Ted Lindsay was so much more than a great hockey player
Ted Lindsay kisses the Stanley Cup in 1955. one of four he helped the Red Wings win in his long career.
One of hockey’s and Detroit’s most enduring icons has passed away.
Ted Lindsay died early on Monday March 4, at the age of 93 at his home in Oakland Township. No cause of death was given.
Lindsay originally gained fame as one of the greatest players in NHL and Red Wings history and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. But he was also a labor activist, entrepreneur, broadcaster, executive, women’s hockey supporter and philanthropist.
“He was a persistent, courageous and determined man both on and off the ice,” read a message from his family on the Ted Lindsay Foundation website. “He was a man of many firsts. We are comforted in knowing … that so many lives have changed for the better because of the humanitarian work he has done.”
Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings and governor of the Red Wings, also referenced his charity work, calling him a great player “and an even better person off the ice,” Ilitch said in a statement. “He operated with a generous heart and was a great humanitarian, particularly to the Detroit community and to young disadvantaged children.
“Ted was a great friend to my parents and to my entire family. He was endeared to legions of Detroit Red Wings fans and to all who played the great game of hockey. On behalf of Marian Ilitch and myself, our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends. While he will be sorely missed by us and many others, his positive impact on the game and on our community will live on.”
Lindsay was widely known for his fearsome on-ice persona. Despite being listed at only 5-8 and 160 pounds – both were exaggerations – he earned the nickname “Terrible Ted” because of his robust competitive spirit and his willingness to use his body, fists and of course his stick to create room for himself on the ice.
He got as much as he gave, however, as the cuts and stitches he endured during his career created a roadmap of mayhem and made his scar-enhanced face one of the NHL’s most familiar images.
Lindsay estimated he received around 700 stitches.
“A lot of them were from sticks, some of them were from pucks, and some were from fists,” he told the Detroit News in 2015. “I ran into a lot of good men.”
Former teammate Johnny Wilson, who died in 2011, told a story of trying to calm Lindsay down during a game in the mid 1950s after Wilson had been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks and Lindsay was still with Detroit. Lindsay had gotten into a disagreement with a Blackhawks rookie and the two were stick fighting, Wilson remembered. Wilson then said he skated up to the pair and told Lindsay, “Ted, leave him alone, he’s just a rookie.” But Lindsay, who had been Wilson’s longtime Red Wings teammate, shot back: “Johnny! If you don’t get out of here, I’ll cut your head off.”
“If he would say and do that to me, a guy who he had played with for so many years, just imagine what he would do to somebody who was just a player on another team.” said Wilson, who was also a Red Wings coach.
Lindsay talked about his on-ice attitude in 2016.
“My hatred was sincere," he told NHL.com. "I hated everybody. I had no friends. I wasn't there to make friends. I was there to win. It wasn't necessary that I score, but I figured I could be an integral part without scoring. I had ability, I had talent and I didn't have an ego that I thought I was great. I realized I had to earn it. That was my purpose – to be the best that there was at the left wing position.”
Lindsay played from 1944-45 to 1959-60 and 1964-65, all with the Red Wings with the exception of three seasons with the Blackhawks (1957-58 -1959-60). He amassed 379 goals and 472 assists for 851 points and 1,808 penalty minutes – a league record when he retired – in 1,068 games.
Lindsay, a native of northern Ontario mining country, was born Robert Blake Theodore Lindsay in Renfrew on July 29, 1925. He grew up in Kirkland Lake.
He first gained NHL notoriety by teaming with right wing Gordie Howe and center Sid Abel on Detroit’s famed “Production Line” in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Lindsay led the league with 33 goals in 1947-48 and won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point producer in 1949-50 with 23 goals and 55 assists for 78 points in 69 games. For his career, Lindsay finished among the league’s top three goal scorers four times and among the top three in points on six occasions.
He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups and was the first player ever to skate around the ice with the Cup itself, after the Wings won it in 1952. Lindsay also played in the All-Star Game 11 consecutive years and was selected an NHL first team All-Star eight times.
He even ignored death threats heading into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup semifinal in Toronto in 1956. Not only did Lindsay play in the contest, but he also scored the game-winning goal in overtime. He then reversed his hockey stick, like a rifle, and mimicked shooting it at the crowd at Maple Leaf Gardens.
