Alex Delvecchio

Everybody considers Gordie Howe one of the greatest players ever partly because of his longevity. That being said, Alex Delvecchio also deserves mention among the game's legends.

Alex played 24 NHL seasons, only missing a ridiculously miniscule total of 43 games due to injury. Unlike Howe, Delvecchio spent his entire career with the same team - the Detroit Red Wings. Delvecchio was as consistent a player as you'll find.

Many words describe Alex Delvecchio. Consistent. Durable. Gentleman. Winner. Leader. Loyal. If forced to choose just one word to sum up his legacy, it would have to be legend.

Alex Delvecchio was born on December 4, 1932 in Fort William, Ontario, which is now a part of the city of Thunder Bay. He got his first pair of skates at the age of six and taught himself to skate on the many frozen ponds in his rural Ontario setting.

He didn't start playing organized hockey until he was 12, but he was quickly identified by a Red Wings scout named Lou Passador. On Passador's advice, Red Wings boss Jack Adams signed the youngster and assigned him to a junior B team in his native Fort William. It was there that Delvecchio matured into a man and intimidating hockey player, gaining 5 inches and 20 pounds in 2 years.

Soon Delvecchio was transferred to Detroit's main prospect mill in Oshawa where former NHL great Larry Aurie coached the OHA Generals. Delvecchio would credit Aurie with becoming a smart hockey player, focusing on puck control and playmaking, and maturing on the ice.

Delvecchio's favorite junior passing target was a fellow named Lou Jankowski. Jankowski led the entire league in scoring, with 65 goals and 59 assists for 124 points. Delvecchio finished right behind with 49 goals and 72 assists for 121 points. But it was Delvecchio who made the immediate jump to the 1951-52 Red Wings, perhaps the greatest team of all time. Jankowski essentially became a bust by NHL terms.

After starting the season in the minor leagues, Delvecchio broke into the Wings' line-up as a centre, replacing Larry Wilson. He would often play with wingers Johnny Wilson and Metro Prystai, though many games the trio didn't see a lot of ice time. Yet the rookie scored 15 goals and 22 assists, helping Detroit finish first through the regular season. More importantly, that spring the Wings won the Stanley Cup in eight straight games.

Delvecchio will never forget how special that team was.

"That was a great team we had and I felt proud to be among so many players that were true stars of the game. Terry Sawchuk was in goal and in those eight playoff games against Toronto and Montreal, he only gave up six goals. We had Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Gordie Howe, Glen Skov, Tony Leswick, Metro Prystai and Marty Pavelich up front. Marcel Pronovost, Red Kelly and Bob Goldham were three of our defensemen," Delvecchio recalled.

That nucleus was the toast of the league for most of the early 1950s, capturing two more Stanley Cups in 1954 and 1955. That gave Delvecchio 3 Stanley Cup championships. For the Red Wings they had 4 championships in 6 seasons, and finished the regular season in first place in 7 consecutive seasons.

Delvecchio was just entering his prime, and fully replaced Sid Abel on the Production Line with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Through his prime years in the late 50s and 1960s, Delvecchio finished in the top 10 in scoring 10 times. Like a fine wine Delvecchio seemed to only get better with age, recording his best season in 1968-69 when he scored 25 times and assisted on 58 others for a total of 83 points. In 13 of his 24 seasons he scored 20 or more goals, contributing towards a career total of 456 goals and 825 assists, plus 35 goals and 69 assists in playoffs.

Delvecchio and Howe in particular shared a special chemistry. Later on it was Frank Mahovlich who was the perfect fit for Delvecchio.

"They just said, 'give it to Gordie. He'll put it in the net,' " Delvecchio said. "When Gordie was there it was `give it to Gordie' and when Frank (Mahovlich) was there they said `give it to Frank'. I concentrated on playmaking."

Bruce MacGregor, a former teammate of "Fats" Delvecchio, fondly recalls the days where Number 10 centered a line with the Big M.

"Alex was a natural athlete. His biggest assets were his skating and passing, a fluid skater with an effortless style. I remember him centering for big Frank Mahovlich. Frank had that big, sweeping stride, and it was tough for centers to judge where he'd be for a pass. But Alex would him almost every time, right on the money. Alex was the best center man at making consistently perfect passes that I've ever seen."

Alex was truly one of the game's most sportsmanlike gentleman. A three time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy, Alex was only penalized for 383 minutes in 24 years. The two time all-star was also a leader, taking over from Gordie Howe as team captain in 1962 until the day he retired in 1973. He was also extremely loyal to the Detroit Red Wings. In fact he was so loyal to Detroit that he turned down a lucrative offer from his longtime sidekick Gordie Howe to join the Houston Aeros of the WHA in 1973.

After his playing career was over he was offered to coach Detroit. Which he gladly accepted.

"My goal was to be a coach in the NHL someday," he confessed. "So I was elated when I was approached about the job."

When asked to describe his coaching philosophy, he replied:

"Theories and systems ? Are you kidding ? You can't play hockey by a lot of theories and systems. It's too fluid a game for that. You've got to make quick decisions on the ice and you can't be wondering if the decision fits into your system."

Well, with an approach like that I guess it's not surprising that Coach Delvecchio didn't last too long. In parts of 4 seasons he posted a 82-131-32 record 245 games, a winning percentage of just .400. He also served as general manager.

He remained in the Detroit area and became a salesperson for a customer appreciation business that provides signs and novelty items to firms wanting to give their clients tokens of appreciation. He also became very active with the Red Wings Alumni Association.

Whoever said "nice guys finish last" should learn about Alex Delvecchio. He was largely overshadowed by his Detroit teammates, but Delvecchio earned the immortal spotlight of Hockey Hall of Fame enshrinement in 1977.


Anonymous,  8:22 PM  

Alex Delvecchio recently met my husband Mike Fallacaro in Naples, Florida, and was most humble giving his autograph and even taking several photos with him!Others here in Naples did'nt even recognize him and Mike did immediately! He was even so gracious to allow Mike to try on his Stanly Cup Rings! What an awesome legend and humble guy! Even nicer in person! Thanks Alex, you made Mike's day!!! WOW!!!

Anonymous,  1:29 PM  

My dad was the general manager of Coffey Cadilac then Krajenke Buick in the Detroit area in the 60's and 70's and met many of the pro athletes from the Detroit teams. When asked, he always said without hesitation, his favorite pro player in person was Alex. I think my dad even played in one of Alex's charity golf tournements, as I found a tournement towel that they must have gave to all the golfers stuffed in my dad's old golf bag after he passed. He never said a bad word about any pro athlete he met in the car biz, but Alex was without a doubt his favorite.

Anonymous,  3:16 PM  

I love the Red Wings and I came across a Signed Portrait of Alex Delvecchio. It is a big picture then next to him he is skating with his stick. It's very cool but I am getting rid of all my sign autographs collection if any one has an interest.
As, always my Best to the Red Wings.

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