On April 14, 1955, Detroit Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk held off the Montreal Canadiens, playing without their star, Maurice (Rocket) Richard, who had been suspended earlier in the year for slugging a referee. The Wings won, 3-1.
The victory brought the Stanley Cup to Detroit, but also was the beginning of a long championship drought that did not end until Saturday, June 7, 1997, when Steve Yzerman skated around the rink at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit holding that same cup aloft to the cheers of a deliriously happy capacity crowd.
That 1955 victory signaled the end of a winning tradition that had seemed like it might go on forever. The Wings had won the Stanley Cup in 1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955 with a collection of legendary players, most notably Gordie Howe.
Here are some of those early stars:
|George Hay “ranked with the great forwards of the game, combining speed and poise, aggressiveness and finesse, with unsurpassed mechanical ability.”
George Hay came to the Detroit Cougars hockey club from Chicago in 1927. Jack Adams had just started the team to play in the brand new Olympia Stadium built that same year. The Cougers became the Falcons in 1929 and the Red Wings in 1932. So Hay’s Detroit jersey changed its name three times during those years.
When he retired from hockey in 1933, News sports writer Sam Green wrote: “He ranked with the great forwards of the game, combining speed and poise, aggressiveness and finesse, with unsurpassed mechanical ability.”
Jack Adams said there was never a better left winger than Hay at his best. “I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but none who had more stuff than George. He was in a class with Aurial Joliat, Jack Walker, Bun Cook or Harvey Jackson. He could do everything, that fellow. Besides, he was one of the easiest players to handle I ever had — always in condition, always on the job, always willing to play any position. He never got into any trouble on the ice and was rarely sent to the penalty box. We’ve often said in the dressing room that when Hay kicks against a decision, the referee should be run out of the league.”
Ebbie Goodfellow joined the Cougers in 1929 and stayed with Detroit for 15 seasons. Olympia once published a hockey program dedicated to him: “One of the illustrious if not the most illustrious player ever to perform in the livery of the Detroit Club.”
|Ebbie Goodfellow was the first Red Wing to win the Hart Trophy for Most Valuable Player.
Originally a center, he became one of the league’s top scorers. He won the Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player in 1939 and 1940, the first Wing so honored.
A consistent scorer, he was shifted to defense by coach Jack Adams after he began to lose a little speed, a seemingly chancy move. Goodfellow became one of the best defensemen in the league and remained a high scorer as well. He led the Wings to the Stanley Cup in 1936 and 1937, when he was named an all-star defenseman.
Playing hockey back then didn’t make the players rich. Goodfellow kept his day job as a tool and die salesman and coached the Wings at night in 1941 and ’42.
He played a few games in 1943, ending his hockey career as a Wing. With 324 points in 556 regular games he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963. He died in 1985 at age 78.
Sydney Harris Howe, no relation to Gordie, joined the Wings in 1935, bought along with another player named Scotty Bowman (no relation to the game’s winningest coach) for $50,000 in a deal that completely surprised Howe. Howe was one of the league’s leading scorers for a decade. On Feb. 3, 1944, he scored a record 6 goals in one game. The next day The Detroit News detailed the goals, and the wildly happy crowd’s antics. The large crowd of 12,293 — which included 900 school patrol boys — became more frenzied as the double hat trick became more inevitable.
|Sid Howe, right, with Wings owner Jim Norris. Howe worked as a machinist at Ford by day and played center and left wing by night.
“The crowd groaned as Howe shot the puck over the net early in the third period but half a minute later Mud Bruneteau and Grosso set him up again. Howe feinted McAuley. As the latter lunged to the right, Howe flicked the puck right over McAuley into the net.” A grinning Howe left the game on the shoulders of his teammates, to the ecstatic cheers of the spectators.
“They were going in the net tonight — another night they don’t,” Howe said modestly. “I don’t remember any goal in particular. The boys were feeding them to me nicely.
“No celebration for me,” he added, “I’m due at work at 7:10 a.m.”
Howe worked as a machinist at Ford by day. He played center and left wing by night.
In 1945 he became the greatest scorer of all time in the NHL with 558 points (232 goals, 282 assists). Never flashy, just doggedly durable, Howe one of the cleverest players ever to put on skates.
