Detroit Red Wings
Columnist trains for 55 years for his job to cover the Red Wings
This is my first official day writing about the Red Wings for Detroit Hockey Now, but I’ve been preparing for the job for more than half a century.
I was the kid standing in front of our black and white portable TV in the 1960s, twisting the round UHF antenna, with the hope of better reception for the Detroit Red Wings games on Channel 50.
In my lifetime, I’ve watched Red Wings’ home games at three different arenas. I saw Gordie Howe play live. I was at Olympia Stadium when Wilf Paiement took the baseball-like swing at Dennis Polonich’s face. In the late 1970s, I stayed up all night at Olympia to buy playoff tickets. I was there, with standing room only tickets, when Bill Lochead scored a pair, including the series clincher, when the Red Wings beat the Atlanta Flames in a 1979 playoff series.
My NHL writing career started with a feature about Detroit Red Wings player Reed Larson in 1976. At the time, he had no front teeth and the most wicked slap shot I had ever witnessed. I reported on Steve Yzerman’s first training camp for the Port Huron (Mich.) Times-Herald. You could see in his first shifts that he had magic in his game.
In a tired cardboard box in my home office sits a yellowed newspaper clipping of a story I wrote about Harry Neale becoming the Red Wings’ coach in 1985. At the time, he was still a young man by NHL coaching standards. Today, Harry is 84
What that means is I’ve been at this game for many, many years. I spent 34 seasons as USA TODAY’s national hockey columnist. I have been all over the world covering more games than I care to count. But I’ve covered more games in Detroit than any other venue.
I am not finished with reporting and writing. And being the watchdog on the Red Wings’ rebuild makes too much sense. You won’t find too many reporters more qualified to analyze Steve Yzerman than I am.
My analysis of his work now spans five different decades. I wrote about his first day at training camp, his first season and his first goal. I watched him grow into one of the NHL’s most dominant performers. When Yzerman’s 155 points placed him third in the NHL scoring race behind Mario Lemieux (199) and Wayne Gretzky (168), I remember writing that Yzerman was “the NHL’s best player in the mere mortal division.”
In my long career of covering the NHL, Lemieux was the most effective breakaway scorer I ever saw and Yzerman was second.
He then matured into one of the NHL’s all-time revered captains. At coach Scotty Bowman’s urging, Yzerman transformed himself from offensive wizard to fierce warrior. He became the gritty, hard-checking, shot-blocking beast, all accomplished on one good leg.
The symbol of the Red Wings’ 2002 Stanley Cup championship was Yzerman using his stick for leverage to get up when he was knocked to the ice.
As an administrator, Yzerman has been as proficient as he was as a player. He didn’t win a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay, but he built most of the roster that won a Stanley Cup in 2020.
Thus far, he seems to be on the right track to turning around the Red Wings. He’s a sharp hockey mind, a savvy trader, and a superb talent evaluator.
But he will not be a perfect GM. Nobody ever is. Ken Holland was revered as a general manager in Detroit until he wasn’t. Some fans believed he grew stale. I have my own assessment of what happened with Holland. But that’s a story for another day Hockey Now Detroit.
What I can say today is that I will give you an honest assessment of how he is doing. If the Red Wings are on the right path, I will tell you. If they are blundering in certain areas, I will explain that as well.
To me, the job of a reporter isn’t just sitting on the couch and pontificating about what you see. It’s about gathering information, talking to friends, rivals and experts about the subject, gaining as much knowledge as possible before formulating my analysis.
One of my favorite hockey people to talk to is the legendary coach Scotty Bowman. The man’s a hockey genius. He is as sharp today as he was when he was filling his resume with Stanley Cups.
When he was still coaching, I used to joke with people that Scotty Bowman “knows all and sees all.”
He proved that assessment to be true years ago when he asked one of my fellow reporters whether he was aware that my daughter, Kelsey, a middle schooler at the time, wrote for Beanie Baby Magazine.
It was all true. He does know everything that goes on. Of course, the next time I saw Bowman I had to know how in the world he knew my daughter wrote for that publication.
It turned out that Bowman read that magazine because he collected Beanie Babies for his grandchildren when he traveled. He and his wife were the subjects of my daughter’s next feature. I think Bowman likes that tale as much as I do.
Hope you enjoy my stories, and I hope you will like my analysis of the Red Wings. I think you will find that I’m easy to reach and I don’t mind answering questions. I hope today marks the beginning of a long, enjoyable relationship with Red Wings fans.