In this week’s Getting To Know, former Detroit Red Wings winger Dennis Polonich recalls growing up idolizing Bobby Clarke from his days as a Flin Flon Bomber, the time Dave Semenko made sure Wayne Gretzky wasn’t going to be touched and a hilarious prank played on goaltender Eddie Giacomin.
Status: Former NHL right winger for the Detroit Red Wings, 1974-1983.
Ht: 5-foot-6 Wt: 165 pounds
DOB: Dec. 4, 1953
In: Foam Lake, Saskatchewan
Residence: Calgary, Alberta
First Hockey Memory: “Getting drafted into the NHL by the Detroit Red Wings (8th round) was a major accomplishment for me. Before that, playing minor hockey in Flin Flon. To get drafted and play against the Original Six teams like Montreal and Toronto was a dream come true.”
Hockey Inspirations: “Probably Bobby Clarke, I had never met him but I went to Flin Flon to play junior hockey, I had watched him play on TV, he became an inspiration. Also coaches along the way, in junior, the late Paul Sedlik kind of took me under his wing, he’d let me skate all day at the rink, I became a rink rat.”
First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: “Bobby Hull when I played junior, Winnipeg had a junior team, he was with the WHA. He came in our dressing room and Oh my God. I was very impressed at the time.”
Greatest Sports Moment(s): “Obviously scoring my first NHL goal – Vaclav Nedomansky and Mickey Redmond assisted. I had two in my fifth game against the Colorado Rockies (Billy McKenzie was the goalie). Scoring a playoff goal against Ken Dryden. And being named captain of the Detroit Red Wings in ’76-77.”
Most Painful Moment: “I had two that stand out – Obviously, when I got hit across the face in ’78 by Wilf Paiement – it was a defining moment in my career, it changed the way I played. And when I was told by Jimmy Devellano that they weren’t going to sign me and my career with the Red Wings was done.”
Funniest Players Encountered: “Oh boy, we had some of them on our team. Bryan ‘Bugsy’ Watson, Walt McKechnie, Dennis Hextall, we had a lot of fun. Playing against – Randy Carlyle – we had some comments back and forth. I used to get under the skin of the Broad Street Bullies, Andre ‘Moose’ Dupont, Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, we’d banter back and forth quite a bit.”
Fiercest Competitors Encountered: “Oh boy, I’d say Dan Maloney, Dennis Hextall were fierce. Marcel Dionne and Bobby Clarke – who I would put at the top of the list.”
Favorite NHL Uniforms: “Obviously, the Red Wings uniform. I think any of the Original Six. I’m a little old school, not a big believer in third or fourth jerseys, I realize it’s marketing but I’m old school, just give me the Original Six home and away.”
Embarrassing Hockey Memory: “Oh, I don’t know — I know I’ve embarrassed some players, you’d have to ask that question of someone else [smiles].”
Strangest Games: “I remember playing against the Maple Leafs when Ian Turnbull scored five against us, back when the Leafs weren’t very good. I remember going back to Madison Square Garden when Eddie Giacomin was our goaltender (Giacomin’s first game back to New York against his former team) and we couldn’t hear the national anthem because the crowd was chanting his name ‘Eddie, Eddie’, I went back to congratulate him, pat him on the back and he had tears running down his cheeks, touching moment. I remember playing against Wayne Gretzky who was eighteen at Edmonton and I later learned Wayne asked Lee Fogolin and Dave Semenko, is there anyone I should watch out for? I started the game and was at center ice strapping on my chin strap and Lee Fogolin and Dave Semenko both skated by me and said, ‘If you touch the Great One tonight, you’re dead.’ That was their way of looking out for him. And after I was hit by Wilf Paiement, the first game against him was weird. The following year after his suspension, we played and we were both on the ice, you wonder about retribution. My reputation as a player was not to back down. In the back of my mind, you want retribution but you know you can’t do it, it’s illegal. It wouldn’t have been the smartest thing to do.”
Closest NHL Friend(s): “Probably Walt McKechnie, Dan Maloney stand out for me. Dennis Hextall, Paul Woods, Reed Larson.”
Funny Hockey Memory: “Eddie Giacomin had a little Volkswagen called ‘The Thing’ – we took the doors off it and put them in someone’s car, so he went down the next day and his car had no doors, that was fun.”
Nicknames: “Polo, because of my last name. Since I’m fourteen or fifteen.”
People Qualities Most Admired: “Just straight up, don’t stickhandle me, don’t do a sales job on me. You are what you are; you gotta be comfortable in your own skin. Honesty, integrity. Don’t pretend you’re something you’re not.”
Mark “Scoop” Malinowski’s latest book “Facing Nadal: Symposium Of A Champion” is available on Amazon.