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


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.