Saturday, 31 May 2014

Where Were You in '52?

George Reeves as Superman (United States Public Domain)
I’m a Baby Boomer, one of 403,559 Canadian births in 1952, still a Canadian record for the highest number of births in one year. I came into this world just shy of a whopping 10 pounds. The date was January 21, a cold, snowy day, a Monday on the calendar.  According to my mother, I was even born with a tooth, which shocked the hospital staff in Broadview, Saskatchewan. It shocked her too when it came to my breast feeding.

I realize I’m not that famous, at least not as famous as some others who were born in 1952, like  007 Pierce Brosnan; along with fellow actors like John Goodman, Liam Neeson, Dan Aykroyd, Jeff Goldblum, David Hasselhoff, Roseanne Barr,  and Christopher “Superman” Reeve; funny man Robin Williams; singer  Juice Newton; and sportspeople Bob Costas, Jimmy Connors, Gary Bettman, and Vladislav Tretiak, to name a few.

--In 1952, our mighty Dominion of Canada had a population of 14,431,900. Average life expectancy was 68.2 years. An average home cost $9,000. An average rent took $80 off your paycheck. A new car cost $1,700. The per capita income was $1,653. A quart of milk and a loaf of bread were 24 cents and 16 cents, respectively. Eggs were 24 cents a dozen, hamburger 53 cents a pound. You could buy a new fridge for $330 and purchase gas at the pumps for 20 cents a gallon. Transistor radios and roll-on deodorant were introduced to the public, along with Saran Wrap and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

--CBC opened the first Canadian TV station, CBFT in Montreal. In Newfoundland, a large number of children could not attend school because of a teacher shortage. Alberta was booming with its natural resources, especially oil, thus attracting investors worldwide. Canada’s own Lester B Pearson, our External Affairs Minister, was elected president of the UN General Assembly. Four members of the infamous Boyd Gang, including Edwin Boyd, were recaptured after breaking out of the Don Jail in Toronto. Diesel locomotives went into service in the Rocky Mountains between Revelstoke and Calgary.

--In politics, Liberal Louis St Laurent was our Canadian Prime Minister. Tommy Douglas’ CCF party (the for-runner to the NDP) took a 3rd consecutive majority in the Saskatchewan provincial election, much to the disgust of both sides of my family, who were staunch Liberals. In neighboring Alberta, Earnest Manning and his Social Credit Party took it two steps further and won a 5th consecutive majority in their provincial election.

--South of the border, down US way, an average American salary was $3,400 a year, while teachers made around $5,000. In the country of 157 million there were almost 4 million births. Three out of five families owned a car, two out of three families had a telephone, while one in three households owned a TV set, one of those big consoled monsters with all those picture tubes in the back. The iconic Mad Magazine and the controversial National Enquirer debuted on newsstands. Tuition to the uppity Harvard University was $600 a year.

--Some of the notable movies were Singin’ in the Rain starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds; Ivanhoe with Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor; The Greatest Show on Earth with Charleston Heston and Cornel Wilde; and High Noon starring Cary Cooper and Grace Kelly. Hollywood also introduced 3-D movies for our viewing pleasure, although they didn’t catch on until more recently.

--The popular TV shows were CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, I Love Lucy, The Abbott and Costello Show, American Bandstand, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Roy Rogers Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Dragnet, Howdy Doody, The Adventures of Superman, and Life with Elizabeth, starring non-other than everybody’s favorite old person, Betty White. Some of the songs people enjoyed were Wheel of Fortune by little Kay Starr, The Glow-Worm by the Mills Brothers, A Guy is a Guy by Doris Day, You Belong to Me by Jo Stafford, and Wish You Were Here by Eddie Fisher, one of the many who married Elizabeth Taylor.

--In Detroit, General Motors brought out air-conditioning as an option. For most average-priced cars, however, it cost an additional one-third of the total asking price. Most people couldn’t afford such luxuries, of course, and would just open the windows once it got too hot. To keep pace with the Russians, American scientists detonated the first hydrogen bomb, making the World War II atomic strike on Hiroshima, Japan look like fireworks display by comparison.

