Campbell vs. The Prince of Wales…

PoW TrophySince 1923, the Prince of Wales Trophy has been awarded for different accomplishments since its donation to hockey in 1925. From 1923-27 it was awarded to the NHL Playoffs champions (pre-Stanley Cup). In those four seasons, a Montreal team won it three out of four times (Montreal Canadiens 1924 & 25, Montreal Maroons 1926). It then spent eleven years awarded to the American Division regular season champions, and then from 1938-1967 it was awarded to the regular season champions. Since 1967, it has been awarded to regional winners – the East Division, the Wales Conference, and finally the Eastern Conference.

Because of the temporary re-alignment of the conferences this year, it was awarded simply as the Stanley Cup Semifinals for the east. When the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Islanders, it was awarded to them.

CCIt is sometimes forgotten that despite some early attempts at clubs in Seattle and Vancouver, there was no permanent westward expansion of the NHL until 1967, when the Los Angeles Kings and the California Seals (later the Oakland Seals, then the California Golden Seals, then the Cleveland Barons, then eventually merged with the Minnesota North Stars) joined the league. As such, it was decided that two separate divisions would compete at the end of the season for the Stanley Cup, but that each division would have its own championship trophy. And so in that year, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl would be awarded to the West Division, the Campbell Conference, and then the Western Conference champions.

Because of the temporary re-alignment of the conferences this year, it was awarded simply as the Stanley Cup Semifinals for the west… or rather, to the team that won between the West and the Northern divisions. When the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it was awarded to them.

There is no question that the Montreal Canadiens are the most storied franchise in the NHL. They have won 24 Stanley Cups (despite what the ignorant NBC Sports statisticians may say), 25 Prince of Wales Trophies, and myriad other awards. However, as an eastern team (whether Eastern Division, Eastern Conference, or Wales Conference), then had never won a Campbell Bowl.

I wrote in yesterday’s article that if Montreal loses in the SCF then I will still be proud of them for having won the Campbell Bowl. Only after I wrote that did I realize that it was the first time their name will be etched into this award… but as a lifelong Montreal fan I am certainly aware of the terrible legacy that the trophy’s namesake left.

In 1955, then-NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard for an altercation on the ice. Let’s be honest, Rocket Richard was a hero, but he was a hero with a temper, and he deserved the suspension. Whether he deserved to be suspended for the remainder of the season including the playoffs is another story.

Campbell, whose anti French-Canadian bias was well known, might have overreacted, but that does not change the fact that his lack of common sense comes out clearly in what happened next. You see, Richard was the first real French-Canadian hero that every Montrealer and Quebecois looked up to. Suspending him for the rest of the season, when combined with the known bias, was seen as a slap in the face to an ethnic group that would, over the course of the next twenty years, develop into the Quebec Nationalist/Sovereignty movement that would result in forty years of discord and two separation referenda.

Okay, he suspended their hero. He never apologized for it, and while I have always hated him for it, truth is he might have been justified.

But dude… when you suspend a national hero of a nation you are known to hate and who obviously hate you, common sense would dictate that you not show up at their next home game and flaunt your presence there… doubly so if that home game is in a city with a longstanding tradition of drinking, and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day… on St. Patrick’s Day.

‘Hey, Romans! I just put Caesar in jail, and I hate Romans. Maybe I’ll go to the Colosseum and watch the festivities!’

And yet, that is what he did. He decided to show up, and he was not polite about it.

The riots that followed – The Richard Riot – caused over $100,000 damage to property, plus thirty-seven injuries, and one hundred arrests. It was only after Rocket Richard himself made a public plea for calm and accepting his punishment did things calm down.

Not only did the incident cause Montreal to forfeit the game, but it was also the precursor to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, which effectively secularized Quebec (the most Catholic society in North America), and led to the sovereignty movement, the Parti Quebecois, two separation referenda, language laws, and the effective migration of Canada’s economic and industrial capital (along with one million people) from Montreal to Toronto and the Province of Ontario.

So yes, I am happy that Montreal won their Semi-Finals round… but I have mixed feelings about anything having to do with Clarence Campbell coming to Montreal…



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