Norm Ullman was an incredibly underrated star for 22 years in pro hockey, maybe the most underrated superstar ever. A hard worker who took immense pride in his defensive play, Norm, much like Ron Francis, quietly amassed one of the greatest careers in National Hockey League history.
Norm, an Edmonton, Alberta product, is best known as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. For a lucky 13 seasons Norm as was a star center iceman, often playing on a line with Gordie Howe. Norm broke in with the Wings at the tail end of their dynasty teams in 1955-56 and never won the Stanley Cup, but was fine player nonetheless.
"I was certainly in awe playing on the same team with Howe and Lindsay and Sawchuk and Delvecchio and Kelly and Pronovost. Those were great, great hockey players.
Recognition came gradually for Ullman. Seemingly as his career progressed so did he as a player, and the NHL eventually noticed. For the first few seasons Ullman was a productive two way player on a bad Wings team. He was however overshadowed by the great Gordie Howe. He began getting some recognition by 1960 when he made an All Star game appearance. He would be an All Star game regular with 9 appearances in the following 10 years, and 11 in his career overall.
He was a very productive player, scoring 490 goals and 1229 points in his career. Once, in 1964-65, he led the entire National Hockey League in goal scoring with 42. His point total skyrocketed to 83, just 4 points shy of league leader Stan Mikita. Ullman even outdistanced Mikita in voting for the center position of the First All Star team. Seemingly rather suddenly, Ullman escaped Howe's shadow and was upgraded from a very good player to a great player in his own right.
Ullman was a wonderful little player. He always had his head up. Only on rare occasions would he peak down at the puck - a unique characteristic for most NHLers even. As a result he was almost impossible to line up for a big body check. Opposing players had to resort to illegal stick checking to slow him down. As a result Ullman often had sore or damaged hands and fingers as a result of all the slashes. He truly a complete player, as good in his own zone as he was offensively. And while he never played for a Stanley Cup championship team, he had a reputation as a big game player - twice he led all playoff scorers in scoring.
Despite all of Ullman's contributions in Detroit, the Red Wings felt like they needed to shake things up as the team was always shy of true contender status during the 1960s. After 13 solid seasons with the Wings, Ullman, who served as the NHLPA's president for much of the decade, was part of one hockey's biggest trades ever when the Leafs acquired Ullman, Paul Henderson and Floyd Smith in exchange for Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and Carl Brewer.
Ullman arrived in Detroit too late for their Stanley Cup dynasty, and he did the same when he came to Toronto. The Leafs were a powerhouse during much of the 1960s, but their aging team slowed down after their 1967 Cup victory. Ullman, was brought in to help carry on the tradition, which he did so admirably for 8 seasons with the Leafs. Unfortunately the Leafs were destined to re-enter the cycle all teams must go through, and began rebuilding.
General manager Punch Imlach had a fetish for veteran players, and his belief in experience was proven correctly with Stanley Cup championships in the 1960s. Ullman quickly became a favorite in Toronto, and a favorite of Imlach. In fact Imlach referred to Ullman as the best center he ever had.
Ullman excelled in Toronto, even though he couldn't live there. He experienced health problems which were eventually blamed on the city's air quality. As a result he had to live north of the city in the hills. The long drive to work didn't dampen Ullman's on ice play however. By 1970-71 he set a personal high with 51 assists and 85 points.
Age began to catch up with Ullman as the 1970s progressed. He spent much of the 1973 and 1974 seasons on left wing and then ended his career disappointingly in 1974-75 often riding the bench.
Not ready to hang up his blades, Ullman left the Leafs in 1975 to go back home to Edmonton, where his career began back in junior hockey. He finished his year with 2 years in the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers.
I thought iIt might be nice to go back and finish my career where it all started. So I went there and had a really good time. It seemed to be a little more relaxing than playing in the National Hockey League. The calibre wasn't up to the NHL but it was pretty good hockey and they had a fair number of players that moved into the NHL.
In his 20 seasons, Norm was one of the NHL's quietest yet most prolific goal scorers. He scored at least 20 goals 16 times in 20 years and total 490 goals and 739 assists for 1229 career points.
Norm had a part ownership in a radio station in Prince Edward Island, and investment in Wellinger and Dunn, the sporting goods equipment. He also was a sales representative for the Inter-Business Ribbon Company in Markham, Ontario during the 1980's.
Norm Ullman was inducted into Hockey's Hall of Fame in 1982.
"I guess the highest award I could recieve was being named to the Hockey Hall of Fame," Norm said." But when I really take a look at my overall statistics, I believe I deserve to be in there."