Elmer Lach scored 215 goals and 623 points in 664 games between 1940 and 1954. (THN Archives)
This weekend, my colleagues and I will be among the privileged, revelling in (and, OK, kind of working at) NHL all-star weekend.
We’ll have prime seats to see the league’s best players (OK, most of them) display their considerable skills. We’ll attend VIP parties, including a swank affair hosted by The Hockey News, at which we’ll meet people of fame and fortune. We’ll rub shoulders with NHL alumni and some of our own childhood heroes.
We’ve even been invited to play on the Bell Centre ice (OK, it’s at 6 a.m. Sunday morning in a media game, but it’s still a nice gesture).
All the while we’ll be immersed in 100 years of the Montreal Canadiens, witness to a special celebration of hockey’s pre-eminent franchise.
Who could ask for anything more?
Somewhat sheepishly, I could. Hey, it’s my job to be a cynical ingrate on occasion.
For me, about the only thing that’ll be missing, when I sit in the press box and take in the festivities, will be a Habs retired number. Or more accurately, official recognition of a player who wore that number.
No. 16 has already been raised to the Bell Centre rafters, in honor of the very worthy Henri ‘The Pocket Rocket’ Richard. The oversight, in my opinion, has been not paying similar homage to an equally worthy No. 16, Elmer Lach.
I had the opportunity in recent months to work on a couple THN projects – Ken Campbell’s book, Habs Heroes, and our collector’s issue magazine, “A Century of the Montreal Canadiens” – that grew my appreciation and understanding of the franchise’s history.
And one of the things I learned was Lach’s value to the Habs teams of the 1940s. Probably the greatest testament to his merit is the fact he won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1944-45, the season ‘Rocket’ Richard registered his legendary 50-goals-in-50-games performance. Lach was Richard’s center and had seven more points than his “Punch Line” right winger.
Individually, in addition to the Hart, Lach captured the Art Ross, was named a first- or second-team all-star five times and, when he retired following the 1953-54 season, he was the NHL’s all-time leading point-getter.
From a heart perspective, he was also a giant, willing to do whatever it took to win. He suffered seven broken noses, a broken jaw, a badly broken arm and won the scoring title a season after suffering a fractured skull. His coach, Dick Irvin, called him the “greatest centerman that ever came into this league.”
A panel of experts commissioned by THN ranked Lach as the 17th best Hab of all-time. Fifteen of the players ahead of him have their numbers retired, the exception being Bill Durnan (for whom you could also make a strong case).
And there is a Habs precedent for two players sharing a retired number – Yvan Cournoyer and Dickie Moore both wore 12.
Lach, meanwhile, is the oldest living Canadien. He turned 91 on Thursday. Imagine the spectacular birthday bash he could have had this weekend.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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