SI Vault
Kenneth Rudeen
November 06, 1961
Once again the autumnal ice floes have drifted down on urban sports arenas and another hockey season has begun. But this year the ice could be warmed by unaccustomed competition. For the first time in a long while the perennial champions of the National Hockey League are declared by the experts to be officially vincible, and the race to take their place might be full of suspense.
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November 06, 1961

Hot Nights On The Cold Ice

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This year as before, Detroit is searching for picture cards to go with its one luminous ace, Gordie Howe. Last year, in a massive new deal, the Red Wings added nine new players—and finished fourth. But Coach Sid Abel felt the team was 50% stronger at season's end. This summer Abel played his cards a little tighter. He took only two major gambles: trading two young, unproved forwards to Chicago for Ed Litzenberger, a 30-goal man gone sour, and giving hard-pressed New York $20,000 and an obscure minor leaguer for the slick but aging defenseman Bill Gadsby.

Centering on a line with Howe, big Litz has already boomed in six goals in the first six games. Gadsby, an expert rushing defenseman and power-play man, was hired not only for his own skills but to put some sense and style into a quick-fisted defensive bravo named Howie Young.

But Detroit's one sure trick remains Gordie Howe, who is still, at the age of 33 and after 15 NHL seasons, not only hockey's best player but also its most feared one. By spring he should become the second player in history to score 500 goals ( Rocket Richard was, of course, first). Without this sturdy veteran the Red Wings could still be nothing.


Struggling to rise above its usual mediocrity, New York has boldly lured 36-year-old Doug Harvey from Montreal to direct the ascent as player-coach. Ranger fans haven't been so excited in years, for as a player he has at least a year of superior hockey in his tiring legs, and as a coach he brings a touch of the Canadiens' winning aura to the disheartened Ranger locker room. With the Rangers leading the league at the end of the first two weeks, the Harvey magic seemed to be working fine.

Viewed realistically, however, the magic seemed almost bound to run out for lack of rabbits in the hat. Of Ranger forwards, Harvey can count only four holdover "pros": Superstar Andy Bathgate, Andy Hebenton, Dean Prentice and Camille Henry.

With Gadsby, Lou Fontinato and John Hanna gone, Harvey himself will serve as the core of the New York defense, along with holdover Harry Howell and newcomer Junior Langlois. He has brought chippy Jean Guy Gendron from Montreal to bolster the front line. But most of Harvey's fortune will depend on players who may—or may not—improve.

And, just to make matters worse, Goalie Gump Worsley was hit by a puck and sent to a hospital last week.


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