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Lighting The Lamp: The Origins Of The Red Wings

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Light the Lamp" will be featured weekly every Thursday afternoon.

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Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman

The diabolical, devious, despicable Detroit hockey club returns to St. Louis tonight to do battle with the brash, bodacious, buzzing Blues, especially belligerent in the aftermath of the bout in Motown (not Hockeytown, USA; that distinction rightfully belongs to Warroad, Minnesota) last Friday. Oh, how easy it is to hate the Red Wings!

The players are past (and used to) the NHL's version of "justice", yet Blues Nation is still fuming over the phantom penalty to captain David Backes that led to referee Ian Walsh's blatant error playing a major part in determining the outcome of the game and the Red Wings filching two points from the Blues. Particularly galling was the lack of a call just earlier on a similar hard hit by the Wings' pesky, diminutive Jordan Tootoo, who left his feet (unlike Backes) to clobber Blues defenseman Roman Polak. To add insult to injury, the NHL later "rescinded" Walsh's call on Backes from an "illegal hit to the head" to a "deliberate injury" major penalty. However, they didn't actually rescind (repeal, void or nullify) the penalty, they just changed the official record to cover up this inept travesty of justice. This is not the first (or last) time a hockey game has been decided by the referees, yet it always seems Detroit is on the right end of these disputed situations, especially if the Blues are involved. Perhaps it has something to do with Detroit Coach Mike Babcock's perpetual smirk of haughty derision that intimidates the zebras and gives the Wings that edge.

The Red Wings have a rich and storied heritage, as evidenced by 11 Stanley Cup championships, the most of any American franchise. However, Detroit was not, as commonly assumed, one of the Original Six members of the NHL. When the National Hockey League was organized in 1917 after the suspension of operations by its predecessor, the National Hockey Association, the inaugural members were the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Arenas and the Quebec Bulldogs, who suspended operations and did not play. The Bulldogs were full members of the league, though, and made their debut in 1919 as the Quebec Athletic Club, or the Athletics. The following year the franchise moved to Hamilton as the Tigers. So, there was no "Original Six", only an Original Five (or Four who actually played). And Detroit was not one of those original members.

The league rapidly expanded in the booming 1920s, adding franchises in Boston in 1924 and another in Montreal (dubbed the Maroons) to replace the Wanderers, who had ceased operations in 1918. The New York Americans (mostly transplants from Hamilton) began play in 1925. Three new teams were added in 1926 as the Rangers opened Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Portland Rosebuds (previously Regina Capitals) of the Western Hockey League became the Chicago Black Hawks, and the Victoria Cougars of the WHL moved east to become the Detroit Cougars. Since there was no suitable arena in the Motor City, the Cougars played their first season in Windsor, Ontario. They moved to the Detroit Olympia in 1927 and were renamed the Falcons in 1930.

In 1932, successful grain and cattle merchant and businessman James E. Norris purchased the Falcons and promptly changed the name to the Red Wings. Norris had played professional hockey earlier in his life with the Montreal Hockey Club, nick-named the "Winged Wheelers". To honor his old club, Norris designed a crest that showed wings protruding from a spoked wheel or tire, a design that has survived over the years and is still used as the logo. It proved to be a great public relations move as it linked the team symbolically to Detroit's automotive industry and generated civic pride in and popularity for the struggling franchise. Norris was smart enough to retain the legendary Jack Adams as general manager and coach. A former WHL and NHL player (with two Stanley Cup championships), Adams led the Red Wings to three Cups as coach and built the Red Wings into a strong franchise into the 1950s by signing and developing players such as Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay and most notably Gordie Howe, which led to four more Cup championships. Adams is the only man in NHL history to have his name engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup as a player, coach and general manager. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959. The annual award by the NHL for the coach "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success" carries his name.

The home team has dominated the most recent games between these two bitter divisional rivals, so with the added pressure of the Blues seeking to obtain a measure of revenge, it should be a delightful, intense all-out war tonight. One can only have hope the zebras can keep up and allow the players to decide the outcome of the game this time.