Dear Red Wings: Raise No. 6 to the Rafters

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Dear Red Wings: Raise No. 6 to the Rafters

Ever noticed that no Red Wings player wears No. 6 and yet the number isn't hanging from the rafters? 

Here's the reason why. 

Larry Aurie was a scrappy little right winger from Sudbury, Ontario who played eleven seasons in the NHL, all of them for Detroit.  Nicknamed “Little Dempsey” for his ability to fight, he can be compared today to Theo Fleury with his absolute focus on the game and feisty desire to just play. Another reason to compare him to Fleury: Larry Aurie was just 5 foot 6 inches and about 140 pounds.

Aurie played through those lean years before the Red Wings were called the Red Wings. (Before 1932, the Detroit team was first known as the Cougars, then the Falcons.) A fan, team and owner favourite, Aurie was the Red Wings’ first captain in 1932.

Once Aurie became captain, the team took off.  In the 1933-34 season the Red Wings finished first in their division.  They then pulled off a huge upset by beating the Maple Leafs to advance to the finals where they lost to the Blackhawks.

That same year Aurie led the league in playoff scoring with ten points in nine games, as well as being a top three scorer in the league and leading his team in scoring.  He also was selected to play in an All-Star game that year.

Although the team missed the playoffs the next season, they made some trades and in 1935-36, the trio of Aurie, Marty Barry and Herbie Lewis led the team to their first ever Stanley Cup.

Aurie’s best season was 1936-37, when he led the league in goals (23 in 45 games) and was Detroit’s first All-Star on the First All-Star team (there were only six players total named to the First All-Star team).  Despite the fact that Aurie missed the latter part of the season with a broken ankle, the Wings managed a repeat Cup win.

Aurie was never quite the same after the broken ankle.  He played one more season and retired in the summer of 1938.  He came out of retirement for one last game in 1938-39, and in his typical hard-working fashion scored the game-winning goal.

All told, he played 513 games, making 153 goals and 138 assists for 291 points.  He also racked up 289 penalty minutes. Although those numbers are not impressive by today’s standards, they were fairly remarkable for a time with no forward passing and when the regular season was only 45 games.

Years later teammate Carl Liscombe remembered the diminutive 5-foot-6 winger: "Aurie would fight a tiger to win and was a damn good hockey player. He was very small, only 145 pounds, but very strong. He would stand in front of the net and take on players 50 to 60 pounds heavier and handled it well. Much like (Dino) Ciccarelli, only Larry could fight. He would drop his stick at the drop of a hat." Despite being one of the smallest players ever, he was without a doubt also one of the toughest of the era.

Aurie’s intense end-to-end selfless play probably cost him higher numbers, but he ought to be remembered as Detroit’s first star player.  He captained the team to two Stanley Cups and was an All-Star on two different occasions. 

Team owner James Norris officially retired Aurie’s No. 6 in 1938. His jersey was even displayed in the Olympia arena until the 1960s.  The Official NHL Guide listed Aurie’s number as retired until 2000-01, when current owner Mike Ilitch ordered it removed – without explanation. What reason could Ilitch have for denying him this honour? To date he has refused to give any reason whatsoever.

Aurie’s family attempted to have his number hung from the rafters without success. The Red Wings decided to "keep the number out of circulation to respect the memory of Aurie. It was discussed and determined by the Red Wings that the jersey will not be hung up.”

"Not hanging up Larry's number would be compared to the Yankees' not retiring Lou Gehrig's number, just because he was from the 1930s and now forgotten just because it's all old stuff now," said Cummy Burton.  "It's like saying that war heroes don't mean anything, just because they're not around anymore."  Burton, a former Detroit Red Wing, was also Aurie's nephew.

He has an excellent point. The pioneers of the game ought to be remembered and honoured.  Without them, the game and the teams could easily have faded away into just another footnote.  The teams of today are built on the legacy of hard work of men like Larry Aurie.  Without them, there would be no records, no milestones for players to aspire to.

Larry Aurie stuck with the Detroit NHL team through the earliest, most miserable years.  He could have asked for a trade, to go somewhere more successful. He didn’t. He could have walked away from the team when his contract expired. He didn’t.  Unfortunately, the team hasn’t stuck with him.

Let’s not walk away like Ilitch seems to have done. Let’s not walk away from the memories of men like Larry Aurie.  Let’s make sure he gets the recognition he deserves.

There’s currently an on-line petition asking the Red Wings to officially raise Larry Aurie’s No. 6 at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/larry-aurie-to-the-rafters.html.  So far, it hasn’t had a lot of success. Add your name and spread the word.  Let’s prove that we hockey fans are truly passionate about players from every era of the game and honouring the memory of pioneers.

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