I am not one to blow my own horn, but in this case candor insists that modesty take a back seat. Managing editor Mike Nucklebone and the boss lady at Big Earth Publishing were pretty happy with how I had written the Yankees and Red Sox books. They were delivered on time, they were done in an authoritative manner, and they gave the readers a lot for their money. I varied the tone and content, and found ways to keep the books amusing as well as educational. Some of the Q&As were brief, whereas others were a virtual history lesson just packed with information.
I was given no choice about the teams to be covered, and when I was told to write about the Detroit Red Wings, I was hesitant to say the least. I knew very little about hockey; I had attended a minor league game in Dallas during my high school days and seen the sport on TV. After expressing my qualms to Nucklebone, I undertook the project. Actually, I had one “hook” to this story since I had lived in a Detroit suburb for a while in the 1970s and even attended a couple of rock concerts at the Olympia, the stately brick edifice where the Red Wings had played since 1927. I had seen the Tigers, Lions and Pistons play, so I had some feeling for pro sports in the Motor City.
Oh, I felt like such a fraud writing about hockey. What’s the blue line? How many guys are on a team? What’s the Conn Smythe Trophy? Does a hat trick pertain to fashionable headwear? I started work and found—no big surprise—the Wings’ history quite interesting. They had begun as a franchise that shifted from Victoria, British Columbia to Detroit, then known as the Paris of southeastern Michigan. I learned about Jack Adams, who spent 20 years as the team’s coach and 35 as its general manager. “Jolly Jack” was loved by some and feared by many.
The same could probably be said about No. 9, Gordie Howe. I was not a complete hockey neophyte since I knew of this man. A native of Saskatoon, he led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups (OK, I knew about the NHL’s championship trophy too), won a slew of MVP awards and earned recognition as one of the game’s all-time greats. One of my favorite stories from this book pertains to an extraordinarily violent beat-down Howe gave to Lou Fontinato of the New York Rangers on February 1, 1959.
The “Winged Wheel” was not always on top, as I showed. There were some stretches when the team was hardly competitive, but still the fans of Hockeytown, USA supported them. Things changed—Howe finally retired, the Olympia was replaced by Joe Louis Arena (a hockey rink named for a boxer?), players from Europe and Russia had an impact on the sport, and Mike Illitch bought the team.
While working on this book, I got into the spirit by purchasing a gaudy Red Wings jersey and wore it when they met the Dallas Stars in February 2007. I was dismayed to learn, shortly before its publication, about a faux pas in the production stage. It seems that the word “Detroit” had been misspelled on the spine; the “o” and the “i” were transposed, resulting in “Detriot.” It was not feasible to re-do all the books, and thus we had to live with a sizable and rather prominent error. Six months would pass before I started referring to the people at Big Earth as “the Wisconsin idiots,” but this got me thinking in such a way.