Throughout the year, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the National Hockey League (NHL), discovering the best and worst each team has to offer in a variety of subjects. We will also feature a drink based off the franchise. Today, we cruise the Motor City and get a crash course on the Detroit Red Wings:
Establishment Story: One of the NHL’s Original Six franchises, the Red Wings were founded in 1926. The franchise began life as the Cougars (after buying players from the Victoria Cougars Western Hockey League team to begin operations), then Falcons, before finally settling on Red Wings in 1932. The change to Red Wings was initiated by new owner James Norris, who liked the ‘winged-wheel’ logo of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association and thought it fit well with Detroit’s Motor City nickname.
Stanley Cups: The Red Wings have won 11 Stanley Cups, the most of any American NHL team. The team qualified for the playoffs for 25 straight seasons, from 1983-84 to 2015-16, one of the longest streaks in NHL history. They won four of their Stanley Cups during this run. The Red Wings success in the mid 1990s, led to the team registering the trademark Hockeytown for the city of Detroit.
Celebrity Fan: Musician Kid Rock has had a long association with the Red Wings. The Michigan native even wrote and recorded one of the team’s goal songs ‘Hey Hey Hockeytown’. Kid Rock has often appeared at games and celebrated Stanley Cup wins with the likes of Chris Chelios, along with being the act that opened Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena in 2017, with four consecutive concerts.
Super Fan: Heather ‘Wing-Nut’ Petrie, who is recognizable for her red hair, hat, jacket, tutu, and car, attended every Detroit home game from December 23, 2014 until the pandemic. From Windsor, Ontario, which has a large pocket of Red Wings supporters, given its proximity to Detroit, Petrie was named Windsor’s biggest Red Wings fan in a 2019 radio contest and was a finalist in the 2021 Upper Deck My MVP contest.
Mascot: Al the Octopus isn’t your typical costumed mascot, but an inflatable one that is used to pump up the crowd as the Red Wings take the ice. The prop is then lifted to the arena’s rafters. Wearing jersey number 8, a reference to an octopi’s eight tentacles, Al is missing a tooth, completing the hockey player look. Detroit’s previous mascot was the Red Winger, appearing from 1982 to 1987.
Tradition: The Legend of the Octopus dates back to 1952, when fish market owner Peter Cusimano tossed one onto the Detroit ice, the octopi’s eight legs signifying the number of wins it took at that time to win the Stanley Cup. Former ice manager Al Sobotka is best associated with the present tradition, which included him swinging the octopi around after collecting it from the ice.
Appearances in Media: A number of characters in TV shows and films have donned a Red Wings jersey, long thought to be one of the best sweaters in all of sports. Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Joey from Full House and Dr. Cox from Scrubs each wore the famous winged-wheel kit. Even Homer Simpson has sported a Detroit jersey, with his wearing being a throwback to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Events/Scandals: The seeds for the NHL Players’ Association were planted by long-time Red Wings star Ted Lindsay (along with Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadiens). Due to their association with the union efforts, Lindsay and Harvey faced punishments of sorts, as both were traded away and dealt with threats from the league and team owners, along with strained relationships with teammates. A TV movie on the subject, titled Net Worth, was released in 1995.
Rivalry: As one of the oldest teams in the NHL, the Red Wings have made many enemies along the way. The list includes former division rival the Chicago Blackhawks, repeated playoff foes the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins, and cross border adversaries the Toronto Maple Leafs. All of these rivalries have had their ebbs and flows over the years, particularly with the Red Wings current downturn.
Tragedy: Following a team party just six days after clinching the 1997 Stanley Cup, a limo transporting defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov crashed. Konstantinov suffered a brain injury and was in a coma for two months. The injuries forced Konstantinov’s retirement from hockey at only 30 years old and in the prime of his career. Making matters worse, the limo driver, who fell asleep, causing the accident, was driving on a suspended license for drunk driving.
Player Nicknames: When you’re called Mr. Hockey, as Red Wings icon Gordie Howe was, that means you’re synonymous with the sport. Howe had the moniker trademarked, along with Mrs. Hockey for his wife Colleen. Other nicknames given to Howe throughout his career include Mr. Everything, Mr. All-Star, The Great Gordie, The King of Hockey, The Legend, The Man, and Mr. Elbows.
