Punch Imlach

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Punch Imlach
Hockey Hall of Fame, (Coach) 1984 [1]
Punch Imlach Maple Leafs Chex card.jpg
Punch Imlach with the Maple Leafs
Born(1918-03-15)March 15, 1918
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedDecember 1, 1987(1987-12-01) (aged 69)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Height 5 ft 8 in (173 cm)
Weight 161 lb (73 kg; 11 st 7 lb)
Position Centre
Shot Right
Played for Toronto Young Rangers
Toronto Goodyears
Toronto Marlboros
Quebec Aces
Playing career 19411949

George "Punch" Imlach (March 15, 1918 – December 1, 1987), was a Canadian ice hockey coach and general manager best known for his association with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (2004). [2]

Coach (ice hockey) person responsible for directing an ice hockey team

Coach in ice hockey is the person responsible for directing the team during games and practices, prepares strategy and decides which players will participate in games.

Toronto Maple Leafs National Hockey League franchise in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Toronto Maple Leafs, officially the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club and often simply referred to as the Leafs, are a professional ice hockey team based in Toronto, Ontario. They are members of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The club is owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Ltd. and are represented by Chairman Larry Tanenbaum. The Maple Leafs' broadcasting rights are split between BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications. For their first 14 seasons, the club played their home games at the Mutual Street Arena, before moving to Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. The Maple Leafs moved to their present home, Scotiabank Arena in February 1999.

Buffalo Sabres National Hockey League franchise in Buffalo, New York

The Buffalo Sabres are a professional ice hockey team based in Buffalo, New York. They are members of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The team was established in 1970, along with the Vancouver Canucks, when the league expanded to 14 teams. They have played at KeyBank Center since 1996. Prior to that, the Buffalo Sabres played at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium from the start of the franchise in 1970. The Sabres are owned by Terry Pegula, who purchased the club in 2011 from Tom Golisano.


Early career

Born in Toronto, Imlach attended Riverdale Collegiate Institute and played junior hockey in the OHA for the Toronto Young Rangers (1935–38) and senior hockey with the Toronto Goodyears (1938–40) and the Toronto Marlboros (1940–41). He enlisted in the army during World War II, where he coached for the first time, with an army team in Cornwall, Ontario. He was invited to training camp by the Detroit Red Wings after being discharged, but felt he had put on too much weight and declined.

Riverdale Collegiate Institute Public high school in Leslieville, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Riverdale Collegiate Institute is a non-semestered high school located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada owned and operated by the Toronto Board of Education until its amalgamation in 1998 into the Toronto District School Board.

Ontario Hockey Association

The Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) is the governing body for the majority of junior and senior level ice hockey teams in the Province of Ontario. The OHA is sanctioned by the Ontario Hockey Federation along with the Northern Ontario Hockey Association. Other Ontario sanctioning bodies along with the OHF include the Hockey Eastern Ontario and Hockey Northwestern Ontario. The OHA control 3 tiers of junior hockey; the "Tier 2 Junior "A", Junior "B", Junior "C", and one senior hockey league, Allan Cup Hockey.

The Toronto Young Rangers were a junior ice hockey team in the Ontario Hockey Association from 1937–38 until the conclusion of the 1947–48 season. While most teams in the league had an affiliation with a National Hockey League club, the Young Rangers did not. They were owned, operated and coached by Ed Wildey, a Toronto sportsman who worked out an arrangement with Conn Smythe that saw the team practise early mornings at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. During the 1940–41 season, Wildey was able to secure sponsorship and the team was known as the "Bowles Rangers." The team took a one-year hiatus for the 1942–43 season. For his contributions to junior hockey, in 1962, Ed Wildey was awarded the Gold Stick, an order of merit in hockey awarded by the OHA for outstanding service to the game other than as a player. Such outstanding service must have been for a period of not less than 10 years continuous duration.

