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His nickname wasn't Rocket or Boom Boom or Le Gros Bil, like some other members of the Hall of Fame. It was Scarface, for the more than 900 stitches that were sewn into his map during the 17 seasons he patrolled left wing in Detroit and Chicago. Scarface was only 5'8" and weighed maybe 160 pounds in full gear, but he was the NHL's career penalty-minute leader until Bryan Watson rubbed him out two seasons ago. Scarface retired in 1960, then four years later he unretired and rejoined the Red Wings. NHL President Clarence Campbell called the return of Scarface "a black day for hockey." True to his old form, Scarface, at age 39, was second in the NHL in penalty minutes that season—and then Terrible Ted Lindsay finally retired for good.
The Red Wings have not been the same since Lindsay hung up his skates and Gordie Howe had to go it alone. In fact, since Lindsay's retirement they have made the Stanley Cup playoffs just once in 12 years, a record for futility unmatched in hockey. During the drought, owner Bruce Norris hired and fired general managers and coaches as frequently as Ford turned out a new model. Last March, at a time when the once-proud Red Wings had the worst record in the NHL, Norris fired another general manager and hired Lindsay, long an outspoken critic of the bumbling Detroit operation, to replace him.
Lindsay watched the Red Wings for a few games and verified what everyone in hockey had known for years: the Red Wings played with the verve and oomph of a sorority-house team. They did their checking at the bank, not on the ice. Lindsay said he would change that.
All summer long Ol' Scarface showed up on billboards and on the covers of season-ticket sales come-ons, wearing a scowl and a T shirt that read AGGRESSIVE HOCKEY IS BACK IN TOWN. The club's postage meter spit out the same slogan, and it was also used—punctuated by some Batman-style "crashes" and "kabooms"—as the Red Wings' television promo. In keeping with his image, Lindsay hired such hatchetmen as Dave (Killer) Hanson, who had a role in the movie Slapshot, and Steve Durbano, who had left a trail of blood in four NHL cities.
When the Red Wings opened their season two weeks ago against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was only natural to expect a hockey show resembling a gory scene from Slapshot. Certainly there would be brawls during the pregame warmup and high sticks during the national anthem. So, did the crowd of 12,872, some 3,000 more than last season's average "announced" attendance, see the expected blood? Violence?
Why, there wasn't even one fight. Instead, a fast little winger named Paul Woods, just drafted from Montreal, dived all over the ice blocking shots and tracking down loose pucks, and his fellow Red Wings played with a flair unseen since Lindsay departed in 1965. Trailing 3-1 with six minutes to play, Detroit rallied for two goals and tied Toronto 3-3.
"That's just what 'aggressive hockey' means," said the enthused Lindsay. "Backchecking, forechecking, playing the man, skating, passing, hustling and fighting for the puck. Sixty minutes of effort from players with some guts. All those things these fans in Detroit haven't seen for years."
One thing the people in Detroit had not seen in four years was a victory over Montreal, and last Thursday night the Red Wings came within 16 seconds of producing one. Unfortunately, they had to settle for a 2-2 tie, but the crowd of more than 12,000 saluted the effort by the Red Wings with several long ovations. Best of all, though, the Red Wings weren't playing like pushovers anymore.
"I don't care what people thought Ted Lindsay was doing," said Left Wing Dan Maloney. "He's got people talking about the Red Wings, something no one has done for years. Lindsay was a tough player, sure, but he's also one smart man."
During his retirement, the 52-year-old Lindsay made a name for himself in the Detroit business community. In partnership with former Red Wing teammate Marty Pavelich, he owns a plastics company in suburban Dearborn and also is a manufacturer's representative. He is a conservative businessman who dresses in Brooks Brothers suits, but one day he cleaned the floor in his plant on Labor Day himself because it was "messy" and because "These days you can't get people to do it for you."