Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
The legend of the Flying Frenchmen
It’s a story that could very well be a legend. At the turn of the century, a Cornwall resident, working countless hours at the local Standard newspaper printing plant, becomes one of the world’s first hockey superstars. Yet the story of Édouard “Newsy” Lalonde isn’t a made up fantasy. It actually happened.
Curious Cornwall citizens gathered at the Civic Complex on July 21, to commemorate the man known as one of the Flying Frenchmen. There, amongst sports lovers, was Montreal Canadiens great Guy Lafleur, along with several different dignitaries.
“When I was ten years old, we heard of his name, my friends and I,” explained Lafleur. “We looked up to him. That made us dream of playing in the NHL.”
The Ontario Heritage Trust, in partnership with the City of Cornwall and the Cornwall Sports Hall of Fame, unveiled a provincial plaque commemorating The Flying Frenchmen, a group of three original francophone players from the Montreal Canadiens.
“Professional hockey was in its infancy in the autumn of 1909, when the promoters behind the National Hockey Association (NHA), forerunner of the National Hockey League (NHL), created the Montreal Canadiens team to attract French-Canadian spectators,” reads the plaque.
Belleville-born Jean-Baptiste Laviolette was hired as the playing-manager and captain. Laviolette signed Cornwall’s Lalonde to play forward and recruited his friend Didier Pitre. The trio of francophone players formed the nucleus of the roster for several seasons. They played with such speed and finesse that sportswriters began calling them the Flying Frenchmen.
“The Flying Frenchmen are a fine example of the excellence, dedication and teamwork that characterize Ontario’s sport heritage,” exclaimed the Chair of the Ontario Heritage Trust, Professor Thomas H.B Symons.
During the ceremony, Member of Parliament (MP) Guy Lauzon recalled how the Montreal Canadiens and Lalonde played a great part in his childhood. “Newsy means a lot to me,” said the politician. “It means a lot for me to be here, because, as a child, my dream was not only to play for the Montreal Canadiens, but also to receive a Canadiens’ shirt at Christmas!”
The makings of a champion
Although he was born and grew up in Cornwall, Lalonde travelled to the four corners of the country during his professional athlete career. He began his hockey career at the age of 16, playing for the Cornwall Rovers, and in the 1904, he played with the Cornwall Victorias of the Federal Amateur Hockey League (FAHL).
Lalonde next moved to Woodstock, in southwestern Ontario, where his outstanding play at center caught the attention of several scouts. Unexpected to Newsy, an offer came from the American Sault Ste. Marie franchise in the International Hockey League, the first professional circuit in North America. The team across the river in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, tried to obtain his services, but the Canadian Soo matched the American offer and kept the young star in town.
In 1907, Lalonde joined the Toronto club of the newly formed Ontario Professional Hockey League. This was where he first gained wide attention by winning the scoring race with 29 goals in only nine matches. The Toronto squad captured the inaugural OPHL crown that year, but lost out to the Montreal Wanderers in the Stanley Cup challenge.
Lalonde played a second year in Toronto before moving closer to his roots to suit up for the newly formed Montreal Canadiens National Hockey Association franchise in 1910. Halfway through the season, he was traded to the Renfrew Millionaires, but this only enhanced his performance. On March 11, 1910, he scored nine goals in one game, an NHA record that was never beaten and only equaled by Tommy Smith. He also won the league’s inaugural scoring title.
In 1911-12, Lalonde headed west to play with the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association where he led the league with 27 goals. The next year he returned to the Canadiens and won another NHA scoring championship. His offensive gifts were a significant factor behind the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 1915-16.
Lalonde remained with the Canadiens when the club joined the NHL in 1917-18. His scoring continued, and he led all NHL scorers in 1918-19 and 1920-21. On January 19, 1920, he scored six goals in one game.
Everything changed for the talented player in 1910. Lalonde joined the Montreal Canadiens for their first season and scored the first-ever goal for the team.
He helped the Montreal Canadiens win their first Stanley Cup in 1916. He would score in each of the first six NHL games, earning a share of an NHL record with Cy Denney and Joe Malone, to establish a record that would go unmatched for nearly 90 years.
Although he was one of the best in the hockey business, Lalonde’s prowesses weren’t limited to ice hockey. During the off season, he spent his summers playing lacrosse, in which he showed an equal amount of aptitude and was named "athlete of the half century" for the sport.
He started playing in 1905 as a goaltender, but moved to the attack position in 1910, becoming the sport's greatest star. He would break the scoring record for his Montreal team in 1910 with 31 goals. Lalonde scored an incredible 66 goals for the Montreal Nationals in 1914. He was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1965.
In addition to the plaque honoring him in the Civic Complex, his painted face proudly looks down on whoever makes their way near the city’s arena. As such, his memory lives on, still inspiring the next great hockey players.