Delvecchio Conspicuous By Absence During Winter Classic Festivities

Watching the Red Wings-Maple Leafs alumni games on New Year’s Eve brought a couple thoughts to mind.

First, it’s amazing how many who played for the Leafs in those games at Comerica Park also played for the Red Wings in their careers, where the Red Wings hardly dressed anyone who played for both Toronto and Detroit. Not sure what that means, if anything.

Second, where was Alex Delvecchio?

Alex-Delvecchio

If Fats was part of the festivities, I missed it—and therefore, this blog post is then rendered moot.

But I don’t think no. 10 was there—either at CoPa or at the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.

That raises an immediate concern to me about Alex’s health.

Delvecchio, who turned 82 on December 4, has been a frequent and almost regular participant in anything Red Wings history-ish. He’s been as regular as Ted Lindsay, who dropped the ceremonial first puck before one of the alumni matches.

Even Gordie Howe, who is 85 and who is slowing down considerably, was there with Teddy at Comerica Park, assisting in the puck dropping.

Check out any photo of the Red Wings lifting one of their four recent Stanley Cup banners (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008) to the rafters, and you’ll see Delvecchio somewhere. When the team retired Steve Yzerman’s no. 19 on January 2, 2007, Fats was there, wearing his no. 10.

Delvecchio, until recent years, used to be a regular active roster member of the alumni teams that still skate in arenas around town, scaring up games against anyone from fire fighters to beer leaguers.

But for whatever reason, Delvecchio was conspicuous in his absence from the goings on earlier this week.

It would have made all the sense in the world for Alec to join Lindsay and Howe for the puck dropping before the alumni games, for example.

There certainly isn’t a falling out between Delvecchio and Red Wing ownership, as what has sadly happened in other cities in other sports with their playing legends.

So let’s hope there is nothing wrong with Delvecchio physically, or otherwise.

We are blessed to still have so many of our sports greats still with us, and living around town.

Howe, Delvecchio and Lindsay with the Red Wings. Joe Schmidt and Mike Lucci with the Lions. Al Kaline and Willie Horton with the Tigers. Dave Bing and Ray Scott with the Pistons.

All of them live at least part of the time in Metro Detroit, and most live here year-round.

Here’s hoping the Red Wings’ second-longest tenured captain (behind Yzerman) is OK. And if you know how Alex is doing, let me know, eh?

 

Happy Birthday, Mick!

Mickey Redmond

Former Red Wing Mickey Redmond turns 66 today.

To that, the Winged Wheeler says, “Keep ‘er goin’!”

Redmond was the first Red Wing to score 50 goals in a season, and he did it twice in a row (1973 and ’74). I was in attendance when Mick did it in 1974, as he blasted a slap shot past New York Rangers ‘ Ed Giacomin on March 23. The Olympia Stadium crowd went nuts. It was a highlight in yet another down year for the Red Wings of the 1970s. I remember that Redmond scored a hat trick the game before, allowing me to see no. 50 in person.

But a bad back curtailed what could have been one of the greatest goal scoring careers in Red Wings history.

Redmond’s last game was in January 1976, and he was all of 28 years old. The back wouldn’t let him continue.

He tried a comeback in 1979, but after a few days of skating in training camp, the pain was too much and Redmond had to call it quits for good. His broadcasting career began just weeks later.

Ironically, it was Ned Harkness—the man who killed half a decade of Red Wings hockey—who brought Redmond to Detroit.

Frank Mahovlich, one of the many unhappy players in Detroit when Harkness was coach and then GM, was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in a trade that netted the Red Wings Redmond, winger Bill Collins and center Guy Charron. The trade was made on January 13, 1971.

Redmond, just 23 at the time, was a player with a high ceiling who was simply squeezed out of Montreal because of too much talent up front. Canadiens GM Sam Pollock had admired Mahovlich from afar when the right winger played for Toronto and Detroit. That’s one reason why Pollock was willing to surrender three players for the Big M.

Redmond blossomed in Detroit, and if it hadn’t been for his chronic bad back, who knows how many goals he could have scored as a Red Wing. As it was, Redmond fired 177 pucks past enemy goalies in 317 games in Detroit.

The cruel part of Redmond’s back trouble was that, for the most part, he had been a very durable player. In his first three full seasons as a Red Wing, Redmond missed just two games. But the back issues started flaring up in the 1974-75 season  and never went way. Redmond played in just 66 games over his final two seasons in the NHL.

