone who was touched by him.

  12. HabsPEI31 says:

    Rest in peace, Eddy. You were a true gentleman. Remember meeting you when I was about ten. My grandfather, a sports copy writer for the CBC, used to tell great stories about you. You will be sorely missed.

    “Only a goalie can appreciate what a goalie goes through.” – Jacques Plante

  13. Newf_Habster says:

    Sad day for the Canadiens and fans.

    He is truly a legend like Rocket, Boom Boom, Bealiveau, Flower, and so on. :(

  14. Chuck says:

    I hope that the team does something nice for him before Saturday’s game.

  15. SmartDog says:

    Dave, that’s a wonderful article. Not just a nicely written profile, but some good incidental insight to the culture and changes behind the scenes. I wasn’t going to read it (had no idea who he was) but so glad I did. I think it’s probably my favorite Stubbs article ever.

    ————————————-
    Listen to the Smart Dog. He knows his poop!

  16. Hammer says:

    I will always remember Mr. Palchak behind the bench during the glory years!! God Bless you Sir.

  17. Mattyleg says:

    That’s really sad. Got a bit misty-eyed, thinking back at how, on one of my first visits to the Forum when I was around 10, seeing Eddie behind the bench made it real for me. Seeing the players, the coach, the ice, the crowd… it didn’t really come home that I was really there until I saw Eddie Palchak bustling around behind the bench.
    Funny, eh?

    Rest in Peace, Eddie. A member of the family.

    —Hope Springs Eternal—

  18. Chuck says:

    My last memory of Eddie will be of him, unannounced, coming out to the bench prior to the Centennial Game to dump the pucks onto the ice for the pre-game skate, and the wonderful applause that gathered as folks in the arena realized his presence.

    Eddie stitched and mended countless sweaters and jerseys for the team over the years, his style of repair as distinctive as a fingerprint. I’m lucky enough to have a number of his works of art; I think that I’ll don one and hoist a pint tonight in his honour.

  19. secretdragonfly says:

    Rest in peace, Eddy. They don’t make them like that any more. I’ve enjoyed reading his feature in the Canadiens magazine; always had some great memories to share.

  20. Hobie Hansen says:

    Class Act you were Eddy!!!
    When I picture the Habs bench growing up as a kid, you were a big part of it!
    definitely a heavy heart today.
    Rest In Peace my good man!!!

  21. Thomas Le Fan says:

    RIP Eddy. My condolences to his family and friends.

  22. habitual says:

    As soon as I saw the headline, I knew you would be writing the obit, Dave.

    Nice job.

    For those of us old enough, this is just another painful memory of a fading lineage that goes back to Danny Gallivan and Dutch with his trumpet.

    Rest easy Eddie.

    • Dave Stubbs says:

      I loved this visit with Eddy nearly 12 years ago. He was sad to retire but knew it was time to move on. The stories this man could tell… incredible. As usual, the best stuff was what I couldn’t write.

      I’m happy, and not, to take this feature from my files and share it on a sad day. There should be a tremendous Canadiens turnout for his funeral, not yet announced.

      I emailed my condolences this morning to Canadiens equipment manager Pierre Gervais and assistants Steamer Ouellette and Pat Langlois. These guys are family.

      Dave Stubbs

      Hockey Inside/Out
      Sports Columnist/Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette
      • On Twitter: twitter.com/habsinsideout1
      • Email: dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

  23. RGM says:

    Sad news whenever a member of the Canadiens family passes away. He seemed to always have a smile on his face – who couldn’t, working for this family? Condolences to the family.

    ———————–
    GO HABS GO! 2011-12 is our year!
    RGM’s Movember page: http://mobro.co/RGM81

  24. kempie says:

    Now that’s a team guy. Thank you for everything Mr. Palchak. Sad to see you go.

  25. RabidHabsFan says:

    Last time i saw Mr Plachuk he was sitting outside the Alexis Nihon Plaza apartments it was Easter Sunday he was sitting on the bench in the front of the building I looked up and said Joyeuse Pacques to him he looked back at me and wished me a Happy Easter also.
    RIP Mr Palchuk

    Mike Milbury is the Archie Bunker of Hockey.

  26. SeriousFan09 says:

    Impossible not to salute Palchak’s 35 years with the Canadiens.

    - I shall always remember Captain Koivu. Habs and Hockey.
    SF09 on Twitter

  27. ths says:

    Absolute Legend. Put him in the HOF.

    Ooh Aah Habs on the war path

  28. Matt_in_TO says:

    RIP Eddy.

    - In Price We Trust


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