Tag Archives: Red Fisher

Former Gazette hockey columnist Red Fisher dies — here are some obituaries to read

Red Fisher died on Friday. The legendary writer (one of the few people I don’t hesitate to use that overused term for) covered the Montreal Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette from 1955 until he retired in 2012, covering 17 of the team’s 24 Stanley Cups and earning the admiration and respect of an entire industry.

He comes from another era of sports journalism, when a reporter could talk directly with the players outside of well-managed availabilities authorized by the PR department, when they could exchange information off the record, and players would even ask advice from an encyclopedia of hockey.

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(Some awesome pun involving the words “Red” or “Fisher”)

Updated June 20 with link to Ken Dryden’s story in the Globe and Mail.

The news hit pretty suddenly on Friday morning. In fact, I heard about it on CFCF’s noon newscast, having just woken up. Red Fisher, who has covered the Montreal Canadiens for more than half a century for the Montreal Star and The Gazette, has retired at the age of a billion and three (or, more accurately, 85).

There’s no farewell column, no big party. He’s not even giving interviews. Other media who wanted to report on the end of this long career had to settle for talking to some of Fisher’s friends and colleagues. Dave Stubbs, in particular, was busy talking to various media while preparing his own story on Fisher’s departure. It’s the only one I’m aware of that quotes Fisher directly speaking after his retirement was announced.

Fisher is a legend in more than just his hockey writing. He has a reputation as a friendly curmudgeon, who wouldn’t go after players unnecessarily but wouldn’t acknowledge anyone’s existence until they proved themselves worthy of it. The list of respected figures in Canadiens history who lauded Fisher speaks to the man’s reputation.

Even though I work at the same paper, I’ve never spoken to him in person. Sports writers in general spend little time in the office, and Fisher even less. We’ve conversed over the phone, but by “conversed” I mean he called to confirm that his postgame column had arrived by email and after a quick reply of “yeah, I got it” we hung up.

There are many stories of younger (and by that I mean under 60) colleagues at The Gazette that involve the elder sportsman uttering the words “who the f*** is …” – I don’t think I even reached that level. Though I remember the first time I saw him file a story that had my name in the address list. I imagined him typing my email in and wondering who the heck I was.

Everyone knew who Red Fisher was, though. For years, his reputation was such that there was a column devoted to him, the only column devoted to writing about another columnist. Of course, that column was Mike Boone’s Eeeee-mail, and it wasn’t so much writing about Fisher as it had some fun at the man’s expense (consistently referring to him as the Living Legend of Sports Journalism or LLSJ). But still, I can only wish for status like that someday.

Fisher’s refusal to give interviews is unusual in today’s hypermediatized world, but not so much for him. Fisher wasn’t the type to appear on radio or television regularly, chatting with the TSN hockey panel or giving his take once a week on CKGM’s morning show. Even though his reputation and wealth of knowledge about Canadiens history would make him a fantastic guest, he’s said no to such requests from those broadcasters and others who haven’t long ago given up trying to get him.

There are some who say Fisher retired 10 years too late, that his relevance had waned significantly in the past few years. There are points in favour of this argument. He wasn’t the scoop machine he used to be, and many of the big announcements come via RDS, TSN, La Presse or some of the younger front-line journalists who cover the Canadiens, if they beat the official announcement at all. Fisher stopped travelling with the Canadiens years ago – Pat Hickey does day-to-day team coverage. And the weekly Red Line page sometimes felt more like a roundup of hockey news reported elsewhere than anything original from Fisher.

But Fisher was still influential, and he could still write things that made a difference. In 2008, Fisher won a National Newspaper Award – the most prestigious Canadian award for this industry – for a column saying the Canadiens should not retire the jersey of Patrick Roy (they did anyway, of course, but Fisher’s column provoked a lot of discussion). It’s hard to argue someone has one foot in the grave when he’s winning an award many of his colleagues only dream of one day getting once in their careers.

It’s unclear if Fisher will continue to contribute occasional freelance pieces for The Gazette. He was the go-to guy for Canadiens-related obituaries, for example. But it is clear that the Saturday Red Line is history, and nobody should be expecting a regular column in its place.

He’s done.


See also

UPDATE: Mike Cohen says he moved this resolution at Côte St. Luc city council Monday evening:

Whereas Red Fisher is a longtime resident of Côte Saint-Luc.

Whereas Red Fisher has covered the Montreal sports scene for The Montreal Star and The Montreal Gazette, specifically the Canadiens for the past 56 years.

