George Imlach packed a punch. That may just be why he was generally known as “Punch”. Of course, it’s possible he was a master at the beverage bowl at New Year’s parties but that seems like a bit of a stretch.
“I recognize that I am a stubborn, tough bastard to deal with.”
– Punch Imlach
Punch Imlach was a hard-assed general manager and coach with hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres from the fifties all the way to 1980, winning four Stanley Cups and being named in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the process. He actually got his nickname during his own playing career, when he was knocked out by a stray elbow, got up, and came back swinging – at his own trainer who had rushed onto the ice to help him up.
Imlach was one of those larger-than-life hockey personalities in that era that left us a smorgasbord of great stories.
For instance, in the 1974 entry draft, Imlach was on the phone announcing the Buffalo Sabres’ draft picks. He became increasingly bored with the drafting process which had dragged on for hours on end. Then, apparently just to mess with the commissioner Clarence Campbell, in the 11th round he selected an imaginary Japanese player, Taro Tsujimoto from the Japanese League’s non-existent Tokyo Katanas.
Amazingly, no one thought this was strange, in spite of the fact that there had never been a Japanese player either drafted or signed to a professional hockey contract in North America. It took several weeks until anyone caught on. Tsujimoto is officially now listed as “invalid claim” in history books.
Punch is also remembered for bringing four Stanley Cups to Toronto, including the last one they ever won in 1967, with a team including the now legendary doughnut merchant Tim Horton.
Imlach always had a controversial reputation, especially towards his later years when he feuded with players, traded away those he didn’t like, and assessed fines for breaches to his strict dress code.
Today he is remembered for his success in Toronto, his unique, hard-hitting name, and perhaps as a pioneer for Japanese hockey.