--Polio was a major scare for Americans, as it was here in Canada. In the US alone, 3,300 died while 57,000 were left paralyzed. By the end of the year, a vaccine was developed to put a stop to this dreaded disease. On a happier note, at least for Republicans, Dwight D Eisenhower (with Richard Nixon as his running mate) won the presidential election in a landslide over Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Just a few months earlier, President Harry S Truman signed the Japanese peace treaty that granted Japan full sovereignty over its own affairs. This act officially ended World War II in the Pacific. Jack Kennedy won a Massachusetts senate seat beating Henry Cabot Lodge. Puerto Rico formed a new constitution, becoming a commonwealth of the United States. The UN General Assembly held its first meeting in its modern New York City building.

The official coronation photo of Elizabeth II
and Prince Philip (Canadian Public Domain)
--On the international scene, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that his country had developed an atomic bomb. At Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth II became queen upon the death of her father, King George VI. In London, a terrible fog lasting 4 days killed thousands when the smoke from cars, factories, and the many coal furnaces was trapped by a low layer of fog combined with no wind. Also in Britain, jet passenger service was introduced. Herman Wouk won the Pulitzer Prize with The Caine Mutiny, which became a blockbuster movie two years later starring Van Johnson, Humphrey Bogart, and Fred MacMurray.

--The 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings were probably the most talked-about sensation in sports, at least in the hockey crazy northern US and Canada. The Wings took the regular season in high fashion that spring with a 44-14-12 record for 100 points, 22 points ahead of second-place Montreal. It was their second-straight 100-point season. The league’s MVP, Gordie Howe, scored 47 goals and 39 assists, good for 86 points to lead the NHL. In a one-month period, the Wings were unbeaten in 15 games. They lost consecutive games only once all year. Goalie Terry Sawchuk recorded 12 shutouts and a 1.94 goals-against average. Sawchuk, Howe, Ted Lindsay, and defenseman Red Kelly were all selected First Team All-Stars, leaving only 2 other non-Detroit spots, both filled by Montreal Canadiens--Doug Harvey on defense, and Elmer Lach at center. Today, all six are in the Hall of Fame.

--Then came the playoffs when the Red Wings took the coveted Stanley Cup in the minimum 8 games (the first team to do so), by sweeping Toronto and Montreal in 4 games each. In the 4 games at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, Sawchuk stood on his head and failed to let a single goal get by him, much to the hometown fans enjoyment. This squad of players may have been the greatest Detroit Red Wings team of all time and is usually mentioned in the Top Ten NHL’s greatest teams ever.

--In the last game of the Stanley Cup finals, April 15, played in Detroit, a strange thing happened. An octopus was thrown onto the ice. Two brothers admitted to it….Pete and Jerry Cusimano who co-owned Detroit’s Eastern Market. Apparently, the octopus with its 8 tentacles was supposed to signify the 8 wins to take the Cup. The incident started a tradition that has carried over to the present-day Joe Louis Arena. The octopus is now the Red Wings mascot and he has a name, too…”Al.” You can see the huge plastic version of Al in the rafters.

--Billy Vessels won the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player. Although drafted second overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1953, he headed north and signed with the CFL Edmonton Eskimos, where he won the Schenley Award as Canada’s top pro player.

--In the 1952 National Football League Championship game, the Detroit Lions defeated the Cleveland Browns 17 to 7. In the Canadian Football League, the Toronto Argonauts beat the Edmonton Eskimos 21 to 11 to win the Grey Cup. Rocky Marciano took boxing’s World Heavyweight Crown by knocking out heavily-favored champ “Jersey Joe” Walcott in 13 rounds.

--In baseball, the New York Yankees won their fourth straight World Series by coming from behind to take the last 2 games to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in 7 games. The closest ever at that time for the Dodgers. They had been in the majors since the beginning of time and had not won a championship, although 1952 had been the team’s 6th World Series visit since 1916. Once again, the defeat left the Dodgers fans uttering, “Wait’ll Next Year!” They finally did win in 1955, then two years later moved to the land of palm trees, swimming pools, and movie stars in Los Angeles, California.

