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Oldest living Wing, Bukovich, dies

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT -- The oldest living Red Wings' alumni, Tony Bukovich, died Saturday at the Houghton County Medical Care Facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He was 94.

Bukovich played left wing for the Red Wings between 1943-45. In 17 career regular-season games, he collected seven goals, three assists and six penalty minutes.

Besides his time with the Red Wings, Bukovich was also a baseball standout, having pitched in the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm system.

Bukovich retired from pro sports in 1948 and moved back to the UP, where he opened Tony's Sports Bar in downtown Houghton. He later renamed the bar Red Wing Lounge.

Once back home, Bukovich became player-coach of the Portage Lake Pioneers. In seven seasons, he compiled 276 goals and 178 assists, and led the league in scoring five times.

In the summer of 1950, Bukovich formed the Houghton Copper Sox baseball team, which went on to win five straight Upper Peninsula League championships.

Bukovich is survived by his three children, Tony Jr., Gini Riutta and Sandy Manderfield; nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

It's suggested that memorial contributions be made to the Keweenaw Community Foundation/Copper Country Youth Hockey Fund, 326 Shelden Ave., Houghton, Mich. 49931 in the name of Tony Bukovich.

In the March 2008 issue of Inside Hockeytown, Red Wings alumni laison Dave Goetze wrote a story about Mr. Bukovich. Below is the story that ran in the Red Wings' official publication:

At 91-years-old, Tony Bukovich, who was born in Painesdale, Mich., looks much younger than his years. He also still has the spirit and determination that guided his sports career. Featured as the “Wing of the Week” in the Olympia Review in 1945, and noted as Detroit’s “chief pinch hitter,” he was with the Red Wings’ organization from 1943-45.

Just a 26-year-old left winger when Red Wings coach and general manager Jack Adams handed him an NHL contract in 1944, Bukovich made a rather big splash in his first game with the Red Wings. He was called up from Indianapolis to fill in for an injured player. Despite having traveled 20 hours by train without sleep, and nothing more than an egg salad sandwich prior, the game was quite a memorable debut for Bukovich, who scored on his first shot in his first shift.

Bukovich split the 1944-45 season between Detroit and Indianapolis. He scored seven goals in his first seven games with the Wings, and was the first player on the team to score against every team in the league that season. He played in seven more regular-season games before two broken ribs put him on the shelf until the playoffs. In all, he played in 23 games for the Red Wings — including six playoff contests, compiling 11 points with four assists.

Bukovich played with Indianapolis for two more seasons before he was traded to the Cleveland Barons, where he helped his new team win the American Hockey League championship. He returned to Painesdale in the Upper Peninsula in 1948, and was a player-coach for the Portage Lake Pioneers for many years. During his Copper Country hockey career, he scored 383 goals with 243 assists, and was the league’s leading scorer seven times. He retired from hockey in 1955 and was inducted into the Michigan Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 1975.

Also an accomplished baseball player, Bukovich signed a minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939 and pitched Class A ball for several years. In the offseason when playing for the Red Wings, he also played baseball with the Detroit Auto Club. He was named MVP in 1942 and 1943, and his team won the World Championship in 1942. He also helped St. Joseph to the U.S. Baseball Congress title in 1948.

In 2004, Bukovich was honored at the Pro Hockey Centennial celebration in Houghton, Mich. Shortly after that event, he moved to Largo, Fla. to be near his children. Although he has a bad shoulder and arthritic knuckles from his pitching career, he still walks a lot each day. He proudly wears his Red Wings’ Alumni jacket and with a twinkle in his eye tells everyone, “If the Red Wings call, I’ll have my skates sharpened and will be ready to go.”

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