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Alumni Reunion: Mel Bridgman

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings acquired Mel Bridgman from the New Jersey Devils prior to the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs. He scored five goals for seven points in the '87 postseason.

He was the first overall draft pick in 1975, and one of six prospects not selected by the Red Wings, who eventually played in Hockeytown during their NHL career.

Mel Bridgman was a scrappy center, a solid two-way performer who entered the league with the Philadelphia Flyers at the end of their Stanley Cup run of the mid-70s. But he had tremendous success in his seven seasons with the Broad Street Bullies, producing 119 goals and 205 assists.

But in 5 ½ years, Bridgman was bounced from Philly to Calgary to New Jersey, and then Detroit, where he played two seasons after he was acquired for forward Chris Cichocki prior to the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bridgman was a good fit for Wings coach Jacques Demers' hard-working club, which defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs to reach the conference finals. The next year Bridgman played a checking role with a number of wingers as the Wings reached the final dour for the second straight season.

Recently, Bridgman, who resides in California, granted an exclusive interview. Here is what he had to say about his time as a Red Wing.

QUESTION: Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? If so, who?

BRIDGMAN: “We’ve had four kids and the last one just went off to college, so we’ve been so busy out in California. But when you see guys it’s like you just saw them a week ago.”

Q. Which of the current Red Wings is your favorite? And why?

Bridgman: “By osmosis, my son who was born here in Detroit is a huge Red Wings fan, so I know that he likes (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Johan) Franzen and (Nicklas) Lidstrom. Overall, it’s just a great team and a fun team to watch.”

Q. What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing?

Bridgman: “I think the playoff runs that we had in the spring of ’87 and ’88. We were very, very close in getting to the Stanley Cup. But it was a very good group of people; we worked very hard together, and it was really an enjoyable time, really.”

Q. Which of the guys you played with was the toughest?

Bridgman: “Without a doubt there are two of them – Bob Probert and Joey Kocur. And the nice thing about them is there were both Jekyll and Hyde; one the ice I wouldn’t want to play against them, but off the ice they were just terrific people.”

Q. Who was the funniest?

Bridgman: “Glenny Hanlon, without a doubt. And Timmy Higgins.”

Q. Who had the biggest heart?

Bridgman: “That’s a tough question, but I think you have to look to your leader, and just the way that Stevie Yzerman carried himself on and off the ice, I mean, as a person and as a player, there are too many who can match-up to him.”

Q. What was your favorite restaurant in metro Detroit?

Bridgman: “We didn’t spend a lot of time here, and at the time we had three young kids, so we were probably at home changing diapers more than going out to restaurants.”

Q. How has the NHL changed since you played?

Bridgman: “I think the game has gotten a lot faster and the athletes are bigger, more skilled. The game has taken off. When you’re an older player like I was and you watch the old tapes you’re just thankful that you were born 20 years later, because I wouldn’t have made it.”

Q. Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played?

Center Mel Bridgman scored eight goals with 13 assists in a season and a half with the Red Wings in the late-80s.

Bridgman: “I was telling my son that the teams here in Detroit, especially the second year, may have even been tougher than the Broad Street Bullies. You don’t get too many guys like Probert and Kocur as heavyweights. The Flyers had Dave Schultz, but there wasn’t a second guy in that category.”

Q. Who did you sit next to in the dressing room?

Bridgman: “Tim Higgins.”

Q. What do you love most about the game?

Bridgman: “When you play at a high level and you’re fortunate to play on a good team you appreciate the skill of the players and the strategy that goes into the game, and the scouting. You realize how much goes into seeing that athlete on the ice. You’re not just seeing a player, but you’re seeing the whole process that goes into see that one player at this level.”

Q. Who had the greatest influence on your career?

Bridgman: “No doubt my father did at a young age. And a gentleman named Barry Thorndycraft, who was drafted by Montreal and coached at North Dakota for two years. And between the two of them, before I turned pro, they had a tremendous impact on me. At the pro level, I’ve had to say Bobby Clarke. You don’t get to play with too many leaders like that.”

Q. What advice would you give to kids playing today?

Bridgman: “The ability to work hard is a talent in and of itself. And when people talk about talent they usually talk about skating and stick-handling skills. But at the end of the day, your ability to work hard is a talent; not everybody has that, and if you have that, I’ll tell you, the people who are watching, coaches, scouts, they really respect that.”

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