And that’s just some of what went on in 1952, the year I was born.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

No Crown For A King

Myrle Vernon King came into this world 26 March 1925 in Walla Walla, Washington and left St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital adopted the very next day. As a youngster, he was a loner. He was shunned, often called a “bastard” and beat up after school. Expelled from high school in his teens for bad behavior, Myrle joined the US Marines in 1942 at the height of World War II, but was discharged later with a nervous breakdown brought on by a concussion.

Eddie Feigner of "King and His Court" fame
(Photo taken by the writer in Regina, SK, 1975)
Back home, he went back to what he could do best--and that was pitching a softball. Since the age of nine, he had been playing on adult teams and quickly developed into a right-handed terror on the mound. However, he was banned from the local fastball league because he was too good, too loud, and too cocky. He could only stay on if he played another position, something King wanted absolutely nothing to do with.

So, Myrle King  drifted, ending up in Portland, Oregon and later Seattle, Washington picking up odd jobs here and there by begging for work. He lived in flophouses, slept in cars, and cashed in pop bottles for extra money. King later admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1972, “I was an uncouth, uneducated, arrogant, belligerent, no-good, miserable excuse for a human being.”  Then he returned to Walla Walla in 1945 and by a stroke of luck met his biological mother, who turned out to be quite well-to-do. The meeting changed his life forever.

She took King under her wing, bought him a brand new Buick and gave him money for clothes and other necessities. Then he caught on with a local fastball team in 1946. With King on the mound, they whipped a team from Pendleton, Oregon by the not-so-close score of 33-0.  After, he bragged that he could still beat the team with only a catcher. The opponents dared him to try, but allowed King to also have a first baseman and a shortstop. King whipped the Pendleton team again, this time by only 7-0, chucking a perfect game and striking out 19 of 21 batters. Following this, King and his three players took on all comers in the Pacific Northwest, travelling as far east as Idaho.

After he had met his biological mother, he took on her maiden name as his own, and his friend’s first name.  He combined Naomi Feigner and Eddie Colts. Thus began the formidable quartet known as “The King and His Court,” starring himself--Eddie Feigner, pronounced Fay-ner. The first time he was asked why he had a four-man team and not two or three players, he replied, “We need a man at bat with the bases loaded.” He also added, “If I got nine players together, the game would be a farce.” Over the next four years, Feigner’s squad played almost 250 games, very seldom losing.

By 1950, they decided to go national and sent out 3,000 letters all across the United States to anyone who might sponsor a game with them. The response was disappointing, except for a particular positive reply from a group of military officers at Al Lang Field, St Petersburg, Florida. So, Feigner and his young men headed south and played with 4,000 fans looking on at St Petersburg, enjoying the show. There, a promoter for the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto saw the act and convinced Feigner and his crew to come north. In eight days at the CNE, Feigner pitched before huge, enthusiastic crowds. It was exactly what Feigner and his Court needed--recognition. He finally made the headlines and was on a roll after that, thanks to Canada, to whom he was always grateful. After meeting his biological mother, it was his second life-changing event.

For the next fifty years, The King and His Court barnstormed--dressed in colorful red, white, and blue uniforms--and played for five-month periods each year in 200-250 games in all kinds of good and rotten weather on all kinds of playing fields, including weeded lots and cow pastures. Always on the road. They were the last of a dying breed, the Harlem Globetrotters of softball.  One of a kind. They covered all 50 states, all 10 Canadian provinces, 98 countries, before 200 million fans, and logged 4 million miles along the way. And they won 95 percent of their games. The main attraction, crew-cut Feigner had an assortment of pitches that dazzled the fans and the opposition. He was the Eighth Wonder of the World. If anyone could get a hit off him, he was a local celebrity. Feigner used 14 different deliveries, including a figure-eight windmill, 19 windups, five speeds and over 1,000 pitches. Several major league teams wanted him, but Feigner told them that he was having more fun barnstorming and seeing parts of the world that most major leaguers would never see.

He pitched a 34-inning game on one occasion, striking out 73 batters. His fastball was clocked at 104 miles per hour. No other softball pitcher has come close since. (Reportedly, the fastest pitch ever in the majors was thrown by Cincinnati Reds 23-year-old lefty Ardolis Chapman when he was clocked at 105 miles per hour in a 2011 game). When it came to slower pitches, Feigner’s curveball broke 18 inches.  Keeping detailed personal stats, Feigner figured that in the 10,000-plus total games he pitched in, he threw 1,916 shutouts,  8,270 wins,  930 no-hitters, of which 238 were perfect games. He also struck out 141,517 batters. He once fanned a batter from center field. No slouch at the plate either, he smashed 83 homers in one 250-game schedule. In the midst of his prime in the early 1960s, Feigner was making $100,000 a month. Tops for the time in the majors was Mickey Mantle, making that for a whole season!

In a nationally-televised exhibition event on 18 February 1967 held at Dodger Stadium, Feigner (42 at the time) struck out major leaguers Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente in order. In retrospect, Feigner admitted to having the advantage. Hardball hitters weren’t used to rising fastballs prevalent in his game. Besides, he was only 46 feet from home plate, the required distance in softball, much closer than the hardball 60 feet 6 inches. On one occasion, Feigner guested on the Johnny Carson Show where he pitched blindfolded to the nervous host, knocking a cigar from his mouth with one pitch. Feigner also appeared on ABC’s Wide World of Sport and What’s My line?

Eddie Feigner (left), in conference at the mound with son, Eddie Jr (center) and Al Jackson
(photo taken by the writer in Regina, Saskatchewan, 1975)

June 1975, I had the great pleasure of seeing The King and His Court in Regina, Saskatchewan. Feigner had just turned 50 that spring, his age well promoted ahead of time for the event. Feigner, crew-cut and all, could sure pitch, despite a sore ankle he had picked up earlier on the tour. He still took his turn at the plate, but had a pinch runner take over for him when he reached base. Several things that evening amazed me. First off, his well-muscled pitching arm was almost twice the size of his left arm. And he could pitch from second base with about the same velocity as from the mound. He could also pitch on his knees, behind his back and through his legs. The pitches had so much movement on them, dropping a good foot or more many times. And he could pitch blindfolded, striking out the side in one inning this way.

In all, according to his own stats, Feigner fanned 8,698 batters while blindfolded in his 50 years on the road. From what I can remember, The King and His Court won that day, beating a local Regina team by, I think, 4-1. Only one fair ball was hit out of the Court infield and the shortstop had to run to the fence to go chase it down. The score, I’m not really sure of. Everything else mentioned, I am. You don’t forget memories like that.

During the MLB strike in 1981, before 16,000 fans in Pontiac, Michigan’s Silverdome, Feigner and his Court beat a nine-man team that included several major leaguers. With bad knees and an aching back, he pitched right on up to 2000, finally slowed down by a serious stroke the day after throwing out the first pitch at the women’s softball competition at the Sidney Olympics. But he continued on as the Court’s emcee, even though the sport of fastball was already dying out, taken over by the slow pitch phenomenon, the sport Feigner detested. By then, he was on his fourth wife, Anne Marie, who was playing first base for the team.

Eddie Feigner died on 9 February 2007 in Huntsville, Alabama, at the age of 81, from complications due to dementia. He left behind Anne Marie, three daughters, one son (Eddie Feigner Jr who played 25 years with the team), nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.  Feigner was inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year Sports Illustrated named The King and His Court the 8th greatest sports team of the 20th century. Years earlier, they also said he was the most underrated athlete of his time. In 2002, ESPN had picked Feigner as one of the 10 greatest pitchers in history, which put him on the same list as icons Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson and Bob Feller. In addition, the Washington Post called Feigner the “greatest softball pitcher who ever lived.”

What I could never understand was how he could pitch every day five months out of every year for decades upon decades and not have his arm fall off? Nowadays, major league starting pitchers can only go five or six innings every fifth day before the middle relief comes to rescue them. A friend of mine--whose father had pitched against Feigner in Windsor, Ontario in the 1960s--summed it up best just recently when he said, “Eddie Feigner was put on this earth for us to enjoy his God-given talents.”  I couldn’t have stated it any better myself.

Eddie Feigner was in a class by himself and we will never see another like him.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Nature's Fury Unleashed

Mount Adams, left, and Mount St Helens, right
(Photo taken by the writer from 30,000 feet in 1973)
Forty-one years ago, February 1973, I took a quick trip with a friend to watch the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Winternationals in Pomona, California. I was living in Regina, Saskatchewan at the time and my friend and I were huge car enthusiasts with our own souped-up, small-block Chevys. Hi-lift camshafts, headers, Holly carbs. The works. We were two wild and crazy, single guys out for a good time. And it was my first time ever in the air. I couldn’t wait.

