– Bill Lochead, who is remembered for scoring one of the biggest goals in Red Wings’ history, paid tribute Friday morning to his former coach Bobby Kromm, who died Wednesday from complications of colon cancer. He was 82.
“He gave hockey a real boost in Detroit,” Lochead said. “And I owe him for restoring my confidence.”
Kromm coached the Red Wings between 1977-80. But it was Kromm’s first season in Detroit that is monumentally considered as his best for guiding the team’s 37-point improvement in the standings from the previous season. And for his efforts, he became the first Wings’ coach to earn the Jack Adams Thophy as the NHL’s coach of the year.
Lochead, a native of Forest, Ontario, and a former first-round draft pick, struggled in his first four seasons with the Red Wings. But under Kromm’s tutelage a 23-year-old Lochead began to flourish on a scoring line with Dale McCourt and Paul Woods.
“It was a nice, refreshing thing, I think, for our whole team to have a coach come in and want to blend the speed and skill with the toughness,” said Lochead, who enjoyed his only 20-goal NHL season in 1977-78.
“That’s why we had that successful season,” he said.
The Red Wings finished with a 32-34-14 record, and returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs after a seven-year absence. They faced the Atlanta Flames in an opening round best-of-three series, before falling to the Canadiens in the second round.
“Going into the playoffs, if there was one team who was supposed to upset Montreal that year, it was Atlanta,” Lochead recalled. “So it wasn’t like we beat a softy in the first round.”
In Kromm’s first season, the Red Wings showed vast improvement over the previous year, scoring 69 more goals, while allowing 42 fewer goals-against. They went from having two 20-goal scorers (Walt McKechnie and Michel Bergeron) in 1976-77 to four (McCourt, Lochead, Andre St. Laurent and Nick Libett) in 1977-78.
“Bobby came in and took our strengths and played to our strengths,” Lochead said. “And he got everything out of the team that I think was possible.”
Prior to joining the Red Wings, Kromm enjoyed a successful coaching run with the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association. There, he coached the Jets – with such notables as Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg – over the New England Whalers in the 1976 championship.
Winning was a habit for Kromm, who also coached the Dallas Black Hawks to the Central Hockey League finals five times, which resulted in a pair of championships (1969 and ’74).
“He came in and had an upbeat scale of hockey,” Lochead said. “I don’t want to say that he was ahead of his time, but after being with Winnipeg with the two Swedes and Bobby Hull I think he made it a prime part of his concept. That was to a large part how we beat Atlanta, and for that matter, how we made it a series with Montreal.”
In the playoffs, the Wings traveled to Atlanta and defeated the Flames, 5-3, in Game 1. Two days later in Detroit, a raucous record-setting crowd of 16,671 fans at Olympia Stadium was prepared to celebrate the Wings’ first playoff series victory since 1966.
Lochead says that’s when he received the most poignant pep talk of his career.
“I remember very clearly, like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was just going into the wash room between pre-game skate and the start of the game, and (Kromm) came by me and very confidently said, ‘Bill, you’re going to have the best game in your life.’ And then he patted me on the shoulders.
“I don’t know how you would say it, but it just kind of went into me. It gave me the motivation and the confidence that, ‘Yeah, I’m going to.’ It was something very subtle, but it had a big impact.”
Lochead scored two goals in Wings’ 3-2 win in Game 2, including the game-winner that beat Flames goalie Dan Bouchard late in the third period.
A knee injury the next season cut Lochead’s career short. But not before he had established a cult following among Wings’ fans, thanks, in part, to a coach’s encouraging words.
Kromm is survived by his wife, Geraldine; children, David, Robin, Richard and Michelle, and eight grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are being held by Fred Wood Funeral Home
, located at 31600 Five Mile Road in Livonia, Michigan. Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Sunday. A funeral service is planned for 11:30 a.m. Monday, June 14 at the funeral home.