Heaven and Hell in the NHL: Punch Imlach's Own Story


216 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-7710-9083-8





Edited by Scott Young
Reviewed by Janet Money

Janet Money is a writer and policy analyst for the Canadian Cystic
Fibrosis Foundation in Toronto.


This is the second book that Imlach and Young have produced with the subtitle, “Punch Imlach’s Own Story.” Heaven and Hell in the NHL takes up the story of Imlach’s career in pro hockey management from where Hockey Is a Battle (Macmillan, 1969) left off, after he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of the 1967-68 season.

After a brief autobiographical sketch, Imlach chronicles his involvement with the formation of the 1970 expansion Buffalo Sabres team. Imlach was coach and general manager of the Sabres until his first heart attack in 1972; after that he remained GM until 1979, when he was fired. He provides behind-the-scenes, highly partial accounts of events such as his bringing the Sabres to Toronto for the first time after he was fired by the Leafs, the accidental death of Tim Horton, and the Sabres’ 12-6 win over a visiting Soviet club team. He offers an explanation of why the Sabres, after reaching the 1975 Stanley Cup finals, have never attained those heights again.

Imlach was hired as general manager of the Leafs in June 1979, beginning a controversial three-year period in the history of the most closely watched team in Canada, and what he calls “the worst three years of my long and generally happy life in hockey.” Imlach, team owner Harold Ballard, and team captain Darryl Sittler waged a highly public war of words, and Imlach uses this section of his book to give his side of the story, a side that casts Sittler, and to a lesser extent Ballard, in a dim light. Imlach lost his job after a heart bypass operation in the fall of 1981, when Ballard refused to allow him to return to work. He closes the book with a guardedly optimistic evaluation of the Loafs’ prospects.

Hockey fans, especially Leafs fans, will want to read this book for its outspoken presentation of Imlach’s point of view. Scott Young’s fine writing makes this book excellent reading. His plain, first-person style never distracts from the narrative. The index and photographs add to the book’s value.


Imlach, Punch, “Heaven and Hell in the NHL: Punch Imlach's Own Story,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38080.