« I cannot thank Réjean Houle enough »

“Patrick Roy and Mike Keane made this team a Stanley Cup contender. Would the Avalanche have won it without this transaction? I do not know. What I do know, however, is that she launched my career. It’s the best thing that could have happened to me. ”

A quarter of a century has passed since the night when Réjean Houle concluded the most significant exchange in the history of the Canadiens. At least, the one who has spilled the most ink.

Twenty-five years during which each time the event is brought up on the carpet, the former general manager of the Canadiens is skinned. Muted, however, Martin Rucinsky has spent the past 25 years feeling grateful.

“I cannot thank Mr. Houle enough. It changed my life. I wouldn’t have had the same career if I had stayed with the Avalanche. There, I was mostly used in the third and fourth lines. I never had the opportunity to play in the second line. Even less of the first, ”said the Czech, joined by The Journal of Montreal at his fishing camp, where he isolated himself from the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases in the Czech Republic.

It must be said that the Avalanche was full of talent in attack with Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky, Claude Lemieux and Scott Young.

“My arrival in Montreal allowed me to blossom. It was in the Canadiens’ uniform that I had my best seasons. I had a lot of playing time. I was used on the power play. The coach gave me a lot of responsibility. He trusted me. I was able to show what I could do and prove that I was an NHL player, ”he added.

Rucinsky speaks mostly of Mario Tremblay, under whom, when he was in his mid-twenties, he had campaigns of 25 goals (in 56 games) and 28 goals.

In three full seasons in Quebec, before the transfer from the Nordiques to Denver, he had only crossed the 10-goal mark on one occasion (18 in 1992-1993).

Quite a surprise

Rucinsky did not expect at all to pass in the camp of the Canadian this evening of December 1995. Like everyone else, he was aware of the event which had shaken the columns of the Forum a few days earlier. He knew the Avalanche, because of Pierre Lacroix’s ties to the popular goalie, were favorites in the derby to get it.

Moreover, he remembers that the rumors of negotiation between the two teams had reached the ears of the players in the Avalanche locker room long before the thaw on December 2. But the idea that he would be involved in it never crossed his mind. Why?

“Simply because I believe my name is the only one that hasn’t been mentioned in all these rumors. We often heard Owen Nolan [que l’Avalanche avait finalement échangé à San Jose quelques semaines plus tôt], Mike Ricci, Scott Young, Adam Foote and Jocelyn Thibault, ”he recalled.

Six messages in the voicemail box!

If Roy and Keane were woken up in the wee hours of the night (2:22 a.m., Roy will point out to Bertrand Raymond), Rucinsky was seated at a restaurant in Denver in the company of half a dozen teammates when he heard of the transaction. The Avalanche had just washed the Sharks 12-2.

“I was expecting an important call from my parents that night. Since there was no cell phone at the time, we had to call home to take messages from our voicemail, ”he recalled.

“I did it the first time. Pierre Lacroix had left me six messages! I started to listen to them, but since there was too much noise in the restaurant, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. So I went to sit down, ”he continued.

Intrigued by the number of messages his general manager had left him, the attacker made a second attempt half an hour later.

“Pierre had had time to leave other messages. I finally understood that he wanted me to call him. That it was urgent. What I have done. He asked me to come to his office immediately. Without wanting to tell me where, he explained to me that I had been traded. « 

Quickly in the bath

Rucinsky therefore jumped in a taxi to McNichols Arena without knowing his next destination. Even seeing Jocelyn Thibault and Andrei Kovalenko on the scene, the click of a possible transaction with the Canadian did not happen in his head.

“I was thinking that maybe I was part of another transaction. It was when he entered Pierre’s office that he told me that I had to pack my bags for Montreal. ”

Rucinsky was not at the end of his surprises. Due to the late hour, he had to hasten to make a detour through the house, pack a few suitcases, head to the airport and fly to Montreal, where Houle wanted to see him in uniform that same evening.

Rucinsky played this game as well as the next day in Pittsburgh. Three games in three nights in three cities. With barely a few hours of sleep in the body. This is called jumping in the bath.

This is also what proved to him that he would be an important piece of his new team.

The Rucinsky outbreak in Montreal in figures:

  • In his first 56 games in Montreal, he averaged 1.07 points per game.
  • His four seasons of at least 20 goals were achieved in the Canadiens’ uniform.
  • Of the four seasons of at least 50 points he has had, three have been with the Canadiens.
  • With the Habs, he scored 134 goals in 432 games (0.31 goal / game). In 529 games with other teams, he scored 107 goals (0.20 goals / game).

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