This writer’s personal motto has always been “History abhors a vacuum”.
For much too long there has been a vacuum in the annals of hockey history: a definitive biography of the late Toe Blake. Even though Toe Blake was the greatest coach in NHL history until the arrival of Scotty Bowman; even though Toe Blake remains the greatest coach of the Original Six Era (1942-1967) as well as the greatest coach of the 1950s and the 1960s (according to my rating system found in this writer’s book Bench Bosses: the NHL’s Coaching Elite—shameless plug, please forgive me) his glorious coaching career (and playing career for that matter) has been mysteriously ignored by hockey biographers and historians.
Toe Blake: Winning is Everything is a brilliant and magnificent debut work by author Paul Logothetis.
Logothetis combs through the available sources, interviews the key players, and with the help of Toe’s only son Bruce is able to scrape away the layers of ice that enshrouded Toe Blake’s life and uncover the many facets of this driven, volatile, brilliant, and complex man.
Like Greek tragedy, Logothetis shows the towering strengths and dark moods that tugged and pulled at Blake’s physical and emotional well-being. The qualities that made Blake one of the NHL’s premier players and one of its greatest coaches also consumed him and forced him to quit a 13 season NHL coaching career of unparalleled perfection (13 winning seasons, 9 Prince of Wales Trophies, 13 playoff appearances, 9 Stanley Cup appearances and eight Stanley Cup victories including five straight Cup wins from 1955/56 to 1959/60—and furthermore don’t forget hockey fans that it took Scotty Bowman 30 seasons to surpass what Toe Blake did in 13—food for thought).
Paul Logothetis’ prose shows the same grace, deftness, speed, coordination, grittiness, and dedication to excellence that Blakes’ Habs showed during those 13 seasons. Logothetis advances the narrative, balancing Blake’s brilliance on the ice and in the locker room with the complexities of his home life…and the tragedies that struck at Toe and his family—all the while converging on the net and scoring boldly and decisively like Blake’s Canadiens did during those glory years.
With surgical precision Logothetis captures the proletarian harshness of Blake’s youth living and working in mining towns; using hockey as a means of escape. He shows how Blake, as a player, was like a coach on the ice: displaying the moral authority that made the Punch Line of Blake, Rocket Richard, and Elmer Lach go and restored the Canadiens to greatness.
We also see the volcanic Blake, always on the verge of erupting either against the referees or the press.
Logothetis captures the superstitions and rituals that Blake latched onto to insure victory but we also see the acts of kindness and sporting generosity that added luster to his already glorious image; and the little informalities that color and complete this intricate tapestry of Toe Blake’s life.
The book’s greatest moment comes in chapter seven where Logothetis delves into Toe Blake’s offensive and defensive tactical matrices that helped the Habs win eight Stanley Cups.
Chapter seven alone is worth its weight in gold and is a fantastic piece of hockey writing.
If Toe Blake has one flaw (and this is a minor quibble on my part) it is that Logothetis didn’t delve a little more deeply into the Toe Blake-Punch Imlach rivalry.
Curiously, Logothetis does not dwell at all on how Imlach out-foxed Blake tactically in the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs—the only time Toe Blake ever lost a Stanley Cup final.
Despite this, Toe Blake: Winning is Everything meets the test of what hockey literature and hockey biography must be: a dedicated encapsulation of how a hockey legend became a legend; how the stick, gloves, and padding a legend wears to protect one’s self from external blows can sometimes be a cross that leaves a lot of blood on the tracks in a legend’s journey to glory and a future berth to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And so it was for Toe Blake.
His achievements were stupendous to behold…and so were his sufferings.