Whereas Red Fisher Fisher won the National Newspaper Award for sports writing in 1971 and 1991 and has been nominated for that award on two other occasions.

Whereas Red Fisher was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada in 1999.

Whereas Red Fisher is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Whereas Red Fisher last week announced his retirement.

It was




THAT Council wish Red Fisher the very best in his retirement and that a formal letter of good wishes be sent to him signed by the mayor and council.

“I will now come back to council with some recommendations as to how we can further honour Red Fisher,” he says.

Young writers on old writers

Alan Hustak

Alan Hustak. He doesn't always wear a top hat.

Two articles were posted on a bulletin board at work recently, one from each of Concordia’s two student newspapers, and both profiling old people veteran Gazette journalists.

The Link talks to Alan Hustak, who until March was a reporter for the city section whose specialty was obituaries. The article says he “retired”, though the true nature of Hustak’s sudden departure from the newspaper remains a mystery even to his colleagues.

The article discusses the state of newspaper obituaries today, which are sadly lacking, at least in quantity. Most newspapers block off whole pages for paid obituaries, and the space that’s left unfilled by paid notices is given to editorial to fill with narrative obituaries. But because there is more space available than fascinating obituaries to fill it – even in this world of super-tight editorial space – newspapers tend to scrape the bottom of the barrel, taking obits from the New York Times, Washington Post or Los Angeles Times about obscure scientists and artists whose claims to fame are arguable at best.

Since leaving The Gazette, Hustak has been writing for The Métropolitain (you can read his obituary for Len Dobbin) as well as putting together obits for the Globe and Mail (like this one for former VIA Rail chairman Lawrence Hannigan).

Generations apart

Next to the Link article on Hustak was this one from The Concordian, about Red Fisher. Little you don’t already know about Fisher from other writings on the topic, though he talks a bit about how players don’t make good quotes anymore (those that do are quickly punished for it) and how the media is too concerned with sports stars’ personal lives (one can imagine Fisher’s thoughts on the whole Tiger Woods saga).

He also says younger journalists should get off his lawn be careful about too much reliance on the Internet, and all the false information spread that way (by the way, did you hear about the latest rumour with Carey Price, Maxim Lapierre and Vincent Lecavalier?).

The most interesting part of the article, to me, is a mistake in it, that unintentionally explains so well the generational gap in play here:

The first woman he ever saw in a team’s dressing room was The New York Times’ first female sports reporter, Robin Herman, in the 1970’s. After an All-Star game at the Pepsi Forum that night, Fisher recalled, Herman and another female journalist from a French radio station boldly decided they were going down to the team’s dressing room.

I’m pretty sure Red Fisher has never seen an All-Star game from the Pepsi Forum.

Red Fisher’s almost-100 years

Red Fisher

Red Fisher

Lost in all the hoopla of the Habs centennial is a really long piece by Red Fisher (it was spread out over three pages) about his career covering the Canadiens and all the great moments of the second half of its first century.

I point to it particularly because Fisher goes into a bit of detail in how he got started in the news business, before he even started covering the Canadiens:

A man named Hugh E. McCormick helped make the dream a reality.

I was a first-year student at Sir George Williams College, The Georgian’s one-person sports staff, when McCormick, the owner of the suburban N.D.G. Monitor, Westmount Examiner and Verdun Guardian, sent out a call for college students to report on the sports activities at their schools. A phone call to his office told him I was interested.

“You’ve got the job,” McCormick said immediately.

“How much do you pay?” he was asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

“I’ll take it,” I replied.

It goes from there to an adorable story about him writing a story about a junior football game for the Standard and having it tossed in the garbage by an editor.

But what gets me is that Fisher worked for free, and later took a significant pay cut, just so he could follow his dream of reporting on the Canadiens early in his career.

Half a century later, not much has changed. Plenty of young journalists would make a similar choice now, willing to sign their souls to the devil to get a press pass into the Canadiens dressing room.

More insight into Fisher’s career can be gleaned from this Dave Stubbs piece, first published in April 2006, when the Habs honoured his 50 seasons covering the team.

Speaking of the Canadiens centennial, Mike Boone’s weekly Eeee-mail makes note of the team’s mastery of marketing (to the point where we’re all getting sick of it). Jack Todd echoes that, noting the contrast between the Habs’ history and its present (and perhaps suggesting a link between the non-stop commemorations and the bad performance of the team).

