Elmer Lach remembered by Dickie Moore, Yvan Cournoyer
Montreal Canadiens centreman 'Elegant Elmer' died April 4 at the age of 97
Elmer Lach, a legendary Montreal Canadiens centre in the 1940s and '50s, is fondly remembered as a humble team player who could take a puck to the face and continue playing.
In his time on the ice, his jaw and nose were broken several times, and he once failed to notice veins in his foot had been severed until his teammates remarked on the blood leaking out of his skate.
"He was virtually impervious to pain," former Montreal Canadiens teammate Dickie Moore said.
Lach died at the West Island Palliative Care Residence on April 4 at the age of 97. Until his death, he was the oldest living hockey player who had played in the NHL.
"They used to call him Elegant Elmer, but he wasn't very elegant," said broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., whose father Dick Irvin Sr. was Lach's only coach through this 14-year NHL career from 1940 to 1954.
"But he was a wonderful play-maker. He knew what to do with the puck."
CBC News asked former Habs players Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer, as well as Montreal Gazette hockey columnist Dave Stubbs, to share some of their memories of Lach.
Dickie Moore, Habs left-winger 1951-1963
"He only had one coach, Dick Irvin Sr., and he played from 1940 to 1954 with the Canadiens. In fact he entered his last year when the Montreal Canadiens brought a young heralded rookie named Jean Béliveau up from the Quebec Aces, and Dick Irvin asked that Elmer take Jean Béliveau under his wing, pretty much — teach him a little bit about the game."
Dave Stubbs, hockey columnist
"Elmer's passing skills were exquisite, and Mr. Béliveau wrote in his autobiography that if he could learn to be half the passer that Elmer Lach was in his day, then Jean would have himself a wonderful career in the National Hockey League. So he was a great influence, Elmer Lach was, on Jean Béliveau and on many, many other members of the Montreal Canadiens."
"It became a little bit of my life's work in the last 10 years to tell people who Elmer Lach was, because Elmer was not going to blow his own horn. So I thought I would do a little bit of tooting of that horn for him. He was a great centreman in the 1940s, with Rocket Richard and Toe Blake on the Montreal Canadiens' famous Punch Line. They were the most potent line of that decade."
Yvan Cournoyer, Habs right-winger 1963-1979
"He was nice to talk to. When you talked to him he was really listening, would be really involved… Everybody who played with him has only good words to say about him."
"I think he was one of the best with the Montreal Canadiens. At this age, you know it's coming to the end, but it's always a shock when somebody passes away. We knew he wasn't feeling very well lately, but he's a member of the family, and the Montreal Canadiens are a big family."
David McNeil, son of former Habs goalie Gerry McNeil
"The incident that stands out for me was talking to Elmer about his Cup-winning goal in 1953. I wanted to see if he had any further comments on it from what I had already collected from other sources. At the time, the Gazette quoted him as saying that 'he didn't see the puck go in,' that suddenly [Maurice] Richard was leaping into his arms (Richard would actually break his nose with the move) – and then they both fell to the ice."
"In any case, at my father's [Gerry McNeil] prompting, I called Elmer, and he began by repeating exactly what he had told the Gazette so many years ago. Then he made a general comment about how good the Bruins were in the early 1950s and that the series had gone seven games. I knew the '53 final had gone five games, so I gently suggested that he was confusing the semi-finals of '52 with the final of '53.
"There was a silence on the line. A long silence. I then asked, 'Elmer, are you still there?' 'Oh, I'm here,' he seemed to be shouting, 'But let me ask you WHERE YOU WERE IN THE SPRING OF '53?' (He knew I wasn't born until 1955.) My father glanced over at me with a look of distress on his face. Elmer continued with some abusive comments, "You're the one who must be f--king confused.'"
"Later my father would tell me that Elmer hated to be contradicted and had become especially sensitive to any remark suggesting he was 'confused.' Elmer 'could really rip a piece off you if he got mad.' This apparently would happen with reporters."