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As Delvecchio hits his 90th birthday, his impact resonates beyond the ice

Jim Devellano and Nick Libett share their memories of Red Wings legend

by Jonathan Mills @DetroitRedWings /

DETROIT -- Chances are if you are a Detroit Red Wings fan, or an avid hockey fan, you're familiar with the name Alex Delvecchio. Over the past seven decades, his name has become synonymous with Hockeytown.

As the Red Wings prepare to celebrate Delvecchio's 90th birthday on Saturday night when the New York Islanders visit Little Caesars Arena, his impact continues to resonate.

For Red Wings senior vice president & alternate governor Jim Devellano, one of the people lucky enough to know the man, Delvecchio's commitment to the team and the city of Detroit is the first thing that should be talked about more.

"Alex was somehow able to never leave Detroit as a player, as a coach, as a general manager and he remains here in Detroit some 70 years later," Devellano said. "I know no other Red Wings player has ever done that. It's impossible."

Video: Alex Delvecchio was third member of 1,000-point club

The Fort William, Ontario, Canada, native spent his entire 24-year regular-season career with the Red Wings and missed just two games between 1957-58 and 1967-68. In Delvecchio's first four seasons, he helped the Wings capture three Stanley Cups.

During his career, Delvecchio was surrounded, and often overshadowed, by some of the best to ever play the game. As the center on Detroit's famous "Production Line," he found himself slotted between wingers Ted Lindsay and "Mr. Hockey," Gordie Howe.

"He tended to kind of play second fiddle in those days," Devellano said. "But certainly, he was a very, very gifted player."

When Delvecchio hung up his skates after the 1973-74 season, he retired with 456 goals, 825 assists and 1,281 points in 1,549 NHL games. No player in NHL history has played more games and more seasons for a single franchise. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

Delvecchio's love for the Red Wings and the city of Detroit never waned. He coached the Red Wings for four seasons (1973-77), and was also named the team's general manager in 1974, serving in both roles until 1977.

"He never worked for any other team other than the Detroit Red Wings," Devellano said. "Even some of the greats couldn't say that."

Delvecchio's impressive career will be forever remembered. In 2017, he was named one of the "100 Greatest NHL Players." His jersey number is also retired, and a bronze statue of Delvecchio stands in the Little Caesars Arena concourse.

Nick Libett, a teammate of Delvecchio's for seven seasons, described Delvecchio with one word: humble.

"He's a Hall of Famer, a superstar and a great guy," Libett said. "In my mind, even though he was quiet, he played the game, and the limelight came with his ability to play in the National Hockey League. I'm sure deep down, he likes it, but he maybe doesn't show that he likes it."

Libett added that when he was a rookie, he looked up to Delvecchio.

"When I first came to Detroit, I had just turned 21 and Alex was 35. Obviously, as a superstar and a future Hall of Famer at that time, I looked up to him," Libett said. "When I was a kid growing up, I knew the name Alex Delvecchio, so he was like an icon to me."

On the ice, Delvecchio was a fluid skater and had an incredible feel for the game. Off the ice, he was an exceptional person.

"In our era, we played at Olympia Stadium and after home games, we'd all head over to Chuck Joseph's, which was kind of our postgame watering hole," Libett said. "Our wives, Alex and his wife, we'd all be in there. He treated us, at his age and with us being young kids, he really took us under his wings, so to speak."

With his gentlemanly disposition, it is not a surprise Delvecchio won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship three times and was a finalist on several other occasions.

"I have many fond memories of him as a person and as a player," Devellano said. "When I came aboard as general manager in 1982, I had several conversations with Alex. He was helpful, he was engaging and he wanted to the Red Wings to do well."

Video: Alex Delvecchio Night at The Joe

Yet for all Delvecchio's accomplishments, Devellano says it was who he was off the ice that guided Delvecchio to the person fans know him to be as he celebrates his 90th birthday.

"He has a sense of humor. That's the first thing I remember about him. Anytime that I would chat with him, he was upbeat by nature," Devellano said. "Generally, he had an optimistic attitude about most things. When I put those three things together, that's how he got through 70 years with one organization and one city. He is just a real, good and down-to-earth person."

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