HABS HISTORY | Montreal Canadiens Coaches: From Sylvio Mantha To Toe Blake

Hector ‘Toe’ Blake, who served as coach of the Canadiens for eight of their 24 Stanley Cup wins. (photo courtesy of nhl.com)

Welcome to Habs History! Throughout this series, we are going to be taking a look at the coaches of the Montreal Canadiens from their inception in 1909 up to the present. This will include short bios and their accomplishments with the team. Be sure to check out part one of the series where we looked at the coaches from 1909 right up to Cecil Hart’s tenure with the team.

Part One: From Jack Laviolette In 1909 To Cecil Hart

Sylvio Mantha 1935-1936

Sylvio Mantha. (photo courtesy of ourhistory.canadiens.com)

Sylvio Mantha was born on April 14, 1902 in Montreal, Quebec. By the time he became the coach of the Canadiens, he had already played as a defenceman for the team for 13 seasons. His tenure saw the Habs miss out on the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. He went on to be fired by the Canadiens and was later hired by the Boston Bruins, but retired soon after. He later coached junior hockey and served as a linesman and referee for both the AHL and NHL. He died August 7, 1974.

Jules Dugal 1938-1939

Jules Dugal. (photo courtesy of ourhistory.canadiens.com)

Jules Dugal served as the Canadiens coach for half of a season following Cecil Hart. He posted a 9-6-3 record during his time as the team’s coach, and saw them to a sixth place finish overall at the end of the season. He gave up his position as coach to Charles Albert ‘Babe’ Siebert but continued to serve as the team’s GM for another year.

Babe Siebert 1939

Babe Siebert. (photo courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame)

Charles Albert Siebert was born January 14, 1904 in Plattsville, Ontario. He started his professional hockey playing career with the Montreal Maroons during the 1925-1926 season, where he won the first of two Stanley Cups that he would win during his career. He played with the Maroons for seven seasons before he was traded to the New York Rangers where he won the Stanley Cup once more. He was traded shortly thereafter to the Boston Bruins where he remained until his return to Montreal under Cecil Hart in 1936.

Siebert’s game only improved after his return to Montreal, where he claimed the Hart trophy in 1937. He served as one of the team’s best defensemen during his short three year stint with the Habs before his retirement. Weeks after retiring, he was asked to serve as coach of the Canadiens, however, he drowned while swimming near his summer home on Lake Huron on August 25, 1939. He was buried at the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario, the same place where famed Habs goalie George Hainsworth was later laid to rest. Siebert was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.

Pit Lepine 1939-1940

Alfred ‘Pit’ Lepine. (photo courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame)

Alfred Lepine was born July 30, 1901 in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec. He played for a number of senior level teams in the Montreal area before he signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 1925 alongside his elder brother Hector Lepine. While he did not see the ice time that he could have thanks to playing in the shadow of the great Howie Morenz, he did maintain an impressive record of 143 goals, 98 assists and 241 points during his 13 seasons with Montreal. In total, Lepine played 526 regular season games with the Montreal Canadiens before his retirement from professional hockey.

He was hired on as coach of the team following the tragic death of Babe Siebert in 1939, but lasted only one season. His tenure with the team saw a 10-33-5 record, and the team unfortunately missed the playoffs. He was fired at the end of the season. Pit Lepine died August 2, 1955.

Dick Irvin Sr. 1940-1955

Dick Irvin behind the bench. (photo courtesy of Turofsky Photos / Regina Leader-Post)

James Dickenson Irvin was born July 19, 1892 in Hamilton, Ontario. He was a great hockey player in his own right, as he was known for his exceptional shot and his stick handling abilities. He began playing professional hockey with the Portland Rosebuds in 1916, where he scored 35 goals that season alone. After he enlisted in the army, Irvin was able to continue to play professional hockey as a soldier with the Winnipeg Ypres team. Irvin was later purchased by the Chicago Blackhawks where he continued to play until his retirement in 1929 following a fractured skull. His own hockey playing expertise earned him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

By the time that Irvin had made his way behind the Canadiens bench, he already had 11 years of coaching experience, two with the Blackhawks and 9 with the Maple Leafs. As part of the Maple Leafs organization, Irvin guided the team to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup and led them to the finals a total of six other times before resigning in 1940.

After being hired by the Canadiens, he led the team to three Stanley Cup victories. However, his greatest accomplishments lay in the players that he led and developed to glory, such as Maurice RichardJean Beliveau, and Bernard Geoffrion. He served as the Habs GM for 15 years before going to coach the Blackhawks for the 1955-1956 season and retiring soon after. His time with the Canadiens saw an incredible 431-313-152 record.

Unfortunately, Dick Irvin passed away on May 15, 1957.

Toe Blake 1955-1968

Hector Blake. (photo courtesy of nhl.com)

Hector Blake was born on August 21, 1912 in Victoria Mines, Ontario. As many who came before him did, Blake began playing hockey when he was young, playing for the Cochrane Dunlops and the Sudbury Cub Wolves. On top of playing baseball, Blake also went on to play with the Hamilton Tigers. He broke into the NHL when he was offered a contract with the Montreal Maroons in 1934. He was acquired by the Canadiens in 1936.

He slowly but surely became one of the most feared forwards in the NHL. He was a league leader in points for the 1938-1939 season with 47 points. After Dick Irvin was named head coach, he made Blake captain of the team due to his willingness to play the game as grittily as he needed to in order to score goals and win. At the start of the 1942-43 season, Blake was assigned to what would become known as ‘The Punch Line’ alongside Elmer Lach and a young Maurice Richard; this line would go on to become one of the best offensive units in hockey history, with Blake alone scoring at least 20 goals per season that he spent with Lach and Richard. Due to his scoring capabilities, Blake would become known as ‘the Old Lamplighter’.

Blake’s playing career unfortunately ended when he broke his leg on January 10, 1948, forcing his retirement. Following his retirement, Blake went on to coach in the minor leagues before he was asked to replace Dick Irvin in 1955. During his first year with the club, he led the team to a Stanley Cup victory alongside his former teammates. Under his guidance, players such as Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Maurice Richard, Bernard Geoffrion, and Doug Harvey rose to prominence in the hockey world.

During his 13 years with the Canadiens, Blake guided the team to eight Stanley Cup wins and over 500 victories to his name. He retired two years after winning his final Stanley Cup and was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. He was honoured with the Order of Canada in 1982, and died on May 17, 1995. He is regarded as one of the 100 greatest NHL players of all time.

By Cate Racher, Hockey History Researcher.
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