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Hockey legend Red Kelly – "a gentleman, a powerhouse" – passes away at 91

The hockey world lost an icon on Thursday with the passing of NHL legend Red Kelly. The eight-time Stanley Cup champion and the first ever winner of the Norris Trophy was 91.

Leonard Patrick 'Red' Kelly, an eight-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Fame member, passed away on Thursday at the age of 91.

Kelly will forever be remembered as one of hockey's all-time greats. He was versatile, playing both defense and center in his career. In 1997, The Hockey News listed Kelly as the 22nd best player of all time, and for good reason: Kelly was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player in 1969 after amassing 823 points in over 1300 games played. At the end of his playing career, Kelly was seventh in career points and second in games played.

Kelly grew up on his family's farm in Simcoe, Ont., a small community in southwestern Ontario with a population today of just less than 14,000. Kelly grew up playing on outdoor rinks before leaving for the powerhouse hockey program at St. Michael's College in Toronto. He was cut by multiple teams at the school but would later make the midget team. Kelly would help St. Mike's win the 1947 Memorial Cup, making his first start with Detroit the next season. One Toronto scout said Kelly wouldn't last 20 games in the NHL, but an injury to one of Detroit's defenseman allowed Kelly to earn more ice time in the team's lineup, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kelly went on to win eight Stanley Cups, four with Detroit and four with Toronto. In all, he played in 12 Cup finals during his 20-year career. Kelly was the first winner of the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman and was a first-team all-star six times as a blueliner. Kelly finished in the top 10 in scoring in just his second season at forward with a career-high 70-point campaign. While Kelly was still in an active player with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the early 1960s, he served as a Liberal Member of Parliament in the York West riding. After helping Toronto win their 13th – and to this day, last – Stanley Cup in 1967, Kelly retired from the game to coach the expansion Los Angeles Kings in 1967. He'd go on to coach Toronto and the Pittsburgh before eventually stepping aside in 1976-77.

"We are comforted in knowing that he impacted so many people both at and away from the rink and know that his life will be celebrated," Kelly's family said in a statement.

Only nine players have had their numbers retired by more than one team, with Kelly's #4 hanging high in the rafters in Detroit and Toronto. Kelly's likeness was immortalized outside of the Scotiabank Arena in 2017, joining Frank Mahovlich, Charlie Conacher and Wendel Clark on legends row. This past February, Red Wings fans gave Kelly with his wife, Andra, and family in tow, a standing ovation.

Not bad for a player who almost didn't make it to the big leagues.


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