No general manager or coach during the Original Six era was more feared than Punch Imlach. Players had no union, no power, no leverage. They were told when to play, with what team, and at what salary, and if they didnt like it, there were many like-skilled replacements in the AHL waiting for a chance to play in the NHL.
Imlach was famous for sending players to the minors as a way to scare them and the entire team, but he was also compassionate at times. Yet for all his bravura and power, he was a deeply superstitious coach who lived virtually every moment of his life with some higher or magical purpose in mind.
If the Leafs won a game, hed do everything the same way the next game, not just talk to the same people but touch the same doorknobs and walk the same way. He always wore the same suit after a win. He would buy a new suit in Montreal at Tony the Tailors before the Leafs played the Canadiens. If the team won, hed buy another suit there on his next visit. If not, Tony would lose a sale.
“PUNCH” IMLACH Photo Gallery
Few people in hockey were as superstitious as Torontos Punch Imlach, coach of the teams four Stanley Cup teams in the 1960s. (photo credit 2.6)
He had a lucky hat, and even its position on his head was important. Pushed down over his head meant that things were going poorly; pushed back, he was happy and the team was winning. Hats on a bed were not allowed. He never carried a two-dollar bill in his pocket.
Most noticeable of all, though, was his love of the number 11. He liked his favourite rookie to wear that number, which is how Gilbert Perreault wore it in Buffalo. Imlach had moved on to coach the expansion Sabres, and they selected the fast-skating forward with the first selection at the 1970 Entry Draft. Imlach insisted Perreault wear number 11, and the player went on to a Hall of Fame career.