By the way, I used to find it funny that Boone’s column, which appears opposite Red Fisher’s Red Line page every Saturday, was essentially a column about Fisher himself. Only Boone could pull off writing a column about another columnist and making it worth reading. Sadly, even Boone has reached his limit. Last week he officially retired the Living Legend of Sports Journalism schtick after 10 years.

A moment of silence for the passing of one of The Gazette’s silliest running gags.

National Newspaper Award winners (with links)

Just like last year, The Globe and Mail came out with the longest penis at the National Newspaper Awards gala Friday night in Montreal. Canada’s national newspaper won six awards out of 13 nominations, followed by the Toronto Star (4) and La Presse and the Hamilton Spectator at two each. Seven other papers (including The Gazette) and Canadian Press each picked up a single award.

The Gazette won in the sports category for a column by Red Fisher on the retirement of Patrick Roy’s No. 33 jersey, specifically his unpopular opinion that it shouldn’t be retired. It was also nominated for a short feature by city hall reporter Linda Gyulai on traffic cones.

La Presse’s André Pratte won again in the editorials category, and Julien Chung and Philippe Tardif won in the presentation category, where the paper was nominated twice. La Presse had eight nominations total.

So let the bragging begin:

The Winnipeg Free Press was the only newspaper with multiple nominations (two) to be shut out of the winners category. Their story makes it clear they were hoping for something more.

And the winners are…

Since the National Newspaper Award website list of winners doesn’t include links, I’ve copied my list below from my post about the nominations. Winners are listed first and bolded.

Winners in the cartooning and photography categories are posted on the NNA website.

Multimedia feature

News feature photography

Beat reporting

  • Michelle Lang, Calgary Herald: health and medicine
  • Rob Shaw, Victoria Times-Colonist: policing issues (see “More on this story”)
  • Jane Sims, London Free Press: justice

Explanatory work


  • Steve Rennie, Canadian Press (listeriosis)
  • Linda Diebel, Toronto Star (insider stories)
  • Jeffrey Simpson & Brian Laghi, Globe and Mail (Prime Minister Stephen Harper)

Short features

Local reporting

  • Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer: Ontario Home Owner Employee Relocation plan
  • Gordon Hoekstra, Prince George Citizen: forestry industry in B.C.
  • North Bay Nugget: E-coli outbreak


  • Julien Chung, Philippe Tardif, La Presse
  • France Dupont, La Presse
  • Catherine Farley & Sharis Shahmiryan, Toronto Star

Special project

Sports photography

  • Derek Ruttan, London Free Press: Football fumble (second photo)
  • Tony Bock, Toronto Star
  • J. T. McVeigh, Barrie Examiner




Arts and entertainment


Feature photography

International reporting


Editorial cartooning

Long feature

News photography

Breaking news

Two Gazette legends exposed

In the video above, editorial cartoonist Terry Mosher (Aislin) goes behind the scenes as he draws five cartoons of the federal party leaders as sports-themed bobbleheads (you can see the cartoons on the Viewpoints page).

Meanwhile, CBC interviews Red Fisher, who has been covering the Canadiens since the dawn of time.

One day I hope to be able to meet them, and be referred to as something beyond “that kid over there.” But that’s years away.

Pundits rally behind Roy jersey retirement

Patrick Roy jersey

With the whole Patrick Roy scandal still fresh in everyone’s mind, a new debate has been sparked by The Gazette’s Red Fisher: Should the Canadiens retire his No. 33 jersey, as they’re expected to do next year?

Red says they shouldn’t:

Roy abdicated his rights to that honour with his capitulation to irrationalism on Dec. 2, 1995, when a stunned Forum crowd saw him allow nine goals on 26 shots in an 11-1 meltdown to the Detroit Red Wings. It was only then that he was taken out of the game by coach Mario Tremblay.

That move sparked lots of reaction in the newspaper punditosphere, as columnists left and right start debating the same topic.

I was going to put together a roundup of their positions, but I quickly realized that almost all of them are in favour of retiring the jersey. (Though some, like Réjean Tremblay — who went on vacation during all this but isn’t standing behind Roy — haven’t yet weighed in)

It’s not that they’re giving knee-jerk reactions to this. Most of them give solid, reasonable arguments, showing they seriously considered their positions first.

