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Builders Row welcomes coaching greats

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

Nancy stands next to her father, Dick Irvin Jr., son of the late Dick Irvin Sr., Bruce Blake, son of the late Toe Blake, and Scotty Bowman at the unveiling of the Head Coaches section in Builders Row. (Getty Images)
MONTREAL – As part of the celebrations leading up to the team’s 100th anniversary, on December 4, 2009, the Montreal Canadiens pay tribute to three of the most successful coaches in team history; Messrs. Dick Irvin Sr., Hector “Toe” Blake and William “Scotty” Bowman. The new inductees will take their legitimate place in the Canadiens Builders Row.

The purpose of this initiative is to honor personalities, whose contribution and efforts off the ice helped the Montreal Canadiens become the winningest organization in National Hockey League history. Over the past two seasons, the Canadiens paid tribute to several individuals who played a prominent role in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, starting with team owners and administrators in 2006-07 followed by the most successful general managers in 2007-08. The Builders Row is located behind sections 104 through 110 of the Bell Centre.

Dick Irvin Sr.
Montreal Canadiens Coach from 1940 to 1955

Born on July 19, 1892 near Hamilton, Ontario, Dick Irvin Sr. was one of the greatest hockey players of his era. After a professional career that spanned from 1916 to 1929, Irvin embarked on a coaching career that would see him become one of the NHL’s most successful coaches of all-time. Irvin officially began his coaching career with Chicago in 1930-31 and after only one season as coach of the Hawks he was lured to Toronto by Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe and quickly took the team to the Stanley Cup. Irvin would lead the Leafs to the finals six more times in the next eight seasons before resigning in 1940.

Irvin was a fierce competitor and always welcomed a challenge. When Tommy Gorman offered him the Canadiens’ coaching job to revive the Montreal franchise, Irvin took on the task and within three years turned the team around making the Canadiens a powerhouse. Of the Canadiens of 1943 to 1947, Irvin would say “They were my Gashouse Gang, a slambang bunch of men who could out-bump, out-fight and out-score any team in sight.” In the fourth year of the Irvin era, the Canadiens not only dominated the league, but they posted the team’s best season ever with an amazing record of 38 wins, 5 losses and 7 ties and a remarkable .830 winning percentage, the highest in Canadiens history. During the 1943-44 season, the Canadiens did not lose a single game on home ice, winning 22 of 25 games, scoring 141 goals and allowing only 47. In the playoffs, they won all but one game on their way to the Canadiens first Stanley Cup since 1931. Irvin would take his team to two other Stanley Cup championships, in 1946 and 1953, in his 15-year career behind the Canadiens’ bench. In 896 games, he recorded 431 wins, second only to Toe Blake in team history, and maintained a .566 winning percentage. Dick Irvin died on April 15, 1957 and was inducted posthumously to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

Hector “Toe” Blake
Montreal Canadiens Coach from 1955 to 1968

Hector Blake was born in Victoria Mines, on the outskirts of Sudbury, on August 21, 1912. He was better known to everyone in hockey as “Toe”, a nickname he got from a younger brother who could not pronounce Hector and instead called him “Toe” and the name stuck. Long before he made a name for himself as one of the most successful bench bosses in NHL history, he was a talented player who was the cornerstone of the great Canadiens teams in the 1940’s. After winning the Cup with the Maroons in 1935, he earned a full-time spot on the Canadiens roster in 1936-37 and blossomed as an all-star winning the Hart Trophy and leading the league in scoring alongside his Punch Line teammates Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard. Blake would also score the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1944 and again in 1946.

After suffering a career-ending leg injury in January 1948 Blake began his coaching career in Houston, in the USHL. After stops in Buffalo and Valleyfield, where he led his team to the Alexander Cup in 1951, he returned to Montreal and accepted Frank Selke’s offer to coach the Canadiens. Blake’s achievements behind the Canadiens bench got off to an incredible start as he won the first of eight Stanley Cups as a rookie coach. By 1960, Blake had won the Cup in each of his first five seasons. His record in the playoffs was second to none, winning 82 games and losing only 37. Under his leadership the Canadiens never had a losing season and never missed the playoffs. Blake was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and was awarded the Order of Canada in October 1982. The 11-time Stanley Cup winner, including eight Cups in 13 seasons as coach of the Canadiens, died on May 17, 1995 at age 82.

William “Scotty” Bowman
Montreal Canadiens Coach from 1971 to 1979

A native of Montreal, William “Scotty” Bowman was born on September 18, 1933 and would be a promising player before his playing career was cut short after a head injury while he was still a junior. He turned to coaching in the Canadiens organization first with the Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens in the Quebec Junior Hockey League in 1956 and two years later he led the team managed by Sam Pollock to the Memorial Cup. After coaching the Peterborough Petes, he moved into the NHL, and at only 34, he took over from Lynn Patrick behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues, leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals in each of his first three seasons.

In 1971, Bowman moved on to coach the Montreal Canadiens where he would achieve remarkable accomplishments winning five Stanley Cups and six division championships. A true mastermind, he enjoyed unparalleled success notching 100 points or more in seven of his eight seasons, missing the other one by a single point in 1973-74. In what would be a record-setting season for Bowman and his team, the Canadiens set an all-time record in 1976-77 winning 60 games, losing only eight and tying 12 games for a total of 132 points, earning Bowman his first of two Jack Adams awards as coach of the year. In his 8-year tenure in Montreal, Bowman never had fewer than 45 wins and ranks first in team winning percentage in both the regular season (.744) and the playoffs (.714). With 1,244 wins, Scotty Bowman is the NHL’s all-time winningest coach.

A five-time Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, he conquered the Holy Grail four more times as an NHL coach and, to this day, he is the only coach in NHL history to lead three teams to Stanley Cup glory. Furthermore, no other head coach in the history of NHL, MLB, NFL or NBA has won championships with three different teams. Scotty Bowman is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame (1991), the US Hockey Hall of Fame (2002) and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (2004).
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