The oldest surviving Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup winner will be thinking about his old club tonight from his condo on Barrie’s waterfront.
But Paul Masnick won’t be watching.
“I don’t own a TV,” the 90-year-old tells BarrieToday. “I can’t remember when I last watched a game. It has been years.”
Masnick has called Barrie home for almost a decade, living not far from his former teammate Paul Meger, until Meger's death in 2019.
By the time Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final begins tonight shortly after 8 p.m. in Tampa Bay, Masnick will likely be thinking about tucking in for the night. Not into a soft, cushy bed but on the floor of his second bedroom – a flat sleeping bag-like setup that has the consistency of a yoga mat.
“It is better for your health, your circulation,” he says.
Born a hardscrabble Prairie boy during the Depression, who lost his mother when you were six and soon the family farm, making do with what you have, even if you can afford much more, never leaves you.
Today will be like any other day: checking the newspaper on the stock market and a walk. Background music plays softly in his well-appointed unit, where his favourite painting hangs, an abstract sketch of a beautiful woman going about her business in her own way. Not unlike Masnick has done during his remarkable life.
The routine is powered by living well, being disciplined, and sticking to a strict diet of minimal food but lots of exercise.
“Nothing foreign gets into my body,” says Masnick.
“Except beer?” a visitor asks.
“Except beer,” Masnick responds with a smile of the single can of Creemore Springs he has most days.
On a recent visit, those empty Creemore cans were waiting by the door with a few other things. He sets him there for his girlfriend, who visits about once a week from the Toronto area. His partner helps him connect the dots of his life, like returning empties, especially since he stopped driving a year ago.
He adores her and one suspects the feeling is mutual based on the lovely living room photo of the two of them together beside a Christmas tree.
For now, Masnick is talking about the other loves in his life, which includes his memories of playing for the Habs and an NHL career that stretched several years and almost 300 regular-season and playoff games.
He played a similar stretch in the American and old Western leagues, where he won a title for the Winnipeg Warriors. Before that, he was a hotshot junior for the Regina Pats in the late 1940s, once scoring the clinching goal to help them earn a berth in the 1950 Memorial Cup final.
He hung up the skates in the early 1960s. To the best of his knowledge – he’s not entirely sure – he hasn’t played since, even recreationally.
“Too much risk,” says Masnick.
That is not say that Masnick hasn’t taken plenty of them. Like refusing Frank Selke’s $300 offer to sign with the Habs one day in 1949 at the ornate Saskatchewan Hotel in Regina, a venue that is still a meeting spot for the province’s movers-and-shakers.
Masnick bet on himself that he could do better after one final season with the Pats. And it worked. He signed the following season for $2,500.
Masnick, who has the air of a kindly, gentleman from a different era from which he came, is careful to make the point that his tough approach back then, or his lack of real-time following now, doesn’t mean he lacks fond memories of the past, or good thoughts on the present.
“Of course, I want to see them win,” he says of the Canadiens' unexpected run to the Stanley Cup final.
Masnick last was in Montreal for a tennis tournament a long time ago. When he was there, he bumped into Henri Richard.
Masnick never been to the Bell Centre and can’t recall when he was last at the Montreal Forum before it met the wrecking ball, other than to say it was likely when he last played there.
The stories he tells would leave those with any sort of understanding of hockey’s history hanging on his every word.
To wit: “We were in Chicago and someone, I think it was Bert Olmstead, said to me, ‘You’re going the wrong way',” he says of his trade as the Habs were mingling about in the bowels of the old Chicago Stadium getting ready to play that night.
“That’s how I found out I got traded.”
Before that trade, he played for the Habs' 1952-53 Stanley Cup winner, a team that included Meger, who was two years Masnick’s senior. Since that time, Masnick has assumed the title as the Canadiens’ oldest Stanley Cup winner.
Two years before that Cup win, both Masnick and Meger were part of a Habs team that lost to the Maple Leafs on Bill Barilko’s famous overtime winner in Game 5 of the 1951 Stanley Cup final. That goal was immortalized in the Tragically Hip’s song Fifty Mission Cap.
Masnick’s memory of it is much more matter of fact.
“Dick Irvin was mad as hell when (Barilko) scored,” he remembers of the legendary Habs coach. “It was like a sweeping backhand” off a broken play.
Garbage goals scored often against the run of play ended important games even back then.
As for the memories of the Habs win, Masnick recalls the sheer joy and relief, as well as the party afterwards.
His teammates gathered for a dinner not far from the Forum and Masnick left after a feast and more than a few beers. He was staying in a rooming house with his teammates, a handful of whom, including legendary defenceman Doug Harvey, roused him from his sleep to keep the party going.
The time he had with his teammates remains near and dear to Masnick’s heart.
“We were in Boston one night after a game, and very thirsty,” he says with emphasis. “We went down to the train station that was near the (Boston) Garden and the waitress asked us what she could do for us.
“Doug Harvey gets us two bottles each… he drank down the first one, looked at her, then at me, and said, ‘The first one never even hit the sides (of my throat)'.”
Back then, NHL players dared not socialize, or even acknowledge, opponents during the season. But there was a special bond between the league’s Saskatchewan players, the leader of whom was Gordie Howe, who had inherited that mantle from Eddie Shore.
“Good times,” he says of getting together with Saskatchewan’s NHL contingent in the summer, not far from where he was born in the little hamlet of Wakaw and later, Regina, where his father moved him and his three siblings after their mother died.
Masnick cites Jean Beliveau as the best player of his era and his most gifted teammate, pointing out his involvement in winning almost 20 Stanley Cups as a player and later as a Montreal Canadiens executive.
He also had a soft spot for Ted Lindsay, whom he never played with but remembers fondly a conversation the two men had after Masnick managed to achieve a form of rudimentary free agency that allowed him to play one final NHL season with the Leafs in 1957-58.
“He told me he wished he could have done that,” says Masnick.
“I told Lindsay that I wished I had his ability.”