Imlach played for the Quebec Aces of the QSHL from 1945–49 and spent 11 seasons with the team, becoming coach and then general manager, and then vice-president and part-owner of the franchise. After the 1956–57 season, Imlach moved to professional hockey, hired by the Boston Bruins as general manager of their Springfield Indians farm team. Before the season ended, Imlach had made himself head coach as well. After the season, team owner Eddie Shore took back control of the team, leaving Imlach without a job, although he was still under contract to the Bruins.

Quebec Aces ice hockey team

The Quebec Aces, also known in French as Les As de Québec, were an amateur and later a professional men's ice hockey team from Quebec City, Quebec. The Aces were founded in 1928 by Anglo-Canadian Pulp and Paper Mills, the name Aces standing for Anglo-Canadian Employees with an s to form a plural. The French name was added later. The Aces played until 1971, from 1930 on playing home games at the Quebec Coliseum. Most notable of the Aces' players was the legendary Jean Béliveau, who played for the Quebec Aces in 1951-52 and 1952-53.

Boston Bruins National Hockey League team based in Boston, United States

The Boston Bruins are a professional ice hockey team based in Boston. They are members of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The team has been in existence since 1924, and is the league's third-oldest team overall and the oldest in the United States. It is also an Original Six franchise, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins have won six Stanley Cup championships, tied for fourth most of all-time with the Blackhawks and tied second-most of any American NHL team also with the Blackhawks.

Springfield Indians ice hockey team

The Springfield Indians were a minor professional ice hockey franchise, originally based in West Springfield, Massachusetts and later Springfield, Massachusetts. The Indians were founding members of the American Hockey League. They were in existence for a total of 60 seasons from 1926 to 1994, with three interruptions. The Indians had two brief hiatuses from 1933 to 1935, and from 1942 to 1946. The team was known as the Syracuse Warriors from 1951 to 1954; in addition, the team was named the Springfield Kings from 1967 to 1975. The Indians won seven Calder Cup championships, one while known as the Kings in 1971.

Joining the Maple Leafs

In July 1958, at the age of 40, the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Imlach as one of the team's two assistant general managers, along with King Clancy. However, the Leafs did not have a general manager, and Imlach instead reported to a seven-member committee headed by Stafford Smythe which oversaw the team's business operations. In November, Imlach was named general manager—only the third full-time general manager in the team's 40-year history. Only a week after his hiring, he fired coach Billy Reay. Reay had been offered the general manager job before Imlach was hired, but turned it down. Initially, Imlach said he was replacing Reay with Bert Olmstead as player-coach, but almost immediately, he changed his mind and made himself head coach.

King Clancy Canadian ice hockey player

Francis Michael "King" Clancy was a Canadian professional ice hockey player, referee, coach and executive. Clancy played 16 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a member of three Stanley Cup championship teams and won All-Star honours. After he retired in 1937, he remained in hockey, becoming a coach for the Montreal Maroons. Clancy next worked as a referee for the NHL. He joined the Maple Leafs organization and worked in the organization as a coach and team executive until his death in 1986. In 2017 Clancy was named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.

Conn Stafford Smythe was the son of Conn Smythe and president of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. and the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team from 1961–1969 and from 1970 until his death.

Billy Reay Canadian ice hockey player

William Tulip Reay was a Canadian professional ice hockey player and coach. Reay played ten seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL). He then coached from 1957 to 1959 in the NHL and again from 1963 to 1977.

Imlach was known as a harsh taskmaster who frequently abused his players verbally and physically. He had a preference for older players, many of whom were his strongest supporters as they felt Imlach was giving them their last chance at winning the Stanley Cup. By contrast, many younger players, such as Frank Mahovlich, chafed at Imlach's autocratic coaching style.

