They’re going to honor Nick Lidstrom tonight at Joe Louis Arena, a nod to Nick’s being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this year.
A fine reason for celebration, and well-deserved, of course.
And up in the broadcast booth, one of the many who can be called the pride of Kirkland Lake, Ontario will help describe the moment.
Mickey Redmond will chime in as they fete Nick, and then proceed to call the game with Ken Daniels, complete with the requisite number of “Holy smokes” and maybe a “bingo bango” or two. But Mickey owes his three decades-long broadcast success and celebrity in Detroit to an unlikely source.
There are three words that make the old-time Red Wings fan shudder. Even the glory of four Stanley Cups won in the past 19 years can’t completely wash away the words’ stench, because of the bad memories they elicit.
Darkness with Harkness.
That trio of words represent the decade of the 1970s, when the Red Wings went off the rails because of one man’s incompetence and another man’s stubbornness.
In the summer of 1970, the Red Wings, showing some progressive thinking, went outside the box and hired a 47 year-old college coach, Ned Harkness, to take over for Sid Abel, who was going to focus his duties on being general manager, which Sid had been for the 1960s, coaching for most of the decade as well except for a brief stint by Bill Gadsby (whose tenure ended in controversy in 1969).
Harkness was wildly successful at Cornell University, but his college ways were like oil and water with the veteran NHL players on the Red Wings.
By early-January, the players revolted. Everything from the length of Garry Unger’s hair to how the team dressed on the road was monitored by Harkness, and the players hated it.
Abel was aghast. Harkness had been foistered on him by owner Bruce Norris, who was acting on the advice of another newbie—front office man Jim Bishop, whose primary experience had been in lacrosse.
Abel knew that Harkness had to go. The players knew it. The rest of the NHL knew it.
The low point came on January 2, 1971, when the Red Wings, in protest, laid down against the Toronto Maple Leafs to the tune of a 13-0 embarrassment on “Hockey Night in Canada.”
The Leafs scored seven times in the third period, and five times in the final ten minutes.
Abel went to Norris with Harkness’ walking papers. But Norris, siding with Bishop’s judgment, overruled Abel.
Abel, baffled, resigned in protest, temporarily ending ties with the organization after about 30 years as a player, coach and GM. Sid would return later in the decade in the broadcast booth.
With Abel gone, Norris promoted Harkness, with his 12-22-4 coaching record, to GM. Minor league coach and former Red Wing Doug Barkley was hired to be the new coach.
So what does this all have to do with Redmond?
Just a few days after being promoted to GM, Harkness made his first of many moves, trading scorer Frank Mahovlich to the Montreal Canadiens. Ironically, Abel had acquired The Big M from Toronto just three years earlier in one of the biggest blockbusters in league history. From Toronto, Abel got Mahovlich, 20 year-old Garry Unger and winger Pete Stemkowski. Going to the Leafs were Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson and Floyd Smith.
That trade, in March of 1968, rocked the NHL.
For coming over to Detroit from Montreal was a 23 year-old right winger who had a knack of putting the biscuit in the basket—Mickey Redmond.
Harkness got Redmond, Bill Collins and Guy Charron from Montreal. All for Frank Mahovlich, who would help lead the Habs to the 1971 and 1973 Stanley Cups.
Redmond, of course, went on to score 50+ goals twice as a Red Wing and he became as much a part of the fabric of Detroit as General Motors.
So much of hockey history would have been rewritten if Bruce Norris had allowed Sib Abel to fire Ned Harkness.
The players would have been happy, and played like it. Abel likely wouldn’t have made the Mahovlich trade, nor would he have traded Unger, as Harkness did about a month later. And Abel probably wouldn’t have traded Bruce MacGregor, either—as Harkness did later in the season.
Abel probably would have taken over as coach for the remainder of the year and looked for a replacement in the summer of 1971.
The Red Wings probably wouldn’t have had such a miserable decade.
And Mickey Redmond would probably have never become a Red Wing, and thus would never have found his way behind the microphone in Detroit.