Biting winter winds whipped around Mount Royal in the Montreal suburb of Westmount in the dark, late hours of a Saturday night.
Two tired hockey teams, fresh from a game at the Forum. eyed each other warily on the platform as they waited to board an overnight train to Detroit.
The Canadiens boarded a Pullman sleeping car. The Red Wings boarded the adjacent one. The dominant teams of the NHL in the 1950s, the two clubs had many scores to settle. They would try to avoid that sort of thing on the train they shared that night and on many others before 1967.
Only then would the NHL fully join the jet age, breaking the bonds of a six-team league in cities easily accessible by rail.
When the Wings’ back-to-back games, home and away, against the Canadiens Thursday and tonight popped up on the schedule this season, it stirred memories for some.
“We’d play in Montreal Saturday night and then after the game you’d have to jump on the bus right away because they held up the train in Westmount, and a lot of times Montreal was on the same train coming back to Detroit,” said Alex Delvecchio, who won Stanley Cups as a player on the team in 1952, 1954 and 1955.
“Invariably, in the morning you had to walk through the Montreal car to get to the diner.
“Some of the guys would recognize you and said hi and so forth,” said Delvecchio, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who played 24 seasons for the Wings, scoring 456 goals with 825 assists, for 1,281 points.
“But there were a couple that I could mention like Maurice “Rocket” Richard, and they wouldn’t blink an eye at you.”
Richard, who held the NHL record for career goals before Gordie Howe broke it in 1963, could be a menacing figure.
His threatening stare earned the label “Rocket’s Red Glare.”
“Some of the guys would just ignore you,” Delvecchio said. “They wouldn’t say hi, or anything.”
But a few were more personable in those moments in tight quarters, he said, particularly three fellow members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Jean Beliveau, the courtly Canadiens immortal who had a regal bearing, Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion and Dickie Moore.
“They would be a little courteous,” Delvecchio said.
“Sometimes, if it was a rough night, you would wouldn’t even want to go through because you knew you’d have to walk through their car.
So, you would even go, ‘forget the breakfast.’ That happened quite often.”
Feelings were similar on both sides.
“God, you could hardly look at one another,” said Gerry McNeil, a goalie who won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, in the book “Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey.”
“I’ve seen the police at the station,” McNeil said.
Gordie Howe explained the feelings between the teams in his 2014 biography, “Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe.”
“The Red Wings didn’t like the Canadiens and they didn’t like us,” Howe wrote. “We respected their talent, but that is where any semblance of fondness ended.
“Those trips could get tense. I don’t think any fights ever broke out, but it came close.”
Delvecchio said the atmosphere impacted the games.
“It wasn’t leisurely, in any way,” Delvecchio said. “It might have made it more competitive.
“You know, just six teams in the league and you were there and happened to be one of 120 players in the league, and so you wanted to stay and show you’re best at all times.”
Any sparse moments of conviviality might have occurred during some the occasional card games. But one card game made a big impact on the ice.
During a bridge game, Canadiens defenseman J.C. Tremblay belittled Howe, a world class bridge player, when the Wings’ great complimented a move by one of the contestants.
“What would YOU know about it, you big dummy?” Tremblay said, according to the book “… And HOWE! An Autobiography of Gordie Howe and Colleen Howe.”
Before leaving the train car Howe told Tremblay, “Remember you said that to me.”
Several months later, moments after he scored his 600th career goal at the Forumand the classy Montreal fans forced a stoppage in the game with a long boisterous ovation, Howe acted.
Tremblay lay near the Canadiens net, unable to stand, his face a bloody mess. Howe’s elbow had decimated him.
As he skated to the penalty the Canadiens’ Dick Duff passed in the opposite direction.
“The Bridge game?” Duff said.
Howe nodded. “Yeah.”