Lighting the Lamp, With Rick Ackerman
Remember the good old days when the visiting Detroit Red Wings, aka the Red Menace, came to town? Oh, yes, we hated those octopus-lovers with a passion rivaled by Cardinals fans’ disdain for the (2016 world champion?) Chicago Cubs.
Of course, some of us can remember the good even older days when the Red Wings were known as the Dead Things and played at the legendary Olympia (1927-79) near the intersection of Grand River and McGraw in the northern part of Motor City, some five miles from the Joe Louis Arena on the Detroit River. I was privileged to attend several games there, blessed to see great players like Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich, Alex Delvecchio and a young Garry Unger. I remember defensive stalwarts such as Bobby Baun, Carl Brewer and Gary Bergman, as well as goaltenders Roger Crozier and Roy Edwards (well remembered by St. Louis Braves fans in 1964). After one memorable game in 1969 (a 5-4 come-from-behind Red Wings victory over the Blackhawks if memory serves), Gordie happened to exit the building at the same time I did and stopped to shake my hand and say thanks for saying hello.
However, my first interaction with Mr. Howe took place on October 3, 1965, when the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks played an exhibition game at the Arena. He and Bobby Hull came over to the boards where I happened to be standing to chat with each other, and both graciously signed the program I handed them over the chicken wire. I would also see Howe again in 1971 when he came to Dayton, Ohio, to promote a potential WHA team there. He was scheduled to appear at a local department store, and I was more than happy to be the only person that initially showed up to meet him. I was able to talk some hockey with Mr. Hockey for about twenty minutes before more fans began to show up. Of course, the Aeros moved to Houston the following year, where Gordie and his sons Mark and Marty played the following four seasons.
Today, most Red Wings fans will boast of the success the franchise has had in their lifetimes, crowing about Stanley Cup championships in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. However, prior to the ’97 sweep of the Flyers in four games, the last time the Winged Wheelers raised the Cup was in 1955 when they took the Canadiens in seven games, led by Howe, Ted Lindsay, defenseman Red Kelly and goaltender Terry Sawchuk.
And from 1967 to 1984, they did not even qualify for the playoffs, missing 15 (of 17) times, including seven consecutive seasons not even in playoff contention. From 1965 until 1978, the best they could do was finish third in the East Division in 1970. For those unable to remember, Detroit did not join St. Louis in the Norris Division of the Clarence Campbell (later Western) Conference until the 1981-82 season.
The Red Wings went on to dominate the Norris/Central Division from 1987 until 2011, finishing first an amazing 16 times and second six times. Their only blemishes were finishing fifth in 1990 and third in 1991. Detroit missed the playoffs in 1990, the last time they did not qualify to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Norris Division became the Central Division at the beginning of the 1993-94 season. The Red Wings remained in the Central with the Blues until the 2013-14 season when they packed their bags and moved to the Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division, where they reside today. Detroit is around 700 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently the NHL could not figure out a better name for the division. Of course, Edmonton is around 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean, but that is entirely another matter.
The Red Wings finished fourth in the Atlantic in 2014 and third in the next two seasons, yet qualified for the playoffs all three times, extending their 25 consecutive years of postseason play. However, they were bounced out in the first round each time, by Boston and twice by Tampa Bay, winning only five of 17 games. Expected by most hockey scribes to miss the playoffs this season, Detroit got off to a fast start, winning five of seven games for 10 points, tied with Tampa Bay and only one point behind division-leading Montreal (not including Wednesday’s Canadiens at the Islanders contest).
So, although the old rivalry with our despised opponents is now a thing of the past, nevertheless it is easy to recall those feelings of loathing and resentment and look forward to a solid thrashing of the red-clad visitors tonight by a team that disappointed a home crowd Tuesday with a horrendous display of incompetence against Brian Elliott and the Calgary Flames. The Blues could only manage 24 shots (11 in the first two periods) and one goal (on a five-on-three power play) against a team coming in with a 2-4-1 record.
After a great start to this 50th anniversary season, winning three straight and outscoring opponents 11 to six, the Blues have settled into mediocrity, going 1-1-1 on a three-game Canadian road trip and entirely crapping the bed against the Flames, outscored 9 to 13 in those four games. Yes, the Blues still lead the Central with nine points; however, that lead is at best precarious, especially if the Note continues to play with apathy and indifference on this home stand. Yes, it was only the first loss at home, yet surely more losses will come this week unless the boys figure out how to score more than one goal in each of the next two games.