“Holy Dirty Dora!” Hector “Toe” Blake would bark while pacing behind the Montreal Canadiens bench, hands thrust into his pockets, jawing at chewing gum before intentionally banging his forehead into the glass that separates players and fans. No lead was safe or sufficient for the lifelong hockey man at the helm of the greatest dynasty in NHL history. As a player, Toe won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Maroons before captaining a stumbling Canadiens organization to glory and a pair of Cups. As the Habs coach, Toe cemented the team’s status as lords of the league with eight more.
Born into a family of 11, Blake emerged from the poverty of the Depression and a youth spent working the mines of Sudbury’s Nickel Belt to find junior hockey success and an unlikely shot at the NHL. While a fiery temper and penchant for stick-swinging nearly railroaded Toe’s promise, the Canadiens recognized his talent and leadership, and he went on to spend more than 50 years with the organization.
History remembers Toe being hoisted onto the shoulders of his beloved players, waving his signature fedora and sipping from the Cup, but behind the success was a man driven by fear and an obsessive desire for victory. Despite personal tragedy, Toe always put winning first, and as a result, there are few coaches in any sport who have enjoyed Blake’s success and even fewer who endured the toll that came with it.
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Fittingly, it was the Rocket who ended up with the Stanley Cup clincher in the 3-1 Game 5 victory that kicked off the first of a record five straight Stanley Cup triumphs for the Canadiens. Fans, who had paid $1.75 for tickets, began flooding the ice after the players had shook hands, while Blake was lifted onto the shoulders of Butch Bouchard and Jack Leclair for a lap of honor. Blake waived his fedora and saluted the crowd before his grin grew even larger when Bouchard brought him in for a sip of champagne from the Cup. Bouchard had only played Game 5 because Blake sensed the club would close out the series and he wanted his captain – a man who had postponed retirement for one season at Blake’s request – to accept the trophy on behalf of the team.
Inside the dressing room, Toe quietly made the rounds shaking hands and thanking each of his players as champagne corks popped all around him. Mayor Jean Drapeau, accompanied by two policemen, arrived in the dressing room handing out cigars and announcing the team would be welcomed at the Helene de Champlain on St. Helen’s Island for a special banquet following the victory parade in a few days. That forced a number of players looking to leave for Florida to stretch their plans. Selke lauded Blake’s work in keeping the club focused all season, and Blake admitted afterward few changes to the roster would be needed the following season.
"Those newspaper men really put a lot of great pressure on the club when they called us to finish in first placeafter all, I thought Detroit had won the league last year. They not only picked us to finish first place but to win the Cup,” Blake said in his distinct voice, which was high in accentuation but not in pitch, akin to a man with a fresh lozenge lodged in his throat. “I thought it put a lot of pressure on the boys, but they came through whenever they had to win an important game. They played well under pressure.
Toe marveled as 250,000 fans packed the city streets for what turned out to be a 6-1/2-hour parade celebration. It was a season Toe would never forget. The Canadiens felt Blake’s mastery had shaped the beginning of what was certain to be a prolonged period of success.
Table of Contents
Foreword Scotty Bowman ix
Author's Note & Acknowledgements xi
Chapter 1 Game Day 1
Chapter 2 Childhood 10
Chapter 3 Sudbury 22
Chapter 4 Montreal 44
Chapter 5 Punch Line 75
Chapter 6 Valleyfield 99
Chapter 7 Coach of the Canadiens 125
Chapter 8 Record Run 154
Chapter 9 Quit, You Bum! 172
Chapter 10 Caretaker Coach 193
Chapter 11 The Tavern 212
Chapter 12 Last Cup 218
Chapter 13 Life After Death 237
Chapter 14 Legacy 258
Appendix Toe Blake Timeline 267