Clare Drake, legendary and beloved U of A hockey coach, dies at age 89

Clare Drake, the legendary University of Alberta coach known as the winningest college hockey coach ever, died Sunday morning in his sleep, friends have confirmed.

A lifetime of accolades capped in November with his induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Clare Drake, the much-lauded U of A hockey coach, died Sunday morning. He was 89. (Lieutenant Governor)

Clare Drake, the legendary University of Alberta coach known as the winningest college hockey coach ever, died Sunday morning in his sleep, friends have confirmed.

In 28 seasons as the head coach of the U of A's Golden Bears, he lead the men's hockey team to six national championships and 17 conference championships before his retirement in 1989.

Last November, Drake was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder category, a move that many Canadian sportswriters and NHL coaches described as being long overdue.

Clare Drake's plaque is newly installed at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in November 2017. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Behind the bench, Drake's hockey sense produced wins and influenced a generation of future NHL coaches, including Ken Hitchcock, Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz.

According to Hockey Hall of Fame nominator  Hitchcock, head coach of the Dallas Stars, it was Drake's "genius" that was being honoured. 

"[Drake's] influence is as big, or bigger, than any instructor has ever had in our sport," Hitchcock was quoted as saying.

"He shared everything he knew with you, and he used it all against you when he competed," said Hitchcock before Drake was inducted into the Hall of Fame in November. "You couldn't find a guy that meant more to the game of hockey in Canada than Clare Drake."

According to a U of A web page published in tandem with the Hall of Fame honour, Drake's approaches and techniques were revolutionary in their day and had a profound impact on modern-day hockey coaches who "to this day regard Drake as mentor and innovator."

Early days

The Yorkton, Sask.-born Drake was teaching and coaching several teams at Strathcona Composite High School in 1955 when he joined the Golden Bears as interim head coach and won his first league championship.

Three years later, he was appointed to become full-time head coach of the Golden Bears. By the time he retired in 1989, he had 697 wins, 296 losses and 37 ties with a .695 win percentage.

An early photo of Clare Drake in his Golden Bear coaching days. (Hockey Hall of Fame (www.hhof.com))

Drake took a break from the University of Alberta in 1975 and 1976 to coach the Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association and was also co-coach of the 1980 Canadian Olympic hockey team. He was also an assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets in 1988-89.

 "Coach Drake's fingerprints are all over hockey in this country. A true gentleman and kind soul. Very fortunate to have been one of the many players coached by him," tweeted four-time Olympic gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser.

Many accolades

Drake received many accolades in his lifetime, including being added to the Alberta Sports Wall of Fame in 1987 and being inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1990, the U of A's Varsity Arena was re-named as the Clare Drake Arena.

He received the Geoff Gowan Award in 2006 as best coach in university sports; two years later, he received the Order of Excellence from the Province of Alberta.

In 2013, he was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada.

On Sunday evening, the social media site Twitter was awash in memories and condolences. 

The Hockey Hall of Fame said: "Our thoughts are with his family, and all of the lives he touched through an incredible coaching career."

The Golden Bears Hockey club called it a sad day, sending condolences to wife Dolly and the rest of Drake's family.

"What Clare Drake did for the game of hockey is truly staggering," said the message.

 "You will never be forgotten Coach."

With files from The Canadian Press