Chicago to Toronto to Montreal and back to Chicago – Dick Irvin came full circle and made his mark along the way. In Chicago on October 22, 1953, Irvin coached his 600th winning NHL game as the first to ever coach as many. The game occurred during Irvin’s fourteenth season with the Montreal Canadiens, who defeated Irvin’s first team, the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2.
James Dickenson “Dick” Irvin was one of the Portland Rosebud stars brought over to play with the brand new Chicago Blackhawks in their first season, 1926-27, in which he was named their first captain. He became known as “one of the game’s top centers in the 1920s” and “one of the greatest playmakers of his era.” That first season he was the second-highest scorer in the NHL.
After fracturing his skull during his second season, Irvin spent the 1928-29 season playing and coaching the Blackhawks. Of the twelve games he coached, Irvin’s record was less than stellar (2-6-4), and the Blackhawks had their worst-ever season only scoring 33 goals and facing 21 shutouts. With the 1930-31 season, Irvin turned the team around, winning 24 of 44 games, and they made it to the Stanley Cup finals (where they lost to the Canadiens). Irvin coached his first 26 regular-season wins with the Blackhawks.
In 1931, when Conn Smythe saw the Toronto Maple Leafs slide into last place, he brought in Irvin, who brought the Leafs from last to first within a month. In his first season as their coach, Irvin led the team to the first ever sweep of the Stanley Cup finals. Irvin remained with Toronto throughout the 1930s and brought them to the finals six times more. With the Maple Leafs, Irvin tallied 216 more regular-season wins.
During this time, the Montreal Canadiens had been backsliding since they won the Stanley Cup in 1931. To revive them, in 1940 they brought in Irvin, who has been credited with saving the franchise from bankruptcy. Known as “demanding but fair as a bench boss,” in 1943-44, Irvin led the Canadiens to a 38-5-7 season and their next Stanley Cup (defeating the Blackhawks). They would earn two more, in 1946 and 1953, with Irvin as coach. In his final season with them, 1954-55, Montreal lost the finals to the Detroit Red Wings. However, the next season, the Canadiens defeated the Red Wings in the finals and then won the next four championships. Over the course of his fifteen seasons coaching the Canadiens, Irvin totaled 431 regular-season wins.
Finally, Irvin returned to his roots and coached one final season, 1955-56, in Chicago. Although the team “vastly improved . . . under Irvin’s hand,” the Blackhawks still had a rough season finishing sixth as they had the previous two seasons. His final 19 wins gave him a coaching record of 692 regular-season wins that held until the 1980s. Overall, he coached 1,449 games with a .557 points percentage. Irvin retired the year before he died, which was the year before his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 39.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 29, 33-35, 47, 77-78.