Elmer Lach, one of the National Hockey League’s all-time great playmakers, died Saturday at age 97.
A three-time Stanley Cup champion who for a time centered the great Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Toe Blake on the famed “Punch Line,” Lach was the oldest-living former player to have donned the blue, blanc et rouge of Les Habitants.
Lach led the league in scoring twice and was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1945, despite the fact that Richard set a league record by scoring 50 goals in 50 games.
The Saskatchewan native retired after 14 seasons as the league’s all-time leading scorer in 1954, with 215 goals, 408 assists and 616 total points in 664 games.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and his No. 16 was retired in 2009 by the Canadiens.
Lach, who was easily recognized by his prominent nose, won his final Stanley Cup by scoring in overtime during the deciding game of the 1953 Cup Finals.
However, Lach’s nose was broken when he was struck by Richard’s stick during the on-ice celebration immediately afterward.
“I took the hardest check of my life when the Rocket jumped on top of me when the puck went in,” Lach later said.
(Top: Canadiens’ legend Elmer Lach, shown with Stanley Cup and the broken nose suffered after scoring winning goal in final game of 1953 Finals. Photo credit: CBC.)
Here a few words from the Montreal Gazette on the passing of Jean Béliveau, who, for all his skill and grace on the ice, was an even better person away from the rink:
He was an uncommon man with the common touch. A prince who walked among the people as though it were his job to clean up after the king’s horses.
He was at once regal and humble, magnificently talented and unfailingly generous, modest to a fault and fiercely proud of his team, and as gentle as a man could be in this most violent of sports.
He was Jean Béliveau — and his passing Tuesday night has left a void in the life of this city and this province that may never be filled. It’s conceivable that if they are very, very lucky, the Canadiens might one day draft another Rocket Richard. There will never be another Béliveau.
Le Gros Bill, as he was known, was 83. He will be missed, by fans of the Montreal Canadiens and all of hockeydom.
It’s taken the better part of 20 years, but the National Hockey League has apparently woken up to the fact that, yes, hockey is more popular in Canada than the United States.
Witness the return of the Jets to Winnipeg. The Jets, who had been the Atlanta Thrasher until they relocated to Manitoba for this season, sold out 100 percent of their seats during the club’s 41 homes games.
Not bad, considering that five years ago the idea of Winnipeg, which lost its original franchise in 1996 when its team relocated to Phoenix, getting back into the NHL was scoffed at by just about everyone but the local hooch hound in Portage la Prairie.
In addition, five of the league’s seven Canadian franchises ranked among the top eight in the 30-team league in average attendance during this past season, according to information provided by ESPN.
The Montreal Canadiens came in at No. 2 with an average of 21,273 fans per home game; Toronto Maple Leafs, fifth at 19,506; Ottawa Senators, sixth at 19,356; Calgary Flames, seventh at 19289; and Vancouver Canucks, eighth at 18,884.
All five had attendance of 100 percent or better at their home games.