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Red Wings to retire Kelly's No. 4 prior to game against Maple Leafs

Hall of Fame defenseman won Stanley Cup eight times, four each with Detroit, Toronto

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Red Kelly never wanted the No. 4 when the Detroit Red Wings gave it to him in 1948.

Seventy-one years later, the organization will retire that same number in his honor prior to the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Little Caesars Arena on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D, TSN4, NHL.TV).

"Amazing, isn't it?" Kelly, 91, said Wednesday. "I fought against having it, but it seemed to work out well in the end. Very well."

 

[RELATED: Red Kelly: 100 Greatest NHL Players]

 

The Red Wings are the second team to ensure no one ever wears Kelly's No. 4. The Maple Leafs retired that number on Oct. 13, 2016 in tribute to both Kelly and forward Hap Day.

"It's nice that they are doing this on a night both those teams are playing against each other," Kelly said. "All for a number I was reluctant to get."

Kelly came to Red Wings training camp as a 20-year-old with no expectations in 1947 and was surprised when he was kept on as the team's fifth defenseman. He was given No. 20, a number he said he was comfortable with.

Various injuries to his teammates allowed Kelly to move into the top four midway through the season. He responded by getting 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 60 games while showcasing his skill as a shutdown defenseman.

With his role having increased during the course of his rookie season, management figured his number should change, too, when he showed up for training camp in 1948.

"I came back and they gave me No. 4," Kelly said. "I kind of complained about it. I said: "I like 20." They said: "No, that's two numbers … we want you to have No. 4, so they gave me No. 4. And that's the number I had for the next 19 years.

"It was a great run. I spent 12-1/2 seasons with Detroit, 7-1/2 with Toronto. We won seven consecutive League championships and four Stanley Cups (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955) in Detroit, then four Stanley Cups in Toronto (1962, 1963, 1964, 1967)."

Video: Red Kelly won Cup four times each with Wings, Leafs

Kelly, a 1969 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, wore the classic Detroit red and white sweater for 846 of his 1,316 career games. During his tenure in Detroit he scored 472 points (162 goals, 310 assists) with 253 penalty minutes.

Kelly, who was the first recipient of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's outstanding defenseman when he won it in 1954, was traded to Toronto in 1960, where he switched to forward. The Simcoe, Ontario, native retired in 1967, having finished his career with 823 points (281 goals, 542 assists) and 327 penalty minutes in 20 NHL seasons.

Asked what it will be like to see his banner dangle from the arena rafters in the company of those belonging to former teammates Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe, Kelly laughed.

"We won four Cups together," he said. "They were special players."

Health issues have hindered Kelly recently but he is steadfast that he'll do everything in his power to attend the ceremony. Plans are for him to be accompanied by wife Andra and at least three of their four children as part of a large entourage of family and friends.

"I'm not in the best of shape," Kelly said. "My legs have kind of given out on me. It's a struggle for me to be there. But I'm going to be there if I can.

"This whole thing came out of nowhere. When the Red Wings owners Chris and Marian Ilitch called me on the phone (in October) and told me they wanted to do this, I was speechless for a while. It's a great honor."

Of course, with his two former teams facing off against each other after his banner has been raised, the question becomes: Who will he be cheering for once the puck drops, the Red Wings or Maple Leafs?

"I just hope it's a good hockey game," Kelly said with a chuckle. "Whoever wins, wins. If it's a good game I'll be cheering for both hockey teams."

Just like the fans inside Little Caesars Arena will be cheering for him.

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