Line: The Red Wings not only had a famous line of forwards, they had a complete unit of players that were often iced together. Dubbed the Russian Five, the group consisted of Sergei Fedorov, Slava Kozlov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Konstantinov, and Slava Fetisov. A later homage to the Russian Five was the Swedish Five, comprised of Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg, Mikael Samuelsson, and Tomas Holmstrom.
Captain: Steve Yzerman was only 21 years old when he was named captain of the Red Wings in 1986. He would serve the team in that role for the rest of his career, retiring in 2006. Yzerman’s 19 seasons and 1,303 games as captain is the longest tenure in North American sports history. His mark on Detroit saw him once voted the most popular athlete in the city’s long and storied sports history.
Enforcer: Perhaps the greatest and most feared fighter in NHL history was Bob Probert. He patrolled the ice for the Red Wings for nine seasons and holds the franchise records for penalty minutes in a season and total penalty minutes. Probert’s main task was to protect stars like Steve Yzerman. When paired with fellow fighter Joey Kocur, the two were known as the Bruise Brothers.
Family Values: Frank ‘Big M’ and Pete ‘Little M’ Mahovlich played for the Red Wings from 1967 to 1969, while Frank was a superstar and Pete (Detroit’s 2nd overall draft pick in 1963) was breaking into the league. Similarly, Bryan and Dennis Hextall were teammates during part of the 1975-76 season. The Red Wings have also had a handful of father-son combos play for the team, most notably, Gordie and Mark Howe.
Returning Players: Legendary goalie Terry Sawchuk did three tours of duty with the Red Wings over his 21-season career. He was signed by Detroit in 1947, debuting in 1950. After a stint with the Boston Bruins, Sawchuk returned to the Red Wings in 1957. He was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1964 NHL Intra-League Draft, also suiting up for the expansion Los Angeles Kings, before playing a final 13 contests for Detroit in 1968-69. Sawchuk died in 1970, following one season with the New York Rangers.
Short Stint: Derian Hatcher had a curious stint with the Red Wings. Despite signing a five-year, $30 million contract with Detroit in 2003, Hatcher only played 15 games with the franchise. He was injured early in the 2003-04 season, with the following campaign wiped out by the NHL lockout. When teams prepared to return to action with the newly introduced salary cap, the remaining years of Hatcher’s contract were bought out.
Undrafted: When the Red Wings signed Adam Oates in 1985, they landed a future Hall of Fame member, even if he made a name for himself elsewhere. Oates chose Detroit over other offers, with his $1.1 million contract making him the highest paid rookie in the NHL in his debut campaign. The Red Wings traded Oates to the St. Louis Blues in 1989, in what is regarded as one of the worst trades in franchise history.
Trade: The acquisition of Brendan Shanahan in 1996 is a move that is often cited as one that pushed the Red Wings over the hump in the late 1990s, leading to three Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Shanahan came to Detroit along with Brian Glynn, in exchange for Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey and a first-round draft pick. Shanahan played a total of nine seasons with the Red Wings, racking up 633 points in 716 games.
Signing: Looking to load up for another Stanley Cup run, in the 2001 off-season, the Red Wings signed two of the greatest goal scorers in league history, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, each to two-year pacts. Both players took less money from Detroit, in order to join a star-studded squad. They were rewarded with winning the 2002 Stanley Cup, where Hull led the NHL in playoff goals.
Draft Pick: The Red Wings greatest draft pick was taking Steve Yzerman fourth overall in 1983. The team can also be credited with one of the best draft classes ever in 1989, when they selected Nicklas Lidstrom (54th overall), Sergei Fedorov (74th overall) and Vladimir Konstantinov (221st overall). The Red Wings have also done very well finding diamonds in the rough, including Tomas Holmstrom (257th overall in 1994), Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall in 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall in 1999).
Holdouts: Sergei Fedorov’s 1997-98 holdout would lead to the largest single season payment to an NHL player. The Carolina Hurricanes signed Fedorov to a $38 million offer sheet, which was matched by Detroit. Federov received a $14 million signing bonus, $2 million base salary and $12 million bonus for the Red Wings making the Conference Finals. A total of $28 million for 21 regular season games and 22 playoff contests, but Fedorov did lead Detroit in goals as they won their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Buyouts: The Red Wings have twice bought out contracts with three years remaining on them. First, in 2015, they parted ways with Stephen Weiss, two seasons into a five-year deal. They owed him $10 million over the next six years. Later, in 2020, lifetime Red Wing Justin Abdelkader was released four years into a seven-year pact. He is being paid out $6.33 million, spread out until 2025-26.
Unique Game: The first NHL games to take place outside North America occurred when the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens toured Europe in 1938 for a nine-game exhibition series. The contests took place in London and Brighton, United Kingdom, as well as Paris, France. Detroit also played a 1954 game at Marquette Branch Prison, defeating the Marquette Prison Pirates 18-0 (they stopped keeping score after the first period). This was the first outdoor game ever for an NHL team.
Goal: When the Red Wings battled the star-loaded St. Louis Blues in the second round of the 1996 playoffs, the series went to a seventh game, taking until double overtime to finally be decided. The end came, when Steve Yzerman stole the puck – from Wayne Gretzky, no less – and ripped a slap shot past Blues goalie Jon Casey. Another famous tally was Darren McCarty’s 1997 Stanley Cup clincher versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
Fight/Brawl: Many tales exist about the legendary Gordie Howe. Among them, is his fight with Lou Fontinato, one of the most feared combatants of the era. The two players had feuded for some time, but on February 1, 1959, Howe cemented his status as a player not to be pushed around, pounding Fontinato’s face, resulting in a broken nose and dislocated jaw. The sound of the punches was described as like an axe chopping wood.
Injury: On November 21, 2005, during a game against the Nashville Predators, Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer went into cardiac arrest, collapsing on the bench. Fischer was unconscious for six minutes, needing CPR and a defibrillator to be revived. The contest became the first in NHL history postponed due to an injury. Fischer never played in the league again, moving into the role of Director of Player Development with Detroit.
Penalty: On November 5, 1975, Dan Maloney came to the defense of teammate Bryan Hextall, after he was hit by Brian Glennie of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maloney repeatedly punched and slammed Glennie to the ice, resulting in a concussion. In the aftermath, Maloney became the third player in NHL history to be charged with assault for an on-ice incident, although he was acquitted months later.
Wildest Story: In 1993, Kris Draper was acquired by the Red Wings for a whopping $1. To that point, Draper had only played 20 NHL games for the Winnipeg Jets, since being drafted in 1989. Draper would go onto become one of Detroit’s mainstays through the successful 1990s and 2000s, playing 1,137 games with the club and being a member of four Stanley Cup championship squads.
Blooper: Two playoff gaffes by goalie Chris Osgood are well-remembered by Red Wings fans. First, in 1994, the rookie netminder went to clear the puck late in the seventh game of their first round series versus the San Jose Sharks, only to play it to an opponent, who quickly scored the deciding goal. Next, in the 1998 Western Conference Finals, Jamie Langenbrunner of the Dallas Stars scored the game five overtime winner from center ice on Osgood. The Red Wings still went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.
Miscellaneous: In 1985, Petr Klima (drafted 86th overall in 1983 by Detroit) became the first player to defect from Czechoslovakia to a U.S.-based NHL team, with the help of Red Wings officials Jim Lites and Nick Polano. In his escape, Klima had to avoid police and request refugee status in the U.S. In honour of his successful move to North America, Klima wore jersey number 85 throughout his career.
Detroit Red Wings: Detroit Red Wing
- 1.5 oz Cinnamon Schnapps
- Top with Ginger Ale
- Garnish with Maraschino Cherries
Another Red Wings cocktails combines Raspberry Vodka, Lemon-Lime Soda and Grenadine. The beverage I selected seemed to be the most popular option, with drinkers supposed to use Vernors Ginger Ale, a Detroit-area favourite soda, first served in 1866.