MONTREAL (AP) Hall of Fame forward Elmer Lach, who centered Montreal's famed Punch Line with Toe Blake on left wing and Maurice ''Rocket'' Richard on the right, has died. He was 97.
The Canadiens say Lach passed away Saturday morning in Montreal. He had been the oldest living NHL player.
''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 this 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 Blake's retirement in 1948.
It started in 1944-45 when the linemates finished first, second and third in the scoring race. Lach won the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP after he had 54 assists and a league-leading 80 points, and Richard became the NHL's first 50-goal scorer.
Lach helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1944, 1946 and 1953. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1966.
And he did it the hard way.
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 Richard jumped up to hug him after Lach scored the winning goal in overtime against Boston to clinch the 1953 Stanley Cup.
''The National Hockey League deeply mourns the passing of Elmer Lach - center on Montreal's legendary `Punch Line' with Toe Blake and Maurice Richard, owner of the sole assist on Richard's 50th goal in 50 games in 1944-45 and 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.
''The League sends heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of this three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time scoring champion and 1945 Hart Trophy winner.''
After being turned down in a tryout with the Maple Leafs, Lach was invited to the Canadiens' camp in 1940. He boarded a train in Regina that was carrying another rookie who would go into the Hockey Hall of Fame, defenseman Ken Reardon. Butch Bouchard joined the following season and Richard debuted in 1942.
After Lach became the career scoring leader in 1952, a center-ice tribute was held at the Forum 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.
After his playing career, he briefly coached the Junior Canadiens but wasn't cut out for life behind the bench. He went into business and settled down in the Montreal area.
His first wife Kay died in 1985 and his second wife Lise Desjardins died in 2014. He had two daughters.