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Bert Olmstead passes away at 89

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

It is with great sadness on Wednesday the Toronto Maple Leafs learned of the passing of Bert Olmstead. He was 89 years old.

Olmstead's hockey career began in Moose Jaw, Sask., where he played with the Moose Jaw Canucks for two seasons. His rookie season saw the Canucks make a run for the 1945 Memorial Cup. They were defeated in five games by the St. Michael's Majors. Olmstead recorded 10 goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games during the run for the Canucks.

He played a second season in Moose Jaw before turning pro with the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens assigned Olmstead to the USHL's Kansas City Pla-Mors where he played three seasons from 1946-1949. He recorded 171 points in 178 games with Kansas City. During his time in the USHL, his rights were sent to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Olmstead made his NHL debut during the 1948-49 season with the Blackhawks. In his rookie season, he recorded a pair of assists in nine games. He remained a member of the Blackhawks until the 1950-51 season, when he split time between four teams. His career in Chicago spanned 94 games and he recorded 22 goals and 54 points in that time.

The 1950-51 season was a strange one for Olmstead. Beginning the season with the Blackhawks, Olmstead returned the USHL with the Milwaukee Sea Gulls after 15 games of the NHL regular season. In 12 games with Milwaukee, he recorded eight goals and 15 points. December 1950 saw Olmstead's NHL rights change hands multiple times. He was traded from the Blackhawks with Vic Stasiuk to the Detroit Red Wings for Lee Fogolin and Steve Black.

Despite the trade to the Red Wings, he never suited up for Detroit. Within two weeks, the Red Wings had shipped Olmstead -- and cash -- back to his original club, the Canadiens, for Leo Gravelle. The trade to Montreal marked the last time Olmstead ever played in a league other than the NHL.

Olmstead went on to play eight seasons for the Canadiens, usually occupying a spot on the team's top line. Upon his arrival, he joined a line with Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard before eventually playing alongside Jean Beliveau and Bernie 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion.

In 1955-56, Olmstead set the NHL record for assists in a season with 56. He held the mark until it was broken five seasons later by Beliveau, his former linemate. To this day, Olmstead and Richard share the Canadiens record for points in a game with eight. They both had a share of the League record until it was broken by Darryl Sittler who recorded his 10 point night in 1976. In his eight seasons with the Canadiens, Olmstead won the Stanley Cup four times.

Following a meeting with team doctors after the 1957-58 season, Olmstead was told by the Canadiens that he had no strength left in his left knee. As a result, he was left unprotected by Montreal in the Intra-League Draft. Billy Reay, then-head coach of the Maple Leafs, claimed Olmstead. He was Toronto bound.

Upon his arrival, Olmstead proved to be a catalyst for the Maple Leafs. Punch Imlach dismissed Reay early in the 1958-59 season and installed himself as Reay's replacement. Following the coaching change, Imlach also named the veteran Olmstead a player-assistant coach. He ran the team's practices while Imlach coached the games. Olmstead operated in the role for three months before relinquishing the assistant duties. The Leafs went on runs to the 1959 and 1960 Stanley Cup Finals but lost to the Canadiens on both occasions.

In 1962 the Leafs returned to the Cup final and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The win was Olmstead's fifth Stanley Cup title.

After being left unprotected by the Leafs, Olmstead was claimed by the New York Rangers in the 1962 Intra-League Draft. He did not report to the Rangers and opted to retire after a trade back to Montreal never materialized. He eventually returned to the NHL in 1967 as head coach of the Oakland Seals, but resigned after 64 games as the team finished last in the Western Conference in its expansion season.

In 14 NHL seasons, Olmstead played 848 NHL games, recording 181 goals and 602 points. He also had an additional 16 goals and 59 points in 115 games. He was known for his rough-and-tumble style of play, throwing big bodychecks and willingness to play in the corners, which paved the way for the power forwards of the next generation.

Bert Olmstead was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985. He appeared in four All-Star games and was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team on two occasions. He was a five-time Stanley Cup Champion.

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