MONTRÉAL – It is with great sadness that the Montreal Canadiens organization mourns the passing of Elmer Lach at the age of 97. The former centerman, who pivoted the famous “Punch Line”, along with Maurice Richard and Toe Blake was the oldest living former NHLer since the death of Albert Suomi, who passed away at the age of 100 in September 2014.
“Every member of the Canadiens organization is profoundly saddened and touched by the death of Mr. Lach. Elmer Lach was a determined player who enjoyed a great career with the Canadiens and who became an important part of the community in Montreal. On behalf of the Molson family and all members of the organization, I offer my sincere condolences to the members of his family,” said Canadiens president, Geoff Molson.
Born in Nokomis, Saskatchewan on January 22, 1918, Lach grew up playing hockey in his home province. In 1935-36, he began his Junior career, playing two games with the Regina Abbotts before joining the Weyburn Beavers and then moving on to the Moose Jaw Millers of the Saskatchewan Senior League, one of a number of clubs that were a part of a network of teams operated by the Canadiens. He won the Allan Cup in Saskatchewan in 1939-40.
In 1940, Lach left Saskatchewan with his skates and a single suit to take part in the Canadiens’ training camp. A few weeks later, he signed his first contract with the Habs, who were being helmed by coach Dick Irvin at the time. In 1942-43, he formed a line with Tony Demers and a young Maurice Richard, finishing eighth in the NHL in points. He was a key figure in the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup win in 1944, the club’s first championship in 13 seasons. An outstanding playmaker, Lach established an NHL record in 1944-45, with 54 assists.
In addition to his three Stanley Cup championships in 1944, 1946 and 1953, Lach won the Hart Trophy as the player judged most valuable to his team in 1944-45. He also earned the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s leading point-getter in 1947-48 after leading the League with 80 points in 1944-45, before the Art Ross Trophy was instituted. In 664 career regular season games, Lach amassed 215 goals and 623 points. He also added 19 goals and 64 points in 74 career playoff games. He led the League with 12 assists and 17 points in the playoffs in 1945-46.
At the end of his playing career - at the time of his retirement at the end of the 1953-54 season, he was the top point-getter in NHL history - Lach coached the Junior Canadiens in 1954-55 and the Montreal Royals from 1955 to 1958. He helmed the Royals, with whom he claimed the Thomas O’Connell Trophy by defeating the Shawinigan Cataractes in 1955-56.
Elmer Lach was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966, and his No. 16 jersey was raised to the Bell Centre rafters during the Canadiens’ Centennial celebrations on December 4, 2009, a testament to his invaluable contributions to the organization between 1940 and 1954.