Former Montreal Canadiens player Réjean Houle remembers his playing time and what the future holds
The Montreal Canadiens professional hockey team brought fame to some of the greatest names in hockey history and has been around since 1909. Réjean Houle saw his time shine in the 1970s and as a general manager in 1995 until 2000.
Houle is a former right wing of the Montreal Canadiens from 1969 to 1983. He was born in Rouyn-Noranda, located in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec. He started his hockey career playing with the Thetford Mines Junior team from 1966 to 1967, before moving to the Montreal Junior Canadiens the following year. He was the first overall draft pick in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Montreal Canadiens in 1969. During his active career, he helped bring five of the ten Stanley Cups home to Montreal. After his retirement, he returned to the team as General Manager and later as the President of the Canadiens Alumni Association.
Houle remembers growing up watching hockey with his father, dreaming of one day becoming what he was seeing on the television screen.
“I always dreamed of playing for the Canadiens. I was able to achieve my goal several years later by putting in the necessary effort, I made it,” said Houle.
While he admits he was not one of the big names of the team at the time, he is proud to have been surrounded by some of the greats such as Jean Béliveau, Guy Lafleur, and Bob Gainey.
“I was on the third line. I was working to help the team win, but I had a specific role. I didn’t score ‘Guy Lafleur’ goals,” said Houle.
Playing as a right wing, he contributed to the lineup by making the necessary passes to earn a victory, which makes his role just as important as center.
“There is an expression, ‘you have to know which chair is yours,’ so a player must know what he can give to the team. That doesn’t mean he’s not as recognized as Guy Lafleur, but inside the team, he plays an important role,” said Houle.
As a former General Manager, he saw how the game changed on the ice. In hockey changes are minimal since coaches have kept similar strategies on managing the game, according to Houle. He says the players now have more range on the ice.
“Before, you couldn’t get too far to the side of the red line because it was offside, whereas now you can get from the red line to the opponent’s other blue line, so the play is much faster, the puck circulates much more now than before,” said Houle.
Houle not only made passes to help the team win, he also scored 161 goals himself. In recent years, he noticed that the new style of hockey sticks give more feel and power to the puck.
“The ‘one timers’ at the time, didn’t exist. The sticks are different, they are lighter, they have a kind of spring in the stick so it speeds up the game. The puck comes at 100 miles an hour,” said Houle.
He remembers his time with the team as an honour. No matter how much time has passed in his career, he and his former teammates still stay in touch and remain connected as one big family.
“We keep this link there always. For us it’s very important because the years go by, but you have to remember the good times. Then in the most difficult moments, we stick together and we get through it,” said Houle.
He commemorated his teammate and friend Guy Lafleur, who passed away in 2022. To the fans, Lafleur was “Le Démon Blond,” but for Houle, “He was a star.”
After building that strong connection with the sport, Houle did not see himself leaving hockey overall. Houle played hockey for 14 years, and when the time came for him to retire, he knew his life would change once he left the team.
“The most important change is when you retire because you didn’t feel like it, I didn’t feel like retiring,” said Houle.
Since Houle was in the same era as Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, and Jean Béliveau, he had the honor of winning five Stanley Cups. He remembers the feeling of winning those cups as a privilege in his career.
“When you’ve tasted it once, you always want to win it, then when you play with good players, your chances are always there of winning it, so that’s kind of the period that I lived in. I was lucky. Timing is everything sometimes in life,” said Houle.
To Houle, hockey is more than just a sport. He has grown to appreciate it more as a spectator after he retired and seeing how many people come together and watch it.
“There is great satisfaction because the Canadiens is a team that is very involved in the community. People don’t realize that, but it’s very important because it unites a community,” said Houle.
When the Montreal Canadiens arrive, whether you’re French, English, Asian, Lebanese or Canadian, the team will always be a symbol to Montreal, according to Houle.
Houle had a huge support system of his teammates, who became his friends as the seasons went by. He continues to love their support and thanks them for helping him become the player he always knew he could be.
“To have the opportunity to play with members of the hall of fame, great players in the organization, it helps you when you’re younger to become better yourself because you are well surrounded,” said Houle.
“The most you can do is improve yourself when you have people around and helping you out, that’s what it was in my case. I was lucky that way.”
Houle owes everything to hockey, from helping raise his own family to focusing on his life after his professional career. He is still active with the Canadiens as the President of the Alumni Association, and he attends every home game surrounded by other former players and their families. Houle remembers hockey as a big part of his life, from when he was watching it on television with his father, to building a legacy with the team. Truly a full circle moment for a Rouyn-Noranda kid with a dream.