Monday

Elmer Lach

Every great player had a great player to play with. Together they would make each other better, even though one would almost certainly receive less of the spotlight.

Take, for example, Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. But you rarely hear of Rocket Richard's linemates. While he is arguably the greatest player on the greatest franchise in pro sports, his stature also overshadowed the contributions of his line mate and center for many years, Elmer Lach.

Lach was, above all else, a great playmaker. His incredible hockey sense and intelligence, combined with blessed skating skills were the perfect match for the Rocket. He was able to spring perhaps the greatest goal scoring machine of all time on countless occasions. Playing most often with Toe Blake on left wing, Lach was centering the famed Punch Line.

Lach led the league in scoring to win the Art Ross Trophy in 1944-45. That year Lach was also given the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. That was the same magical season that Rocket Richard scored his unthinkable 50 goals in 50 games. For the MVP award to go to Lach over Richard shows just how highly thought of Lach was.

In 1947-48 he would again lead the league in scoring, after recovering from a fractured skull that prevented him from winning the scoring title in 1946-47. He was named to 5 all-star teams and was a member of 3 Stanley Cup championships. He amassed 215 goals and 408 assists in 646 games, adding 19 goals and 45 assists in 76 playoff appearances. When he retired he was the NHL's all time assist leader.

While he was an excellent offensive threat himself, Lach proved to be an ultimate team leader as well. Playing with Richard and Toe Blake for much of his career, Lach was the best of the three defensively. He often sacrificed his own offensive output and personal achievements in order to help his team win. The 5'9" Lach was never afraid of the physical game either, drawing comparisons to a fire hydrant because he was small but incredibly hard to budge.

In many ways Lach, who as a junior player was originally courted by the New York Rangers, was an early day Jean Beliveau. He was a classy person and a classic center iceman. He was very humble, which perhaps explains why history remembers him only quietly. "Elegant Elmer" coach Dick Irvin would call him, though some of the fans took to calling him the Nakomis Flash, referencing his Saskatchewan hometown. He was a legend of the ice in Nakomis, population 600, even though he never played organized hockey until the age of 17.

Lach the Unlucky was another common moniker, due to his injury history. He had the fractured skull, a badly broken arm, two broken jaws which he played through, a fractured leg, the same cheekbone shattered twice, a sliced foot, 100s of stitches and 7 broken noses, the last of which came courtesy of teammate Maurice Richard in Stanley Cup victory celebrating on the ice!

Lach played through it all, mostly because in those days players feared losing their jobs to another player. You couldn't sit out too long unless it was absolutely necessary. And when you did play hurt, you still had to produce at top level.

Lach was forced to retire after the 1954 season because the fractured leg robbed him of his speed. That was a shame, as Lach would miss Montreal's magical 5 consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1955 through 1960.

There were no regrets for Lach though. He quickly established himself in business, working in sales and public relations for Maislin Transport. Which for a celebrity like Lach meant entertaining clients on the golf course. He loved golf almost as much as he loved hockey, achieving a 4 handicap in his heyday. He would also coach the senior Montreal Canadiens and the junior Canadiens, where he taught Henri Richard, who would wear Lach's #16 upon graduation to the Canadiens.

0 comments:

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP