THE RETURN OF HOCKEY’S PROUDEST WARRIOR

Jack Batten January 23 1965

THE RETURN OF HOCKEY’S PROUDEST WARRIOR

Jack Batten January 23 1965

THE RETURN OF HOCKEY’S PROUDEST WARRIOR

Jack Batten

ROBERT BLAKE THEODORE LINDSAY, thirty nine, of Birmingham, Michigan, an upper-middle-class residential suburb of Detroit, partner in Lindsay-Pavelich Manufacturing Corporation, of Dearborn. Michigan, a company engaged in an industrial process called plastic injection molding, and in Lindsay-Pavelich Sales Corporation, a manufacturers’ representative with four principal clients, arranged last October 16 with his wife, two customers of his sales corporation and their wives to have dinner at Carl’s Chophouse in nearby Grand River and afterward to drive downtown to the Detroit Olympia for the Red Wings opening game in the new National Hockey League season. The six people planned to use a box of seats reserved by season subscription by the Lindsay-Pavelich organizations for just such business-social occasions. But a few hours before the hockey game was to begin, Lindsay told his friends that he wouldn't be sitting with them. Instead, he said, he would be playing left wing for the Red Wings.

Ted Lindsay's announcement that he was going to play in that game, and perhaps in a season of games, and his appearance on the ice came as much of a surprise to everyone interested in hockey in Detroit, not excepting Detroit’s hockey writers, as it did to his deserted companions. Detroit fans hadn't seen Lindsay play in the Olympia since the season of 1959-60 and hadn't seen him play in Red Wing colors for three more seasons before that. At a press conference on July 13, 1960, Lindsay had said, “I have come to the realistic conclusion that it’s better to step down rather than stay around as an athletic bum,” and he had left the Chicago Black Hawks, for whom he had played three seasons after thirteen years with the Red Wings, to spend all of his time instead of just bis nonhockey time with the two businesses presided over by himself and Marty Pavelich, another former Detroit player. Behind him, Lindsay left a record that proved him, beyond much serious challenge, the best man at his position ever to play in the National League—999 games, 365 goals (the fourth-highest total in the NHL), 458 assists (another fourth

highest total), eight times elected to the first all-star team (a number surpassed only by the former Montreal Canadien defenseman Doug Harvey), eight times a member of league championship teams and four times of Stanley Cup teams. Now he was back.

The fans in the Olympia on October 15 got over their surprise at seeing Lindsay on skates in time to welcome him in the style his goals and assists and spirit and skill had rightly earned. Lindsay — like each of the Detroit players in turn that night— was introduced into a single dramatic spotlight in the darkened arena, and as he skated toward the light, before the man on the PA could summon Lindsay’s name, the crowd hailed him with an all-out, voices-raised, everyone-on-his-feet ovation. It was a fine moment for Lindsay, and after it, the game, against the Toronto Maple Leafs, may have come as a lesser event.

Detroit lost to Toronto 5-3, and Lindsay neither scored nor assisted on any of Detroit’s three goals. He wasn’t good for much more than sixty seconds of play each time his shift on the ice was called, and each time he skated off he was heaving with the effort of all the swift action. But he carried himself on the ice with his old professional authority, he still knew how to make the moves that mark the league’s very best players — and his play was as skillfully mean as it always had been. In the first period he needled the customarily imperturbable Toronto goalie, Johnny Bower, into slashing him—and during the penalty Bower received for the slash, Detroit scored the second of its goals. In the third period, when the referee, Vern Buffey, penalized Lindsay for holding, Lindsay gave Buffey enough sass to earn an added ten-minute misconduct. That was like old times: in his previous 999 NHL games, Lindsay had cooled his heels in penalty boxes for slightly over twenty-seven hours.

After the game, opinion on the quality of Lindsay’s play was cautious leaning to slightly optimistic. “He caught some of our guys, so his legs aren’t gone.” said Carl Brewer, the Toronto defenseman. “I feel good, but I’m going at this on a game-to-

game basis,” said Lindsay. “We’ll play it by ear,” said Sid Abel, the Detroit coach.

