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The Official Site of the Montréal Canadiens

Habs' greatest GMs inducted into Builder's Row

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – As part of the festivities leading up to the team’s Centennial, to be celebrated on December 4, 2009, the Montreal Canadiens pay tribute to three of the most successful general managers in team history; Messrs. Tommy P. Gorman, Frank J. Selke Sr. and Sam Pollock. 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. Laid out behind the seats of sections 104 through 107 of the Bell Centre, the Builders Row will immortalize more of the team’s greatest legends until the Canadiens Centennial in 2009.

Tommy P. Gorman
Canadiens General Manager from 1940 to 1946

 Tom Gorman
Born on June 9, 1886 Tommy Gorman was destined to a bright future and turned everything he touched into silver, as in Stanley Cup silver. He was an acute businessman with exceptional intuition and was very insightful, but first and foremost he always managed to be at the right place at the right time. Although he never scored a goal in hockey, by the time his career was over he would have his name etched on the Holy Grail seven times as head coach or general manager. Few could have predicted such an outcome when young Tommy Gorman left school at age 9 to be a pageboy in the House of Commons during the Wilfrid Laurier era.

A skilled lacrosse player, Gorman won a gold medal with Canada’s lacrosse team at the 1908 London Olympic Games before joining the Ottawa Citizen, first as a reporter and later as sports editor. His involvement with hockey was the result of his family purchasing the Ottawa Senators hockey team. Between 1920 and 1923 Gorman led the team to three Stanley Cups as manager before selling the team in 1925 and end up as manager of the New York Americans. Tommy Gorman had a passion for horseracing that will take him to Tijuana, Mexico where he struck it rich at the Aqua Caliente Race Track.

In 1993, he convinces owner Major McLaughlin to hire him as coach of the Black Hawks. After bringing the Stanley cup to Chicago in 1934, he moved on to the Montreal Maroons where he accomplished a hockey feat that has never been duplicated by coaching two different teams to two successive Cups.

In 1938 the Maroons fold and Tommy Gorman becomes Business Director of the Montreal Forum and the Canadiens. Gorman who inherited a building deserted by fans and a team that had not won a Cup in a decade changes things around quickly. He hires Dick Irvin as head coach of the Canadiens and thanks to two young talented athletes named Maurice Richard and Yvon Robert he fills the Forum night in and night out and brings the Cup back to Montreal in 1944 and 1946. The only hockey executive in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup with four different teams, Tommy Gorman was inducted posthumously in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963.   

Frank J. Selke Sr.
Canadiens General Manager from 1946 to 1964

 Frank Selke
For almost twenty years, Frank Selke was the architect of the Montreal Canadiens and the engineer of the largest farm team system ever assembled in the country.

Born in Berlin, Ontario, May 7, 1893 from Polish parents, Frank Selke was barely a teenager when he became manager of the Iroquois bantam team in his home town before holding a similar role with the Union Jacks team. In 1924, Selke leaves his job as an electrician for the University of Toronto, where he also coached the team, to dedicate himself to what will be a life in hockey. His first major achievement is to reorganize the Toronto Marlboros which he led to a Memorial Cup victory in 1929. His association with Conn Smythe and the Maple Leafs will last for over 20 years during which time Selke wins three Stanley Cups as assistant general manager.

Frank Selke resigns in May 1946 and on July 26 of the same year he is hired by Senator Donat Raymond to replace Tommy Gorman as the Canadiens general manager. Recognizing the importance of scouting, Selke made an astute move when he hired Sam Pollock to work at the amateur and minor pro level. Ten years later, Selke would once again show all his wisdom when he chose Toe Blake to replace Dick Irvin. Rebuilding the team was not the only challenge ahead for Selke who also undertook to renovate the Forum, making the home of the Canadiens more comfortable, colorful and more specifically more profitable by increasing its capacity to 13,000 seats. The additional revenues were needed to subsidize the farm team system he pioneered. For a while Selke’s development network had the Canadiens have strings on some 10,000 players on 750 teams across the continent. It was larger than that of all other NHL teams combined. Selke was a mastermind at developing and packaging players he did not need to send them to others clubs to finance his farm team network. Selke’s master plan started paying off when the Royals and the Junior Canadiens, both Canadiens-sponsored teams, won the Memorial Cup in the fifties and the Canadiens made 10 straight Stanley Cup finals.

