Robert Jesse Pulford - Born March 31, 1936 in Newton Robinson, Ontario is a Canadian retired professional ice Hockey left winger, coach, general manager and executive.
Pulford played his first junior Hockey with the Weston Dukes of the local Ontario Hockey Association Junior B League in 1952-53, and was noticed by Toronto Maple Leafs scouts.
Pulford then joined the Toronto Marlboros in the OHA junior A league for the start of the 1953-54 season. He only played in 17 regular season games, but stepped up his play down the stretch, and was a regular during the playoffs for the Marlboros, scoring 4 goals, 7 assists.
Pulford was a regular with the Marlboros the next season, and under new coach Turk Broda, would become a legend there over the next 2 seasons, as the Marlboros would become 1955 J. Ross Robertson Cup champions, George Richardson Memorial Trophy champions and Memorial Cup Champions, as Pulford scored 7 goals, 10 assists in the OHA playoffs, and another 5 goals, 4 assists in the Memorial Cup championships. The Marlboros repeated as champions again for all 3 trophies in 1956, with Pulford scoring 16 goals, 8 assists in the OHA playoffs, then a whopping 13 goals, 8 assists in the 1956 Memorial Cup championships. Pulford would be the star in the championship finals, scoring 10 goals vs the Regina Pats.
Pulford was promoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1956-57 season and proved to be a hard- working, two-way player who excelled at checking the game's top scorers, and had a multitude of checks that he mastered to slow attackers. "Pulford is one of my private headaches," said Gordie Howe years later, "because he has to be classed as one of Hockey's greatest forecheckers. There's a deep knowledge of the game in his forechecking, hook, poke check, strength of arms, quickness, the whole bundle of wax."
Pulford would play in a Maple Leafs jersey for 14 seasons, always putting up double digits for scoring each season, and had 4 seasons with 20 goals or more. Pulford was part of 4 Stanley Cup championships while with the Maple Leafs (1962, 1963, 1964, 1967). Pulford scored some big playoff goals, including a game winning shorthanded goal late in game 1 of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals, and scored a pivotal double overtime goal vs the Montreal Canadiens in game 3 of the 1967 Stanley Cup finals, as he re-directed a pass behind Rogie Vachon in the Montreal net. Pulford also led the NHL playoffs in 1967 with 10 assists.
In 1967, Pulford and five other players helped form the National Hockey League Players Association / NHLPA. When the formation of the NHLPA was officially announced during a meeting in Montreal. Bob was asked why he had become the first president of the NHLPA and he said: " I happen to believe such an association will be of benefit to the game and not just in the best interests of the players."
`I represented the players long before that,'' Pulford later said. `As a young man, I was head of the player-owner council, which involved me against the owners. That may be hard to understand now, but it was me against the owners. I would go in and meet with them, and I would say, `OK, our per diem is $10 a day. Can we get it up to $15? Our pension, can we change it to a cost-of-living type of pension?' These were things that I would bring up, and they would basically say to me, `We will take this under consideration,' and then not do anything. In those days, the player had no rights. If they didn't like you, they could send you to the minors, when there were no waivers or anything, and they paid us very little money, compared to now.
`I had a good friend in Alan Eagleson. We had tried, when I first came into the league under Ted Lindsay, to form a players' association. For some reason, they took me - I was 19 years old, and they took me with them to meet. We came close to forming the players' association 10 years earlier, but all of the clubs had to be members, and one team didn't become a member, so it was defeated. Then, 10 years later, we were successful. The players' association was something that was needed, but like a lot of other things, the pendulum went from `being needed' back to the other side, when it went too far. Now maybe it's back where it can be successful.''
Pulford had also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Hamilton, in Ontario back in 1964, after seven years of night school and summer school, it had prepared him well for the days when his playing career would be over.
Pulford's best season in the NHL point wise, was in the 1955-56 season, when he scored a career high 28 goals, with 28 assists, but Pulford also scored the big goals in his career - goals that mattered.
Legendary Montreal coach Toe Blake was once asked who he would pick from the Toronto team if he could. He chose Bob, and when asked why, his simple explanation was, stated "He's the heart of that Hockey club."
Pulford was a classic blue and white Leaf grinder, and we would have to believe his approach to the game was much appreciated by the founder and owner of the Maple Leafs team, Conn Smythe.
At the start of 1970 Maple Leafs training camp Pulford was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Garry Monahan and Brian Murphy, September 3, 1970. The Kings were about to start their 4th NHL season, and Pulford's playing career was on the decline, but he was still scoring, and in L.A., Pulford scored 17 goals, 26 assists in his first year there, and during his final NHL season as a player and also the Kings captain, Pulford scored 13 goals, 24 assists during the 1971-72 season.