Stanley Cup championship trophy awarded annually in the National Hockey League

The Stanley Cup is the championship trophy awarded annually to the National Hockey League (NHL) playoff winner. It is the oldest existing trophy to be awarded to a professional sports franchise in North America, and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) considers it to be one of the "most important championships available to the sport". The trophy was commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup and is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada who donated it as an award to Canada's top-ranking amateur ice hockey club. The entire Stanley family supported the sport, the sons and daughters all playing and promoting the game. The first Cup was awarded in 1893 to Montreal Hockey Club, and winners from 1893 to 1914 were determined by challenge games and league play. Professional teams first became eligible to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1906. In 1915, professional ice hockey organizations National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) reached a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other annually for the Stanley Cup. It was established as the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926 and then the de jure NHL championship prize in 1947.

Frank Mahovlich Canadian ice hockey player and politician

Francis William "Frank" "The Big M" Mahovlich, CM is a former Liberal Senator in the Canadian Senate, and a retired NHL ice hockey player. He played on six Stanley Cup-winning teams and is an inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2017 Mahovlich was named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history. Mahovlich was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. His brother Peter also played in the NHL.

Imlach took over a team that had finished last the previous season and was mired in last place again at the time he took over for Reay. However, the team staged a strong run late in the season and finished a point ahead of the New York Rangers for fourth place, allowing them to squeeze into the playoffs. They defeated the favoured Boston Bruins in the first round before losing to the league-leading Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Three years later, Imlach led the Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in 11 years. He coached three more Cup-winning teams, in 1963, 1964 and 1967.

The 1957–58 NHL season was the 41st season of the National Hockey League. The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive season, defeating the Boston Bruins four games to two in the best-of-seven final series.

New York Rangers National Hockey League franchise in New York City

The New York Rangers are a professional ice hockey team based in New York City. They are members of the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The team plays its home games at Madison Square Garden in the borough of Manhattan, an arena they share with the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). They are one of three NHL teams located in the New York metropolitan area; the others being the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

Montreal Canadiens National Hockey League team in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Montreal Canadiens are a professional ice hockey team based in Montreal, Quebec. They are members of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL).

In February 1964, he traded Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and three young prospects – Rod Seiling, Arnie Brown and Bill Collins – to the Rangers for Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney. Nevin played a major role in the Rangers' resurgence in the late 1960s, while Duff won four more Cups with the Canadiens. The players acquired by the Leafs were both gone following the next season. In the 1965 intra-league draft, Imlach left Gerry Cheevers, a young goaltending prospect, unprotected. He was snapped up by the Boston Bruins and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career there.

Following expansion of the NHL from six teams to 12 for the 1967–68 season, the Leafs struggled and Imlach responded by pulling off another big trade. In February 1968, he sent Mahovlich, 20-year-old Garry Unger, Pete Stemkowski and the rights to Carl Brewer to the Detroit Red Wings for Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman and Floyd Smith. Two months later, he sent 28-year-old Jim Pappin to the Chicago Black Hawks, where he would become one of that team's top scorers.

In December 1968, Imlach was asked by Stafford Smythe to give the coaching job to John McLellan, but Imlach refused and told Smythe to fire him or leave him alone. During the season, Mike Walton walked out on the team, saying he wouldn't play for Imlach again. He returned about a week later. On April 6, 1969, minutes after an early and embarrassing playoff elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Imlach was fired by the Leafs. He still had a year remaining on his contract, which paid him about $35,000 a year. In the dressing room after the announcement was made, veteran Leafs Johnny Bower and Tim Horton both said they would leave with Imlach (they both returned the following season, although neither would remain with the Leafs for long). Imlach's assistant, Clancy, had previously said that he would walk away if Imlach was fired, but he was persuaded to stay with the team. Jim Gregory was immediately announced as Imlach's replacement as general manager.

Building the Sabres

After being fired by the Leafs, it was expected that Imlach would join the NHL's new Vancouver franchise. Imlach, Joe Crozier, and Foster Hewitt had become partners in the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League and were in line to become owners of the Vancouver NHL team. But they didn't have the financial resources to buy the team, which went to Medical Investment Corporation (Medicor). Medicor bought the WHL Canucks for $2.8 million, with Imlach making a reported gain of more than $250,000. He was offered a job with the NHL Canucks, but instead accepted an offer from the NHL's other expansion team, the Buffalo Sabres, as their first coach and general manager in 1970.

