Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Aurele Joliat
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One on One with Aurele Joliat

3 JANUARY 2012
Aurele Joliat was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens when he was traded for the legendary Newsy Lalonde.
Aurele Joliat was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens when he was traded for the legendary Newsy Lalonde. (Jame Rice/Hockey Hall of Fame)
If asked to name the greatest player ever to wear the number 4 for the Montreal Canadiens, few would fail to cite the magnificence of Jean Beliveau. But for fans of an earlier era, the answer may very well have been Aurèle Joliat. In fact, in 1984, Les Canadiens retired the number 4 to honour both outstanding players.

Aurèle Émile Joliat was born in Ottawa, Ontario on August 29, 1901. Slight in build, Aurèle (you'll often see his name spelled as the more anglicized 'Aurel') was fortunate to have had any kind of career.

As a teenager, he slipped off the family roof, landing flat on his back, just dusted himself off and walked away, having narrowly avoided a serious injury.

He began his hockey career in 1916 with the Ottawa New Edinburghs of the Ottawa City Senior Hockey League, and led the league in scoring in 1919-20. The next season, Aurèle was recruited to play for the Iroquois Falls Papermakers in the Northern Ontario Senior Hockey Association. Prior to the championship game, he was offered $500, a sizeable amount of money at the time, to allow the opponents to win. Aurèle accepted both the proposition and the money, yet proceeded to score six goals, leading Iroquois Falls to victory.

Aurele Joliat wearing his trademark black cap while as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Aurele Joliat wearing his trademark black
cap while as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. (Jame Rice/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The gamblers tried to intercept Joliat and punish him for double-crossing them, but Aurèle slipped out of the dressing room, made his way to the train station and boarded a train for western Canada, having avoided his pursuers. He was suspended by the NOHA for the following season, but it was a moot point, as Aurèle had no intention of returning to Iroquois Falls.

The plan for settling in Saskatchewan was to play for the Saskatoon Sheiks of the Western Canada Hockey League in 1921-22, but the suspension held and while he was owned by the team, he was unable to play for them. Instead, he found work harvesting wheat.

On September 18, 1922, Joliat was traded to the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League, along with $3,500, for fading star Newsy Lalonde.

Aurèle joined the Canadiens in 1922-23. Largely unknown, he proceeded to finish ninth in NHL scoring with 13 goals and 22 points in 24 games. And although undersized compared to most players in the league, the 5'6" 135-pound Joliat refused to back down from anyone and collected 31 penalty minutes.

Aurele Joliat (2nd row-middle) helped lead this Ottawa based team to a city championship.
Aurele Joliat (2nd row-middle) helped lead this Ottawa based team to a city championship. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
The 1923-24 season was a highwater mark for both Joliat and the Canadiens. That was the season Aurèle was paired with Howie Morenz, forming one of the most potent combinations in NHL history. That season, left winger Aurèle finished third in NHL scoring with 20 points (15 goals and 5 assists). Morenz, on the right side, finished ninth with 15 points. Their centre, Billy Boucher, had 22 points, good for second in scoring. The Canadiens finished second in the four-team league, but proceeded to collect the Stanley Cup with series win over the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League. The series was played in Ottawa because of poor ice in Montreal.

The trio finished third, fourth and fifth in scoring in 1924-25. Joliat collected career-bests in points with 40 and goals with 29. Morenz had 34 points and Boucher had 31.

Joliet and Morenz were fast friends off the ice and lethal on it. Their skills complemented each other perfectly. "I can't say that I played with Morenz, although I tried to," the self-effacing Joliat claimed. "Morenz was so fast that I had to scoot well ahead of him on a rush or I was always lagging behind him, trying to catch up." Nevertheless, the duo continued to tear up the NHL. In 1925-26, Morenz finished fifth in scoring and Joliat seventh.

