50 Years Ago in Hockey: The Coaches – Toe Blake

He’s back. After guiding the Montreal Canadiens to their sixth Stanley Cup under his tutelage last spring, the club’s first since 1960, rumours were rampant over the summer that coach Hector (Toe) Blake would not be returning behind the bench for the 1965-66 season.

“He’ll go out on top,” they said.

“He’s had enough, he’s burnt out,” others opined.

The man himself added fuel to the fire by playing coy with those inquiring about his future. Maybe it was because Toe enjoys the back-and-forth games scribes like to play, maybe it’s because he just didn’t know. Whatever reason, Blake took his time before announcing he would indeed come back for another season behind the bench in Montreal. He returns to a post he has held since June 8, 1955.

Northern Ontario Roots

Toe Blake was born on August 21, 1912 in Victoria Mines, Ontario (near Saulte Ste Marie). He began a storied playing career that most believe will land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame playing minor hockey in the town of Coniston, near Sudbury. He played his junior hockey, starting in 1929, in the Nickel Belt Hockey League with the Cochrane Dunlops.

After impressing folks in the Northern Ontario mining communities, Blake moved south in 1932-33 at age 20 to play for the OHA Senior A Hamilton Tigers. He spent three seasons with the Tigers as a high-scoring left winger, and caught the eye of the Montreal Maroons, who signed him as a free agent in February of 1935.

Toe Blake with the Hamilton Tigers. (HHOF)
Toe Blake with the Hamilton Tigers. (HHOF)

Toe didn’t set the world on fire with the Maroons, failing to register a point in his eight-game appearance at the end of the 1934-35 season. The Maroons didn’t dress him for any of their Stanley Cup playoff games, but the team won the Stanley Cup and he had his name engraved on the trophy along with the rest of the Maroons.

Trade to Habs His Big Break

Blake couldn’t make the Maroons the next fall and began the season with the Providence Reds of the Canadian-American Hockey League. After scoring 23 points in 33 games with Providence, the Maroons traded Blake to the Montreal Canadiens just shy of a year after signing him. He went to the Canadiens with Bill Miller and Ken Gravel for goalie Lorne Chabot in what turned out to be one of the best trades the Canadiens ever made It was also the big break in Blake’s career.

Toe Blake in his early days with Canadiens.
Toe Blake in his early days with Canadiens.

In his first full season with Canadiens, Blake scored a modest 10 goals and 12 assists, but showed flashes of the brilliance that was yet to come. Within two years, he would lead the NHL in scoring, netting 24 goals and 23 assists in the 1938-39 season. He was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

The “Punch Line”

In 1943, Canadiens coach Dick Irvin had an idea. He put the veteran left-winger Blake on a line with two promising youngsters – centre Elmer Lach and another left wing, Maurice Richard, who was moved to the right side. Irvin’s move turned out to be a stroke of genius and the “Punch Line” was born.

The scoring exploits of this offensive juggernaut led Montreal to Stanley Cup wins in 1944 and 46. Blake scored the cup-winning goals both years. In 1944-45, the line finished 1-2-3 in NHL scoring, with Richard putting up an amazing 50 goals in 50 games. The threesome were all named to the NHL first all-star team that season.

Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake - the Punch Line.
Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake – the Punch Line.

On January 11, 1948, during a game against the New York Rangers, Blake sustained a badly broken leg after being checked by Bill Juzda. Toe would not play in the NHL again.

Coaching Career Started in Buffalo

Blake was offered and accepted the job of coaching the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL for 1948-49. Although he did a good job with the Bisons, Blake did not see eye to eye with general manager Art Chapman and resigned part-way through the season.

The next season Blake took over behind the bench for the Valleyfield Braves of the Quebec Senior League. He spent six very successful seasons in Valleyfield, honing his coaching skills and gaining a reputation as a supreme tactician.

In 1955, Irvin left the Canadiens to take over the Chicago Black Hawks. Montreal general manager Frank Selke had only one man in mind to replace Irvin, and that was Blake. Toe took over for the 1955-56 season and has been the bench boss in Montreal ever since.

Toe Blake the coach.
Toe Blake the coach.

During his time in Montreal, Blake has finished first seven times, winning six Stanley Cups.