In the team's first draft, it was a foregone conclusion that the first selection would be junior phenom Gilbert Perreault. The first pick would go to the team that won the spin of a roulette wheel. Imlach opted to take numbers 11–20 on the wheel, since 11 was his favourite number. When league president Clarence Campbell spun the wheel, he initially thought the pointer landed on 1. However, while Campbell was congratulating the Vancouver delegation, Imlach asked Campbell to check again. As it turned out, the pointer was actually on 11. Imlach promptly selected Perreault, who would go on to play 17 years with the Sabres and still holds every major offensive record in Sabres history. (Perreault, incidentally, would himself be assigned the number 11 for his entire career in Buffalo - the same number he had worn for his three seasons with the Montreal Jr. Canadiens - a number that has since been retired by the Sabres organization.) [3]

Imlach suffered a heart attack on January 7, 1972, and stepped down as Sabres coach in May after being told by doctors that fatigue would put his health at risk. Joe Crozier filled in as interim coach after Imlach's heart attack and was given the job outright for the 1972–1973 season.

In the 1974 entry draft, Imlach—frustrated with the excessive tedium and length of that year's draft proceedings—deliberately selected an imaginary Japanese centre, Taro Tsujimoto, supposedly of the Tokyo Katanas, in the 11th round (183rd overall). Only after weeks had passed did the league discover that Tsujimoto did not in fact exist. Today, the league officially records the 183rd selection of the 1974 entry draft as an "invalid claim"; the Sabres still list Tsujimoto among the team's alumni. [4]

During the 1974–75 NHL season, the Sabres, coached by one of Imlach's former players, Floyd Smith, made the Stanley Cup finals in only their fifth year of existence. But the team went into decline after that season. With notable exceptions like Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin, many Sabres players feuded with Imlach, particularly Jim Schoenfeld, Sabres' captain from 1974–77, whom Imlach criticized publicly. After being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in 1978, Imlach promised sweeping changes to the roster, but the changes never came. With the team off to an 8–10–6 record, Imlach was fired by the Sabres on December 4, 1978, along with coach Marcel Pronovost. Nevertheless, he was one of the inductees in the inaugural class of the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame. [5]

Controversy in Toronto

In July 1979, Imlach returned to the Leafs as the right-hand man of owner Harold Ballard, his longtime friend. It was a controversial return, one that involved the dismantling of a team that had faced the Montreal Canadiens in the 1978 playoffs and was viewed by many as having a promising future. On his first day with the team, Imlach told the media that the Leafs only had five or six good players and the rest of the team needed to be improved.

Imlach implemented a dress code which required that all players wear a jacket and tie when in the Leafs' offices. Tiger Williams was fined $250 for not wearing a tie, and the fine would have doubled for a second offence. Players were no longer allowed to drink beer on plane and bus rides back from road games.

Imlach quickly butted heads with Leafs captain Darryl Sittler, using confrontational tactics to try to undermine his influence on the team. Imlach also disliked Sittler's prominent role in the NHL Players Association; during Imlach's first stint with the Leafs, he was well known as an ardent foe of the union and its executive director, Alan Eagleson.

In September, Imlach went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to get an injunction to stop Sittler and teammate Mike Palmateer from appearing on the TV show Showdown. Sittler had a no-trade clause in his contract and, through his agent, had insisted on $500,000 to waive it. With Sittler apparently untouchable, Imlach traded Sittler's best friend Lanny McDonald to the moribund Colorado Rockies on December 29, 1979. An anonymous player told the Toronto Star that Ballard and Imlach made the trade specifically to undermine Sittler's influence on the team. Eagleson, who was also Sittler's agent, called the trade "a classless act." [6]

Imlach offered Sittler to the Sabres in return for Perreault, but was turned down. He rejected an offer from the Philadelphia Flyers who were said to be willing to trade Rick MacLeish and André Dupont for Sittler. [7] In March 1980, after Floyd Smith was injured in a car accident and acting coach Dick Duff led the team to two lopsided defeats, Imlach named himself as coach. Imlach was able to get the Leafs to squeak into the playoffs, albeit with a record five games under .500—the first of 13 straight seasons without a winning record. Imlach named assistant Joe Crozier as his successor after the season.

