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Mr. Hockey, The Captain and Stanley: New Book Features Highs, Lows Of Red Wings History

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Image credit: Pat Batcheller

Detroit Free Press hockey writer Helene St. James takes a deep dive into Wings history: The good, the bad and the ugly.

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Red Wings fans know Gordie Howe was “Mr. Hockey.” Steve Yzerman was “The Captain.” Mike Ilitch was just “Mr. I.”

But who was “Old Boot Nose?”

One might be surprised to learn that was the nickname of Howe’s high-scoring teammate, Sid Abel. One would not be surprised by how he earned it — during a fight on the ice with an opposing player.

That’s one of the stories featured in a new book, “The Big 50 Detroit Red Wings,” published by Triumph Books. It’s due for release on Oct. 13, 2020.

Click on the player to hear WDET’s Pat Batcheller and Helene St. James discuss her new book about the Red Wings.

The book is about the men and the moments that define the franchise. The author, Helene St. James, has covered the team for the Detroit Free Press since the late 1990s. She spent about a year collecting stories from her career and researching the team’s past.

There was just so much history, so many great anecdotes and great storytellers.” — Free Press hockey writer Helene St. James

St. James says she did not rank the list in any particular order.

Obviously, Gordie Howe had to be number one,” she says. “Steve Yzerman is the second chapter, and Nicklas Lidstrom the third, but after that…there are so many fun anecdotes and tremendous stories.”

Helene St. James covers the Red Wings for the Free PressDetroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James covers the Red Wings for the Free Press

The good

St. James writes about the 2002 Stanley Cup champions, which featured several of the best players in NHL history. Many are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Yzerman, Lidstrom, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, Chris Chelios, Sergei Federov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Brendan Shanahan and coach Scotty Bowman. 

There’s a chapter on the “Russian Five,” comprised of Federov, Larionov, Fetisov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov. 

It’s been phenomenal how good this team has been at times,” St. James says.

The bad

By contrast, the team was phenomenally bad in the 1970s. This was known as the “Dead Wings” era, which St. James also covers in the book. From 1967-83, Detroit had just three winning seasons and qualified for the playoffs twice (‘70 and ‘78). In the 1976-77 season, the Wings lost 55 games, a record that would be broken nine seasons later (57). 

The 2019-20 season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not before the team lost 49 out of 71 games, finishing last in the NHL.

The ugly

St. James recounts the car crash that paralyzed Vladimir Konstantinov a few days after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, and also the time in 2005 when Jiri Fischer nearly died during a game against the Nashville Predators. Only 25 at the time, Fischer went into cardiac arrest on the bench, but was resuscitated and taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital. The incident forced the young defenseman to retire.

They ended up stopping the game, but thankfully, he’s fine today,” St. James says. Fischer is the team’s associate director of player personnel.

St. James says coming up with stories for the book was not a problem. Finding space for it all was a challenge.

I went quite a bit over what the publisher originally suggested,” she says. “There was just so much history and so many great anecdotes. It was a tremendous joy writing this book.”

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Pat Batcheller, Senior News Editor

Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.

pbatcheller@wdet.org Follow @patbwdet

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