Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Harry Sinden
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One on One with Harry Sinden

04 JANUARY 2010
Harry Sinden led the Whitby Dunlops to the Allan Cup Canadian senior championship in 1957, then to the World Championship title, representing Canada in Oslo, Norway, in 1958.
(Graphic Artists/HHOF)
Harry Sinden originally distinguished himself as a player, but earned the acclaim that led him to the Hockey Hall of Fame for his efforts as a Builder, predominantly for his efforts with the Boston Bruins.

Harry James Sinden was born September 14, 1932 in Collins Bay, Ontario, a village now incorporated into the City of Kingston known as much for its federal penitentiary as for its legendary hockey personality.

Sinden played his minor hockey with the Toronto Marlboro bantams before joining the junior Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1949-50 at the age of 17. He excelled in four seasons on defence with the Generals.

In 1953-54, under the leadership of coach and manager Wren Blair, some of the older members of the Generals formed a Senior 'B' squad called the Oshawa Truckmen, playing out of nearby Bowmanville. The team moved to Whitby in 1954, and after attracting sponsorship from the Dunlop Rubber Company, was renamed the Whitby Dunlops. In 1955-56, the team moved from Senior 'B' status to Senior 'A.'

Sinden was captain of the Dunlops when they defeated the western champion Spokane Flyers to win the Allan Cup as the senior champions of Canada in 1957. At that time, the Allan Cup-winning team was selected to represent Canada at the Ice Hockey World Championship, and as such, in 1958, the 'Dunnies' represented Canada at the international tournament in Oslo, Norway. Because Wren Blair was terrified of flying, the Dunlops took an ocean liner to Norway, collecting the gold medal. The entire roster became seasick from the rough voyage, but after a 14-game exhibition tour of Europe, the Whitby Dunlops took the gold medal in hockey at the World Championship.

The Dunlops defeated the Vernon Canadians to win the Allan Cup again in 1958-59. With two Allan Cup championships

Harry Sinden behind the bench of the Boston Bruins. (Frank Prazak/HHOF)
and a World Championship gold medal, the team's accomplishments were recognized by the Town of Whitby by induction into the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame.

Because they had won the Allan Cup in 1959, the Whitby Dunlops were slated to represent Canada at the Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California in 1960. But the Dunlops declined participation and the Kitchener-Waterloo Flying Dutchmen, who had represented Canada at the 1956 Olympics, were chosen to take their place. To keep the competition strictly amateur, several former pros had to be replaced, and coach Bobby Bauer added Harry Sinden, as well as three other members of the Dunlops, to the line-up. Canada took the Olympic silver medal while the United States captured gold.

Towards the end of the 1959-60 season, the Montreal Canadiens placed Sinden on their negotiation list, but the parties were unable to reach a contract agreement. Sinden was added to the playoff roster of the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens in the Eastern Professional Hockey League, where he met Lynn Patrick, general manager of the Boston Bruins. Patrick signed Sinden to a contract as a player and assistant coach with the Kingston Frontenacs, the Bruins' EPHL affiliate, beginning with the 1960-61 season. Sinden's 61 assists in 1961-62 were second-best in the league and helped him earn a spot on the First All-Star Team as well as being named co-recipient of the top defenceman award. In 1962-63, Harry's 56 assists were third best in the EPHL and he was not only named top defenceman and to the First All-Star Team once again, but added the league's most valuable player honour as well.

Head Coach of the Boston Bruins, Harry Sinden looks on from the bench. (Frank Prazak/HHOF)
The EPHL folded after that season and the Frontenacs moved to the Central Professional Hockey League as the Minneapolis Bruins in 1963-64 season, with Sinden serving as player-coach. After two seasons, the team moved to Oklahoma City as the Blazers. Sinden, again, was playing coach, and guided the team to a second-place finish. They then defeated the Tulsa Oilers to win the league championship. That season concluded Harry's playing career.

In May 1966, Harry Sinden was promoted to become head coach of the NHL's Boston Bruins. At 33, he was the youngest coach in the league at that time. The team had struggled for years and had not made the playoffs since 1958-59. While the addition of prized rookie Bobby Orr in 1966-67 foretold of a bright future for the franchise, the team finished last for the sixth time in eight seasons.

The Bruins were indeed evolving, and a fortuitous trade with Chicago helped turn the tide. Boston sent forward Pit Martin, defenceman Gilles Marotte and netminder Jack Norris to the Hawks for three forwards: Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. Good fortune smiled on the Bruins. While they hated to give up Marotte, who they believed would reach stardom, the key for Boston, curiously, was Stanfield. But it was Esposito who became the key acquisition, winning five scoring titles and two Hart Trophies as the NHL's most valuable player.

Harry Sinden and a young Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins. (Frank Prazak/HHOF)
In 1967-68, the Bruins posted their first winning record since 1958-59, finishing third in the Eastern Conference. By Sinden's third season, the Bruins finished with 100 points, just behind the Montreal Canadiens for first place overall in the NHL. In 1969-70, his fourth season, Sinden coached the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1940-41.

Just days after winning the Stanley Cup, Sinden announced his retirement after enduring an acrimonious season with Bruins' management. The team placed the 37-year-old on the voluntary retired list, precluding Sinden from taking a position with another team for a year. Instead, Harry took a position with Stirling Homex Corp., a Rochester, New York-based home construction company.

While the Bruins finished first with a franchise-best 121 points in 1970-71, they were stymied in their pursuit of winning the Stanley Cup. Meantime, Sinden rejected coaching positions with the New York Islanders, the St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In 1972, an eight-game exhibition series pitting the best hockey players in the Soviet Union against the best of Canada was prepared. This was the first time that Canada would be allowed to send a team of professionals to compete internationally. After two years out of hockey, in June of that year, Harry Sinden was named head coach and manager of the Canadian team for the Summit Series. After a slow start that drew the derision of many fans expecting a Canadian cakewalk, Sinden led Team Canada to a come-from-behind win, confirmed by Paul Henderson's series-winning goal with 34 seconds remaining in Game Eight. Phil Esposito, reunited with his former coach, was the leading scorer in the series.

1970 Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins. (HHOF)
On October 5, 1972, immediately after the Summit Series, Sinden returned to Boston, signing a five-year deal with the Bruins to become the team's general manager, the fifth in franchise history. Sinden succeeded Milt Schmidt, who was promoted to be executive director of the team.

Harry spent more than 28 years as general manager of the Bruins. He added the team presidency to his portfolio in 1989 and remained as the Bruins' chief executive until the summer of 2006, when he retired to his current role as senior advisor to team owner Jeremy Jacobs. He is also an alternate governor for the Boston Bruins on the NHL's Board of Governors.

During his tenure, Sinden oversaw an unprecedented string of successes, setting the North American professional record for most consecutive seasons in the playoffs with 30. The Bruins finished first in 1983 and 1990, won ten division championships and six conference finals. On October 17, 1995, with a Bruins' victory over the St. Louis Blues, Sinden became the first NHL general manager to record 1,000 victories. His all-time record as a GM stands at 1170 wins, 763 losses and 301 ties for a .591 winning percentage.

In 1983, Harry Sinden's accomplishments earned him induction into the Builder Category of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was one of the 30 inaugural inductees into the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame in 1997. Two years later, Harry was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

Knowing the game inside and out, Harry Sinden rose through the ranks to earn a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and respected executives through hockey's storied history.

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Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.