Blake is known as a great handler of men, tough but fair. As a coach, he exhibits the same traits that made him a great player – a competitive spirit and sheer tenacity. He’s also known as a vicious referee-baiter and if he feels wronged, he will not hesitate to let the men in the striped shirts know how he feels. His head-to-head battles with Toronto mentor Punch Imlach have become the stuff of legends.

Toe Blake, already the possessor of one of the best coaching records ever, will be remembered as one of the all-time greats, both on the ice and off.

Rangers Open Camp

The New York Rangers have opened their 1965 training camp in Kingston, Ontario. Thirty-four players were on hand, with four men vying for the Rangers’ two goaltending spots. None of the four played any NHL hockey last season.

With the retirement of Jacques Plante and the trading of Marcel Paille, it is certain that New York will begin this season with two new goaltenders. General manager Emile Francis wasted no time restocking the cupboard with puck-stopping candidates.

Don Simmons, 34 is the elder statesman of the netminding crew. The Port Colborne, Ontario native was picked up at the Intra-league draft from Toronto this summer. Simmons spent parts of four seasons with the Boston Bruins before moving to the Maple Leaf system for an equal number of years. He is best known for back stopping the Leafs to the 1962 Stanley Cup when he took over for an injured Johnny Bower. Simmons is one of the few professional goalkeepers who holds his stick in his left hand and catches with his right. He spent last season with Tulsa of the CPHL.

Former Leaf goalie Don Simmons
Former Leaf goalie Don Simmons

Cesare Maniago,26, was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in a trade at the June meetings. Rangers sent Earl Ingarfield, Gord Labossiere, Dave McComb and Noel Price to the Habs for Maniago and forward Garry Peters. Maniago spent last season on loan to the Boston Bruins organization, playing for the Minneapolis Bruins of the CPHL. He had a stellar season, winning the loop’s best goaltender award and being name league MVP.

Ed Giacomin is a relative unknown whom Francis picked up in a trade with the Providence Reds of the AHL. Francis sent Paille, Aldo Guidolin, Sandy McGregor and Jim Mikol to the Reds for the 26-year-old. Giacomin is considered a long-shot to make the Rangers out of training camp, but he has been in that position for his entire career and always seems to do what it takes to make whatever team he’s with.

Ed Giacomin
Ed Giacomin

Twenty-five-year-old Gilles Villemure has been in the Ranger organization since he began his junior career with the Guelph Biltmores in 1959-60. He’s made stops in the EHL, AHL and WHL before getting his big chance with the Rangers this fall. Villemure did have a cup of coffee with New York in the 1963-64 season when he played in five games, losing two and tying three. He was with Vancouver in the WHL last season.

Hawks Cut 46

The Chicago Black Hawks pared their amateur camp roster from 75 to 29 players yesterday at St. Catharines. Best of the newcomers who will be vying for spots with the junior A Black Hawks are goalie Peter McDuffe, defenseman Barry Salovaara and forwards Dan Popiel, Steve Latinovich and Bob Taylor.

Red Wings to Launch Camp Thursday

Seventy players will take to the ice this Thursday when the Detroit Red Wings open training camp at the Olympia. Sixteen amateurs will be among those vying for spots with the defending NHL regular season champs.

Pat Quinn
Pat Quinn

Several veteran NHL’ers will be making their Detroit debuts. They include Andy Bathgate, Billy Harris and Garry Jarrett, who were picked up in the big trade with Toronto, Ab McDonald and Bob McCord, who came via the deal with Boston, and Don McKenney and Bryan Watson, drafted at the NHL summer meetings. Rookies given a good shot at making the Wings are defenseman Pat Quinn from Tulsa of the CPHL, and forward Norm Beaudin, and defenseman Bob Wall,who were at Memphis of the CPHL.

No Pucks at Junior Habs Camp

Scotty Bowman, coach of the Montreal Junior Canadiens of the OHA Junior A Series, says that for the first four days of training camp, his club will practise without pucks. Bowman says that pucks won’t be introduced until Friday.

Bowman said that the experiment is designed to work the players into top physical condition, making them less likely to pick up those pesky injuries that occur so often in the early going.

Bowman named two players, Larry Pleau and Lucien Grenier, whom he expects to have big years for the junior Habs. Both saw action last season and finished strongly.

The Junior Canadiens will have to find a new goaltender this season. Last year’s incumbent Fern Rivard will be guarding the net for the Peterborough Petes this time around. Ted Ouimet appears to have the inside track to replace Rivard.