But Redmond will be skating in next week’s alumni game leading up to the 2014 Winter Classic. He has done so many times for the Red Wings Alumni.

Bingo-bango!

Mark Howe: Chasing Another Cup, But In a Suit

Mark Howe recently came out with a book, “Gordie Howe’s Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey,” and it recalls a piece I wrote about Mark in late-May, 2009:

Mark Howe’s Playoffs Spent Spying, Legally

Mark Howe was no stranger to May hockey as a player.

Today, Howe is very familiar with it as well, but instead of lacing up skates he’s filing reports. Instead of making the breakout pass from his own zone, he’s racing to catch the next plane at the airport.

If it wasn’t for those darned Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils, there’d be two Howes with their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, as players.

Howe, the most talented hockey player among Gordie’s kids, went to the Stanley Cup Finals three times, in skates. This year, he hopes to make it five times in Armani.

Mark came up empty as a player–losing twice with the Philadelphia Flyers to the Oilers (1985, 1987) and once to the New Jersey Devils, as a member of the Red Wings (1995).

Nowadays, Mark Howe is the Director of Pro Scouting for the Red Wings. Which means, especially at this time of the year, his job is to coordinate scouting of possible Red Wings opponents.

Fancy words for, he has to criss-cross the country, watching hockey games.

While the Red Wings were dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, Howe and his staff, which includes former Red Wing Pat Verbeek, were spreading themselves out, not knowing exactly who Detroit would face in Round Two.

As the Anaheim Ducks emerged as a possible opponent, thanks to jumping out to a 3-1 series lead over San Jose, Howe focused on the Ducks. He ended up attending all six of the Ducks’ playoff games in California.

While the Wings played the Ducks, Howe took in the Blackhawks-Canucks series.

Now he’s checking out the Hurricanes and the Penguins. And filing reports.

Legalized spying. That’s what scouting is, basically.

But there comes a time, if your team advances far enough, when there’s no more scouting to be done. Just watching and hoping.

During last year’s Cup Finals, I trudged down to the Red Wings’ dressing room after Game One. With no more scouting to be done, Howe and Verbeek had joined coach Mike Babcock and his staff in the coaches’ room, adjacent to the lockerroom.

Babcock, despite a shutout win, was still wound up.

“They’re gonna give them a bunch of power plays, you can bet on it!” the coach barked as Howe and company looked on. A few choice words tumbled out of Babcock’s mouth as well.

During the game, I kept an eye on the Red Wings’ suite, filled with hockey intelligence.

Gordie Howe, no less. Scotty Bowman, no less. Kenny Holland, no less. Jimmy Devellano, no less. Steve Yzerman, no less.

And Mark Howe. No less.

They sat, scrunched together, in suits and ties, their work done, but not their worrying.

The stuffed shirts, as I called them, could only look on. Like expectant fathers.

Howe and Yzerman, of course, could relate to what was going on below them, on the Joe Louis Arena ice surface.

I was pulling so hard for the Red Wings to win the Cup in ’95, which was 40 years exactly since their last one.

I knew it was Mark Howe’s last season as a player. What a way for him to go out, I thought–to win the Cup, 40 years after his dad last won it for the Red Wings. And just a couple weeks after his 40th birthday.

Mark was born just weeks after dad Gordie’s Wings won the ’55 Cup.

Game One was played that year, appropriately, on Father’s Day weekend.

But the Devils would have none of sentiment and nostalgia.

They swept the Red Wings, using a suffocating trap.

Mark retired, Cup-less.


Mark Howe in the 1995 Finals

But then he went to work in the Red Wings’ scouting department, and his name got engraved on the Cup, after all.

Four times, in fact.

It’s not the same, of course. It never is the same. Ask any former player. There’s nothing like winning the Cup, in uniform, in skates, and parading the chalice around the rink.

Your name can be engraved, but if it wasn’t because of toil, tears, and sweat on the ice, it’s just not the same.

Not that it doesn’t mean something, of course.

The Red Wings signed Mark Howe in the summer of 1992. Finally, at age 37, he was coming home to play NHL hockey in Detroit.

He had played junior hockey in town, as a member of the Junior Red Wings, but when it came time to turn pro, Mark was not Red Wings property.

The Houston Aeros, of the World Hockey Association, owned Mark and brother Marty’s rights.

Then old man Gordie joined them, in 1973.

Mark and the clan could have come back several years later, after mom Colleen (who passed away earlier this year) tried to broker a deal that would bring the Howes back to Detroit after their exile to the WHA.

