This past Saturday night was a special one at Jobing.com Arena. The defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings were in town, a vocal crowd of 16,000+ was on hand (thanks in part to some loyal Red Wings fans) and the two teams put on an entertaining show.
But for me, it was also special because I had the opportunity to spend some time with my first TV partner in the NHL, Mickey Redmond. Mick has been in the NHL as a player or broadcaster for over 40 years. He broke in with the Montreal Canadiens in the mid sixties and won 2 Stanley Cups with teammates like Jean Beliveau, Yvon Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Jacques Lemaire and Gump Worsley (just to name a few). He was later traded to the Detroit Red Wings where he became the first Red Wing to ever score 50 goals in a season (Gordie Howe’s single season high was 49 in 1952-53). Mick scored 50 goals twice: 1972-73 & 1973-74. He was part of Team Canada for the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union that many still consider the greatest hockey event of all time.
A back injury cut his career short and he ended up as a TV analyst back in the late 70’s. After a stint with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, he was hired as the Red Wings’ TV analyst in 1985 to work with an unknown and very raw TV rookie by the name of Dave Strader. I owe a lot to what my career has become to the 11 seasons I worked side by side with Mick.
The first season we worked together was 1985-86 and the Wings weren’t projected to be a very good team. We only televised 15 games that year (thank goodness!). The Wings were 1-13-1 in those contests and the average score was 8-3 for the opposition. Moments before my very first telecast in the NHL in Minnesota, Mick told me to take off my headset and stop staring at the rosters that I was trying to memorize. He said that we had to be prepared for the worst. The Wings were not a good team (their record was already something like 0-5-1) and all of our TV games were on the road. Mick said we may have to focus more on the opposition and look for the positives in their game rather than dwell on the negatives for the Wings. It wasn’t exactly the pep talk I was expecting. But, 3 hours later, we were wrapping up a 10-1 North Stars’ victory. It was a valuable lesson and one that I’ve tried to carry throughout my career.
Mick and I still talk just about every week. One of the toughest decisions I had to make in my career was in the summer of 1996. I was negotiating with ESPN to do some games with them and still keep about half the games in the Red Wings’ TV package. When Tom Mees tragically drowned in his neighbor’s pool, ESPN offered me a full schedule of games which meant I had to make a choice between staying with the Wings or going to ESPN. I chose to go with ESPN. The decision had as much to do with my family life as it did my career path, but it still was a tough choice because of my relationship with Mick.
Ironically, the NHL hired Mick and I prior to the playoffs to work the 1997 Stanley Cup Final for their International telecast. As fate would have it, Detroit made it to the Final against Philadelphia. Mick and I, the voices of the Wings for 11 seasons, got to be there when the franchise ended their 42 year Stanley Cup drought. The pictures that I have with the Cup from that night, with my family and Mick, are among my most treasured. Mick and I also worked the 1998 Stanley Cup Final when Detroit beat Washington.
The other night at Jobing.com Arena outside the Coyotes’ locker room, Mick and I were chatting prior to taping an intermission segment (kudos to our producer Graham Taylor for putting it together). When Wayne came out to do his Coaches’ Corner with Panger, he immediately came over to see Mick and the two talked for several minutes. One of the characteristics that I admire about hockey players is the respect they show for the guys that went before them. Panger showed it on a recent telecast when he spoke about his friend, the late Keith Magnuson. Mickey and Wayne have another connection that goes back many years. One of Mickey’s former teammates in Detroit was a guy who later became a friend and mentor to Wayne: Ace Bailey. Ace was a victim aboard one of the planes that hit the twin towers on 9/11.
I’ve been blessed to work with some great partners over the course of my 23 seasons in the NHL including my good friend Darren Pang. But, just like a kiss, there’s always a special place in one’s heart for the first one!