A 14-year NHL veteran, Reed Larson played more than nine seasons with the Red Wings at the beginning of his pro career from 1976-86. A three-time All Star, he was traded during the 1985-86, leaving Detroit as the fifth all-time scorer in franchise history with 570 points in 708 games. The former defenseman talks fondly about his Red Wings memories:
Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? Paul Woods does radio and comes to town, and I still talk to (Dennis) Polonich and (Dennis) Hextall. I go out to Aspen (Colo.) every year with the alumni and see them then.
Which of the current Red Wings is your favorite? It’s tough. I would say (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Henrik) Zetterberg. They get what the NHL is all about. I was a defenseman and Lidstrom has been a great player and leader.
What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing? My first All Star Game was in Buffalo, but I’ll always remember the All-Star Game in Detroit with Gordie Howe and the ovation that he received. That was a great moment when he was introduced and I was next to him in line.
Which of the guys you played with was the toughest? It has to be a tie. I don’t know how to pick between (Bob) Probert and (Joe) Kocur. If they had fear they certainly didn’t know how to show it. Those two guys I saw do more damage than anybody else.
Who was the funniest? There were a lot of them with Hextall and Polonich pulling pranks. But the funniest and hardest I’ve laugh has been around Paul Woods. When I first got married and I was home for the summer in northern Minnesota, he called my wife and told her that he was an encyclopedia salesman. He told that I was illiterate and that these books would help me. When I got home, she told me that an encyclopedia salesman had called and told her this story. I never laughed so hard.
Who had the biggest heart? I would say Stevie Yzerman and Paul Woods. There were a lot of guys that I played with that were so dedicated and had so much heart. But Yzerman has to be No. 1. Hextall, for his body and size, is up there, but for what Yzerman did, donating body body, he sure paid the price. What was your favorite restaurant in metro Detroit? There are so many, but Mitch’s on Cass Lake, Chuck Joseph’s (now O’Mara’s) in Berkley, and Carl’s Chop House. But Mitch’s on Cass Lake was No. 1.
How has the NHL changed since you played? The big difference is how they treat the players. Conditioning is the big change. There aren’t too many guys with a cigarette and a beer in their hands. And instead of everyone having one big line, everyone has four lines now. The combination of hockey from North America and Europe has mingled, and the quick passes -- the third and fourth pass -- are better. It’s all opened up now. Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played? I have to mention three teams when I played. Montreal was winning the Cup four times in a row with those guys. They had the blueprint, and it was hard to get 15 shots on them in 60 minutes. Then the Islanders took over after that. Penalty-killing and power-play were scary with a big, physical team. Then Edmonton, you knew you could score goals on them, but they had so much depth and speed. They were a pretty scary team that turned it up a notch on their speed from that Montreal team.
Who’d you sit next to in the dressing room? That is the hardest to answer. I know one was John Barrett, and there was Woodie and Yzerman for awhile. I use to tease people by telling them that we used to take three team pictures a year, because we had a ton of changes back then. What do you love most about the game? There are so many things that get into your blood. Hockey players are a special breed of person and I don’t think you lose the aspects of the game: gliding on the ice, shooting and passing. There are so many facets of the game that you never get board with. Then there’s the freedom for imagination and the speed in this game, which is just amazing. Who had the greatest influence on your career? Well, growing up in Minnesota, it started with watching the Blackhawks on TV before the North Stars came to town. So it had to be Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr and the Blackhawks’ Game of the Week every Sunday.
What advise would you give to kids playing today? What I share with the kids now is that you don’t have to make it to the pros to get the most out of this game. You can’t manufacture a pro anyway, so the kids coming up don’t need the parents lobbying for them. It doesn’t work. But don’t feel like a failure if you don’t make it to the pros. Just have fun playing this great game.