We took off from Regina, then switched aircraft in Vancouver. About an hour into the second stage of the flight, heading south, I looked out the window to the east, somewhere near the Washington-Oregon border. To my surprise, I saw two snow-capped mountains out there by themselves, several miles apart, with no other peaks around for miles. That was kind of different. So, I snapped a picture with my Pentax 35mm reflex camera equipped with a 105mm medium-range telephoto lens. I didn’t think that much about the two mountains again until a few years later…

By 1976, I was married and about to start a family. My wife, Bonnie, and I moved to Southern Ontario. In May 1980, we--four of us now--returned to Regina to visit my parents, relatives and friends. We were there for a day or so, when we heard the news about the massive volcanic eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington State. While seeing pictures on TV of the mountain and what it looked like before the explosion, I immediately thought of the photo I took from 30,000 feet seven years before.

About two days later, we woke in the morning to a dull-gray, smoky sky over Regina. According to the local news, some parts of the province southwest of us reported light ash powder on cars, wheat fields, and houses. The next day, my mother remembered that the bottom of her shoes were coated with a gray dust as she arrived at work. Amazing, because we had to be a good thousand miles away from the explosion! Then we heard stories about different mountains passes in the Pacific Northwest where the ash cloud was so thick that the visibility was down to a few feet!

When I return to Ontario a week later and found the particular picture that I had snapped in 1973, I realized I had taken a shot of the cone-shaped Mount St Helens before the eruption and a neighboring mountain off in the distance (which I discovered just this year is Mount Adams).

Mount St Helens is an active volcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, 96 miles south of Seattle, Washington and 50 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon. The eruption was no freak accident by any means. The Cascade region is a ticking time bomb of dormant (at least for now) and semi-dormant volcanoes. The Arc stretches as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Oregon and northern California, about 700 miles long, and is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire that contains 160 volcanoes bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Inside the Cascade Volcanic Arc are 18 significant mountains that have had eruptions in the last 4,000 years, with seven of them in the last 200 years. The northern point is Mount Silverthrone in British Columbia, about 200 miles northeast of Vancouver. California’s Mount Lassen, which has seen eruptions in both 1914 and 1921, is the southern-most point. In between (besides Mounts St Helens and Adams) are such familiar peaks as Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood and Crater Lake.

The name Mount St Helens was given to this volcano back in 1792 by British explorer Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy, who dubbed the peak in honor of Alleyne Fitzherbert, the British Ambassador to Spain at the time who also held the title of Baron St Helens. For hundreds of years, the native Indians in the Pacific Northwest had been calling Mount St Helens “Louwala-Clough,” meaning “smoking mountain.” Others since had nicknamed it “Mt Fuji of America” because of its cone-shaped resemblance to Japan’s beautiful Mt Fujiyama, sixty miles from Tokyo, a volcano in the Pacific Ring of Fire that last erupted in 1708. In addition, Captain Vancouver named three other Cascade mountain peaks--Baker, Rainier, and Hood--in honor of British naval officers.

Then it all came to a head Sunday morning, 18 May 1980 at 0832 hours Pacific Time to Mount St Helens, a volcano that had been dormant for 120 years. For weeks, scientists had noted a distinct bulge on the north side of the mountain that eventually grew to over 400 feet across. Then either the eruption set off a 5.1 Richter Scale earthquake or the earthquake set off the eruption. No one really knows for sure what came first. Two months before, the area had been hit by an earthquake that some scientists thought had actually triggered the volcanic activity in the first place.

