DETROIT – To say that Alex Trebek is a hockey fan would be an understatement.
The longtime host of the popular U.S. television game show “Jeopardy” idolized the championship Red Wings of the 1950s, and his boyhood favorite, Gordie Howe.
“The individual memories have faded,” said Trebek, who grew-up in Sudbury, Ontario. “But I remember when I was in school in Ottawa I drove to Montreal, got a seat in the Forum, very, very high up at the end of the rink, behind the goal and Gordie came down and took a long shot, just inside the blue line and beat Jacques Plante. I said, ‘OK, that’s great. Right!’ It made the trip worth while.”
Friday morning, Trebek and a Hollywood film crew were at Joe Louis Arena, where they shot a segment for a future episode. He’s been to Detroit a number of times before, but Friday was the 69-year-old’s maiden journey to JLA.
“The site lines are really good inside,” said Trebek, as he viewed the lower bowl from Section 101. “Everything is close to the action and that’s great.”
As a child, Trebek played hockey, but his skills on the frozen pond – or lack there of – led to a career in broadcast news as a newscaster and sportscaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
“Listen, I had skates with soft toes, that shows you how poor we were,” he said.
Trebek hockey fantasy finally came true when he met Mr. Hockey at a charity event in the late-70s.
“I think there was a fundraising event in Calgary,” he said, “and Gordie was there, and Bill Gadsby was there, and Bernie Geoffrion was there, and Bobby Hull was there. This was quite a few years after we had beaten the Russians in that first international competition, the one where we beat them in Russia with (Paul) Henderson scoring … old No. 19.”
Trebek has played in charity games around the U.S. and Canada with his Red Wings favorites. But the day he remembers best, occurred many years ago at Olympia Stadium.
“I played against Gordie and Ted (Lindsay) and the guys, Marcel Pronovost and some of the others,” Trebek said. “And that was fun. I got smashed into the boards and I heard this cackling behind me, and without turning around I said, ‘Gordie, is that you?’ And it was. He was just having fun.”
Since the Wings’ final Stanley Cup championship of the 50s, Trebek has changed his hockey loyalty, and his busy schedule doesn’t lend itself to attending too many games, but he still follows the sport.
“When Gordie left Detroit, my allegiances switched to the Montreal Canadiens,” Trebek said. “I didn’t have anybody to cheer for here and when he fully retired, I thought if I’m going to cheer for a team, I’ll cheer for Montreal. … It’s a pretty good team to cheer for.”
In 1997, Trebek had the privilege of seeing Howe again.
“I introduced my son to Gordie at the All-Star Game in San Jose,” Trebek said. “They had an All-Star/Celebrity game and I brought Gordie over and introduced him to my son, and Matthew was just thrilled. Gordie was showing him all sorts of little tricks and things. He was just having fun; just the way Gordie is.”
OPTIONAL: With eight games in the next 14 days, the Red Wings had an optional morning skate on Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s early in the year or late in the year,” forward Kirk Maltby said, “it’s all about keeping your energy, and that and let guys get their rest, especially the guys with the big minutes. … It’s always nice to have the option.”
Maltby, who will be back in the Friday’s line-up when the Wings host the Florida Panthers, said he feels fresh after missing the last four games with the flu.
“Fortunately, not even half of the guys got it,” Maltby said. “And if they do, hopefully they get the version that I had because it went by pretty quick.”
CHALLENGE: The Panthers are playing well, collecting 13 points in their last 10 games, including a 6-2 drubbing of the Sabres in Buffalo on Wednesday.
“They beat Buffalo by just being patient and waiting for turnovers,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We have to understand that that’s how the game is going to be played.”