Snap, crackle and Boom Boom

Closing the season, hockey ties up loose ends with a new power, an old champion and a settled feud
March 27, 1961

Fifteen years ago a stocky, broad-shouldered hockey player was practicing slap shots alone in the Montreal Forum. A reporter, hearing the continuous sound of a puck rebounding from the boards, knew the shooter was Bernard Geoffrion, a young skater from a junior team, dedicated to self-improvement.

Looking in, the reporter shouted: "Hey, Geoffrion, I've got a nickname for you. Want to be called Boom Boom?" "Sure," said Geoffrion.

At precisely 10:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, Boom Boom Geoffrion, now of the Montreal Canadiens, slapped home his 50th goal of the National Hockey League season, thus becoming the second player in history to do so. (The other, quite naturally, was the incomparable Maurice Richard, who managed it in 1944-45.)

Boom Boom's feat made him one of the few authentic heroes of the six months of snap-and-crackle theatrics that comprised the 1960-61 NHL season. Last week, with the Stanley Cup playoffs imminent, that drama came to an anticlimactic close, with the often-threatened Montreal Canadiens right where they started: on top. For a tense two months in midseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in sorry sixth-place straits a few years back, had challenged the Habs' supremacy. With Left Winger Frank Mahovlich leading the charge and threatening to grab the record that Geoffrion eventually got, Toronto even took over first place and gained a three-point advantage over Montreal. Quietly and relentlessly, however, the Canadiens and Boom Boom inched upward again and as they went they swept most of the honors with them. The final games put them on top by two points over Toronto, and with 50 goals to his credit, Geoffrion led the league in goals, leaving Mahovlich two behind.

The Maple Leafs did manage, however, to outdo the Canadiens in one department. For the past five years Montreal's masked goalie, Jacques Plante, has won the Vezina Trophy for giving up the fewest goals in regular-season games. This year, with Plante temporarily off to the minors, Johnny Bower, that ancient in the Maple Leafs' net, stopped enough shots to win the award for the first time.

The very last act of the seasonal drama wrote a resounding finale to the long-standing and (some thought) tedious feud between New York's hot-tempered Lou Fontinato and Toronto's intransigent Bert Olmstead. Ever since he was cut by a skate in January (22 stitches, four weeks' recovery), Fontinato has been muttering dark threats against Olmstead. In the Rangers' last game Lou caught Olmstead unawares, barreled into him at full tilt, with his stick held before him. The collision made a noise like a train wreck. The referee viewed this maneuver as a deliberate cross-check worth five minutes in the penalty box. The New York fans viewed it as just what that Olmstead (who luckily was not hurt) deserved and gave Lou an ovation that lasted almost as long as his sentence.