DETROIT - I just heard the news of Red Kelly's passing and, as truly sad as I am, I'm also not surprised.
I saw Red at his jersey retirement ceremony on Feb. 1, and he didn't look well -- a big change from when I had the privilege of spending some time with him last year as I emceed the U.S. Postal Service's national unveiling ceremony for its new History of Hockey postage stamp.
Red was a true gentleman, and wonderful to be around.
Hockey just lost a member of its royal family, one of the all-time greats who made a significant impact not just on the sport, but on us hockey fans here in Hockeytown. He won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. While everybody talks about the Production Line of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel, history should correctly reflect that Red Kelly was the Production Line's fourth member.
Not only did somebody have to feed the puck to that incredible scoring machine line, but he was a prolific scorer himself as a defenseman. And then the Wings traded him to Toronto, where he won another four Stanley Cups.
Last year, in better health at the stamp unveiling ceremony at Little Caesars Arena, Red was full of stories, and one story really hit home.
As he told it to me, back in his playing days, players weren't friends with players on other teams: "You were the enemy if you weren't a teammate," he said.
So, after the trade to Toronto, Red was back in Detroit playing his first game AGAINST the Red Wings. At one point, Red and Gordie were racing to the corner to get to the puck when Gordie yelled "Hey Red, how's the wife?" As Red turned to reply, Gordie slammed him "into the boards so hard that it probably left a permanent mark in the boards."
Imagine that, after winning four Stanley Cups together.
Red continued: "After being traded to Toronto, I never came back to Detroit, ever, because I didn't know how people would treat me. I now played for the dreaded Maple Leafs. I was the enemy."
So, except for games he played, Red never stepped foot back in Detroit until last year's stamp unveiling. I made it clear in my remarks to the crowd that Red was and always will be a Red Wing, and he was welcome back anytime. Hockeytown was his town, I said, and the standing ovation certainly moved him.
I never understood why Red Kelly didn't get the attention that Gordie, Ted and Sid did. Remember: He didn't leave Detroit; he was traded. But Hockeytown, and the hockey world, learned a little more about the little defenseman three months ago at his jersey retirement.
Rest in peace, Mr. Kelly. I'm sure that the Production Line will welcome you back with open arms up there in heaven, where they have undoubtedly have already found a big frozen pond for some pick-up games.
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