Hockey Hall of Fame forward Elmer Lach, who centered the Montreal Canadiens' famed "Punch Line" in the 1940s, died Saturday in Montreal. He was 97.
His death was announced by the Canadiens. Lach was the oldest living NHL player since the death of Albert Suomi, who died in September at 100.
"They used to call him Elegant Elmer but he wasn't very elegant," said broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., whose father, Dick Irvin Sr., was Lach's only coach through his 14-year NHL career from 1940 to 1954. "He was a tough little guy.
"But he was a wonderful playmaker. He knew what to do with the puck."
Lach retired as the league's career leader in points with 623, a far cry from the current record of 2,857 by Wayne Gretzky but accomplished in an era of 50-game seasons in a super-competitive six-team league.
The "Punch Line" was a force for four years until Toe Blake's retirement in 1948.
Lach won the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP in the 1944-45 season with 54 assists and a league-leading 80 points. He helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1944, 1946 and 1953, and he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1966.
While he had 215 goals in 664 NHL games, Lach missed 150 games with a staggering number of injuries. He broke his nose seven times and broke his jaw twice in the same season. He missed almost all of his sophomore season with a broken elbow.
One broken nose came when Maurice Richard, also on the "Punch Line," jumped up to hug him after Lach scored the winning goal in overtime against Boston to clinch the 1953 Stanley Cup.
Lach was born on Jan. 22, 1918 in Nokomis, Saskatchewan and grew up playing hockey. He began his Junior career in the 1935-36 season with the Regina Abbotts.
"The National Hockey League deeply mourns the passing of Elmer Lach ... someone who, at 97 years of age, was just a few months younger than the League itself," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
After Lach became the career scoring leader in 1952, a center-ice tribute was held at which he got $11,000 in cash and gifts that included a TV, a fridge, a freezer, a chair and a rowboat. Teammates pooled money and gave him a washing machine.
He also got a car that was driven onto the ice by Blake, wearing a chauffeur's uniform.
Following Lach's playing career, he briefly coached the Junior Canadiens.
His first wife, Kay, died in 1985 and his second wife, Lise Desjardins, died in 2014. He had two daughters.