Though best remembered by hockey fans for his tenure with the New York Islanders, Gerry Hart began his NHL journey with the Detroit Red Wings. Hart, who died Friday at the age of 75, played 730 NHL games, the first 71 with Detroit.
Undersized at 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, Hart was nonetheless a tough as nails defenseman who gave no quarter and asked none. “I don’t hesitate checking anyone who is heavier than me,” Hart told Detroit Free Press writer Jack Berry in 1970.
With Fort Worth of the CHL in 1969-70, the season prior to Hart cracking the Red Wings lineup as a regular, he collected 226 penalty minutes.
“He’s stronger than hell, very aggressive,” said former Detroit defenseman and coach Doug Barkley, who was Hart’s coach. “He won’t back down from anyone.”
With his way blonde hair and stout physique, Hart could’ve easily played the part of a rugged ourdoorsman. In the offseasons, he actually was living that life. From Flin Flon, Manitoba, his summer jobs included working as a bush pilot and racing canoes.
Hart Broke In With Red Wings In 1969
A one-game stint with Detroit during the 1968-69 season would mark Hart’s NHL bow. Detroit lost defenseman Kent Douglas to an eye injury, summoning Hart to fill in for a Feb. 24, 1969 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Red Wings were 9-1 winners on the night. Unfortunately for Hart, he was in the penalty box when Jean-Guy Gendron would tally Philadelphia’s lone goal on the power play.
Hart played three more games for the Wings in 1969-70 before finally making the grade as a regular in 1970-71. Playing in 64 games, Hart’s 148 penalty minutes were second on the team. However, he was shipped back to the minors for all but three games in 1971-72.
Hart’s big break came when the Islanders claimed him in the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft. He’d play seven seasons for the Isles, reaching the Stanley Cup semifinals four times. But just when the Islanders were set to launch their four straight Cup wins in 1979-80, Hart was on the move again. The Quebec Nordiques would claim him in the 1979 expansion draft.
He’d played one season in Quebec and part of another prior to a trade to the St. Louis Blues. Hart wrapped up his NHL career in St. Louis, announcing his retirement on Dec. 1, 1982.