April 27, 2015

Looking Back On The Life of Marcel Pronovost

Marcel Pronovost loved to play hockey. Want proof? He played an incredible 20 NHL seasons and over 1200 games despite being known as hockey's most injured man. He suffered nearly every injury in the medical dictionary - fractured vertebras, cracked cheekbones, broken noses and broken limbs - and yet somehow managed to perform at a level very few others have reached.

His kamikaze style of play was the only way he knew how to play, and all the bruises, stitches, breaks and separations in the world didn't stop him.

"Making a dangerous play on the ice didn't make me any more nervous than crossing the street might make someone else. He doesn't worry about getting hit by a car and I don't worry about getting hurt on the ice. If I did, I'd probably go crazy."

Marcel never went crazy, but there was probably a lot of people who thought he was when he repeatedly attempted his reckless abandon. He was a strong skater and puck carrier, often compared to Kenny Reardon before him or, for more modern audiences, a Ed Jovanovski after him. Often he would make a spectacular rush from one end to another. Sometimes these rushes would end up in an equally spectacular crash - into the boards, into another player, or into the goalie. But they were fun to witness.
Defensively Marcel was never considered to be a hard rock defenseman, though he sure tried to be. He would attempt to hit anything in sight with reckless abandon. He was one of the best stick and poke checkers the game has ever seen.

Marcel played 20 years in the league. The last 5 of those were in Toronto where he helped the Leafs win the 1967 Stanley Cup. But Marcel is best known as a Detroit Red Wing. From 1949-50 to 1965 he was a standout on the defense, although he was often overshadowed by bigger names on the team - Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Terry Sawchuk, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio and Bill Quakenbush to name a few.

Marcel's big break came part way through the 1950 playoffs. Gordie Howe was forced to miss some action due to injury, and the Wings filled that immense hole by moving rearguard Red Kelly up to the forward units. To fill the void on defense the Wings called up the rookie Pronovost who had never played an NHL game previously, although he had a strong season with the Omaha Knights, the Wings farm club, where he scored 13 goals and 52 points in 69 games and was named as the USHL rookie of the year.

Marcel stepped into the Detroit lineup admirably. He played in 9 games and picked up only 1 assist, but helped the Wings win the Stanley Cup!

It was widely expected that Marcel would make the Wings the following season, however that changed during training camp. In a pre season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marcel tried to carry the puck on one of his patented dashes, only this time, like many other times, he was creamed by the veteran defensemen Leo Reise and Bob Goldham. The two Leaf defenders sandwiched Marcel, and Goldham's stick managed to facture Marcel's cheekbone. 

As a result, Marcel was sent to the minors to recover. He played 34 injury free games down there before being called up to Detroit around the mid-season mark. This time Marcel was here to stay in the NHL for good.

The Detroit Red Wings of the 1950s are an often forgotten about dynasty in hockey history. They were strong in the early portion of the decade - winning the Cup (Marcel was a member of all the championships) in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. They are overshadowed by the unparalleled Habs dynasty from 1956 to 1960 that saw 5 consecutive championships. 

Although his statistics don't really suggest it, Marcel was definitely a star on that team. Although he didn't get any real recognition until the late 1950s. By then the Wings had traded their top d-man - Red Kelly - to Toronto. Marcel took over as the top rearguard. Also by this time Marcel had mellowed his crazy style somewhat and became more of a reliable two way defender. As a result of these two items, Marcel was named to the NHL First All Star team in both 1960 and 61, and the NHL Second All Star Team in 1958 and 1959.

Marcel joined Kelly and a host of other veterans in Toronto for the 1965-66 season when he was traded in a huge deal which saw Aut Erickson, Larry Jeffrey, Ed Joyal and Lowell MacDonald also head to Toronto for Billy Harris, Gary Jarrett and Andy Bathgate. Marcel, as mentioned previously, enjoyed 5 strong seasons in Toronto and is a member of the famous 1967 Maple Leafs championship team.

Marcel, who's brothers Claude and Jean also played in the NHL, finished his career by serving as the playing coach of the Maple Leafs farm team in Tulsa. He served in this capacity for the 1969-70 season and part of the 1970-71 season. 

Had Marcel played in Toronto his whole career, it is arguable he would be held in even higher regard today. He wouldn't have been overshadowed to the degree that he was in his earlier years, and he would have been a household name playing for "Canada's Team."

Marcel was certainly held in high regard when he played though, as is obvious by his inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Pronovost scored 88 goals and assisted on 257. During the playoffs he recorded eight goals and 23 assists. In addition to his five Stanley Cup Championship rings he was a four time season's end All Star and participated in 11 all star games.

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