A 1945 profile reads, “All in all, quite a hockey player this Mr. Howe. He might better be styled ‘Wing of all Time’ than to be called ‘Wing of the Week’.”
Marty Barry joined the Wings in 1935 after six years with Boston. He played on a line with Larry Aurie and Herbie Lewis — rated as one of the best lines ever. Nicknamed “Goal-a-game” Barry, he led the American Division in scoring in 1935-36, and was second overall.
|Marty Barry was such a prolific scorer that he was known as “Goal-a-game Barry.” He also was an avid golfer and was presented with a new set of clubs on “Marty Barry Night” at the Olympia in 1939. Jack Adams is at right.
Barry once described another game he played in that went into a sixth overtime period. “That was a pippin. The rink seemed like it was miles long along about 10 minutes to 2 o’clock in the morning. Players of both teams were praying for somebody to score before we all fell from exhaustion.”
He also played in 500 games over 10 years without missing one, which earned him the nickname the Iron Horse of major league hockey. He nearly missed a game when his wife suffered problems before their first baby was born. However, she recovered soon enough so that he could get to the game on time.
Detroit Times sportswriter Bob Murphy likened Barry to baseball player Charlie Gehringer. “Like the great Black Knight of the Tiger infield, Marty Berry possesses that faculty of mechanical perfection. He sweeps the ice with such smooth, rhythmic strides his play seems effortless. He is called hockey’s greatest passer.”
Barry died in 1969 at age 64.
|Red Kelly was considered one of the sport’s most gentlemanly players, but occasionally his temper could match the color of his hair. Here he has just punched out Boston Bruin Leo LaBine.
Leonard (Red) Kelly
Leonard (Red) Kelly’s hair matched the team color. A Toronto native ignored by the Maple Leafs, he joined the Wings in 1947 and stayed more than 12 years. He could handle the puck with his skates better than most players could with the stick. He won the Lady Byng Trophy for being the most gentlemanly player four times, and was the first player to win the Norris Trophy for the league’s best defenseman.
The Wings won eight league titles and four Stanley Cups during his stay here. His pro career lasted 20 years. A quiet man, never known to swear despite the occupational hazards, he later became a star forward with the Maple Leafs.
“I was finally where I’d always wanted to be … When the people stood up and clapped and cheered me I felt so tight I nearly burst,” he later recalled.
He led the Leafs to the playoffs and inspired a brooding young Frank Mahovlich to play better. His teams made the playoffs 19 times, an NHL record he shared with Gordie Howe. His lazy looking skating disguised his ability and he proved that fighting ability may not always be a winning requirement. He later served in the Canadian Parliament while still a Maple Leaf.
|Sid Abel was the play-making center of the Wings’ famed “Production Line” with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.|
|Sid Abel embraces the Stanley Cup after the Wings defeated the New York Rangers in the finals in 1950.
Sidney Abel starred as the play-making center of the “Production Line” along with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Abel started his NHL career in 1938, and became part of the famous line when Red Wings Coach Jack Adams put the trio together in 1947.
“They could score goals in their sleep,” Adams said.
In the next season, Abel’s best, he won the Hart Trophy as league MVP and also was named first-team All-Star. He skated with the Wings until 1951. In his 610 regular games he scored 189 goals, had 283 assists, with 28 goals and 30 assists in playoff games. The next year he became coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. In 1957 he rejoined the Wings as coach and later became general manager, remaining in that position until 1971.
|Charlie Conacher, who played with the Wings from 1938-40, had one of the hardest shots in the game.
Charlie Conacher played two years for Detroit, from 1938-40. He came from the slums of Toronto where he played street hockey and developed the hardest shot in the game. Teammate King Clancy once complained after being hit on the rear end by one of Conacher’s shots: “I couldn’t sit down for a week.”
Conacher’s career with his hometown Maple Leafs made him the most famous of a hockey-playing family — and it also made him rich. Injuries and a kidney cut his career short. He died in 1967 at age 58.
“What a guy,” coach Jack Adams said of Marty Pavelich, “he just makes you play him. He won’t take no for an answer.”
|Marty Pavelich was one of coach Jack Adams’ favorites.
