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Hockey builder Claude Ruel passes away at age 76

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

PRESS RELEASE

MONTRÉAL – The Montreal Canadiens organization is deeply saddened by the passing of former head coach, scout and director of player development Claude Ruel. He was 76 years old.

“We lost a great hockey mind and an incredible talent evaluator who contributed to the success of our hockey club for half a century. Claude Ruel’s unequaled flair when it came to finding a diamond in the rough has worked closely with the majority of young prospects and contributed to helping them make it to the NHL. A spiritual father to many, he was always available to teach and comfort the up and coming prospects. To all former players who developed under him today is a very sad day”, said Montreal Canadiens owner and CEO, Mr. Geoff Molson.

Born on September 12, 1938 in Sherbrooke, Claude Ruel was an all-around athlete who was equally good on a baseball field as on a hockey rink. His skills earned him an invitation to the training camp of the Cleveland Indians, but he opted for hockey. His career came to a tragic halt before it even got underway when on October 23, 1957, in a game against Belleville, he was struck by an errant stick and lost the use of an eye. At the time Ruel was suiting up with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens Jr. A. of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). A gifted defenseman who played under Elmer Lach and Sam Pollock, Claude Ruel recorded four goals and as many assists a few months earlier, helping his team capture the Memorial Cup.

The end of his career as a player would prove to be the beginning of a long and successful career behind the bench, in the rinks across the province and working with the organization’s young prospects he was often responsible for drafting. A year after hanging up his skates Ruel was made head coach of the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens and led the team to the Eastern Canadian Final of the Memorial Cup facing Peterborough. After the 1959-60 season behind the bench of the Brockville Canadiens (MMJHL), he moved on to the Montreal Jr. Canadiens and take them to a 34-11-5 record. He would spend two seasons as head coach of that team compiling a regular season record of 61-25-14. He would return behind the bench of the team in January 1967 taking over Léo Bossy.

Claude Ruel had a special talent to find young players and help them develop their skills. Throughout his years with the organization, he was the reason behind many great careers. A scout, assistant coach and director of player development, Ruel could be relied on at any given time, ready to give advice and teach. In 1968, at 29 years of age, general manager Sam Pollock named him head coach of the Montreal Canadiens and in his rookie year he would lead the team to a record of 46-19-11 and to the Stanley Cup. Ruel, who would return as the Canadiens bench boss from 1979 to 81, ended his coaching career with 172 wins, 82 loses and 51 ties with the .648 winning percentage. In the playoffs, he had a record of 18-9. Five times he etched his name on the Holy Grail, including four as assistant to Scotty Bowman.

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