Montreal Canadian GM and former player Bob Gainey speaks to reporters at a news conference Sept.5, 2007. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL - For Ken Hitchcock, it was not enough to stand and watch his friend and former boss Bob Gainey have his jersey No. 23 retired by the Montreal Canadiens.
He wanted the team he coaches, the Columbus Blue Jackets, to be part of it.
So the Blue Jackets elected to have all their players wear No. 23 in Gainey's honour for the pre-game warmup Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
All their jerseys were signed by Gainey, now the Montreal Canadiens general manager, and will be auctioned off with proceeds split between the Blue Jackets' charity and the Gainey Foundation, which was set up after Gainey's daughter, Laura, was lost at sea in December, 2006.
"I just thought it was a good idea," said Hitchcock. "I saw Montreal wear No. 19 for Larry Robinson's retirement ceremony and I felt it was a way for our players to participate.
"Half our hockey team has never played in this building and we need to enjoy this experience because we've never seen anything like this. I just found that this is an excellent way to support both foundations and I think Laura would have really liked this and his family will too."
Gainey reportedly asked the NHL to schedule Columbus as the visiting team for the occasion. It was Gainey, then GM in Dallas, who hired Hitchcock to replace himself as coach in 1995. The two won a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 and are good friends.
They were also with the Stars when they visited Montreal on March 11, 1996, the night of the final game played in the fabled Montreal Forum.
"The closing of the Forum - I'd never seen anything like that, especially the passing of the torch," said Hitchcock. "The only thing I remember from the game was that I think it was 16 minutes before we had the puck.
"This is more personal. This is a couple of guys that go back a long way. I'm happy for Bob. I think it brings some closure to some situations and I know it's a really proud moment for him."
Gainey was the NHL's premier checking forward during his playing career from 1973-'74 to 1988-'89, which included winning five Stanley Cups and the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs in 1979.
He also won the Frank Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward the first four years it was awarded from 1978 to 1981.
"He set a new standard in how the game's supposed to be played," said Hitchcock. "He was best in tough games.
"He was a physical player who could negate the other team's best player, so at the end of the day, he was the glue of your hockey club. He knew exactly what to do to help the team win, whether it was killing penalties, shutting down the other team's best players, scoring ugly goals.
"The other thing is he played hurt all the time and he played at a high level of determination that gave others, who maybe didn't want to join the fracas, no choice but to join in."
The game capped a three-game swing through central Canada for Columbus that included a 3-1 loss in Toronto on Tuesday and a 3-2 shootout win in Ottawa on Thursday night.
"For most of this team, this experience of playing in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal is a real eye-opener," said Hitchcock. "To see the intensity of the coverage and the fans, where the buildings are full for the warmups alone."