A tireless worker, Frank Selke was also a voracious reader. It was his love for poetry that inspired him to provide the Canadiens with the now famous slogan that has been on display on the dressing room walls for over 50 years: “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” from Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields”.

One of Frank Selke’s most memorable achievements came in 1953 when he signed young Quebec Aces superstar Jean Béliveau to his first NHL contract, buying an entire league in order to do so. Under Frank Selke, the Canadiens made the Stanley Cup finals 10 straight years between 1951 and 1960, winning six Cups during that span. He helped create the Hockey Hall of Fame, to which, appropriately, he was later named in 1960, four years prior to his retirement. In 1977, the NHL’s Board of Governors honored the Canadiens general manager with a trophy named after him. Frank Selke died on July 3, 1985 at 92 years of age.

Sam Pollock
Canadiens General Manager from 1964 to 1978

Sam Pollock
Born in Montreal’s NDG area on December 15, 1925, Sam Pollock showed interest in sports at an early age. His favorite sport was baseball but he enjoyed football and hockey just as much. Raised in a working class family, Sam left school after 10th grade to work in his father’s clothing store before taking on a job with the national railroads. In his spare time he enjoyed organizing and managing hockey teams and a softball teams that featured players such as Bill Durnan and Toe Blake from the Montreal Canadiens.

Sam Pollock made his debut with the Montreal Canadiens organization in the 1945-46 season as an assistant to Wilf Cude, who held the coaching and managerial duties with the Junior Canadiens. Pollock was no stranger to the Canadiens, in his role of manager of a midget team that supplied young talent to the Junior Canadiens.  In 1947, he was just 21 when Frank Selke appointed him coach and general manager of his junior club replacing Cude. Hardworking and very knowledgeable despite his young age, Pollock is an astute judge of talent and has a knack for numbers, an excellent combination for an up and coming hockey executive.

From 1947 to 1964, he does just about every job within the Canadiens organization including scouting, coaching, managing and overlooking the minor professional network of farm teams put together by Selke. In 1950, he leads the Montreal junior Canadiens to the Memorial Cup, a feat he would duplicate eight years later as general manager of the Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens. In 1964, he led the Omaha Knights to the Central Hockey League championship. A few weeks later, on May 15, he becomes, at age 38, the youngest general manager in the NHL when he takes over for Frank Selke.

The Pollock era will be one of the most plentiful era in the history of the Canadiens. During his tenure, between 1964 and 1978, Pollock will lead the Canadiens to no less than nine Stanley Cups and an array of records and achievements. A mastermind at recognizing talent, Pollock, who was known as The Godfather in hockey circles, made some of the most lopsided trades in hockey history, including a transaction for a young unproven goaltender named Ken Dryden. Two years before the 1971 NHL Entry Draft, Pollock traded players to the Oakland Seals which would enable the Canadiens to secure the first overall pick and select a young prodigy by the name of Guy Lafleur.

Despite his busy schedule and numerous responsibilities Sam Pollock always remained a man with strong religious convictions who read the bible for an hour every day and who attended mass every Sunday no matter where he was.

A shrewd businessman and a wise hockey executive, Sam Pollock’s secret was that he trusted no one but himself and had to be told everything when his coaches called him following road games. During his tenure as Canadiens’ GM, his team posted an astonishing record of 644 wins, 248 losses and 176 ties and in his last three seasons at the helm, the Canadiens lost only 29 of the 240 games they played.

Sam Pollock’s legacy of success was recognized at all levels. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978 becoming the youngest to be elected in the Builders category. That same year he was named Great Montrealer and would be decorated with the Order of Canada in 1985 and the Ordre national du Québec in 2002. Sam Pollock died on August 15, 2007.
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