Elmer Lach wasn’t one for the spotlight. He wasn’t the one with the flashy goal totals. But he sure was pretty darn good at hockey. A Saskatchewan boy, Lach played in Moose Jaw for a couple years in his early 20s before making it to the NHL in 1940. While Lach wasn’t a dirty player, he was an intense and aggressive one, resulting in many injuries throughout his career. Lach had a respectable, though not overly impressive rookie season with 21 points in 43 games.
Lach played only one game the following year, but returned to NHL action for the 1942-43 season. Lach showed marked improvement and finished 9th in the NHL with 58 points and 5th in assists with 40 in just 45 games. The following season, Lach turned it up another notch. He finished fifth in points with 72 and second in the league with 48 assists. Lach helped lead the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1944 after an astonishingly strong season by the Canadiens. Lach was named to the Second All-Star Team, the first individual accolade of his career.
The following year was among the most legendary of them all. The year of the Rocket. But while Richard was scoring at an unheard of rate, Lach was racking up the assists, putting his playmaking skills on display. By the season’s end, Lach had played in all 50 games and totaled 54 assists, leading the NHL and setting a new NHL record. While Richard was being celebrated for becoming the NHL’s first 50-goal man, Lach’s record of 54 assists in a season quietly made him the first 50-assist man in the NHL. Lach’s record wouldn’t be broken for five more years until Ted Lindsay passed him, needing 69 games to do so compared to Lach’s 50 games. Lach also led the league with 80 points and was awarded the Hart trophy for his efforts.
Lach had another strong year in 1945-46, though less so. Regardless, he still led the league in assists for the second consecutive year with 34 assists. Lach topped off the year with another Stanley Cup ring to his name as the Canadiens were the 1946 Stanley Cup victors. Lach was having another solid year in the 1946-47 season when his year was cup short by a skull fracture after hitting his head on the ice after a check. Lach played in just 31 games that year. Many thought his career might be over, but as a testament to his resilience and toughness, Lach returned for the 1947-48 season to again lead the NHL in points. Lach played in all 60 games and had 61 points while also setting a new personal best with 30 goals. As the 1947-48 year was the first year the Art Ross was awarded, Lach became the first ever Art Ross victor for his season. He was also voted onto the First All-Star team and finished third in Hart voting.
The 1948-49 season was a shortened one for Lach, but in the last game of the season, Lach’s determination and grit was once again on display for all to see. His jaw was broken by an opponent’s elbow, and while he tried to downplay it and even get permission to play with a protective mask for the playoffs, he wasn’t allowed to play when it became clear that he struggled to even talk. Lach’s offensive numbers took a slight dip for a few years, but he still remained one of the league’s premier playmakers. In the 1951-52 season, at 34 years old, Lach had a resurgent year. His goal totals remained modest, but his assists rocketed up to 50, leading the NHL for the third time in his career. Lach was awarded a position on the First All-Star team and was second in Hart voting to only Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe. It was during this season that Lach passed Bill Cowley to become the NHL’s all-time leading point scorer. While Lach wasn’t the dominant force he once was in the 1952-53 season, he and his Canadiens still made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals that year. Lach scored the most important goal of his career, the overtime cup-winning goal for the Canadiens over the Bruins.
Lach had one more final season that was rather unimpressive before calling it quits in 1954 at the age of 36. Lach would do a bit of coaching at lower levels immediately after his retirement, but not stay there long. By the time Lach had retired, his teammate Maurice Richard had already passed him in total points, but Lach was still the all-time assist leader. Gordie Howe would be the man to pass him in that category a few years later in the 1957-58 season. No. 16 worn by Lach was retired by the Canadiens in 1975 in honour of Henri Richard, but the Canadiens also retired it in Lach’s honour in 2009. Lach was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.