The Norris family, who owned the team at the time, would have none of it. For whatever reason.

It’s almost over now for Mark Howe–the miles in the sky, the reporting, the advanced work needed to prepare Babcock and his staff for the next opponent.

If the Red Wings escape the Blackhawks in the conference finals, Howe will end up back in the team management suite for the Finals, another stuffed shirt.

The work done. The worrying, not so much.

Christmas Day Games Once an Olympia Tradition

Everyone knows of the Red Wings’ tradition of playing home games on New Year’s Eve. But for many years, starting in the mid-1950s and running through 1967, the team played on Christmas Day, and usually at Olympia Stadium.

It wasn’t a very popular tradition among the players and their families.

In fact, several wives petitioned owner Bruce Norris that they were tired of losing their husbands on a day normally reserved for family.

Finally, Norris gave in and the Red Wings haven’t played on Christmas Day since 1968, and that was in Pittsburgh.

Today, the NHL now has a moratorium on activity around Christmas. No games, no practices between December 24 and December 26. The Red Wings played on December 23 this year, and don’t have a game until December 28.

This contrasts sharply with the NBA, which uses Christmas Day like the NFL uses Thanksgiving, showcasing games all day on television.

I applaud the NHL for keeping Christmas as a “hands off” holiday—no games or practices.

But for 14 years, from 1955-1968, the Red Wings played on Christmas Day, and all but a few of those games were played in Detroit. But thanks to a determined group of women, that “tradition” was abruptly ended.

Never underestimate the power of hockey moms (and wives)!

Gadsby’s Strange Firing Still Perplexes Him

The Philadelphia Flyers made news at the start of the 2013-14 season by firing coach Peter Laviolette after just three games (all losses).

The Red Wings can beat that. In 1969, the team fired coach Bill Gadsby—after two games (both wins!).

Actually, “the team” was owner Bruce Norris, and to this day, Gadsby doesn’t know why he was given the ziggy.

That is, unless he has been enlightened since my interview with him in 2007, which is doubtful.

“We won the first two games, and the second one was in Chicago,” Gadsby told me via phone as we chatted for one of those “Where Are They Now?” pieces for a magazine.

“(Bruce) Norris came up to me after the game, put his arms around me and said, ‘Bill, you sure have the boys playing good.'”

So imagine Gadsby’s surprise when he was summoned to Norris’ office the next day inside Olympia Stadium and was given the sobering news of his firing, ironic because Norris was a notorious drinker.

I pressed Gadsby about whether he thought the owner was looped when he fired Bill.

“I don’t know,” Gadsby said, “but there was a glass of some amber-colored liquid in front of him.”

The official reason given for Gadsby’s firing was that the Red Wings wanted a more “modern” coach, whatever that meant. But that didn’t really ring true, because all Norris did was replace Gadbsy with his predecessor—GM Sid Abel.

But as Gadsby spoke more about Norris, maybe Bill was better off after being let go.

“He used to have a telephone hooked up behind the bench,” Gadbsy told me. “It was connected to the owner’s suite and he’d sit up there with his buddies and they’d call down during the game, making suggestions.”

Could you imagine such a scenario today with Mike Babcock and Mike Ilitch?

Bill Gadsby photo now
Gadsby in recent years (above) and as a Red Wings player (below)

Gadsby player

Gadsby said that he eventually got fed up with the phone calls—he said often Norris seemed drunk—and had the phone ripped out.

Gadbsy, a Hall of Fame defenseman, never won a Stanley Cup but played 20 NHL seasons, with Chicago, the New York Rangers, and the Red Wings.

Abel stepped down as coach, concentrating on his GM duties, and hired Gadbsy as coach prior to the 1968-69 season, during which the Red Wings compiled a 33-31-12 record.

Then, the following October arrived, and Detroit got off to that 2-0 start that wasn’t enough to save Gadsby’s job.

Gadsby said that he had a chance to coach in St. Louis after the Red Wings gig ended, but he decided to go into business as a manufacturer’s rep instead.

“The Detroit experience kind of soured me on coaching,” Gadsby told me.

Can’t really blame him, I guess.

But it didn’t sour him on hockey, per se.

“I loved everything about (playing hockey),” Gadsby said. “I never won a Stanley Cup but I loved it. I even loved practicing!”

Gadsby is 86 and still lives in Metro Detroit. He often shows up at Joe Louis Arena and elsewhere for alumni-related events.