He was the Red Wings’ captain from 1952-53 until 1955-56.
But Lindsay was stripped of his captaincy and, ultimately, traded to Chicago after the 1956-57 season – by then Detroit general manager Jack Adams – because of his efforts to help start the original NHL Players Association. In those days, professional athletes were at the mercy of whatever team held their rights and had to take offseason jobs to make ends meet. This was especially the case in the NHL, which had only six teams at the time. Lindsay was the president of the inaugural short-lived version of the NHLPA, which lasted only from 1957 to 1959.
The modern NHLPA, which was not reborn until 1967, has honored Lindsay by renaming the Lester B. Pearson Award – the league’s most outstanding player as voted by the Players Association – the Ted Lindsay Award.
“The players and NHLPA staff are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ted Lindsay – a player, a trailblazer, and a gentleman,” the NHLPA tweeted Monday morning. “ ‘Terrible Ted’ was loved across the hockey world and beyond for his play, dedication to fellow players and charitable work.”
Meanwhile, the trade to the Blackhawks, which had come after the most productive season of his NHL career – 30 goals and 85 points in 70 games in 1956-57 – had to be one of the worst and lopsided deals in NHL history.
Adams sent Lindsay and goalie Glenn Hall (another future Hall of Famer) to Chicago for Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, Hank Bassen and Bill Preston.
The trade also demoralized Lindsay.
"I still had Red Wings tattooed here, and here," he told NHL.com, tapping his heart, then his backside to indicate where.
Lindsay retired for the first time after the 1959-60 season and concentrated full time on his business interests.
But that lasted only until 1964, when he decided to make a comeback with Detroit, at the then unheard-of age of 39. Not only did he return to the ice but had a solid 1964-65 season with 14 goals, 28 points and – of course, 173 penalty minutes in 69 games.
Lindsay then headed for the broadcast booth, serving as the New York Rangers’ play-by-play announcer on WOR-TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s and as an analyst for NHL games on NBC in the early to mid-70s.
But the lure of the Red Wings once again proved too strong. He returned to the franchise in 1977, this time as the team’s general manager. With the team slogan “Aggressive hockey is back in town” – which Lindsay created – the Red Wings reached the playoffs in 1977-78 for the first time in nine years and won a playoff round for the first time in 12 years. And Lindsay won the NHL’s Executive of the Year Award.
But the team once again floundered and Lindsay named himself coach late in 1979-80. But he was forced out after the Red Wings began the 1980-81 with a 3-14-3 record
The Wings retired his No. 7 on Nov. 10, 1991.
Lindsay then became a driving force and supporter of women’s hockey. In 1987, Lindsay helped friend Gil Ruicci and Ruicci’s wife, Michele Monson, organize and coach a weekly skate at Livonia's Eddie Edgar Arena for a group of women who wanted to learn how to play hockey. That program grew into what is now the Michigan Women’s Senior Hockey League, which started with five teams in 1993.
Lindsay continued to support the league and was on hand for every annual Ruicci Cup Tournament, which culminated with the championship game of each of the MWSHL’s divisions, through 2017.
Lindsay was also quite active with the Red Wings Alumni Association, particularly in its work to benefit charities. His Ted Lindsay Foundation has raised more than $3 million for autism research and educational programs.
Lindsay remained incredibly fit and active into his 10th decade and had recently been in hospice care, according to his family. Lindsay’s wife of 27 years, Joanne, died in February 2017.He is survived by his three children – Blake, Lynn and Meredith – along with stepdaughter Leslie, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Lou Issel, who covered Women’s and Girls’ hockey for Hockey Weekly for many years, became good friends with Lindsay and sat with him during many Ruicci Cup games.
“He enjoyed every game he watched, from ankle benders to ex-college players, in that league,” Issel said. “Ted appreciated everybody. He had the ability to sit with a stranger and engage them almost immediately and be able to carry on a wonderful conversation with them. That meant he could also sort out the phonies … He had a deep interest in everyone he spoke with.”
Lindsay had used that same ability very differently during his playing career.
“I understood people, understood human nature. I wasn't a psychologist or anything, but I knew people,” he told NHL.com. “You'd figure out who the chickens were on the other side, who the bulls were on the other side, (then) spend your time with the chickens and stay away from the bulls.”