Aurele Joliat would lead all NHL goal scorers in 1924-25 with 29 goals.
Aurele Joliat would lead all NHL goal scorers in 1924-25 with 29 goals. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
In 1927-28, the pair finished one and two. Morenz had 51 points and Joliet 39. The two were integral components of the Canadiens' Stanley Cup win in 1930, a victory savoured over the Boston Bruins. In 1930-31, Morenz again led the league in scoring with 51 points while Aurèle finished eleventh with 35. The Canadiens repeated as Stanley Cup champions, triumphing over the Chicago Black Hawks. Both Morenz and Joliat were named to the inaugural NHL First All-Star Team that season.

Aurèle continued to contribute significantly to the Canadiens. He finished tenth in NHL scoring in 1931-32 (Morenz was third), sixth in 1932-33 (Morenz was tenth) and eighth in 1933-34.That season, after recording his third 20-goal season, he was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. In 1932, 1934 and 1935, Joliat was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team.

Morenz was traded prior to Chicago prior to the 1934-35 season, joined the Rangers partway through the 1935-36 season and returned to the Canadiens for 1936-37. But on January 28, 1937, he suffered a career-ending broken leg in a game against the Black Hawks. He never recovered and died on March 8.

Aurèle was inconsolable, and never returned to form. The record books show that he retired following the 1937-38 season, but he vehemently disagreed "Retired? Hell! The Canadiens fired me when the Montreal Maroons folded and some of their players moved over to the Canadiens!"

Aurèle Joliat's 16-season NHL career saw him score 270 goals and add 190 assists for 460 points, as well as 757 penalty minutes, in 655 regular season contests. He also scored 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points and added 89 minutes in penalties in 54 playoff games. At the time of his retirement, Joliat was third in career goals, behind Morenz and Nels Stewart.

Through his career, Joliat wore a small peaked cap while playing. He was sensitive about his bald spot. Opponents took great delight in knocking the cap off his head, which infuriated Aurèle. On the road, fans would hoot and holler and shout for it to happen again. At home, Montreal fans would boo derisively at the lack of respect afforded their star. Either way, Joliat would give the perpetrator a two-hander across the ankles.

Aurele Joliat sits beside the empty seat where his good friend and teammate Howie Morenz used to sit before his passing on March 8, 1937.
Aurele Joliat sits beside the empty seat where his good friend and teammate Howie Morenz used to sit before his passing on March 8, 1937. (Hockey Hall of Fame)
"I guess I was tough enough," Aurèle reminisced. "You had to be to survive. But I wasn't the toughest. That mule-headed, son of a bitch Eddie Shore was the meanest, toughest player I ever met. I was rushing up the ice at the Forum one night when my lights went out. Shore hit me with a check that almost killed me. I was what? 130 pounds at the time and he must have been 190. He dislocated my shoulder and they carried me off in a lot of pain. Then I look around and Shore is leading a fancy rush. Forget the sore shoulder. I leapt over the boards and intercepted the big bugger. Hit him with a flying tackle. Hit him so hard he was out cold on the ice. He had it coming, I'd say."

In 1984, the Montreal Canadiens selected their 75th anniversary 'Dream Team, and invited each of the surviving members to return to the Forum to relive their glory and have one final turn around the ice. That date was January 12, 1985. The 'Dream Team' was comprised of goaltender Jacques Plante, defencemen Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson and forwards Maurice Richard, Dickie Moore and Jean Beliveau. As the oldest alumnus of the Canadiens, Aurèle was invited to join the prestigious group on the ice. Wearing a Canadiens sweater and his trademark cap, the 83-year-old Joliat tripped over the carpet, much to the horror of all who witnessed the spill. But, he got up and proceeded to skate with the puck the length of the Forum ice and shot it into the empty goal to thunderous applause. And then he stumbled again. "The ghost of Eddie Shore must have put that damn rug in front of me," he later chuckled.

Following his playing career, Aurèle turned to officiating, and was the referee on duty the evening Maurice Richard made his NHL debut in 1942.

Aurèle Joliat died on June 2, 1986 at the age of 84, but lived to enjoy election to the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honour bestowed on him in 1945.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.