Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Habs fan’s foiled Stanley Cup theft

image Kenneth Kilander was probably the super-Habs fan of his time.

Throughout the season, during the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s, he would follow the team from city to city. Quite often he would travel on the same trains as the Canadiens and soon became a familiar face amongst the players and media alike.

Working as a life guard in Atlantic City during the summer, Kilander funded his travels playing piano at the team hotel or a nearby bar. Most of the time he would boldly sport his Canadiens jacket.

In 1961, the Canadiens had their streak of five consecutive Stanley Cups snapped in the semi-finals by the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Montreal came back to win the 1961-62 regular season and were 11-5 odds to win back Lord Stanley’s mug.

They squared off with the Blackhawks in a semi-final rematch, winning the first two games at the Forum.

With the series back in Chicago for Game 3, the 25-year-old Kilander found himself in the lobby of Chicago’s LaSalle Hotel chatting with some reporters.

One bold scribe stated that he felt Chicago would still take the series. A frustrated Kilander told him, “The Cup belongs in Montreal, nowhere else.”

Knowing the Cup would be on display that night in the lobby of Chicago Stadium, he jokingly challenged, “What would you fellows do if I went and got the Cup and brought it here to give to the Canadiens?”

Being April Fools Day, the reporters got a kick out of the suggestion. “I’ll take your picture and put your name in the paper,” one reporter told him. “What an uproar that would cause here in Chicago,” stated another.

There was no friendly wager or even a handshake recorded, and the parties made their separate ways.

Kilander made his way to the Stadium, stopping to look at the Cup on display in a glass case. He observed the tiny lock on the case and that with little effort it could easily be opened.

He made his way to his seat to enjoy the game. He would be disappointed as the Blackhawks were up by three goals after two periods en route to a 4-1 victory.

After Chicago potted their fourth goal, and before Montreal scored their lone goal, Kilander left his seat and went back to the lobby. He walked back over to where the Cup was to take another look.

This would be a time when he likely should have listened to his inner voice of reason, or perhaps a few drinks influenced what happened next. With just a few people in the vicinity, he pressed his hand onto the glass door. The lock easily snapped open.

“I couldn’t resist reaching in and taking the Cup in my arms,” he said. “Who knew when I’d ever see it again. The Cup meant everything to me.”

He made a dash for the doorway, when 16-year-old usher Roy Perrell stopped him and asked what he was doing. “I’m taking the Cup back to Montreal where it belongs,” Kilander cried.

Sneaking away with a near four foot, 25 pound trophy is not always easy, let alone running with one. His escape was thwarted by the screams of the usher and the arrival of police officer Sgt. Jerry Kortapassi. When Kilander gave his reason to the officer, he reportedly responded by saying, “Only if you’re Rocket Richard and I’m the tooth fairy.”

The official police report, filed by Lt. John Sullivan, also has it that Kilander explained to Perell and Kortapassi that it was merely part of a $400 wager with the reporters and offered them $250 to help it out.

That didn’t go over well and the next morning he was in a Chicago Municipal courtroom. With the Cup returned to it’s rightful place in the Stadium, the Blackhawks elected not to press charges. At the time the Stanley Cup was valued at $8000.

Fortunatley for Kilander, no bribery charges were laid either and Judge Hyam Feldman fined him $10 and costs for disorderly conduct. given. The judge had Kilander promise the court that he would not try to make off with the Stanley Cup again.

“He said to me, ‘You can go back to the Stadium tomorrow night and cheer all you want for your Canadiens’”, Kilander said. “'But the Cup stays here unless the Blackhawks lose which I doubt very much they will.’”

The reporters did make good on their promises of that April 1 afternoon, as the story graced sports pages across North America and is now part of the quirks of Stanley Cup lore.

Unfortunately ,the judge would be right too. the Blackhawks would win the next three games to eliminate the Canadiens before losing in the Cup final to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Chicago has yet to win another Cup.

Kilander would continue following the Habs on the road for years to come. With his reputation preceding him though, New York Rangers Muzz Patrick barred him from entering Madison Square Garden at the start of the 1962-63 season.

“The Stanley Cup is a sacred thing,” Patrick said.

Patrick’s statement may have been a typical case of the pot calling the kettle black. Legend has it that both he and his brother Lester had scratched their names on the Cup in 1925, while it sat in their basement, after their father’s Victoria Cougars had won it. Fifteen years later rumours ran rampant that the brothers and/or some their Rangers teammates had urinated in the Cup after their 1940 victory.

After pleadings from Kilander, Patrick had a change of heart. “I relented, but I told him he couldn’t wear his Montreal jacket. I’ll say this for him, He’s a hell of a piano player.”

Looking back on it later in life, Kilander knew he had done wrong. “I know what I did wasn’t right, but I wanted the Canadiens to win so badly,” he said. “I collected enough clippings from that incident to fill a scrapbook.”

Resources for this article


The Associated Press - April 2, 1962/April 3, 1962/April 4, 1962

Kortapassi quotation:  The Toledo Blade May 8, 1989


Mitchell Szczepanczyk - The Stanley Cup: A history of abuse and neglect


Coleman, Charles - The Trail of the Stanley Cup Volume 3 1947-67

McFarlane, Brian - True Hockey Stories: The Habs

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