Long before he became a coaching legend, left wing Hector "Toe" Blake was a talented scorer and NHL star. He totaled 235 career goals, including six 20-goal seasons and became known as "the Old Lamplighter" in honour of his skill for putting the puck in the net. During the 1940s, he formed one of the league's most dangerous lines, the Punch Line, with Maurice Richard and Elmer Lach.
Blake fine-tuned his game while playing junior and senior hockey in the Sudbury area from 1929 to 1932. Teams on which he played included the Cochrane Dunlops and the 1932 Memorial Cup champion Sudbury Cub Wolves. Blake next excelled with the Hamilton Tigers at the Ontario Hockey Association senior level while also playing baseball. In his first year, the Tigers lost the Ontario crown to Niagara Falls, but the next year they triumphed in Ontario before losing to Moncton's all-star import team in the Allan Cup semi-final. After an outstanding year in 1934-35, the sensational young star was offered a contract by Tommy Gorman of the Montreal Maroons.
Although his name was synonymous with the great Canadiens teams of the 1940s, Blake made his NHL debut with their crosstown rivals, the Maroons, just before the 1935 playoffs. They won the Stanley Cup that year, but because of Blake's inexperience, he was relegated to watching from the bench. He started the 1935-36 season in Providence under coach Bert "Battleship" Leduc. In February 1936, the Canadiens acquired him when he was enjoying a solid year with the Reds of the Can-Am League. Blake played 11 games for the Canadiens that year and earned a full-time spot on the roster in 1936-37.
Blake's first two full NHL seasons were solid, but he took his game to a higher level with a league-leading 47 points in 1938-39. His effort was rewarded with the Hart Trophy and placement on the NHL First All-Star Team. He was teamed up with Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard in 1943, and the Punch Line led Montreal to the Stanley Cup later that season. It was Blake's goal at 9:12 of overtime in Game Four that gave Montreal a 5-4 win over Chicago and possession of hockey's ultimate prize. That year, he led all post-season scorers with seven goals and 18 points. His record for that playoffs of two points per game went untouched until Wayne Gretzky took over the NHL record book in the 1980s.
In 1944-45, Blake notched a personal-best 67 points while helping linemate Richard become the first 50-goal scorer in NHL history. The next year, Blake led all playoff scorers with seven goals in nine games to help bring the team its second championship in three years. That year, the veteran winger was also presented with the Lady Byng Trophy for his sportsmanlike play.
Blake retired at the conclusion of the 1947-48 season with 235 regular season goals and 25 playoff markers to his credit. He immediately accepted a coaching position with the Houston Huskies of the United States Hockey League. After stops in Buffalo and Valleyfield, Blake rejoined the Canadiens as head coach in 1955-56 as successor to the legendary Dick Irvin. One of the main reasons he was hired was to help control the explosive temper of his former linemate, Maurice Richard.
Blake's performance behind the Montreal bench between 1955 and 1968 was unparalleled. He won an incredible eight Stanley Cup titles in just 13 seasons, including five in a row in his first five years of coaching. In all, his playoff record was 82-37, a wins-to-losses ratio rarely matched in the NHL. His Habs teams never had a losing record and they never failed to make the playoffs.
In 1966, after coaching the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Players category. In 1982 Blake was honoured with the Order of Canada.