The arguments against retiring the jersey (by Fisher and others) are as follows:

  • Roy is a hothead off the ice, getting into disgusting brawls, and is not fit to share an honour with Jean Béliveau and other such legends
  • Roy turned his back on the Canadiens in 1995, showing he puts himself above the team
  • Roy is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame, which honours excellence in hockey, but retiring a jersey is an honour above that, that shouldn’t be given out to someone just because he was a good goaltender

The arguments for:

  • Roy is being honoured for his contributions on the ice, not in a bar or as a minor-league coach
  • We don’t revoke such honours just because someone got into a couple of drunken fights (and really, was Maurice Richard the epitome of gentlemanliness off the ice?)
  • It’s not like Roy killed anyone here
  • That whole abandoning-the-Habs thing was all Mario Tremblay’s fault
  • It’s already a foregone conclusion — he’s just too big to not have his jersey retired

It’s a tough decision that the Canadiens management will have to make this summer (hopefully while chugging champagne out of the Stanley Cup). But other columnists have already said they think it should happen.

Here’s what they have to say:

Réjean Tremblay (La Presse):

Cependant, je pense que le Canadien peut encore retirer le chandail 33 de Casseau sans insulter ni les anciens ni les partisans de l’équipe. Patrick Roy a été le meilleur gardien de but de l’histoire. Il a gagné la Coupe Stanley deux fois à Montréal.

Il n’a pas été parfait. Mais va-t-on me faire accroire que Doug Harvey était parfait ? Et Serge Savard ? Et Guy Lafleur ?

Oui, Roy a manqué de jugement, mais il se donne corps et âme à ses Remparts. S’il passait ses hivers en Floride en jouant au golf et en comptant ses millions, il serait un meilleur citoyen ?

Patrick Lagacé (La Presse):

Oui, Patrick Roy a fait plusieurs conneries, ces dernières années. Oui, c’est un type arrogant et désagréable. Mais il n’a tué ni violé personne. Le retrait d’un chandail de joueur de hockey est relié à ses exploits sur la glace. Il n’y a pas de points bonis pour le travail auprès des démunis, des malades et des exploités quand on décide de lui conférer cet honneur. Inversement, on ne devrait pas prendre en compte le fait que le gars est déplaisant dans ses relations avec les autres avant d’accrocher le maillot sur un cintre qui sera accroché au plafond de l’aréna.

Pierre Durocher (Journal de Montréal):

Ça ne change rien. On retire un chandail pour ses exploits sur la patinoire et non son comportement en dehors. Patrick est le meilleur gardien de tous les temps avec Martin Brodeur.

Jacques Demers (ex-coach):

Certains partisans ne se gênent pas pour prétendre qu’ils vont huer Roy lorsque son numéro 33 sera hissé dans les hauteurs du Centre Bell.

Mais, en général, je crois que les amateurs vont se souvenir de sa carrière phénoménale.

Stéphane Laporte (La Presse):

Si on retire son chandail tricolore, c’est pour ce qu’il a fait avec le tricolore. Point à la ligne. Et Roy a fait beaucoup.

Yvon Pedneault (RDS):

Patrick Roy a été un gardien qui a permis au Canadien de gagner deux coupes Stanley. Il est, jusqu’à nouvel ordre, le meilleur gardien de l’histoire du hockey. Son leadership, bien qu’exercé de façon pour le moins particulière, mena son équipe vers des objectifs parfois impensables.

Ce qu’on doit retenir avant tout c’est que l’an prochain selon le scénario envisagé par la haute direction du Canadien, on doit retirer le chandail d’un athlète… et non le chandail d’un entraîneur qui roule sa bosse dans la Ligue de hockey junior majeur du Québec.

Stu Cowan (The Gazette):

There still seem to be a lot of sports fans who expect something more from the players they cheer for. They seem to think that just because someone can dunk a basketball, hit a baseball or stop a hockey puck that they should also be a pillar of society.

When they hand out the Academy Awards, only acting ability is taken into account – not what Hollywood’s stars do when they’re not being filmed. Why shouldn’t it be the same way with sports?

Coming down on Red’s side? So far, only fellow Gazette columnist Jack Todd:

I think it was Maxim Lapierre who said last week that it’s all about the numbers and that nothing else should matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When it comes to this particular honour, it’s about the numbers and everything else.

The numbers say Roy belongs in this company. Everything else says he does not.

Non-pundits, meanwhile, are staying on the fence.

Jean Béliveau:

Honnêtement, je ne sais pas ce que je ferais. Est-ce qu’il faut séparer les exploits sur la glace de la vie courante? Faudrait-il attendre avant de retirer son chandail? Ce sont certainement des questions que le comité devra se poser.

Guy Carbonneau:

The Montreal Canadiens have been here for 100 years and they’ve made a lot of good decisions over the years. I’m sure they’ll sit down and talk about it and make the right decision on this.