Playing it by ear, it took Lindsay to game number eleven to score his first goal, but by game number twenty-one, he had made it apparent that he was back in the big league on an effective basis. Game number twenty-one came on a Thursday night early in December at the Olympia against the Boston Bruins. As games against Boston, a young, awkward, experimenting team, are apt to be this season, this one, at the start, was scrambly and disorganized. Detroit fell behind 1-0 in the first period and their play was dispirited and random. But early in the second period, Lindsay, playing on the third line with two young forwards, Pit Martin and Bruce MacGregor, checked the puck loose at centre ice, passed it to Martin and, skating hard, crossed the Boston blueline on the right side, his wrong wing. Martin slapped the puck to MacGregor at the left of the Boston goal and MacGregor shot directly at the Boston goalie, Johnston. Lindsay, at this point bearing close to the net, grabbed the rebound and in a sleightof-hand motion with his stick in the instant before he turned the right corner of the net, slid the puck to Martin fifteen feet in front of the goal. Martin was left in the clear as the Boston defensemen had moved on Lindsay and he easily backhanded a shot past Johnston for Detroit’s first goal. It was as nifty a play as Detroit fans would see all night.

A few seconds later, after the centre-ice faceoff, Lindsay outfought Gary Dornhoefer, the Boston right winger, for the puck along the left boards, but in the scramble Dornhoefer highsticked Lindsay across the forehead. Without any hesitation and with his customary finesse, Lindsay left-jabbed Dornhoefer squarely on the nose. Lindsay is five foot eight, Dornhoefer is six foot two: Lindsay’s punch was uphill all the way and the referee couldn't miss it. Dornhoefer got two minutes for highsticking and Lindsay got two minutes, too, but since there’s nothing in the National Hockey League’s rulebook called “left jab to the nose,” Lindsay’s penalty was

labeled “elbowing” for the record.

The immediate effect of Lindsay’s outburst of hot action was to recharge the entire Detroit team, and in the next eight minutes they scored three more goals. The second of the three —which, since the game ended 4-2, turned out to be the winning goal— was shot in from the left point by defenseman Gary Bergman and came on a perfectly executed setup by Lindsay. Late in the third period, Lindsay and MacGregor hesitated over the puck in an Alphonse-Gaston moment, and while they were bowing to each other, the Boston defenseman Boivin slapped the puck across centre to his forward, Bucyk, who scored on a clean breakaway. Not even Ted Lindsay wins all the skirmishes. Still, it was Lindsay’s game, as much as it was any Detroit player’s. He was named one of the evening’s three stars, and up in the press box Tom Johnson, an injured Boston defenseman, said, “The little SOB beat us.”

The win kept Detroit in first place, three points up on Toronto and Montreal, a position they were still close to in the middle of December and a position that, in the preseason opinion of the league’s hockey writers, was four notches better than Detroit’s predicted abilities should finally place them. The Red Wings owed their surprising success at that point in the schedule to a team composed of one superlative player, Gordie Howe; a brilliant rookie goaltender, Roger Crozier: two first-rank forwards, Alex Delvecchio and Norm Ullman: two solid, crafty defensemen, Marcel Pronovost and Bill Gadsby; a clutch of very young, very swift forwards, the fastest in the league; and, not the least, Ted Lindsay.

The reasons behind Lindsay’s return to hockey—“Not comeback,” he says. “Comebacks are for Sugar Ray Robinson, people who need to come back”—can’t be understood in terms that would explain the actions of most other professional athletes. Lindsay, it goes without saying, didn’t return for the money — the only kind of money that businessmen who live in Birmingham, Michigan, need comes in amounts that buy new factories. He didn’t return for the athletic chal-

continued on page 39

Ted Lindsay’s statistics: 365 goals, 310 stitches, 1,635 penalty minutes

“I’ve returned to hockey; comebacks are for people who need to come back”

‘"Red Kelly gave me a black eye; only an MP could get away with that"

“I’m playing it game to game; I'll never be a hockey bum”

If I had one bad year I’d be hanged”

TED LINDSAY

continued from page 16

lange—after his 1960 retirement, as a substitute for hockey, Lindsay became an enthusiastic and fiercely competitive convert to skiing.