It looked like the Leafs were ready to accept an offer for Sittler from the Quebec Nordiques when Imlach had another heart attack in August 1980. Ballard used the opportunity to name himself acting general manager and hold talks with Sittler, and the two agreed that Sittler would return to the team as captain for the 1980–81 season. Ballard also signed Börje Salming to a new contract with terms that Imlach had refused to offer. Before the end of 1981, Imlach was back running the Leafs as general manager.

During the Leafs' training camp in September 1981, Imlach suffered a third heart attack, which was followed by quadruple bypass surgery at Toronto General Hospital. Ballard became interim manager and told the media that Imlach's poor health meant that "he's through as general manager." Imlach was never officially fired, but when he tried to return to work in November, he found that his parking spot at Maple Leaf Gardens had been reassigned and Gerry McNamara had been made acting general manager. Imlach never returned to work and his contract was allowed to expire.

He suffered a fourth heart attack in November 1985 at a casino while on vacation in Las Vegas and died after a fifth heart attack in Toronto on December 1, 1987 at the age of 69. [8] Over his career, Imlach amassed a coaching record of 423 wins, 373 losses and 163 ties to go along with four Stanley Cups. His 365 wins with the Leafs are still the best in franchise history. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1984.

Coaching record

TeamYear Regular season Post season
TOR 1958–59 5022208-(65)4th in NHL Lost in Stanley Cup Finals
TOR 1959–60 7035269-792nd in NHLLost in Stanley Cup Finals
TOR 1960–61 70391912-902nd in NHLLost in first round
TOR 1961–62 70372211-852nd in NHLWon Stanley Cup
TOR 1962–63 70352312-821st in NHLWon Stanley Cup
TOR 1963–64 70332512-783rd in NHLWon Stanley Cup
TOR 1964–65 70302614-744th in NHLLost in first round
TOR 1965–66 70342511-793rd in NHLLost in first round
TOR 1966–67 70322711-753rd in NHLWon Stanley Cup
TOR 1967–68 74333110-765th in East Did not qualify
TOR 1968–69 76352615-854th in EastLost in first round
BUF 1970–71 78243915-635th in EastDid not qualify
BUF 1971–72 4182310-(51)6th in East(resigned)
TOR 1979–80 10550-(75)4th in Adams Lost in first round

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  1. http://www.legendsofhockey.net/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/LegendsMember.jsp?type=Builder&mem=B198401&list=ByName
  2. "Punch Imlach". http://oshof.ca/ . Retrieved September 25, 2014.External link in |website= (help)
  3. Duhatschek, Eric; et al. (2001). Hockey Chronicles . New York City: Checkmark Books. ISBN   0-8160-4697-2.
  4. More It Happened in Hockey, author Brian McFarlane, ISBN   0-7737-5591-8, Publisher: Stoddart, 1984
  5. "Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame". Buffalo Sabres Alumni. Archived from the original on June 18, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  6. "Lanny McDonald trade has Sittler in tears," Jim Kernaghan, Toronto Star , December 29, 1979, p. 1.
  7. "Leafs seek youth in any exchange for Darryl Sittler," Ken McKee, Toronto Star , February 19, 1980, p. F1.
Preceded by
Stafford Smythe (de facto)
General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Succeeded by
Jim Gregory
Preceded by
Jim Gregory
General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Succeeded by
Gerry McNamara
Preceded by
Position created
General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres
Succeeded by
John Anderson
Preceded by
Billy Reay
Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Succeeded by
John McLellan
Preceded by
Position created
Head coach of the Buffalo Sabres
Succeeded by
Floyd Smith
Preceded by
Dick Duff
Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Succeeded by
Joe Crozier