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Ted Lindsay: a credit to hockey

The Phaneuf euphoria delayed (understandably) my intention to post a follow-up piece on all-time Detroit Red Wing great Ted Lindsay. A few days ago, I posted an old interview I did with Lindsay when he was the General Manager of the Wings in the summer of 1978. If you have a moment to listen to that, you might enjoy it.

Anyone of my generation (or a bit older) who saw Dainius Zubrus jump up in the air to screen now former Leaf goalie Vesa Toskala Friday night in overtime in New Jersey (enabling Zajac to score the winner) had to be reminded of Lindsay.

I’m trying to locate a great picture of Lindsay in action in the early 1950s at the Detroit Olympia in Detroit. The photo shows Lindsay jumping way up in the air, legs extended, in an effort to screen Montreal goalie Jacques Plante, while Gordie Howe is attempting a shot.

That was the kind of player Lindsay was. Tough, rugged and so competitive.

Of course, those were different times. It’s easy for those of us who fall into the “old-timer” category, age-wise, to say, “The game was better back then, in the ‘50s and ‘60s…”

Well, as I’ve written previously (link to “Twelve things I liked about pre-1967 expansion hockey”); there were indeed things about that game in those days that I preferred. The pace of the game, for one. It was simply not as frenetic as it is nowadays. Moreover, there was no neutral zone trap.

However, there is no question—and people have been saying this for 30 years or more—that players today are generally bigger, faster and more skilled overall than ever before. More people are playing hockey around the world from very young ages, as well, which means there are more and more well-trained and talented players out there.

But there was indeed something special about that ‘50s-‘60s era, and Lindsay was one of the central reasons why the game grew in those days. He and the Wings developed fierce rivalries with the Montreal Canadiens, for example, playing countless bitterly contested regular-season games and a number of classic playoff match-ups. Lindsay was part of the Detroit “Production Line” with fellow Hall-of-Famers Gordie Howe and Sid Abel, while amassing throughout his splendid career (until then) unheard of penalty minute numbers—over 1,800 regular season penalty minutes, 2,000 minutes including playoffs.

And he wasn’t a big guy. He might have weighed 165 pounds.

Now, to be clear, I was not yet born (or was very young) when Lindsay was in his prime. In fact, I was maybe 4 or 5 when he was traded to Chicago by the Red Wings. He was moved after he spearheaded an attempt to launch an NHL players association with Montreal’s Doug Harvey, Toronto’s Jim Thompson and some others. (Interestingly, he was dealt along with goalie Glenn Hall for four players, including Johnny Wilson, Maple Leaf coach Ron Wilson’s uncle. He was traded despite having a career year in 1956-’57.) I did see him play on TV with the Hawks in the late ‘50s, but much more clearly remember his comeback with the team he loved, the Red Wings, in 1964-’65.

Lindsay was 39 at the time and that year, the Wings finished first in the overall standings, and Lindsay, I recall vividly, had a great start to his comeback season. (He had been away from the game since the 1959-‘60 campaign.) He faded toward the end of the regular season but still finished with 14 goals—a very respectable total in the old “Original Six” days. (In his first stint with the Wings, Lindsay made the number 7 famous. The photo of Lindsay at right shows him wearing a different number that ’64-’65 season because Norm Ullman had been wearing Lindsay’s old number.)

The Wings lost a hard-fought 7-game semi-final series to the Black Hawks, after holding a 2-0 lead early in that last game. The game was blacked out locally where I lived because we were located near Detroit, but I’ve seen the game on “classic” programs in recent times, and Lindsay was still working his tail off right to the end that night. He scored 3 goals in that series, but retired again, for good, after that season.

Lindsay became the General Manager of the Red Wings in the mid-later 1970s, invoking the catch phrase “Aggressive hockey is back in town”—a reflection of the standards he set while he played with the Wings. He did a pretty good job, but the Wings progressed only so much before Lindsay stepped down in the early 1980s.

Over the years, Lindsay has stayed close to the game. Apparently, he still works out off-ice with the current Wings from time to time, though he is well into his 80s. He has always expressed his opinions strongly, and has done a great deal of charity work over the years.

For a guy who was nick-named “Terrible Ted”, he has been anything but in a life that made hockey - and a lot of people around him - better.

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