Bingo, Bango! Redmond owes Motor City stardom to Harkness

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.”

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Harkness, at his introductory press conference in the spring of 1970.

 

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.

The onRedmond Montreale that Harkness made on January 13, 1971 would reverberate as well—but not as planned.

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.

Bingo-bango!

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Bergman Was First to Get “Bad Feeling” About Ned Harkness

For all the damage that Ned Harkness did to the Red Wings, and for how many years the stench wafted around the franchise even after his 1973 departure, one man saw red flags sooner than anyone else.

Former Red Wings defenseman Gary Bergman died far too young. Bergie passed away 13 years ago on Monday, at age 62. He was a good Red Wing on some bad teams, though he also played in Detroit when the team made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1966.

So to kind of commemorate the 13th anniversary of Bergman’s passing, the Winged Wheeler is sharing a story about Bergman and Harkness.

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Harkness, a highly successful college hockey coach (and lacrosse), was hired by the Red Wings from Cornell University in the summer of 1970, over the objection of GM Sid Abel.

But somehow owner Bruce Norris and Norris’s flunky, Jim Bishop (who also had a lacrosse background) were convinced to hire Harkness as coach.

The Red Wings made the playoffs in 1969-70, but were swept in the first round by Chicago, all by 4-2 scores, oddly enough.

Norris’s hire of Harkness might have been ahead of everyone’s time, as college coaches eventually were hired in the NHL, but not in 1970.

Harkness had coached the Big Red of Cornell to the 1970 NCAA Championship, with future Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden stopping pucks.

But Harkness was in way over his head with NHL players, and the first to see that was Bergman, who got some creepy feelings early in Ned’s brief but disastrous tenure as coach.

Bergman told the story of how Harkness dropped in on his defenseman, showing up on his doorstep one day in the summer of ’70.

“Ned wanted to introduce himself, which was fine,” Bergman said.

But then things got weird.

Bergman said that Harkness, in his zeal to show Bergie his theories of hockey, began to rearrange the furniture in Bergman’s home, using chairs and sofas etc. to represent players on the ice.

“My wife came in at one point, to offer Ned some coffee, and she saw what he had done to our living room,” Bergman said. “She just sort of shook her head and ducked back into the kitchen.”

Bergman said that while Ned prattled on about hockey and team “spirit” and other “Rah-rah” stuff, Bergie got a bad feeling.

“After Ned left, I had a sinking feeling,” Bergman said. “I had a feeling that we were doomed. I knew it was a bad fit, right away.”

Sure enough, before long, Harkness had turned just about all his players off, most famously Garry Unger over the length of Unger’s hair.

A petition was signed by many of the players in December, stating that they wouldn’t play for Harkness much longer. A notable missing signature was that of Gordie Howe, who was in his last year (at the time) as a player, and who just wanted to get through his final season without drama.

The nadir of Harkness’s coaching tenure was when the Red Wings went into Toronto on January 2, 1971 and quit, losing 13-0.

According to Bergman, after the second period, with Toronto ahead 7-0, Harkness sank to his knees in the dressing and asked, “Why won’t you guys play for me?”

The Maple Leafs then scored six goals in the third period.

Abel resigned in a huff a few days later, prevented from firing Harkness by Norris and Bishop.

“I can’t evaluate (Harkness) as a coach because he isn’t one. He can’t coach,” Abel said. The Red Wings were leading the league in penalties for too many men on the ice, which was another example of Harkness’ inability to organize NHL players.

Harkness was elevated to GM after Abel quit. Former Red Wing Doug Barkley was promoted from the team’s minor league affiliate to coach.

Gary Bergman had a bad feeling about Ned Harkness from the moment the new coach showed up for coffee, uninvited.

In a few months, that bad feeling was spreading like wildfire.

40 Years Ago, the Red Wings Rendered the Weirdest Ziggy in Detroit Sports History

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Of all the ziggys that have zapped Detroit coaches over the years, perhaps no stranger exit was made than Teddy Garvin’s from the Red Wings.

It happened 40 years ago tomorrow.

Garvin was coaching the Red Wings’ top minor league team in Port Huron when he got the call to Detroit, following the unfair (my opinion) firing of Johnny Wilson in April, 1973. Wilson had taken over for Doug Barkley early in the 1971-72 season and between then and the end of the following season—when the Red Wings missed the playoffs by a whisker—Johnny had the boys playing some pretty good hockey.

Yet Wilson got the ziggy anyway.

I finally got my chance to voice my opinion to Wilson when I moderated a hockey roundtable that involved him in 2006 for the magazine I was working for at the time.

“I always thought you got screwed over in ’73,” I told Wilson.

He just smirked and said, “Darkness with Harkness.”

And that was the first time—and only time—I’d heard any member of the Red Wings organ-eye-ZAY-shun, past or present, refer to that Ned Harkness phrase first-hand.

So here comes Garvin and the team gets off to a miserable start. They’re 2-8-1 when GM Harkness decides to give Teddy the ziggy.

Harkness spoke to captain Alex Delvecchio, who was 41 years old and off to a bad start himself. Harkness asked Fats to take over the team as coach, for the game that night at home against Philadelphia. Delvecchio, who was mulling over retirement anyway, accepted.

Harkness then informed Garvin of his decision.

This is where it gets weird.

The NHL had a rule that prevented active players from serving as coach. Delvecchio hadn’t filed his retirement papers as the game against Philly was approaching, making Alex ineligible to coach the game that night.

Harkness asked Garvin to coach one more game, even though Teddy had already been fired!

So Garvin coaches the Red Wings for the first two periods against the Flyers, then decides that this is crazy, and walks out of Olympia Stadium, into the November night.

Forward Tim Ecclestone, who was injured and not in uniform, coached the third period of a 4-1 loss.

Yes, this really happened. You can read a newspaper account of the game here.

And for a fascinating parting shot from Garvin about the Red Wings under Bruce Norris’s ownership, click here. It refers to a discussed trade of Marcel Dionne to Montreal that I never knew about.