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Throwback Thursdays – Jack Adams Pt. 2

Welcome, welcome, one and all!

I’m sure you’re all interested to know this, but my team is currently 2-0 in the playoffs. With a few more games before our (potential) beer league finals. I’ve held my end of the bargain, with a 0.50 GAA, only allowing one goal in my last two games. Plus, the lone goal was a high-stick beautiful deflection that I had no chance to save.

Anyways, on to the equally as important story, the life and times of Jack Adams. You can find the history of his playing days here, while today’s article will focus of his coaching prowess and accolades. Stay tuned next week for the history of his managerial career, which   ends the story of the only person to win the Stanley cup as a full-time player, coach, and manager in separate seasons.

Who was Jack Adams the coach?

After retiring as a player during his Stanley Cup season with the Ottawa Senators in 1926-27, Jack Adams got a call from NHL President Frank Calder. Calder recalled Adams had helped the Toronto St. Pats as a player-coach in the 1923 season and suggested he might do well in coaching the Detroit Cougars, who were about to embark on their second season in the NHL. Their first season of 28 points is a record low for the Detroit Red Wings franchise to this day – almost 100 years later. As a fun fact, during this time the Cougars had to play in Windsor, as the Olympia had not finished construction.

The Detroit Cougars in the first playoff season in Red Wings franchise history, and Adams second as coach. He is second from the left in the back row.

He is a very smart young fellow,” said Calder, in an article from the archives of the Hockey Hall of Fame. “He feels he’s nearing the end of his playing career. He knows the game. He’d like to continue in hockey and I think he’ll make a real good coach.

Adams improved the Cougars to a 44 point season in his first season in charge, 1927-28, and even managed to sneak the Cougars into the playoffs in his second second in charge despite their bad team and low budget. As Adams would later say about his Cougars experience, “If Howie Morenz could have been bought for $1.69, we couldn’t have afforded him.”

Adams would helm the final season in Detroit Cougars history in 1929-30, and the first in Detroit Falcons season in 1930-31. The Falcons long run would come to an end the following season, when the franchise was purchased by James Norris and re-branded the Detroit Red Wings. At the time Norris ripped up Adams contract and said “You can have this job on probation for one year to see how you make out.

Adams legend as coach was born during this time, as he would remain contactless (working on handshake agreements with Norris) for the next 15 years and lead the franchise to 13 playoff appearances.

Detroit Falcons 1930-31. Adams is on the far right.

After getting the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup finals in 1933-34 (and losing the the Chicago Blackhawks, their last Cup before 2010), Adams and the Wings would miss the playoffs and finish last in the league the following season. Adams vowed the Wings would reach new heights the following season and followed that up, winning his first Stanley Cup as a coach  that year. Those playoffs included a semi-final against Montreal that saw the longest game in NHL history, a six overtime snoozer that finally ended when Adams changed up his lines a bit. Adams quotes are taken from the same Hall of Fame article listed above.

I was half asleep on the bench,” recalled Adams. “Mr. (James) Norris was sitting on the rail seat next to me. I decided desperate measures were necessary if we were going to win it. I broke up our lines and put Hec Kilrea and Mud Bruneteau out there. I figured Hec had good legs and Mud was the surest shot. They were younger and seemed to be fresher than anyone else on the team. I can see Mud yet as he cut in from the right wing and put the puck in the far side past Lorne Chabot. He shot it right along the ice.

Mud Bruneteau, who scored the winner, later spoke of the quality of a person that Adams was when asked after the game. “Once, on a trip and dead broke, I received a telegram that my father had died. Adams pulled a roll of bills out of his pocket, handed them to me, told me to forget about hockey and get home where I belonged. How can you do enough for a man like that?

During the playoffs Adams had a reputation for berating officials and storming into their offices after games to question calls and give his opinions on their officiating. He would follow this up in the summers, however, by petitioning the league to pay referees more. This harsh but fair style was remembered by Frank Selke, manager of the Montreal Canadiens at  the time – whom Adams and the Red Wings would beat in the semi-finals again on their way to repeat as champions the following season, 1936-37.

Selke said of Adams, “He was everyone’s enemy during a game and a good friend when it was over.

His Stanley Cup wins also put him in an elite club as one of the few people to have won a Stanley Cup as a NHL player and head coach. The exclusive list is mostly from the Original Six days of the NHL, and only includes Adams, Cy Denneny (player-coach), Frank Boucher, Cooney Weiland, Hap Day, Joe Primeau, Toe Blake, King Clancy, Tom Johnson, Al Arbour, Terry Crisp, and Jacques Lemaire.

Technically you could include Lester Patrick on this list, as he suited up in net for half of a  game for the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs agains the Montreal Maroons in 1928. Patrick was the manager-coach of the Rangers at the time and when Rangers’ keeper Lorne Chabot was hit in the eye with a puck in the second period, Patrick stepped in to fill the void in net. If you include this anomaly, Patrick would also be the only person other than Adams to have won the Cup as a player, coach, and manager, and he did it all in the same season.

Lester Patrick in net for the New York Rangers at the age of 44. Patrick is the only person to ever play, coach, and manage on the same day in a Stanley Cup winning team in the NHL.

After the back-to-back wins, the Wings would miss the playoffs for the last time during his reign as coach the following season. Adams cemented his status as one of the game’s greatest coaches after that, by going on a run of nine straight appearances in the Stanley Cup semi-finals, including three straight finals appearances from 1940-41 to 1942-43. The last year of the finals runs he and his Sid Abel-led team took down the powerhouse Maple Leafs in the semis, before dismantling the Boston Bruins in a sweep in the finals. It was his fifth Stanley Cup, and third and final as a coach.

Adams would lead the Wings behind the bench for four more seasons, all of which included Stanley Cup semis losses, before retiring in 1947 to focus on his managerial career. He finished his coaching resume with 413 wins, holding the record for all-time wins by a Red Wings coach until Mike Babcock passed him nearly 70 years later in 2014.

Adams at practice, having stuffed his shirt full of hockey pucks. Photo: Albert E. Backlund

Stay tuned for the final of the Jack Adams saga, and learn about the time the Red Wings played an outdoor game in a prison, against its inmates.

Steve Auld

Steve Auld

My name is Steve and I am from the very noble Auld clan of Niagara, where we respect our elders and follow the golden rules: elbows up, and keep your stick on the ice. When not tearing up beer league or ball hockey, I enjoy the occasional downtime I have with my fiancée and son. Love me some music too, all kinds. If you feel I did a good job or you want to argue, feel free to leave a comment!
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