MONTREAL -- It is with a great deal of sadness that the Montreal Canadiens organization learned on Monday of the passing of Claude Ruel. Mr. Ruel was 76 years old.
A native of Sherbrooke, QC, Ruel was born on September 12, 1938.
“Claude Ruel – or Piton, as we called him – was an important member and builder of this organization,” offered Rejean Houle, who played a number of seasons under Ruel’s guidance. “When Scotty Bowman left, it was Claude who helped us regroup and survive. We are deeply saddened for his family and offer them our sincerest condolences.”
Ruel was twice named head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, first between 1968 and 1970, then again between 1979 and 1981. Over the span of 305 career games behind the Canadiens bench, he registered a remarkable 172 wins, 82 losses and 51 ties.
During his first season as head coach, Ruel led the Canadiens to a 16th championship, becoming the 11th head coach in NHL history to lift the Stanley Cup during his rookie year. Over his two stints in Montreal, he notably coached a number of Canadiens legends, including Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, and Serge Savard.
“He won a Stanley Cup as head coach and another as an assistant coach. He also drafted a number of our legendary players from the 1970s,” added Houle, who received calls from former teammates on Monday following the news. “A lot of them were drafted by Claude, who was our head scout at the time. When you look at his career as whole, the amount of success he’s had here is impressive. He’s never liked being in the spotlight, but he’s left an enormous legacy behind.”
In addition to the championships they shared, Houle will also remember Ruel for his humanity.
“Claude came to get me in Rouyn-Noranda in Abitibi 50 years ago. He was the one who brought me to Montreal and gave me my chance with Junior Canadiens. I owe him my NHL career. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. He was an incredible mentor,” explained the President of the Canadiens Alumni Association of Ruel, who also paid for Houle’s parents to travel to Montreal and watch their son play.
A funeral service will be held in Ruel’s native Sherbrooke over the weekend of February 14-15, the details of which remain to be announced. A minute of silence will also be held before the Canadiens’ February 10 home game at the Bell Centre.