The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
The Hockey Writers’ Montreal Canadiens team is going to bring you all the 12 Days of Habsmas, today is Day 11 and this day is about the players who have worn no. 11 with the Habs.
The Early Days
Jack McDonald was the first player to wear no. 11 for the Canadiens from 1918-1922. Since then, a total of 26 players have sported the number. In the early days, it was names like Calum MacKay, Jean Gauthier, Claude Larose, and Réjean Houle.
Beginning in 1974, Yvon Lambert brought the number 11 into the spotlight in Montreal. He was a key member of the Canadiens’ dynasty team of the 1970s playing on a line with Doug Risebrough and Mario Tremblay. A four-time Stanley Cup champion, Lambert hit the 20-goal mark and scored 50 points or more in six of his eight seasons with the Habs. His outgoing and affable personality made him a popular figure with his teammates and fans.
Lambert’s most famous goal with the Canadiens came in 1979 when he scored the overtime winner in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins to send the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final. He also notched the Stanley Cup winner against the New York Rangers two weeks later.
The number 11 came into real prominence during the 1990s thanks to Kirk Muller and has become an important figure for the current generation of Canadiens’ fans considering the players who have worn it since Muller hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1993.
He earned the nickname “Captain Kirk” when the ‘C’ was sewn on his no. 11 jersey at the start of the 1994-95 season following Guy Carbonneau’s departure.
In just his second season with the Habs, Muller netted 37 goals and 94 points during Montreal’s Stanley Cup-winning campaign in 1992-93 and contributed three game-winners in the playoffs, including the Cup-clinching goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the final.
“I remember going to sit with Mike Keane in the Forum stands a few hours after the end of the game,” Muller recalled. “We each sat there with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, and we looked out at the empty rink saying to ourselves: ‘Oh my g-d, we just won the Stanley Cup!’”
Muller served as an assistant coach with the Canadiens from 2006 to 2011 as part of Carbonneau’s staff and has since returned to the organization after being named associate coach in 2016.
The Habs’ most famous and beloved no. 11 is Saku Koivu. The fabulous Finn served as captain for ten of his 14 years with the team which makes him the longest-tenured captain in team history, an honour he shares with the great Jean Béliveau.
“Walking in the room and looking around, seeing all the big names and the Hall of Famers, you really felt the history and the years behind. And then you look at the pictures on the wall, it kind of made me realize once again what a special place it is and what an accomplishment it was to be a captain here,” Koivu said last year upon returning to Montreal for the team’s Captains’ Reunion event.
Even though Koivu’s career with the Canadiens was tumultuous at times because of injuries, illness and rosters that just weren’t good enough, he will always be an inspiration to Montrealers and is arguably the most impactful player to wear the red, white, and blue since the 1995-96 season when he made his Habs debut.
After beating non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2002, he established the Saku Koivu Foundation which raised funds to bring the first PET/CT scanner to Montreal. This advanced technology has helped treat thousands of cancer patients who are inspired by Koivu’s courage and strength.
His first game back on April 9, 2002, after beating cancer and the emotional ovation he received when his skates first hit the ice will forever be one of the most significant moments in the Habs’ rich legacy.
Despite never winning a Stanley Cup in Montreal, many believe that Koivu’s no. 11 should be sent to the rafters of the Bell Centre not only because of his performance on the ice but also because of the difference he made off of it.
If anyone on the Canadiens’ current roster can fill the huge shoes left by Koivu, it’s Brendan Gallagher. So, it’s only fitting that he’s the long-term successor for wearing the coveted no. 11.
After signing a six-year contract extension this offseason, it looks like the heart and soul of the Habs will start and finish his career in Montreal. In his first eight seasons with the Canadiens, Gallagher has registered 334 points in 547 regular season games and added 25 points in 49 playoff games. The 28-year-old is a two-time 30 goal scorer and his 173 goals with the Habs ranks 17th in team history among wingers.
“He means a lot to our hockey team. You saw in the playoffs: he got cross-checked in the face, and he wouldn’t want to miss a shift. He didn’t want to leave. Gallagher is everything you want in a hockey player, and that’s what I love about him,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said.
Thanks to Muller, Koivu, and Gallagher, it’s safe to say that 11 has played a major role in shaping the NHL’s most storied franchise over the past 30 years. Will it be the next number retired by the Canadiens? This accomplished trio has certainly built a compelling case.