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Greatest Teams of All-Time: 1935-36 Detroit Red Wings

From THN's recent special issue, Greatest Teams of All-time, here's a look at No. 20.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Jack Adams was talking to another player on the Detroit Red Wings bench when an eager Pete Kelly jumped over the boards to replace a tired Larry Aurie, at the end of a shift.

Kelly, a checking-line right winger, wasn’t supposed to be on the ice when he took a pass from Herbie Lewis and scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 of the 1936 final. It was Detroit’s first Stanley Cup, but coach-GM ‘Jolly’ Jack Adams didn’t send Kelly onto the ice and he wasn’t pleased he went out.

“He still gave him hell when he got back to the bench,” said hockey historian Bob Duff.

Adams would loosen up later in the dressing room and have his first taste of alcohol after sipping champagne from the Cup. He won it as a player for the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18, but it was his first as coach and GM. It was also the first of two consecutive Cups for the Red Wings and the first back-to-back championships by an American team. And the despotic Adams was the team’s galvanizing point.

“He was the uniting factor,” Duff said. “They all united in hating Jack Adams. They were a real tight bunch. There was a real harmony with the club and they all got along well. That’s what carried the day for them – that they genuinely all liked each other and wanted to play hard for each other. He was always on them and really never let up. It didn’t seem to matter who you were.

“Everybody had a turn in his doghouse.”

Adams was the architect of the 1935-36 Detroit Red Wings, but the team was built thanks to owner James Norris Sr., who financed the club from his multi-million-dollar grain empire. The franchise was floundering on and off the ice and changed its nickname from the Falcons to the Red Wings. When ‘Big Jim’ took over the team, he became to Adams what Adams was to the players – demanding. He gave Adams just one year to turn the team around, but unlike previous owners, Norris promised him all the money he needed to do it

“From the day Norris bought the team he said, ‘Tell me what you need to win,’ ” Duff said. “They’d been rubbing nickels together to try and turn them into quarters up until that point.”

The Wings soared to a first-overall tie in 1932-33 and won the American Division the following in season before missing the playoffs in 1934-35. Despite the blip in Adams’ plans, he made one of his most important acquisitions late in the season: He traded defenseman Teddy Graham and sent $50,000 cash to the St. Louis Eagles for center Syd Howe and defenseman Ralph ‘Scotty’ Bowman (no relation to Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman).

“That was probably the moment that put them over the top,” Duff said. “They were a good team and then they became a great team when they made that trade.”

Howe was the centerpiece of the deal, but the hard-hitting Bowman was an integral part of the trade. He was a big body on the blueline who loved to throw his weight around, especially against his first and favorite target.

“Howie Morenz was the first guy he hit,” said Bowman’s son, George, “because Howie was The Man at the time.”

Added Bowman’s other son, Gary: “My dad said, ‘I hit that SOB and knocked him up into the second row a couple times.’ ”

Bowman never had more than five points in a season, though in 1934 he became the first player to ever score on a penalty shot. But he solidified a defense corps with Ebbie Goodfellow, captain Doug Young and another bruising blueliner, Wilfred ‘Bucko’ McDonald, who was runner-up for rookie of the year during the Cup season of ’35-36

“Pete Kelly told me that Bucko McDonald was the hardest hitter he had seen and played with,” said Ernie Fitzsimmons, hockey historian and co-founder of the Society for International Hockey Research. “He was a pretty bombastic character.

“Those guys were so important in Jack Adams’ system, because he wanted everybody to stay back. You weren’t allowed to go up over your own blueline let alone the other one.”

Adams was a defense-minded coach during a low-scoring decade and a season when games averaged just 4.33 goals. Despite Adams’ approach, the 1935-36 Red Wings finished middle of the pack in goals against (103). They’re remembered more for their high-powered offense that scored 124 goals, just two behind the league-leading Maple Leafs.

Detroit actually scored more goals the season prior (127), but the acquisition of center Marty Barry from the Boston Bruins along with Art Giroux for all-star center Ralph ‘Cooney’ Weiland and Walt Buswell before the start of ’35-36 distributed the scoring more evenly.

The trade gave Adams two strong scoring lines, allowing him to slide Howe down to the second line and slot Barry between star wingers Aurie and Lewis.

“Adams and Art Ross (Boston’s GM) were talking at the 1935 Stanley Cup final,” Duff said. “Ross said that if the Bruins had ‘Cooney’ Weiland it would give them a strong line and Adams said if the Red Wings had Marty Barry they’d win the Cup. They hammered out the deal and Adams turned out to be right with Barry aboard.

“They didn’t have a real No. 1 center until they got him. They had wingers Aurie and Lewis, but really they had been searching for a center to play with those two guys their whole careers.”

Barry tied for second in league scoring with 40 points on 21 goals and helped lift Lewis into the top 10 with 37 points. More significantly, the trade gave the Wings an all-around attack. In a low-scoring era with a 48-game schedule, Detroit had four players with 30 or more points, seven with 20 or more and a dozen with 10 or more – tops in all three categories. The team had the second-highest scoring defense as well.

Adams also brought in Kelly from St. Louis and left winger Hec Kilrea from the Maple Leafs to round out the team and help Detroit finish first overall with 24 wins and 56 points. These and other role players bore the Adams trademarks of team toughness and defensive discipline.

And although Adams used them sparingly, their lesser lights shone bright in the playoffs. None more legendary than rookie Modere ‘Mud’ Bruneteau in the early morning of Wednesday, March 25, 1936 at the Montreal Forum.

In the first game of the playoffs, the Wings and Montreal Maroons established a record that has never been broken. The teams went scoreless through regulation, but it wasn’t until they went into overtime that the real drama began.

The teams ended up playing nearly two full games of overtime. Between periods, Detroit staff massaged players with rubbing alcohol and fed them teaspoons of sugar dipped in brandy to keep them going. Wings goalie Normie Smith had stopped 89 shots and Lorne Chabot of the Maroons had made 65 saves when Adams sent out one of his spare parts to end the game.

At 2:25 a.m., nearly six hours after the game began, Bruneteau picked up an errant pass from Kilrea and fired a low shot past Chabot at 16:30 of the sixth overtime to end the longest game in league history at 176 minutes and 30 seconds.

Some of the more than 9,000 fans at the Forum who stayed to see the end showered Bruneteau with dollar bills. He brought the money into the dressing room and shared it with his teammates. At the same time, McDonald was collecting his own money – $185 from a fan who, before the game, offered him five dollars for every Maroon he knocked down. McDonald iced 37 Maroons that night.

Smith shut out the Maroons again in Game 2, 3-0, and ran his Stanley Cup-record shutout streak to 248 minutes and 32 seconds before Montreal finally scored. He finished the series with a 0.20 goals-against average in a three-game sweep. The Wings went on to defeat the Leafs in four games for their first Stanley Cup. It was a total team effort that even the prickly Adams acknowledged.

“Every player on the team has taken a turn at bringing the house down in these playoffs,” Adams said after winning the Cup. “I never saw anything like it.”

The victory meant a sweep of every major sports title that season for Detroit, making it the original city of champions with baseball’s Tigers winning their first World Series and the Lions taking their first NFL championship in the fall of 1935.

The Red Wings went on to become the first American dynasty after three Cup wins and two more appearances in the final during an eight-season span. Barry, Howe and Lewis were all inducted into the Hall of Fame, as was Adams; Norris was inducted as a builder.

Adams remains the only person to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a player, coach and GM.


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