Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion passes away[url=http://www.cjad.com]www.cjad.com[/url]
(CP) - Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion said he invented the slapshot as a youngster, swiping at pucks on a rink behind a church near his home in Montreal.
Others have also claimed the invention, but there is no question that Geoffrion was the player who popularized the shot that would give him his nickname.
Geoffrion died in an Atlanta hospital on Saturday of stomach cancer. He was 75. The Montreal native passed away on the day his No. 5 jersey was to be retired by the Montreal Canadiens in a ceremony before a game tonight against the New York Rangers.
"Obviously, it's a very sad moment," said Canadiens captain Saku Koivu. "It's something we wished for him to see, his banner being raised to the roof. That would have been an extremely proud moment for him, but I'm sure he'd also wish it was a night of celebration."
Bernard Andre Joseph Geoffrion, born on Feb. 16, 1931, was dubbed Boom Boom by sportswriter Charlie Boire of the Montreal Star while he was playing junior hockey for the Laval Nationale in the late 1940s.
One boom was for the sound of his stick striking the puck; the second was for when his rocketing shot hit the boards.
The shot, combined with his speed and competitive temperament, made Boom Boom Geoffrion one of the most dangerous goal-scorers of his era.
Geoffrion scored 371 goals in 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s and 1960s and another 22 goals in a two-year comeback with the New York Rangers from 1966 to 1968.
He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.
Geoffrion was known as much for his outgoing personality and love of practical jokes as he was for scoring goals in his time with the star-studded Canadiens of the 1950s.
"He was a great guy," said New York Rangers boss Glen Sather. "He was one of those dynamic personalities you don't see very often in sports. He loved life, loved to play, always enthusiastic. He was just a terrific guy."
During road trips, Geoffrion would sometimes join a band onstage at a nightclub to sing a tune or two, and he appeared on television shows in Quebec, usually singing joke songs.
As teammate Jean Beliveau described it in his biography My Life In Hockey: "Nowadays it's called karaoke. Back then we had another phrase for it: big ham."
His teammates were so used to his mischief that in 1958, they thought he was playing a trick as he writhed on the ice after a minor collision during a practice and were shocked when he was rushed to hospital to have his spleen removed.
It was the first of a string of injuries and illnesses that would mark his career as a player and a coach and follow him into retirement after he settled in Atlanta with his family in the 1970s.
Geoffrion battled ulcers that cut short coaching stints with the expansion Atlanta Flames and the Rangers and led to surgery in 1968 to remove part of his stomach. In the 1990s, he survived prostate cancer and macular degeneration, an illness that reduced the vision in his right eye.
But in his youth, Geoffrion was superbly gifted player who arrived in the NHL at a time when the Canadiens were amassing the NHL's greatest dynasty of all time, which won five consecutive Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1960.
Geoffrion and Beliveau made their NHL debuts together during a brief call-up from their junior teams in a 1-1 tie with the Rangers in 1950, with Boom Boom scoring his first NHL goal. Another Canadiens great, Dickie Moore, also played his first NHL game that season.
Geoffrion joined the Canadiens full time the following season and won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1951-52, when he scored 30 goals.
He was booed by Montreal fans for winning the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader in 1955, but cheered for winning it again 1961, when he was also named the league's most valuable player.
That season, he became only the second player in NHL history after teammate Maurice (Rocket) Richard to score 50 goals in a season.
Richard was at the root of his booing six years earlier.
The Rocket was leading the NHL scoring race - on pace for his first Art Ross, when he was suspended for the final three games of the season and the playoffs for a stick-swinging incident with Boston's Hal Laycoe.
In the following game against Detroit, Montreal Forum fans rioted over the suspension.
Many fans also wanted Geoffrion, who trailed Richard by two points, and Beliveau, who was three points back, to let up so Richard could win the scoring title.
Beliveau said Geoffrion, a "sensitive guy who was concerned about his public image," fretted over the predicament until defenceman Doug Harvey told him: "We're going for first place, Boom, so there's no question of shooting wide of the net."
Geoffrion ended the season with 95 points, one more than Richard, who even Boom Boom considered an idol. When he was presented with the Art Ross before the opening playoff game against Boston, the fans booed.
It was not his last disappointment with the Canadiens.
In 1961, he was said to be hurt when his teammates elected Beliveau ahead of him as team captain.
And after two final seasons marked by knee injuries, Geoffrion was asked by owner David Molson to retire and accept a two-year stint as coach of the Canadiens top farm club, the Quebec Aces.
After guiding the Aces to pair of first-place finishes, he was told there was no room as coach in Montreal because the legendary Toe Blake was still running the team and he was offered a job coaching the Montreal junior Canadiens, which he considered a demotion.
Geoffrion said later he suspected the coaching jobs were a ruse to get him out of the way so they could bring up junior sensation Yvan Cournoyer. He opted to return as a player with the Rangers.
After two seasons, New York boss Emile Francis named him coach, but he had barely got into the job when his ulcers forced him into surgery.
He got another chance at coaching in 1972 with the expansion Flames and led them into the playoffs in only their second year of existence in 1973-74. But the following season, health problems led to his removal after only 52 games.
"Boom Boom was an incredible man who meant a great deal to me and I'm fortunate to have called him a friend and mentor," said Atlanta Thrashers coach Bob Hartley. "I'm sincerely honored to be a part of the same coaching fraternity and to follow his lead as an NHL head coach in Atlanta.
"We lost a very special person today."
Geoffrion finally got the coaching job he always wanted in 1979 when the Canadiens asked him to replace Scotty Bowman, who left for Buffalo in a huff after being refused the general manager's job.
His son, Danny, played for Montreal that season, but Geoffrion lasted only 30 games and 100 days on the job, stepping down over what he called interference from management. Blake was still with the team as a vice-president and Claude Ruel, who replaced him, was also with the team.
Danny Geoffrion went to the Winnipeg Jets the following year and retired in 1984 after playing in Japan.
Finally, Geoffrion returned to Atlanta with his wife, Marlene, who is the daughter of former Canadiens great Howie Morenz. They had three children.
And at long last, well after teammates like Richard, Beliveau and Harvey had their numbers retired, the Canadiens announced in October that Geoffrion's jersey would be raised to the rafters.
But he never lost his attachment to the Canadiens.
"I wish things would have been different, but I have no regrets," he said in 2003. "I got to play for my favourite team. I got to play with my boyhood hero, the Rocket. I had some success and the team had some great success