Friday, March 11, 2011

Gifts for Elmer

For Elmer Lach, it wouldn't be just another game with the Montreal Canadiens in the Forum. The contest, played on March 8, 1952, was officially tagged as "Elmer Lach Night". A group of fans and sports writers were put in charge of gathering a collection of gifts which would be presented to Lach between the second and third periods.

Lach, who was in the late stages of his career (he would play 2 more seasons in Montreal), had achieved major success in a Canadiens uniform - Art Ross Trophy (1945, 1948), First All-Star Team (1945, 1948, 1952), Second All-Star Team (1944, 1946), Hart Trophy (1945). While patrolling the centre position, Lach was responsible for distributing the puck to his line mates - Rocket Richard and Toe Blake. The trio would form one of hockey's most famous line combinations - The Punch Line. In this union, Lach's skating, passing and puck handling skills were front and centre. In February 1952, Lach would leap over Bill Cowley to become the all-time leader in NHL scoring (549 points). In a 7-0 win over Chicago, Lach scored a goal and collected 3 assists, giving him 550 points.

Another characteristic associated with Lach was his toughness. Several times, he suffered significant injuries, but battled back to continue his career. Following his rookie campaign, Lach skated in only one game during the 1941-42 season due to a serious elbow injury. In a game against Toronto in 1947, he suffered a skull fracture and in 1949 a broken jaw.

His finest season came in 1944-45. He lead the league in points (80) and assists (54). Maurice Richard would become the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in one season. The Rocket, often being the recipient of Lach's crisp and accurate passes, which resulted in Number 9 adding to his goal total.

Elmer Lach captured 3 Stanley Cups - 1944, 1946, 1953 - in Montreal. One of his final great moments occurred during the 1953 final. In overtime, he scored the Cup winning goal against the Boston Bruins. With starting goalie, Sugar Jim Henry, out of the line-up due to injury, the Bruins were only able to win one game in the final. Boston replaced Henry with Hershey's Gordon "Red" Henry. Lach's overtime tally gave the Habs a 1-0 victory.

So, the stage was set for "Elmer Lach Night" on March 8, 1952. Lach was joined at centre-ice by his wife and received a thunderous ovation from the 14,452 fans who crammed every available inch in the Forum. Then, Lach was showered with gifts - a convertible car, television set, combination radio/phonograph, rowboat, washing machine, clothes and furniture. One gift, in particular, spoke volumes about what the fans in Quebec thought about Lach. The young patients in Children's Memorial Hospital sent a box of golf balls for their hero. Following a round of speeches, several players took a spin around the ice in Lach's new wheels. The trio was composed of Butch Bouchard, Bill Mosienko (Chicago) and Toe Blake. Mosienko and the Hawks played Lach and the Canadiens to a 4-4 tie.

Elmer Lach played his entire National Hockey League career, 14 seasons (1940-41 to 1953-54), with the Montreal Canadiens. What if circumstances had changed the course of history for Lach and all those who cheered for him in a Canadiens jersey?


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