Rangy defenseman Serge Savard played 17 seasons in the NHL, 15 (his first season consisted of two games) with his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens, and two with the Winnipeg Jets, who lured him out of retirement after he'd left Montreal following the 1980-81 season.
A member of the Canadiens "Big Three" defensive stars along with Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson, Savard was known as "the Senator" by his teammates for his involvement in activities - mostly in politics - outside the game. In the mid-1980s, he served as general manager of the Habs.
But hockey had been the first thing on Savard's mind since his boyhood in Montreal. When he was 15, a scout noticed him playing a school league game and put him on the team's list of promising reserves. Savard progressed quickly and within a few seasons was captain of the Junior Canadiens. Unlike many prospects of the day, Savard wanted to complete high school. But the Habs signed him to a contract and sent him to Houston to play for the Apollos of the Central Hockey League in 1966. He won the rookie of the year award that season with Houston and the following year was called up by the Habs. By the 1968-69 season, only his second full one in the NHL, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Habs won the Cup in a four-game sweep over the Blues in the finals.
Although Savard was overshadowed by his better-known teammates, he did win another significant award during his years as a player. In 1979 the NHL presented him with the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
Savard almost didn't make it much further in NHL play, however. In a game during the 1970-71 season against the Rangers, he skated after New York's Rod Gilbert, trying to stop a breakaway.
Savard dove for the puck and felt his left leg crumble underneath him. The result was five separate fractures and three operations that took him out of the game for three months.
After a complete recovery, Savard continued to have problems with the leg and further injuries. In the 1971-72 season, he suffered a new fracture to the same leg after being hit. In 1973 he injured his ankle severely as he tried to help firefighters break down a door during a fire at the Canadiens' hotel in St. Louis.
But the injuries failed to stop Savard. Upon his return to the game, he started to blend his patient, hard-working style with the hard-charging, rushing play of Lapointe and Robinson, the skillful scoring of Guy Lafleur and the outstanding play in the net of Ken Dryden. The result was another Cup for the Habs in 1976, when they swept the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers in four straight games, a victory that many relieved fans hailed as a triumph of skilled play over the fight-filled game of the Broad Street Bullies.
Internationally, Savard's attitude was rewarded by his being named to the Canadian team for the 1972 Summit Series. He appeared in five of the eight games, and - as Savard liked to remind people - Canada won four of those games and tied the other.
By 1981 Savard had had enough of being knocked around in the NHL. He had, after all, played on eight Stanley Cup-winning teams with Montreal and had seen more doctors and surgeons than he cared to remember. His retirement didn't last long, though. He was lured out of inactivity by the Winnipeg Jets, who wanted him for his experience on a young but improving team.
Savard lasted two seasons in his comeback with Winnipeg before the Canadiens came calling again. They bought him out of the final year of his contract with the Jets so he could return to Montreal as the team's managing director. Savard, who had been active in the business world during his last days as a player and during his retirement, inspired the confidence of the Habs players and management.
Savard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.