“Pavelich the Madman, an old fashioned digger, buzzes until he runs out of gas,” the News wrote in 1949. He “slams into the biggest, roughest foes in hockey, though only 5 feet 10, 160 pounds. A mediocre shooter and skater, he makes up the difference in effort and courage. He excels as a penalty killer in addition to his regular turn on the line.”
In 1956 News sportswriter John Walter wrote that it was uncanny how Pavelich steals the puck. He quoted Pavelich, “Hockey players are creatures of habit, just like everybody else … Seven out of 10 times they’ll make the same play in coming out of their own end, or under certain circumstances. By studying them you can anticipate what they’re going to do.”
He also credited manager Jack Adams: “Jack imbues you with a spirit and desire not to be satisfied with average play… He wants you to give all the time. If you have a bad night he won’t criticize you.”
Walter continued: “Pavelich has been successful in his 10 years with the Red Wings because of his intense determination, evident the moment he leaps on the ice to take up the pursuit of the puck … Throughout his career he had been known as a relentless checker, one of the league’s best penalty killers. His ability to disorganize the opposition’s attack is such that it more than offsets his own ineptness as a scorer … only 10 goals average per season.”
Gordie Howe joined the Red Wings at age 18 in 1946. Howe transcended the sport so that even non-hockey fans knew him. He played hard and he was tough. But as a real artist at the game he aimed to win, not to amass numbers. He played with intelligence and ability, not emotion. The six-foot, 205-pound player personified durability. Not until Wayne Gretzky did any player appproach his records.
Howe played pro hockey for 32 years, 25 with the Wings.
|Gordie Howe (9) mixes it up with a couple of Toronto Maple Leafs in 1960. Howe played 25 seasons with the Wings and is generally recognized as one of the greatest ever to play the game.|
On the way into surgery he apologized to coach Jack Adams: “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more tonight.” The trauma left him with a facial tic, causing him to blink his eyes and earning him the nickname Blinky. He often remarked to newsmen, “Old Blinky is flying tonight.”
And he flew through six decades of play. After retirement from the NHL he joined the World Hockey Association’s Houston franchise and got to play with his sons Mark and Marty.
After Houston folded in 1977, Howe went to the Hartford Whalers of the NFL and played three more seasons before retiring in 1980 at age 52. He played one more time, a cameo in October 1997, for the Detroit Vipers at age 69.
Even in his later years Howe could shoot, set up plays, act as a triggerman and kill penalties.
The great Canadian Maurice (Rocket) Richard said, “Howe is a better all-around player than I was.” According to book “Who’s Who of Sports Championships,” “No one else, in any sport, ever performed at as high a level for as long a time as Gordie Howe.”
In 26 NHL seasons Howe played in 1,767 games, scored 801 goals, had 1,049 assists for 1,850 points. He also scored 174 goals in the World Hockey Association, with 344 assists in 419 games.
Ted Lindsay, the third member of Detroit’s Production Line, carried a big stick and wasn’t afraid to use it. “Terrible Tempered Ted,” a.k.a. “Scarface” (400 stitches, no records kept on teeth), despite being a fierce brawler, also was a skilled offensive player.
He joined the Wings in 1944 at age 19 and helped win eight league titles and four Stanley Cups. He played in nine All-Star games. After 13 years with the Wings he played three years with the Chicago Blackhawks and retired in 1960. At age 39, sick of retirement, he came back to the Wings and helped them to win their first league championship in eight years. He didn’t come back for the money, he said, he just wanted to end his career in Detroit.
|Ted Lindsay does a dance in front of the Toronto goal in 1964.|
Ted Lindsay’s life story, “Net Worth” aired on TV in 1995. In it his terribleness terrified not only opposition players but owners. While with the Wings, Lindsay tried to get more money for the players. “There were a lot of inequities, not for the star players but for the others,” he said. “I was accused of trying to ruin hockey but hockey was, and still is, my life.”
As punishment for his rabble-rousing, GM Jack Adams banished Lindsay to Chicago.