Having a remarkable 16 year career as a NHL player, Pulford scored 281 goals, 362 assists in 1079 regular season NHL games, and 25 goals, 26 assists in 89 NHL playoff games, and was a six-time NHL All-Star.
Pulford stepped behind the Los Angeles Kings bench as coach after retiring, replacing one-year coach Fred Glover, and was only 36 years old when he took over the Kings, but he had seen enough to know that things needed to change, on and off the ice. The Kings hadn't been a playoff team -- and hadn't totaled more than 63 points - for three seasons when Pulford made the transition from player to coach before the 1972-73 season.
Pulford had made friends with 2 coaches from other sports while in Los Angeles, and both George Allen (L.A. Rams) and John Wooden (UCLA basketball) would become his mentors, teaching him the fundamentals of coaching. Wooden also taught Pulford about the psychological aspects of coaching and motivating players.
Before Pulford took over as coach, the Kings totaled 49 points. In his first season, they jumped to 73. In his second season, they went to 78 points and made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Within three years, Pulford had set the Kings on a new course, guiding them to a franchise-best 105 points in the 1974-75 season, a record that still stands today, and he was awarded the Jack Adams Award by the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association as the best coach in the NHL. It was only the second time the trophy had been awarded.
In the 1975 NHL playoffs, Pulford was coaching the Kings against his old team, the Maple Leafs, and in a best-of-three first-round series against Toronto, the Kings won the first game in overtime, lost the second game in overtime and then lost Game 3 by a score of 2-1.
Pulford later quoted - "There's no mixed emotions; it was devastating,'' - "The happiness, the pride of going neck-and-neck with Montreal all season, for the overall championship, and then losing two of three to stupid fate, it was the most disappointing thing that ever happened to me in Hockey."
Pulford guided the Kings to the playoffs in their next two seasons as well, and made the quarterfinals both years, but Pulford resigned after the 1976-77 season, in large part due to philosophical disagreements with Kings owner, Jack Kent Cooke.
Bill Wirtz then hired "Pully" as general manager and coach of the Chicago Blackhawks to start the 1977-78 season. That was the first of Pulford's three stints as head coach of Chicago. At the end of his first season in Chicago, Pulford was again was selected NHL Coach of the Year, this time by The Hockey News, which is considered to many, as the Bible of ice Hockey.
With Pulford in charge, the Blackhawks once won eight division titles and made the NHL playoffs 20 straight seasons. Several times he reassumed the general manager's role and as mentioned, the head coach's duties following shakeups for the team, which hadn't won the Stanley Cup since 1961.
Pulford served as GM until 1990 before moving up to become senior vice president to make room for Mike Keenan. That experiment lasted two years until Pulford returned to the job from 1992-97. It was during his last two stints in the GM role, from 1999-2000 and 2003-05, that Pulford's inability to rebuild a winner in the NHL or regain interest in a sports city made major change inevitable.
To many, Pulford still represents a symbol of the Blackhawks' irrelevance and corporate incompetence that caused ESPN to name it professional sports' worst franchise in 2004.
Regardless of how Blackhawks fans and some media in have felt about Pulford, he was responsible for bringing in Dale Tallon as general manager in 2005, a relationship that started when Pulford was first hired in 1977, as Tallon was a Blackhawks player then. Tallon has said since - “He had a real good knowledge of the technical aspects of the game and he was intense. You learned from that this is what has to be done to be successful. Really be involved; that’s basically what we learned from Pully.
“He had a rough, gruff exterior, but he really cared about his players. Deep down he has such a good heart.”
Tallon later drafted Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford, and he made a great trade for Patrick Sharp, and the rest they say - is history.
On Oct. 11, 2007, as part of the major reorganization in the franchise’s management fifteen days after Bill Wirtz’s death, Pulford retired from his active role in daily operations as senior vice president and became an officer with the Wirtz Corp.
Pulford mentored at least sixteen future NHL general managers and coaches during his years as a coach and general manager, he also tutored many others who went on to be successful as minor league head coaches and assistant coaches in the NHL.
The most successful of Pully’s pupils are five former Blackhawks - Los Angeles Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter, Anaheim Ducks General Manager Bob Murray, Florida Panthers (and Blackhawks) General Manager Dale Tallon, San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson, and Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin.
Bob Pulford was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, in the Player's category.