Claude Ruel offers tips to tough guy John Ferguson in 1970.
Born: September 12, 1938 (Sherbrooke, Québec)
Died: February 9, 2015 (Longueuil, Québec)
Claude Ruel was an animated figure behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens, a diminutive figure who appeared to need to poke his pudgy bulldog face between the shoulders of his players to see the action on the ice.
Ruel had the unenviable task of succeeding the legendary Toe Blake as coach of the Canadiens for the 1968-69 season. He took over at age 29, making him younger than eight of his players. He guided them to a first-place finish in the NHL’s East Division before sweeping the New York Rangers, eliminating Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins in six games, and sweeping the sophomore St. Louis Blues for the Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens missed the playoffs the following season despite recording 92 points on 38 wins and 16 ties, a better record than any of the teams in the West Division.
Ruel resigned as coach after 23 games of the 1970-71 campaign. He stayed with the club as scout and, later, director of player development, playing a key role in building the dynasty of the 1970s. He returned behind the bench midway through the 1979-80 season, The Habs were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Minnesota North Stars in seven games, ending a streak of four consecutive championships.
Ruel coached one more season, again winning the Prince of Wales Trophy, although the Canadiens were upset by being swept in three games in the preliminary round by the upstart Edmonton Oilers. He was replaced the following season by Bob Berry.
Ruel’s coaching record with the Canadiens was 172 wins, 82 losses, 51 ties. His playoff record was 18-9.
He was known to work well with young players, notably Chris Nilan, who he hoped to forge into the kind of scoring fighter the Canadiens had with the formidable John Ferguson. Ruel reminded players he wanted them to “dance” on the ice. He believed in mobility.
Born in Sherbrooke, Que., played junior with the Junior Canadiens and the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens. The 5-foot-6, 160-pound defenceman won a Memorial Cup championship with Hull-Ottawa in 1956-57. His playing career ended when the butt end of an opponent’s stick struck him in the left eye.
He later coached the Junior Canadiens and was the head of scouting when named coach of the storied franchise, a rare boss to have never played a game of professional hockey.
Claude Ruel coached the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship in 1969.