It’s common for former NHL players to take a shot at working behind the bench after their playing days are over, but it’s rare that someone can be a legend in both roles. Toe Blake was an exception. Blake, born in Ontario in 1912, began his hockey career by playing for various Ontario teams in his late teens and early 20s, but began his NHL career with the Montreal Maroons late into the 1934-35 season. Blake didn’t play a big role and only played in one playoff game while the Maroons won the Stanley Cup.
Blake began the 1935-36 season by playing for the Providence Reds of the Can-Am League, but was picked up the Canadiens late into the season and began playing for them. Blake did finally get on the board and finished the season with 1 goal and 2 assists in 11 games. Blake earned a full-time position with the Canadiens for the 1936-37 season and finished with 22 points in 43 games. The 1937-38 season saw a notable improvement for Blake as he became a first-line player for the Canadiens, scoring 17 goals and 33 points in 43 games while earning a spot on the Second All-Star Team.
All that was fine and dandy, but the 1938-39 season was when Blake really burst onto the scene, becoming one of the league’s best players. Blake played in all 48 games and led the entire league with 47 points. Blake won the Hart Trophy and was named to the First All-Star Team. Over the next two seasons, Blake would continue to be one of the premier forwards in the league, but not to the degree that he had been in 1938-39. In the 1941-42 season, Blake saw a bit of a resurgence and finished 7th in points, setting a new personal best of 28 assists. The 1942-43 season saw an overall spike in offense around the league and Blake was not left behind. He paired up with Elmer Lach and together they made a deadly combination and Blake set career highs in assists (36) and points (59), again finishing 7th in points.
Offense continued to rise in the 1943-44 season and Blake set career highs in goals with 26 while also tying his personal best with 59 points, all while missing 9 games and only playing 41 games on the season. This season also marked the beginning of the deadly “Punch” line, and boy did they ever pack a punch. Maurice Richard, the most recent addition to the line showed his chemistry with the combination of Lach and Blake, who were already dominant on their own. The 1943-44 Canadiens were among the most dominant teams in NHL history and won the Stanley Cup, the first Cup win by the Canadiens in 13 years.
Despite the dominance of the 1943-44 season, the 1944-45 season is more famous, because of the incredible achievement of Blake’s teammate, Maurice Richard. Blake himself was no slouch either, finishing with 29 goals, 38 assists and 67 points, all personal bests. Blake finished third in scoring behind only his two other line mates. Blake was named to the First All-Star Team for the third time in his career. Blake had a strong 1945-46 season as well, finishing with another 29-goal season and 50 points in total, third in the NHL and first on the Canadiens. Blake, who had now been the Montreal Captain for many years, led his team to another Stanley Cup victory, the second in three years. At the end of the year, Blake was awarded a spot on the Second All-Star Team and the Byng trophy as well, thanks to his stunningly low 2 PIM in 50 games.
Blake had another strong 50-point season the following year, followed by 24 points in a shortened 32 game season for him before retiring in 1948 at 35 years old. Blake was known as a consistent scorer and one who especially showed up in the playoffs, particularly in the 1944 and 1946 Stanley Cup victories. Blake ended his career at 2nd all-time assists with 292 and third in points 527 points. He retired as the all-time point leader of the Canadiens but was passed by his old line mate Lach a few years later.
Immediately after retiring from the NHL, Blake took to the coaching scene, coaching several teams over the late 40s and early 50s. Blake took over for the legendary Dick Irvin as the new head coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 1955 and had some big shoes to fill. Blake ran the helm of the Canadiens for 13 years and was undoubtedly the most successful coach in Canadiens history, winning eight Cups over that period. Blake retired from coaching in 1968 at the age of 55. His team always made the playoffs and never had a losing record. Blake was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966, while he was still coaching.