Ex-coach Polano dies; took Detroit from ‘Dead Wings’ to Cup winners
Nick Polano, who died Sept. 26, was the first coach of a rookie Red Wing named Steve Yzerman.
Although Nick Polano’s record as a Red Wings coach was almost 50 games under .500 for three seasons, he was a key figure in building the franchise from the “Dead Wings” to Stanley Cup winners.
Polano, who was the first coach under Mike and Marian Ilitch’s ownership, died Sept. 26 after battling Alzheimer’s disease. He was 78.
In 1982, the Ilitches hired Jimmy Devellano as Detroit’s general manager. He in turn tapped Polano as the team’s coach.
Polano, a native of Sudbury, Ontario, led the Red Wings to a 79-127-34 record, making the playoffs in 1983-84 and 1984-85 – the first two seasons of Steve Yzerman’s career – but losing in the first round each time.
Polano then served as Devellano’s assistant GM from 1985-1992, and that’s where he made his biggest contributions to the franchise. Along with then front-office executive Jim Lites, Polano helped spirit Petr Klima out of then-Czechoslavakia in 1985, a move that included eluding Communist Czech officials in a high-speed car chase.
Polano and Lites went on to assist Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov in leaving the Soviet Union in similar cloak and dagger circumstances and defecting to the United States.
“I drafted Fedorov, Konstantinov and Kozlov at the draft table,” Devellano said. “But I told Nick, ‘I drafted them but it’s up to you and Jim Lites to get them out.’ And they got them out.”
Polano joined the Calgary Flames in 1992 as director of pro scouting, later becoming their director of player personnel. He was hired as a pro scout by the Ottawa Senators in 2002.
Polano was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015.
“He had been in bad shape for a long time,” Devellano said.
Polano is survived by his wife of 56 years, Elva; son Michael and daughter, Jodi.