Joseph Jean Gilles Tremblay
Born: December 17, 1938 (Montmorency, Quebec)
Died: November 26, 2014
Gilles Tremblay was a smooth, fast skater and a two-way forward who won four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960s.
As a player, Tremblay was overshadowed by his teammates, several of whom have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, though he became one of the best known figures in Quebec’s hockey history as a television analyst for 27 years with “La Soirée du Hockey.”
He won the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in 2002, which is a lifetime achievement award presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame to radio and television broadcasters. The Canadiens held a ceremony in which the blue blazer won by Tremblay during broadcasts was retired.
Tremblay was one of 12 children born to a family in Montmorency, a paper-mill town near Quebec City. On the advice of an older brother, young Gilles was told to play for the Quebec Victorias, a weak team in a new league, so he would get more ice time. It was during a tournament in Montreal that he scored all three goals as his team won by 3-0. In the stands at the Forum was Sam Pollock of the Montreal Canadiens.
“Sam was in charge of several teams at the time — junior, senior and Quebec professional league,” Tremblay told Ian MacDonald of the Montreal Gazette in 2004. “He told me he wanted me to play for him. In the next week, I played with four different teams — Sam’s three teams and my own. I’d played in four different leagues.
“Sam asked me to play with the Junior Canadiens. He arranged for me to change schools. I was a member of the Canadiens organization for the next 41 years as a player and then a broadcaster.”
Tremblay spent three seasons with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens junior team, emerging as a top goal scorer. He won a Memorial Cup championship when his club defeated the visiting Regina Pats in six games in 1958. Tremblay scored 14 goals and added 20 assists in 37 career Memorial Cup playoff games.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound left winger made his NHL debut with the Canadiens in 1960-61, scoring seven goals in 45 games. He faced off against the Detroit Red Wings in his first game and his assignment throughout his career was to cover Gordie Howe.
Tremblay emerged as a scorer in his sophomore campaign with 32 goals. He scored 25, 22, 9 and 27 goals in subsequent seasons. (On Dec. 17, 1964, he suffered a season-ending broken leg when checked into the boards by Ron Ellis of the Toronto Maple Leafs.) For many seasons, he played on a line with Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer.
On Dec. 28, 1967, Tremblay scored the only hat-trick of his career, adding an assist as the Canadiens whipped the visiting Minnesota North Stars, 6-2. He was playing on a line with Beliveau and Claude Provost.
Tremblay retired as a player midway through the 1968-69 season, complaining of exhaustion and asthma, which he attributed to an influenza inoculation he had received some years earlier. At one point, he was taking 16 anti-biotic pills daily to combat the respiratory infection. “A condition like mine … the worst thing is to play in a hockey arena,” he said. “The game is tough enough to play when you’re healthy.” The Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup that May and, though he missed the playoffs, Tremblay had his name engraved on the trophy for the fourth time in five seasons.
In 509 games with the Canadiens, Tremblay scored 168 goals with 162 assists. He had nine goals and 14 assists in 48 playoff games.
In the broadcast booth, he worked alongside the legendary Rene Lecavalier, as well as with Lionel Duval, Richard Garneau, Calude Quenneville and René Pothier. His final assignment for Radio-Canada was to work as an analyst at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.