Lindsay's return can only be understood in terms of his enormous pride. He is a strong-willed, impressively self-disciplined, occasionally defiant iman. He travels first class or not at all. His work is always his best and he expects the organizations he is connected with — his businesses, his hockey clubs—to be the best. The story of his return, then, is a kind of morality tale that covers the seven Nears that span his first leave-taking —“strategic retreat” defines it more accurately—-of the Red Wings, the most important organization in the first thirteen years of his professional life, and his return to them in fine triumph last October 15.

During his hockey career, Lindsay’s pride was most obviously acted out on the ice—in his aggressive play. "Something wells up inside me," he said in 1957. in a brief moment of introspection. “1 can’t stand somebody trying to show me up.” But his pride carried off the ice, too. He especially resented the old-fashioned paternalistic attitude of the National League's club ONvners. “They don’t think we have minds of our own,” he said. “They treat us as if we were babies.”

The owners went into shock

To prove to the owners that they were dealing with men, and to place the players in a more solid bargaining position with their bosses, Lindsay and representatives of the other five NHL teams met in cloak-and-dagger secrecy in the winter of 1956 and formed the original Players’ Association. The association collected one hundred dollars from every National League player to finance itself, hired a lawyer, presented the owners with a list of its demands, and elected Lindsay its first president. In the years since that first organizational meeting, the association has become a complete and accepted success. Today, for instance, a ten-year man in the NHL can expect to collect $9,850 a year at age sixty-five under a pension scheme largely negotiated by the association. But in 1956 the announcement of the association’s formation sent the owners into immediate shock. Jimmy Thomson, the Toronto representative on the association, was traded away by Leaf president Conn Smythe soon after the association became public news, and before the trade, according to Thomson, Smythe called him “a traitor and a Quisling.” In those days, diplomacy in labor relations wasn’t one of the team owners’ strong points.

In Detroit, the Red Wings’ general manager, Jack Adams, was just as disenchanted with Lindsay. He didn’t like Lindsay's role in the association and he resented the time Lindsay was

devoting to the sales company that Lindsay and Marty Pavelich, who had retired from the Wings in 1955, had already begun to build. In 1956 Adams took away Lindsay's captaincy of the team and told sportswriters that Lindsay was getting "complacent." That was the year that Lindsay scored thirty goals, assisted on fifty-five others, played on the NHL's all-time highest - scoring line (Howe-UTlmanLindsay, 226 points) and was named to the first all-star team.

Lindsay didn’t Nvait for Adams to become vindictive as well as disenchanted. “I knew if I had one bad year,” Lindsay says, "I'd be hanged by the management.” Lindsay, characteristically, set out to trade himself away. With Adams’ permission, he carried on two months of negotiations with James Norris, the president of the C hicago Black Hawks. He wanted from Norris the privilege of commuting to his Detroit home and business, and a salary handsome enough to cover the wear and tear and expense of maintaining a Chicago establishment and a Detroit establishment and traveling between the two. He got what he wanted.

The eventual trade that Lindsay, again with Adams' okay, arranged to take him to Chicago probably demonstrates the extent of Adams' desire to be rid of Lindsay; examined from the perspective of 1965. it reads like the century's most scandalous hockey steal. C hicago got Lindsay and allstar goalie Glenn Hall, another persona non grata around Adams’ office, and surrendered to Detroit players named Bassen, Wilson, Kennedy and Preston, plus cash. The subsequent fates of the two teams can’t be laid entirely to the trade but, for the record, Detroit dropped from first place in 1957 to sixth in 1959, while Chicago was passing them on the way up from sixth in 1957 to third in 1959. Whatever these statistics prove, however, the trade ended, on a sad, recriminative note, Lindsay’s thirteen brilliant, colorful and rewarding years of service to the Detroit Red Wings.

