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Delvecchio, Lindsay to be immortalized with statues

by John McGourty
They are going to erect a statue of Alex Delvecchio inside of Joe Louis Arena. They're unveiling it Thursday night, before the Red Wings host the Vancouver Canucks at 7:30 p.m. ET in a game seen on TSN and Fox Sports Detroit.

Now, I'm no sculptor, but if this statue isn't big, daunting and rugged enough, it won't be representative of Alex Delvecchio. However, we are assured it will be.

Alex Delvecchio is one of the greatest players in NHL history. Not only that, he played on what many consider the best line in NHL history and for a team that was arguably the best in League history.

The Detroit Red Wings had the best regular-season record every year from 1949 to 1955, the only team in NHL history to have the best record seven years in a row. They won the Stanley Cup in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. Delvecchio joined the team in 1951-52 and shortly thereafter replaced Sid Abel as the center on Detroit's "Production Line," between right wing Gordie Howe and left wing Ted Lindsay.

Delvecchio played through the 1973-74 season, retiring with 456 goals, 825 assists and 1,281 points in 1,549 NHL games. When he retired, he was second all-time in games played, assists and points. No player in NHL history has played more games and more seasons for a single team.

Delvecchio won three Stanley Cups and the Lady Byng Trophy three times. He coached and/or managed the Red Wings from 1974-77 before leaving hockey for a business career.

"I probably had the greatest hockey player in history on my line in Gordie Howe," Delvecchio said. "He could do so many things with the puck and he could score goals. The older guys on the team, Bob Goldham and Marty Pavelich, just told me to get the puck to the big guy and don't worry about my scoring. Then I had Ted Lindsay on the other side and he could put the puck in the net too, a scoring champion one year. I just concentrated on feeding those guys.

"They didn't bring me up to replace Sid. We were on the Red Wings together for a year before they traded him to Chicago. I wasn't trying to replace Sid, just become a member of the Red Wings. I worked hard and wanted to be a regular with the team and eventually got to play with Gordie and Ted. That just made me try harder. I wanted to be excellent and an asset to their careers."

The Red Wings will unveil a statue to Lindsay Saturday night. It's very appropriate that the ceremonies and the statues are so close -- they'll be next to Howe's statue, on the arena's main concourse near Joe Louis Arena's west entrance -- because Delvecchio and Lindsay have been "thisclose" in their hockey lives. They played on the same line together and overlapped as coach and general manager during the 1970s.

"I've never known anyone with more determination than Ted Lindsay," Delvecchio said. "He had a lot of .... I'd better say gumption. He would challenge anyone on the ice. He was a determined person who wanted to win and he played really hard all the time. I liked him because he would let me know when I was doing something wrong, but he would make it constructive criticism.

"Ted is getting the Lester Patrick Trophy next week, a great award for contributions to American hockey, and it speaks for itself, all the things he has done for everyone in hockey. He was the first to get into organizing the players into a union. He did a great, great thing, many things for us hockey players. I can't think of anyone more deserving."

Much like the New York Islanders' dynasty of the early 1980s, which was preceded by the great Montreal Canadiens' dynasty and followed by the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty, the early 1950s Red Wings were the "bridge" team between three great dynasties. The Toronto Maple Leafs won three straight Stanley Cups and five in seven years before the Red Wings' era. The Canadiens then won five straight Stanley Cups between 1956-60.

"It was an interesting era in hockey," Delvecchio said. "We had it going pretty good in Detroit and then (our GM) Jack Adams started trading everybody away and it weakened our club. We could have beaten Montreal in those years with the players we originally had. He was getting rid of five or six guys from each Stanley Cup team. Nobody could question him because he had had some success with that strategy in the past but we could see it would hurt us and it did."

Those mistakes continue to hurt Delvecchio and give us an insight into his character. The team slumped badly for quite some time after he retired, but he is overjoyed by its success in the era since Mike and Marian Ilitch took over the team.
"I haven't slept in the last week, just thinking about this. It's a great honor, especially with Gordie having his statue and Ted Lindsay going up in a couple of nights. The Ilitches are great people for doing this, great for the NHL." -- Alex Delvecchio

"They've really supported the Red Wing Alumni, which I was active with," Delvecchio said. "They were very helpful to us and they've been great to minor hockey in Detroit, even before they owned the team. They have taken care of the alumni and the present players they have."

Delvecchio, 77, realizes the statue will probably last longer than he will and he's a little bit overwhelmed by that.

"I haven't slept in the last week, just thinking about this," he admitted. "It's a great honor, especially with Gordie having his statue and Ted going up in a couple of nights. The Ilitches are great people for doing this, great for the NHL."

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