Sault Legends: Billy Coutu

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It’s hard to believe that someone could be banned from the NHL for life. It’s even harder to believe that such a person was from the Sault.

Yup! Banned for life!

Billy Coutu was one of the most feared men in the early years of the NHL. He was and is still known today for the longest suspension in NHL history.

Born in 1892, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound defenseman spent 10 years defending his teammates and what some have said went “to any means necessary.”

Coutu joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1916-17, their last year as part of the National Hockey Association (NHA). Montreal won the league title and earned the right to travel to the West coast to contend for the Stanley Cup against the Seattle Metropolitans. Seattle took the best-of-five series, becoming the first American team to claim the title of Stanley Cup champions.

The NHL started that next winter.. With Coutu on defense and his well-developed mean streak often coming to the forefront, Montreal finished the new league’s inaugural schedule in 1917-18 tied for the best record.

In 1918-19, the Canadiens finished second in the three-team NHL and defeated the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs, earning the right to play for the Stanley Cup against the Seattle Metropolitans. Five games into the series, with Coutu and three teammates hospitalized after falling victim to a global influenza epidemic that would take the life of Montreal player Joe Hall, the series was cancelled and the Cup was not awarded to anyone.

With Hall’s death, Coutu became the Canadiens’ enforcer, defending his fellow players at any moment. Loaned to the Hamilton Tigers for the 1920-21 season, Coutu played against his former Montreal mates with the same vigor.

Returning to Montreal at the beginning of 1921-22, Coutu once again began making life miserable for Habs’ opponents. “Not allowing himself to be limited by the rules of play, no tactic was too underhanded or brutal as Coutu made sure that his opponents worried about more than simply preventing the likes of Morenz, Joliat, and Boucher from scoring.”

In the spring of 1924, the Canadiens made their way back into contention for the Stanley Cup. With Georges Vezina, whom the famous golatending award was later named, in nets, and Coutu, fearcly defending on the blue line, Montreal was victorious. Sweeping both western contenders, the Vancouver Millionaires and Calgary Tigers, the Habs captured their second Stanley Cup Championship.

Coutu, who captained the team in 1925-26, saw his time with Montreal come to an end prior to the 1926-27 season, when he was traded to Boston. Exposing his fiery personality, Coutu got into an altercation during practice with teammate Eddie Shore shortly after his arrival. Medical intervention was required to reattach Shore’s ear from the battle.

The last game of the 1927 Finals was also Coutu’s last NHL appearance. He attacked an official and was the first player to be banished from the NHL for life. The ban was lifted after tempers cooled but Coutu never played another NHL game. He played four years in the minors and then went into coaching, directing the Providence Reds for two winters.

Billy Coutu passed away in 1977 on the eve of his 86th birthday.