After a wildly successful book launch in Quebec with over 30,000 copies sold, Serge Savard, Forever Canadien by Phillippe Cantin has been translated from French and the English version is now available in bookstores.
Whether or not you are a hockey fan, this biography about one of the most famous Montreal Canadiens (and General Manager) is a good read about how a boy from smalltown Quebec becomes a hockey hero. The inspiring biography is penned by Phillippe Cantin, who was a 30-year veteran sportswriter for Montreal’s La Presse who is now a freelance sportswriter. This is his third book on the Quebec hockey world.
Savard was a star defenseman with the Montreal Canadiens in the 70s, winning 23 awards and distinctions, a mittful of Stanley Cups for the Habs, became team captain then general manager. Plus, there was that unforgettable Summit Series with the Soviet Union in 1972 when just about every TV was tuned in from coast to coast in Canada.
Right from the get go in this “authorized biography”, Serge Savard comes off as a good guy who makes it clear he is not going to “ruffle any feathers,” but he did want to “set the record straight.”
While it looked like this book was going to be another example of idolatry of a sports hero, it proved to be so much more. Yes, this book is about the making of a champion, but it also delves into the highs and lows of a long career and the lessons learned along the way.
Predictably, the book starts off with young Serge growing up in a small Quebec town, Landrienne. At home, the living room wall had pictures of the Pope, the Premier and, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. You know which picture Serge admired the most.
He absolutely loved the game. He would play for hours on a makeshift rink on a flooded concrete pad. Serge would not even take his skates off as he wolfed down lunch, so he could get back on the ice quicker. This guy was made for hockey: 6’3”, 200 plus pounds and he turned out to be the fastest skater on the Canadiens. That helped him become the ideal defenseman: able to backcheck and carry the puck down the ice on offense.
While there aren’t any jaw dropping tidbits in this part of the book, it is interesting to read his candid comments on teammates like Ken Dryden, Frank Mahovolich, Larry Robinson and Guy Lafleur.
I also had no idea of his business acumen – from real estate to lottery kiosks, the stock market, horse racing, even ownership of one of Quebec’s most storied hotels, the Chateau Champlain. The same traits that made him a great player – the ability to remain calm and in control, to focus on the moment, to know when to take a risk – allowed him to make more in business than he did playing hockey. The more you read…the better the story gets.
It was his time as GM of the Canadiens (he got the gig at age 37) that is most fascinating. He admits to making mistakes, takes responsibility for bad decisions, and learns how to deal with negative criticism from the media. His tenure as the Canadiens GM lasted 12 years during which time the team picked up two Stanley Cups and two conference championships.
Serge Savard: So nice to see the good guy finish first.
Serge Savard, Forever Canadien by Phillippe Cantin, translated from the French original by Christopher Korchin. Published by KO Editions. lead photo ©Paul-Henri Talbot, La Presse
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch
2019 Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) Certificate of Excellence Third Place Best Food and Drink Feature