July 19, 2008

What It Means To Be A Red Wing by Kevin Allen and Art Regner

It has often been said that the Detroit Red Wings are more than just a hockey team. They are a family.

This rings through especially nowadays under the stewardship of owner Mike Illitch, who the players all rally around and for. But this family tradition has been around for past great Detroit Red Wings teams, too, albeit sometimes under very different circumstances. Back in the 1950s the Detroit Red Wings were a powerful Stanley Cup dynasty, perhaps the best ever. They, too, were a closely knit group, often compared by the players themselves to a family. Only those players rallied in unison against their boss, Jack Adams.

Either way, family is a great way to describe the atmosphere that has been cultivated in Hockeytown over the years. Several generations of hockey players and coaches can attest to that personally, as evidenced Kevin Allen and Art Regner's 2006 book What It Means To Be A Red Wing. The 322 page hardcover book was published by Triumph Books.

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The book celebrates the long Red Wings history through the words of the personalities who created it. First person accounts from dozens of Red Wings greats spanning seven decades relive Red Wings history while describing their own experiences and memories. It is a fascinating undertaking for serious Red Wings fans and for hockey history afficionados.

Since no players from the 1920s or 1930s remain with us, the book starts in the 1940s and 1950s. We go back to a very foreign time of hockey and life, at least for most us. We learn about the building of one of hockey's greatest dynasties from the likes of Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Marty Pavelich, Marcel Pronovost, and Benny Woit, amongst others.

The book continues through the dark and lean years of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Though on-ice success was not easy to find for that elongated period of time, the great stories are nonetheless fascinating. We get to hear from Bill Gadsby, Bugsy Watson, Vaclav Nedomansky, Reed Larson, Shawn Burr, Tim Cheveldae, Greg Stefan and Jacques Demers plus 15 more.

Then we move into the great 1990s and the turn of the century - the return to glory for Hockeytown. Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Lapointe, Scotty Bowman,Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are amongst the contributors.

Don't worry, Steve Yzerman is very much accounted for in this book, too. The book opens with a foreword by Yzerman, which doubles as his chapter.

Of course by this point you'll notice a few notable ommissions.

Some are understandable. Key names like Terry Sawchuk, Sid Abel, Black Jack Stewart and Pete Babando passed long ago. More modern ommissions are more disappointing. Mickey Redmond, Gerard Gallant, Igor Larionov, Joey Kocur and especially Sergei Fedorov and Bob Probert are sorely missed by fans reading this book.

In all likelihood the authors undoubtedly campaigned for contriubtions from these players, but for whatever reasons they were declined. That is likely what happened in the case of the most glaring ommission of them all - Gordie Howe.

I'm purely speculating here, but I suspect Howe declined to contribute this book for financial reasons. He has his own book out, and would rather have those who are willing to pay to read his reflections buy his book. Howe has been trying to cash in on his celebrity in his later years. You certainly can not blame him, as he mostly missed the big money era and has had to try to cash in on his name and status to provide for his family.

This is a very special book for any fan of the Detroit Red Wings, but it is forever incomplete without the reflections of the greatest Red Wing of them all. He is represented well throughout the book, through the many collected memories of those he played with and those who followed. We can live without Fedorov's or Probert's thoughts, but not without Gordie Howe's.

Some Special Stories.

Here's just a few hints of the stories you will find inside What It Means To Be A Red Wing:

Steve Yzerman talks about arriving in Detroit and the infectious enthusiasm Mike Illitch and Jimmy Devellano were instilling in Detroit.

Mike Illitch talks about growing up a Wings fan and about the incomparable Gordie Howe.

Red Kelly remembers the great times at Ma Shaw's rooming house, where he, Howe, Marty Pavelich, Ted Lindsay and later Metro Prystai lived and formed the strongest of bonds.

Coach Jimmy Skinner defends his boss, the hated Jack Adams.

Bill Gadsby shares his story of how Gordie Howe's thumb broke the jaw of Montreal's J. C. Tremblay.

Hard shooting Reed Larson recalls how his shot broke the same pane of glass in Philadelphia and injured the same fan in consecutive years.

Shawn Burr tells a disturbing story of Sergei Fedorov in a speedo.

Scotty Bowman compares the 1990s Red Wings to his 1970s Montreal Canadiens.

Nicklas Lidstrom is extremely thankful for the various attributes he learned from his many defense partners over the years.

Kris Draper talks about being traded for $1.

Chris Osgood recalls the night he fought Patrick Roy.


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