| Darryl Sittler is among more than 150 NHL alums who played for
the Red Wings and Maple Leafs during their careers. The hall of
fame center will play in the Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park on
Dec. 31. (Photos by Getty Images)
DETROIT – Hockey hall of famer Darryl Sittler doesn’t have fond memories of playing for the Red Wings. But he’s definitely looking forward to skating down memory lane when he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park.
“I played one year with the Red Wings, my last year,” Sittler said. “I’ve been a member of the Leafs’ organization and it will be fun to be a part of it. I’m excited for the funs. Not too excited to play against (Nicklas) Lidstrom thought. I told Mickey (Redmond) I better make sure to be on the ice when he’s out there because we’re the same vintage.”
Sittler was at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday for the league’s official announcement of the 2014 Winter Classic, which will be played New Year’s Day on the campus of the University of Michigan, and the Hockeytown Winter Festival, which will feature former players of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs competing in the Alumni Showdown on Dec. 31.
The second-leading scoring in Maple Leafs’ history, Sittler played one unpropitious season for the Red Wings after he was traded from Philadelphia – for Murray Craven – on the very day the Flyers planned to introduce him as the team’s new captain for the 1984-85 season.
But two weeks after the stunning move to the Wings, Sittler suffered a horrific eye injury, ironically, in the same building that he called home for most of his 15 NHL seasons.
“Jimmy Korn checked me into the boards, but he drove my face right into the top of the boards,” recalled Sittler. “I got up and my eye had dropped in the socket and I couldn’t see level because the orbital bone was down.”
Sittler was rushed by ambulance to a hospital in downtown Toronto, where he received more bad news.
“While I was in emergency another ambulance pulls up and it was my father,” Sittler said. “He was at the game and had had a heart attack. He recovered from that heart attack, but all of those things happened in my last year.”
Four months later, his father suffered a fatal heart attack while he slept in his bed.
“I had a lot of personal things going on in my life at the time,” Sittler said. “It wasn’t a fun time. But you get through them and you move on.”
Sittler returned from his Oct. 24 injury to produce 11 goals and 16 assists in 61 games for the Red Wings. The Wings decided to buyout Sittler’s contract, ending a hall of fame career that included 1,121 points in 1,096 career games. Sittler is also the only player to record 10 points in a game when he scored six goals with four assists on Feb. 7, 1976.
“It was tough, and we were a struggled team,” said Sittler, of his season in Detroit. “But, hey, I was fortunate to play here with guys like Danny Gare and Steve Yzerman was just a young guy coming into the league and doing well, and Johnny Ogrodnick. But the Red Wings made a decision that they needed to grow with youth, and through some great drafting by Jimmy Devellano they won some Cups after that.”
In hindsight, Sittler believes the 2014 version of the Winter Classic will draw much more excitement than the canceled 2013 game would have, because the Wings and Leafs will be in the same division beginning next season.
“Right across the border there’s a lot of Leafs’ fans and a lot of Red Wings’ fans that are going to be here to support it and there’s going to be a lot coming down from Toronto,” Sittler said. “The fact that they’re in the same division, I mean, it made sense that they should have been way back – for whatever reasons they weren’t – but now they are and I think it’s even better.”
Sittler is also looking forward to the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, where he used to watch his son, Ryan, play for the Wolverines in the early 90s.
“I’m looking forward to this,” he said. “My son Ryan played there two years under Red Berenson. I went to all of the games there; I loved it. I know the history and tradition. … I played with the Red Wings, played with the Leafs, so it’ll be a fun time over the holidays.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose