Tonight, in just 12 meager hours, the Detroit Red Wings will drop the puck against the Vancouver Canucks. But that isn't the big story around this game, only the fourth of the season for both squads. Rather, the story is about the Detroit Red Wings honoring Alexander Delvecchio, who's number hangs amongst the annals of Detroit hockey history in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
Delvecchio has never been a player to earn much statistical recognition. He never led the Red Wings in scoring, coming his closest in the '69-'70 season where he finished second on the team with 68 points in 73 games, three points behind Gordie Howe. Second place, behind Mr. Hockey, would become a familiar place for Delvecchio's numbers. When he retired, after playing in 22 full seasons from 1951 to 1973 with the Red Wings, Delvecchio placed second in every significant offensive category in franchise history, behind Gordie Howe. He had, at the time of his retirement, played the second most games in NHL history, and recorded the second most assists. Even Delvecchio's number 10, hanging in the rafters in Joe Louis Arena, is one behind Gordie Howe's 9.
There was one category that Delvecchio held over Howe: number of games played as a Red Wing. Alexander "Fats" Delvecchio played 1,549 games in the NHL wearing the Winged Wheel. He never wore another teams logo in his career. Though Steve Yzerman surpassed Delvecchio's 12 seasons as captain of the Red Wings, he did not surpass the games Delvecchio played in Detroit. The least known player on the Production Line, the man who kept placing second will come in first tonight when the team honors those 1,549 game-days when Delvecchio put on a Red Wings uniform, laced up his skates and gave all he had to the only franchise who ever had him.
Red Wings history is richer for having had Delvecchio and though others will remember what Gordie Howe, or Sid Abel, or Steve Yzerman did for the club, I'll always remember what Delvecchio did.