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WORRYING IS THE WAY TO WIN
Mark Kram
November 22, 1965
If, that is, you have a temperament like the Montreal Canadiens' Toe Blake, who broods when his championship hockey teams fall behind and who really sweats when they start to go ahead
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November 22, 1965

Worrying Is The Way To Win

If, that is, you have a temperament like the Montreal Canadiens' Toe Blake, who broods when his championship hockey teams fall behind and who really sweats when they start to go ahead

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"I want the whole month of May to think about it," replied Blake.

"Why the hesitation?" he was asked.

"Let's put it this way," he answered. "I want to live like Toe Blake used to live." He just could not, it seemed, bear the thought of being a loser.

This contempt for himself, for his players and for anybody else who might share the responsibility for defeat has been a source of much trouble for Blake, but it has also been one of his most potent weapons as a coach. True, he is a technically solid hockey man, a patient master at handling young players and one who is consistently successful at getting competence from those who do not have it to give too often, but it is his attitude and his cutting tongue that drive the Canadiens. After a series of defeats or just one game notable for desultory play, Blake can usually be heard profanely disparaging the abilities of his players. "The dressing room just shakes," says one reporter.

"I'm not sure such a technique is right," says Blake. "I've tried the silent treatment on them, but it gets me more upset than it does them."

Toe's players respect him, but there are a few who resent his bludgeoning approach. One such was Goalie Jacques Plante. " Plante was the greatest goalie I have ever seen," says Blake, "and I never said anything to him for seven years. Then when I did he couldn't take it." Blake, perhaps more restrained with Plante than with any other player he had ever coached, soon became completely disenchanted with his goalie. Plante, something of a hypochondriac and a source of dissension on the club, was traded to New York for the Rangers' indifferent Gump Worsley. "I never even gave it a second thought," Blake says. "It got so I never knew when he would be well enough to play."

The Plante-Blake feud did not end with the trade, however. When Plante joined the Rangers he immediately began making caustic remarks about Blake and Montreal to the press. Later on, when informed that he had been picked as coach of the year, Blake said: "They made a mistake in picking me. They should have given the award to Plante. He was the one that got our players hot."

Blake does not opt for dialogue when he disagrees with an official. He prefers getting right to the point, which may be located anywhere on the anatomy of the referee in question. In 1961, in the semifinals of the cup playoffs, Blake became incensed over a tripping call. He raged across the ice and threw a long, looping right hand at Referee Dalton MacArthur. Even though he missed, he was fined $2,000. During the finals against Chicago last April, Blake was exasperated by some of Vern Buffey's calls. After the game he skidded toward Buffey, intent upon elevating that referee's jaw. His players restrained him, but on his way into the dressing room Blake managed to uncork his right at a fan—and missed again. Moments later he popped his head out of the dressing room and bawled to reporters: "You all saw the game. You all saw what happened. Now let's see how much guts you've got."

Although the majority of the press—despite its painful association with him—is fond of Blake, he has shown little inclination to return the affection. His estrangement from reporters was provoked during the playoffs of 1963, when he tangled with Referee Eddie Powers (SI, April 8, 1963). Infuriated as usual at the officiating, Blake ranted after one game: "They oughta investigate the conduct of officials who handle themselves in such a way you'd think they bet on the outcome." Blake said then and says now that, like any other coach during heated moments, he was just "talking to the wall." One reporter did not think so, however, and Blake's remarks turned up in the French-language paper Matin. Powers insisted his honor had been impugned. Blake was fined $200. Powers, obviously annoyed at the fact that his honor was worth only $200, quit the NHL and took legal action against Blake. The case was settled out of court in Toronto, but Blake was forced to harness his emotions until the settlement. He avoided squabbling with referees. He was cautious with reporters. He was a man in chains. He never did forgive the press.

"I'd say," says Blake, "that the toughest job for a coach today is handling the press after a game. Particularly when you lose. You have to be a politician and a diplomat. They're all looking for an angle. That's what they call it. An angle. I tell you it's wicked."

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