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NHL Centennial

Dick Irvin quietly reaches milestone with Canadiens

Becomes first to coach 1,000 regular-season games

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- The milestone was greeted without mention in the morning's Montreal Gazette, the NHL's quiet record-keeping of the day surely more the reason than an indifference to the summit reached the night before.

On Jan. 19, 1950, Dick Irvin became the first to coach 1,000 regular-season games in the NHL, reaching the plateau in a 4-2 loss by his Montreal Canadiens on home ice.

Then 57, Irvin was two-thirds of the way through his 1,449-game NHL coaching career, a journey that would see him win a Stanley Cup championship with the 1932 Toronto Maple Leafs, and three with the Canadiens - in 1944, 1946 and 1953.

Irvin's son, Dick Jr., an author and retired broadcaster who for decades was a familiar voice on Montreal radio and a host and analyst on "Hockey Night in Canada" telecasts, said he's not surprised that his father's 1,000-game milestone didn't make headlines. In fact, it wasn't even a topic of conversation in the Irvin household halfway across the country.

"I was in my first year of college in Regina (Saskatchewan), so I wasn't near it, part of it or even knew about it," Irvin Jr. said.

Indeed, the Irvin family would only move east the following summer to join the patriarch.

Irvin Sr. first made his name in hockey as a player, a center with the Chicago Black Hawks from 1926-29 who was a gifted stickhandler and playmaker. He had been a fine junior and senior amateur player in Winnipeg before turning pro to play in Canada and the U.S.

Irvin arrived with the NHL's expansion Black Hawks in 1926-27 at age 34, was named their first captain and finished second in NHL scoring that season with 18 goals and 18 assists in 43 games.

Injury ultimately forced his retirement as a player in 1929 after three seasons, though his impact on the game was such that he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player in 1958.

But Irvin's coaching would become his more famous vocation, beginning with two-plus seasons in Chicago in the late 1920s into the early 1930s. He would be fired by Black Hawks founder Fredric McLaughlin after having brought them within one win of the 1931 championship, but then would exact a measure of what his son remembers as sweet revenge the following season.

Hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs by Conn Smythe, Irvin's new team bounced McLaughlin's Black Hawks in the first round of the 1932 Stanley Cup Playoffs, then swept the New York Rangers in the best-of-five Final of what's known as the "tennis series," with Toronto winning games by scores of 6-4, 6-2 and 6-4.

Irvin would enjoy another highlight, his son says, in 1953, his fourth and final Stanley Cup win.

"My dad made a lot of lineup changes in Game 6 (of the first round) against Chicago," Irvin Jr. said.

Most prominent among them was replacing veteran goalie Gerry McNeil with Jacques Plante, who'd played three NHL games ever and none in the playoffs; Plante was so nervous before the game that he needed the trainer to lace his skates.

"That must have given the players a lot of confidence, seeing that," Irvin Jr. said. "My dad told Plante in the Chicago hotel lobby that morning, 'You're playing tonight, and you'll get a shutout,' which he did, 3-0. And my dad was certain that if that switch hadn't paid off, he'd have been fired."

The Canadiens won Game 7 back in Montreal, then defeated the Boston Bruins in a five-game Final, the only time Irvin Jr. was in the building when his father's team won a Stanley Cup championship.

It's safe to say that game, the victory earned on Elmer Lach's historic overtime goal and celebrated famously rinkside by Irvin, Lach and Canadiens star Rocket Richard, earned the coach more headlines than had his 1,000th career game in the same arena three years earlier.

Irvin would retire from coaching after one final season with Chicago in 1955-56, where his NHL career had begun as a player and coach, one year before his death at age 64.

Today, Irvin is in sixth place on the NHL's all-time list of regular-season games coached at 1,449, passed for No. 5 this week by St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. Scotty Bowman, with 2,141, is atop the list, 534 ahead of Al Arbour.

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