Mount St Helens in 1982, two years after the eruption (United States Public Domain)

Once all hell broke loose that Sunday morning, everything happened simultaneously. Rock and ice sped down the mountain at 150 miles per hour. A fierce cloud containing ash, magna, rocks and sand soared skyward. In 15 minutes, the cloud reached 80,000 feet,  with speeds closing in on Mach 1. One hundred-foot-high trees as far as 17 miles from Ground Zero were flattened. In minutes, 230 square miles of lush, green forest became a wasteland. The sound of the eruption was heard as far north as Seattle and as far south as Los Angeles, while some people in close proximity to the blast didn’t hear anything because the sound waves soared straight up, then out. There’s a term for it--acoustic shadows. This phenomenon had made its presence known during the American Civil War, when bystanders  could see the smoke, gun blasts, and cannon fire of a fierce battle from a nearby hill and not hear a sound; while other people miles away could hear the same battle as if it was in their back yard…

On Mount Adams, 30 miles away, a group of mountain climbers dove for cover as ash and pebbles rained down on them. The ash cloud transferred towns and cities throughout Washington from day to night in a matter of minutes, and clogged car air filters, thus bringing the vehicles to a standstill. Up to six inches of ash fell on the ground as far away as Oklahoma, almost 2,000 miles southeast.

Mount St Helens’ majestic 9,677-foot summit was quickly no more. Over 1,000 feet of the magnificent cone disappeared, leaving behind a half-mile-across crater. Fifty people were killed, 250 homes were destroyed, along with 15 miles of rail tracks, 47 bridges, and 185 miles of roads. There were 125 survivors of the blast. Thousands of animals died, including 7,000 elk, deer and bear. The dust cloud spread across the United States in three days and around the world in 15 days. Sediment settled on 11 states and four Canadian provinces. It was the worst destructive volcano in United States history, as well as the costliest volcano, with the final tally reaching $1 billion in damages. A hefty figure even today.

Since the Mount St Helens 1980 eruption, Congress has as set aside funds to monitor volcanoes in the Cascades, including observatories in several areas on the west coast. There are now 120 full-time federal volcanologists on staff with the US Geological Survey to keep an eye on these dormant monsters.

In the last 30 years, the Mount St Helens area has been hit with a series of small earthquakes and some mini eruptions from  2004 to 2006. Today, 34 years later, the region is slowly coming back to life. Evergreens and wild flowers are growing again, and wildlife has returned. All creatures great and small--insects, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks can be seen.

Will Mount St Helens ever blow again? Many scientists seem to think so. But they can’t say when. Maybe, decades from now. Or another hundred years away. But what about the other 17 volcanoes in the Cascade Arc? Will one of them come back to life? Who knows.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Why the Red Wings Just Keep on Ticking... Part 2

2001-02 Topps Heritage rookie card of Pavel Datsyuk
(Topps trading card used courtesy of the Topps Company, Inc)
The Wings have the best GM in the business with Ken Holland. And probably the best coach, too, in Mike Babcock, behind the bench for the last nine seasons. Two back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances since then, and one win. The Wings also know how to draft. They have contacts and scouts throughout  Europe, all under the watchful eye of Hakan Andersson, the Director of European Scouting for the Wings since 1990. Based in his native Stockholm, Sweden, Andersson catches as many as 200 amateur games a year. With the NHL salary cap enforced since 2004, the Wings--and any club for that matter--are free to spend what they want on scouting. Detroit has it figured out as one way to beat the cap. Some other teams still haven’t clued in. A few of the bottom dwellers probably never will.

Going back as far as Steve Yzerman, the Wings have drafted for talent. If a player is too small, he can always fill out as he matures. Yzerman was no Hulk at first. Pavel Datsyuk is another great example of the transition of the skinny little guy turned muscle man. And the Wings also  pick players out of the middle rounds and roll them into stars, this despite the fact they have not drafted in the Top 20 since 1991, when they chose Martin Lapointe 10th overall.

Prior to Andersson’s appearance, the Wings made three classic draft picks in 1989, when they chose Nicklas Lidstrom in the third round, 53rd overall; Sergei Fedorov in the fourth round, 74th overall; and Vladimir Konstantinov in the 11th round, 221st overall. Since these three steals, Hakan Andersson and his overseas staff have been directly responsible for every European Red Wing draft pick. Andersson and company scour Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic. They look for players who are fast, with superior puck-handling abilities, regardless of size. Some are speedy players considered too small by other teams. Asked on repeated occasions what makes a successful scout, Andersson replies, “30 percent hard work, 30 percent good eyes, and 40 percent luck.”