With Chicago, Lindsay’s most enduring contribution probably came rather as a tutor than as a performer. He had one excellent season, 1958-59, as leftwinger on the high-scoring (82 goals) “Pappy Line,” named in honor of the advancing athletic ages of its members, Lindsay, Tod Sloan and Eddie Litzenberger. But his value as the veteran adviser to the young Hawks, especially to Stan Mikita who regards himself as something of a Lindsay disciple, had a more lasting influence. As for his own play, Lindsay had too many distractions—“I always seemed to be looking at a clock, checking the weather, thinking about the flight home,” he says. In 1959-60 he scored only seven goals, the lowest total since his second year in the league, 1945-46. and at the end of the season he announced his retirement from hockey.

In his new life as a hockey fan in Detroit, it took Lindsay a couple of seasons to warm up to the Red Wings. But by 1962, when his friend Sid Abel had become manager as well as coach of the team, replacing Adams who moved on to the presidency of the Central Professional Hockey l eague, Lindsay was a loyal Detroit season-

ticket holder and a dedicated rooter. And he wanted to be more.

In the middle of July 1964, he went to see Abel in his office at the Olympia. “I told Sid that any ill-feeling to the Red Wings was definitely gone,” Lindsay says. “I said I had a real pride in Detroit and I wanted to contribute something to the organization.”

One contribution Lindsay had in mind was as play-by-play or color commentator on the telecasts of the Detroit home games. Lindsay had performed as a poised and authoritative sportscaster on CKLW-TV, Windsor, Ont., once a week for the previous four years.

Abel had another idea.

“The coming back was my idea,” Abel says. “I noticed how fit Ted looked and I asked him, right then in my office, how would he like to give playing a whirl. It was as simple as that.”

It didn’t seem that simple to Lindsay, not on that July day. “After I picked myself up off Sid’s floor,” he says, “I said my business came first, but . . .” Lindsay talked the idea over with three people — Pavelich, Gordie Howe, and his wife Pat (“She sometimes thinks I’m crazy anyway”). Each told him it was his own decision.

“Sentiment means more when you’re older,” Lindsay says. “I guess I always knew I wanted to finish as a Red Wing.”

Detroit sportswriters managed to overlook Lindsay during the team’s training season — because Lindsay didn't play in any exhibition games and he worked out in isolation with the juniors and scrubs. If the writers had spotted him, they may not have suspected anything anyway: they knew he’d practised with the Wings a couple of times a week in the last months of the previous season, just for the conditioning. (Lindsay, in fact, is a physical-fitness bug: he regularly works out at home twice a day, morning and night, and his weight has hardly varied a pound since he left hockey.)

By noon of the day before the Red Wings opening game, Lindsay still hadn’t decided whether he was ready to test himself in NHL play. In a talk at practice that day, Abel gave him the final shove. “Sid said I’d never know until I went under the gun,” Lindsay says, “and I knew he was right.” Abel left the practice for a sportswriters-sportscasters luncheon to announce Lindsay’s return to hockey and Lindsay hurried home to let his wife in on the news before she heard

it from a sportswriter or sportscaster.

Next night in the Olympia, in the pre-game player introductions, the Detroit fans told Lindsay just how they felt about having him back. “When I heard the cheering,” Lindsay says, “I thought, well, I must have done a good job when I played here. I felt I’d proved myself after everything that had happened in the last few years.”

Ted Lindsay, the proud man, had satisfied his pride.

Lindsay’s return to hockey will last, at the most, to the end of the current season. At the least, he’ll stay, he says, only for as long as his play lives up to his own private, and lofty, standards. And there’s another consideration. Lindsay and his wife have long-standing reservations for a ski holiday in Aspen, Colorado, beginning March 21. That’s the night Lindsay is supposed to be playing with the Red Wings against Chicago in the team’s sixty-seventh game of the schedule. Mrs. Lindsay is very determined to have her holiday; and perhaps the future of Lindsay’s gallant return to action will be resolved, as many more momentous events in our history have been, in the interests of domestic peace. ★