Serge Savard will be the 11th player to have his number retired by the Montreal Canadiens, an honour that comes 20 years after his induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame. "It's going to be with pride that I accept that honour," Savard said Thursday. "I'm very humbled about it. It's not something that you win, it's something that they give you. I'm just really thrilled about it."
Savard won eight Stanley Cups in 15 seasons with Montreal from 1967-68 to 1980-81, taking the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1969. He had 439 points (106-333) in 1,040 regular-season games in a career extended by two seasons in Winnipeg.
Despite two horrific knee injuries suffered early in his career, he was a complete player and a great leader on the powerhouse Habs teams that dominated the 1970s.
"Serge was probably one of the most underrated players I ever had play for me on any of my teams," Scotty Bowman said Thursday.
Consider where that statement is coming from, hockey's all-time winningest coach who had superstars with him in Montreal, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
"Serge played with Larry Robinson (on the '70s Habs) and I think that was probably the best tandem I ever saw in my history," said Bowman.
"I don't hardly ever remember Serge getting caught up the ice."
The 60-year-old Savard, a Montreal native, had more modest goals when he began his career with the Habs in 1967. His number going up to the rafters wasn't one of them.
"Your goal when you're a kid is to make the National Hockey League. Your second goal after is to win the Stanley Cup," said Savard. "To be recognized in the Hockey Hall of Fame (1986) is a great honour. Having your number retired? That's something that's never even in your dreams as an athlete."
As he ponders what Saturday will feel like, he's also thinking about who helped him get there.
"I'm thinking about all my teammates," said Savard. "Hockey is a team sport and there's so many players that I played with that will never be recognized."
Savard's goalie from those dynasty Montreal teams of the '70s will soon join him in the rafters. Ken Dryden's No. 29 will go up on Jan. 29 before a game against the Ottawa Senators.
Already retired are No. 1 for Jacques Plante, No. 2 for Doug Harvey, No. 4 for Jean Beliveau, No. 5 for Bernard (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, No. 7 for Howie Morenz, No. 9 for Maurice (Rocket) Richard, No. 10 for Guy Lafleur, No. 12 for Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer and No. 16 for Henri Richard.
Savard will have his number alongside players he grew up idolizing.
"When I was a kid I remember listening to games on the radio when Rocket Richard played," said Savard. "And then Jean Beliveau, I remember also listening on the radio when he scored his first three goals in the National Hockey League and I ended up playing with him (for four seasons).
"It's something that even if you dream of it at that time you don't even think it's feasible. I count myself as a very lucky man."
He had a second go-around with the Canadiens as GM from 1983 to 1995, building the Stanley Cup teams of '86 and '93.
"That was another career and I'm very proud of it," said Savard.
His departure in '95 was somewhat bitter and he's rarely been seen at the Bell Centre over the last decade although he's long since made up with the organization.
Today, he's a successful businessman, a partner in the real estate firm Thibault, Messier, Savard & Associates since 1993. But the business mind started within Savard way before then.
"I always loved real estate," Savard. "I was an owner of an apartment building when I was 25 years old. I was active all the time as a player (in real estate). I kept busy every summer all the time."
He earned his nickname "The Senator" for his active interest in politics over the years.
The Canadiens retired the numbers of Geoffrion, Cournoyer and Moore last season. Potential candidates in coming years include Robinson, Patrick Roy or Bob Gainey.
If Savard had his way, the rest of The Big Three, Robinson and Guy Lapointe, would all get the honour.
"I think they deserve it," Savard said of his fellow '70s defence stars. "It's not for me to decide but I think they contributed to the team as much as I did."