Jack (Blackjack) Stewart
Jack Stewart, who played for the Wings in the 1930s and 1940s, perfected the art of body-checking. As for his nickname, he said “It’s blackjack — one word. I got the nickname when a player woke up in the dressing room and said, ‘Who hit me with the blackjack?'” Players said that he seemed to be carrying a blackjack when he hit them at the blue line.
Detroit News columnist Joe Falls wrote, “It almost was impossible getting past him without paying a price. He had a way of putting his full body into a check, and the impact could be felt throughout the arena.”
|Jack Stewart got the nickname “Blackjack” for his body checking style. The Red Wings once sued a sportswriter for libel after he accused Stewart of intentionally hurting an opponent.
As the goaltenders’ best friend he wouldn’t let anyone get close to the net, forcing the opposition to shoot from a distance. He teamed with wild Jimmy Orlando to go after the forwards at center ice to cause mayhem. They made the Wings the most feared team in the league.
Originally a Manitoba farmer, he also worked hard on the ice at stopping the opposition. During his 10 years (1938-43, 1945-50) with the Wings he made five All-Star teams, and helped win two Stanley Cups. He made few bad passes and could skate quickly, but the fans wanted to see his crushing body checks. Despite his low scoring he became a charter member of the Wings Hall of Fame, and later the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The fans loved Blackjack because of his aggression on the ice. His teammates however, said that they rarely ever saw him angry except for a particularly rough New York game: “It was take a couple of strides with the puck and then charge one of the opposition,” Sid Abel said.
“Did Stewart get angry? He got six penalties. He’d barely get out of the penalty box before they’d be blowing the whistle for another offense. I bet that referee turned in his resignation between the first and second periods. He hasn’t refereed since.”
Once a sports columnist accused Stewart of deliberately crippling the great Elmer Lach in the first game of a Stanley Cup series against with Montreal in Detroit in 1949.
The columnist wrote that Stewart “not only aimed and punched at Elmer’s healing jaw but followed by deliberately cocking his elbow and smashing it full into the jaw. That did it — Stewart’s main assignment for the series had been achieved.”
Red Wing lawyers sued for $250,000 for libel. “The club owes Stewart protection,” said Jimmy Norris. “We want to do everything we can. This was the most vicious unjustified attack on a hockey player I ever have read. There isn’t any truth in it whatever.”
The Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup anyway.
Traded to the Blackhawks in 1950, a back injury slowed his career but a fractured skull in a hockey collision finally ended it in the 1951-52 season.
|Goalie Terry Sawchuk was named rookie of the year after the 1950 season.
Goalie Terry Sawchuk joined the Wings in 1950 and was named rookie of the year after his first season. His strange “gorilla” crouch allowed him to “keep better track of the puck through the player’s legs on screen shots” he said. He also played better heavier, getting more wins at 205 pounds than earlier when he weighed 165. His career lasted 21 years, mostly with Detroit. He suffered many injuries and nervous problems.
Detroit News columnist Jerry Green wrote of the great goalie after Sawchuk’s No.1 jersey joined Howe’s 9, Lindsay’s 7 and Delvecchio’s 10 in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena in 1994: “Back then Sawchuk faced the shooters without a mask, hanging tight in his crease, playing without relief over an entire season-long schedule unless cut to smithereens. Goalies were isolationists. Loners. Each team carried just one. The goalie would start every game, all 70.”
Sawchuk played the most games in the NHL (971), won the most (435) and had the most shutouts (103).
Bud Lynch recalled “Marcel Pronovost was his roommate on the road. Pronovost would say ‘Hello’ in the morning in English and French. If Sawchuk said hello, Pronovost knew he would talk that day. If he didn’t say hello, Pronovost knew Terry wouldn’t say anything.”
Joe Falls recalled that once during an interview a photographer came in to the room. Sawchuk stood up and screamed: “Get out of here you no good SOB.” He threw his skates at him, just missing his face, as the photographer escaped. Then he calmly said, “Now, what were we talking about?”
Sawchuk died in 1970 after a bizarre fight with teammate Ron Stewart.
Sawchuk played much of his career in the NHL without a mask. His jersey was retired and raised to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena in 1994.
(This story was compiled using clip and photo files from The Detroit News Library.)