Toe Blake

Toe Blake should be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time, as a three time Stanley Cup champion and as a great captain of the Montreal Canadiens. However his success as a coach has completely overshadowed his successes as a player.

After an incredibly successful amateur career which included a Memorial Cup Championship, Hector Blake (nicknamed Toe because as a kid his little sister couldn't pronounce his name correctly and instead called him "Hectoe") joined the Montreal Maroons. He rarely played with the M's, and three years later was dealt across town to the Montreal Canadiens for goalie Lorne Chabot in what amounts to highway robbery in terms of hockey trades.

Blake, a competive, viscious and often profane player who grew up idolizing Howie Morenz, exploded with the Habs. Winning the NHL scoring title in 1938-39 and the Lady Byng Trophy in 1945-46, Blake was for several seasons an integral part of one of the NHL's greatest lines, the Punch Line with Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard. How good was that line? In 1944-45 the trio finished 1-2-3 in the NHL scoring race, and all three were named to their respective First All Star Team positions.

It was often said that Blake had a special relationship with Rocket Richard. The quieter Blake was very opposite from the fiery Richard, but he had a good understanding of how the Rocket operated. Blake employed his uncanny understanding both on the ice as a player and behind the bench as a coach to help Richard achieve greatness that has rarely been equaled.

Blake himself scored 235 goals and 527 points, played on two Stanley Cup winners and won the Hart Trophy in 1938-39 as the Most Valuable Player. The five time all star was forced to retire in 1948 with a broken leg.

Blake would then turn his efforts to coaching. He took over the reigns of the Montreal Canadiens in 1955 and remained behind the bench until 1968. In that time he coached 914 games, winning 500, losing 255 and tying 159 for an astounding winning percentage of .634. More importantly he guided the Habs to 8 Stanley Cups, including 5 in a row in the late 1950's, an unheard of feat.

With his trademark askew fedora, it is the image of Blake behind the bench that has been remembered.

"Toe was the ultimate coach," suggested John Ferguson, one of Blake's prized pupils. "He had a memory like an elephant and he treated the players like men. He had a great feeling for the game and could mastermind behind the bench in a way nobody has ever been able to. Maybe (Scotty) Bowman can nowadays, but Toe, Toe was just too smart."

In 1987 Blake was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. He survived the inescapable disease for eight years, dying of pneumonia, a common complication of Alzheimer's, on May 17, 1995.


Anonymous,  9:02 PM  

Long live Toe Blake!

Paul 9:11 AM  

Who says great players can't become great coaches?

kelo,  7:39 PM  

I hated the Habs then, but man that Toe could coach. Scotty Bowman learnt most of what he knows from Mr. Blake.

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