Defenseman Bob Halkidis played 32 games for the Red Wings, which was 16 games fewer than he played for the Maple Leafs in his 10 NHL seasons.
Between 1984 and 1999, defenseman Bob Halkidis played for six NHL teams, five AHL teams, five IHL teams and multiple European hockey clubs. And yet, of all the time spent on professional teams, one of the former Detroit Red Wing’s most memorable moments occurred before his NHL career, when he had the distinction of being Bob Probert’s first opponent in a juniors fight.
“His first fight in juniors, ever, was in London, against me,” Halkidis said of Probert. “And that was in the London Gardens in an exhibition game. He got drafted by Brantford (Alexanders), and I got drafted to London (Knights) and we played him on a Tuesday night in the London Gardens. I think I got a black eye from it, too.”
That first scrap was just one of multiple fights between the two, who would eventually play together in Detroit during the 1993-94 season. Halkidis remembers receiving some advice from former coach Scotty Bowman about fighting Probert when he was starting his career as a defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres.
“With Probie, just to fight him was kind of like a privilege,” Halkidis said. “One of the most valuable things I learned from Scotty, he said, ‘If you can get that guy off the ice, you’re going to help our hockey club.’”
Halkidis’ history with Bowman began when he was drafted by the Sabres in the 1984 NHL draft. After playing with the Los Angeles Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Halkidis ended up under Bowman’s tutelage again when he signed as a free agent with Detroit prior to the start of the 1993-94 season. That year, the Wings finished first in the Western Conference but lost to San Jose in the first round of the playoffs.
“I got picked up by Scotty Bowman, who had drafted me in Buffalo,” Halkidis said. “He and Barry Smith got the Detroit job in the early ’90s, so they were there for a year or two and they were looking for a defenseman that could help, that could play up and down in the minors and not complain. And that was kind of more of my career, because I was a utility guy. I was the type of guy that was flexible, so teams didn’t mind having me around.”
For Halkidis, part of that utility role meant spending a lot of time in the penalty box. In just 46 games with the Leafs in 1991-92, he led the team and registered a career-high with 145 penalty minutes. In 28 games with Detroit, he compiled another 93 total penalty minutes.
“You know, I was kind of antagonizing,” Halkidis said of his aggressive playing style. “We played in the Chuck Norris Division, it was pretty tough. Nowadays when people say, ‘Well, what’s going on, how come there’s all these concussions?’ Taking away the red line and putting it back is not going to make a difference. What’s going to make a difference is you have to put back the obstruction.
“And I know they don’t want to do that but that’s what they need to do. If they want these guys to slow down, just allow a little bit of a hook, a little bit of grabbing and a little bit of obstruction just like the old days. It would change the game.”
Although he only played 32 games with the Wings and 46 games with the Leafs, Halkidis has memories with both of the Original Six teams that set the two franchises apart from the other pro teams for which he played.
“I used to work out with Ted Lindsay all the time,” Halkidis said. “I didn’t really see him play, he was a little older, but when I was working out with the Red Wings there in the training room, Ted used to come in and just get the squat rack going, like 400-pounds on there, and he’d be knocking off about 10 reps and he’d go, ‘That’s how it’s done, kid.’”
Being surrounded by legends of similar stature in Toronto also had a lasting impact on Halkidis.
“Maple Leaf Gardens, you’re walking down the carpet there and you see Harold Ballard and King Clancy there,” Halkidis said. “There were a lot of good memories there. Fans right on top of you behind the net. I can’t believe people didn’t get decapitated with the puck. There was no net back there.”
Halkidis believes that the history and tradition of both the Leafs and the Wings carry similar prestige, but asserts that the level of intensity in Toronto is slightly different because it’s fueled, in part, by fear.
“There’s a sense of pride when you’re wearing the Red Wings jersey, the same thing with Toronto,” he said. “But a lot of guys don’t want to play in Toronto because there’s too much pressure. They’re scared to go there.”
Much of that pressure stems from the Leafs not having won a Stanley Cup championship since 1967.
“I’ve been around a lot of championships in the minors and in Europe and that, I’ve seen Stanley Cups,” Halkidis said. “But if the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, you’re talking pandemonium.”