Some of Andersson’s top European picks over the years are as follows…

1990 Vyacheslav Koslov, 2nd round, 45th overall

1994 Tomas Holmstrom, 10th round, 257th overall (played over 1,000 games before he retired)

1998 Pavel Datsyuk, 6th round, 171st (perhaps the best two-way player in the game)

1999 Henrik Zetterberg, 7th round, 210th (their captain)

2000 Niklas Kronwall, 1st round, 29th overall (considered too small of a defenseman by other clubs)

2002 Jonathan Ericsson, 9th round, 291st (the last pick of the draft)

2004 Johan Franzen, 3rd round, 97th overall

2008 Gustav Nyquist, 4th round, 121st (NHL scoring sensation in the last half of the 2013-14 season)

2009 Tomas Tatar, 2nd round, 60th overall

2011 Tomas Jurco, 2nd round, 35th overall

Besides drafting excellent European talent, the Wings have known how to trade. Two deals in the same season were significant. The first, Paul Coffey and Keith Primeau (two players who never seemed to fit in as Red Wings) were sent to the Hartford Whalers on 9 October 1996 in exchange for  Brian Glynn and high-scoring winger Brendan Shanahan. That same season, Leaf defenseman and future Hall of Famer, Larry Murphy, was booed by the silly Toronto Maple Leaf fans every time he touched the puck. On 18 March 1997, the Leafs dealt Murphy to the Wings for future considerations. Scotty Bowman put him alongside Nicklas Lidstrom. The result? The best 1-2 defense punch in the NHL, and back-to-back NHL championships, the Wings first Stanley Cups since 1955.

Another great acquisition was Kris Draper in 1993, taken from Winnipeg for future considerations because Bowman wanted a fourth line center who could take face-offs. The futures ended up being one whole dollar, which Draper--as a joke--paid back to owner Mike Ilitch after the Wings won the Cup in 1997. Another acquisition was giving up a first round draft pick, future considerations, and Vyacheslav Kozlov to get Dominik Hasek from Buffalo in 2001. With Hasek in net, the Wings won the Cup in 2002.
Daniel Cleary (left) and Henrik Zetterberg (right) in Buffalo
prior to playing the Sabres, November, 2013
(photo by Barrie Wyatt)
            Fourth lines are a touchy subject around the NHL. They’re usually the goon guys who wear their helmets sideways and are on the ice for six minutes, then in the penalty box for four minutes. Not so in Detroit. The Wings fourth line in any given year was--and still is--better than a lot of other teams’ third lines. For years, Detroit had one of the best in Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, and Kirk Maltby. The Grind Line. Today, when the young players come up to Detroit from their AHL Grand Rapids team, they’re put on the fourth line before they work their way up. It’s expected of them, and the players know it. Youngsters like Darren Helm, Daniel Cleary, and Justin Abdelkader had to earn their “wings.”  In addition, the team doesn’t like to bring up a player too early. They stay down in the AHL until they are considered good and ready. However, this past season nearly half the Grand Rapid’s team came up for a varied amount of games because of the massive injuries on the big squad. And they performed quite well.
We can’t forget the goaltending. The Wings have had some decent guys between the pipes for the last few decades now, too. Mike Vernon, Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, and more recently, Jimmy Howard, taken in the second round, 64th overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft.

No wonder why Detroit is called “Hockeytown.” For years, starting with Nicklas Lidstrom drafted in 1989, the thought process around the league was that the Wings had too many Europeans to win the Stanley Cup. No guts. No grit. Well, they proved a lot of people wrong--including Don Cherry--once they won back-to-back in 1997 and 1998 and two more later. Four championships in 11 seasons, leading up to and including 2008.

The Wings go for the European speed, mixed in with North American talent. The Red Wings have the highest number of Europeans on their roster at 13. The lowest is Toronto with two. Maybe that tells you something about the Maple Leafs dismal showings these last few years. No speed. No wonder why they can’t keep up. They need a better mix. Chicago and Tampa--Steve Yzerman’s influence as Ken Holland’s assistant for sure--have 11. Every other NHL club is under 10.

Twenty-three straight years in the playoffs for the Detroit Red Wings…and counting. They’re obviously doing something right.