The 1970s were not particularly kind to the Maple Leafs, though as we have discussed on this site, they had some decent teams, making the playoffs in 1971 and ’72, and between 1974 and 1979.
But the ‘70s were particularly unkind to the Detroit Red Wings. They made the playoffs in 1969-’70 but lost in four straight. Despite drafting junior superstar Marcel Dionne in 1971, the team floundered until former Wing great Ted Lindsay took over as GM in the latter part of the decade. Even then, the team had no major success.
This brings to mind an experience I had during Christmas season many years ago, when I was home in the Essex County area on break from my university “studies”. My friend John and I were hanging out that day at my house, and in those days there was not a lot going right after Christmas. We decided at the last minute that we would cross the border and take in a Red Wing game scheduled for that afternoon.
This was probably late December of 1975. I’m going to say it was Boxing Day (the day after Christmas in Canada) but I only remember that it was shortly after Christmas day. The Wings were hosting the New York Islanders, the expansion team in the midst of becoming a contender. They had guys like Denis Potvin and Bill Harris (a different Billy Harris than had played with the Leafs in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This one was part of the well-known Shutt-Gardner-Harris line in junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies.) Both Potvin and Harris were first overall draft choices, and the team was getting better and was fun to watch.
The weather was really bad—a fair bit of snow had fallen—but we drove across to Detroit anyway. It was always fun to take in a game, so we were looking forward to it, though the Wings weren’t a good team at the time.
Well, lo and behold, we get to the Olympia, and there are people milling all around the lobby, looking agitated. We discover that the Red Wings had called off the game, because the players supposedly had a hard time getting to the rink.
My friend and I were ticked, obviously, as were all the people already at the Olympia ready for a hockey game. We wanted to see a game, as did all the other folks who had tickets already.
There was nothing we could all do but turn around and head home.
Now, around the same time (though I can’t swear about the time and date, or to be honest, even the exact year!) a big snowstorm hit Quebec. We’re talking almost 35 years ago so I may indeed have my years mixed up, but….I remember reading that Yvan Cournoyer of the Canadiens had taken his snowmobile to get to the Forum in Montreal so he wouldn’t miss a scheduled game—despite the horrible weather conditions and the fact that many fans could not make it to the game themselves..
In fairness, I didn’t and don’t know all the details surrounding the decision to cancel the Wings’ game in Detroit that snowy day. I was just a young hockey fan back then, on Christmas break, wanting to see a game. Redmond was a fine offensive player (a former Hab, in fact) who saw his career end prematurely because of a bad back. But cancelling a game because the players couldn’t get there? C’mon. Cournoyer took a snowmobile to get to the Forum so he could play, and the Wings couldn’t get out of their driveways?
It wasn’t exactly a life epiphany, but in that moment, it became clear to me why, in those years, the Habs were champions, and the Red Wings were perennial also-rans.