No man on skates was ever too big or too tough for Ted Lindsay to challenge. At 5'8" and 160lbs he used his big stick and his fists to cut down some of the biggest meanest men in National Hockey League history.
He was known as Scarface or Terrible Ted. The scars on his rugged face represented his courage in his many on ice battles. How many scars he can't tell you, because he lost count after 400 stitches. The nickname "Terrible" only referred to his reputation, because his play was magnificent.
The son of NHL goaltender Bert Lindsay, Ted Lindsay broke into the league in 1944 making the big jump to the NHL at age 19. Lindsay was a celebrated junior player with the St. Michael's Majors in Toronto, but somehow escaped the talent scouts of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Renfrew-born, Kirkland Lake raised Lindsay was property of the Detroit Red Wings, much to the chagrin of Leafs boss Conn Smythe.
Lindsay stepped in as a rookie and played on a line with the great Syd Howe and playoff hero Mud Bruneteau. Lindsay, though a small player, made his on-ice presence felt. He was full of moxie and never showed any hesitation in waging wars with the biggest and baddest men in the league. He was rough, often mean and occasionally dirty.
It was with a different line and with a different Howe that Lindsay would be famous for. For much of his career he played left wing on Detroit's famous "Production Line" with Gordie Howe and Sid Abel. With Lindsay in the lineup the Red Wings won eight regular season titles and four Stanley Cup Championships in the 40s and 50s.
Lindsay's place among hockey's great LWs is not in doubt. He was a 9 time all star, include 8 selections to the First Team. The 1950 Art Ross trophy winner scored 379 career goals, 472 career assists and 851 career points. He also had over 1800 PIMs in a 1000+ game career, all amazing numbers for the Original Six era.
Although he ranks as one of if not THE greatest left wingers in hockey history, perhaps his off ice achievements are his greatest legacy. He, and Doug Harvey, organized a handful of players who were courageous enough to stand up and challenge team ownership and organize the first professional hockey player's union, now known as the NHLPA.
On February 12th, 1957 the NHLPA's formation was announced, and almost immediately NHL owners looked to squash the movement. Each team began the successful disintegration of the player's movement, and they went to whatever lengths were deemed necessary. Jack Adams, the Red Wings legendary boss, was particularly irate and intimidate everyone of his players, and in most he was very successful. He unleashed a system campaign of lies and personal attacks on Lindsay, scaring most of the Red Wings players into backing away from certification votes.
The most notable name to back down was Gordie Howe, the best player in the league. Without Howe's commitment, the NHLPA was doomed to fail, and Lindsay knew it. This whole episode caused a major rift between the two that has never been fully healed.
For his union organizing activities, Detroit had little choice but to trade Lindsay to Chicago in 1957.
"A series of rumors about my attitude, as well as derogatory remarks about myself and my family showed me that the personal resentment of the Detroit general manager toward me would make it impossible for me to continue playing hockey in Detroit," said Lindsay.
Lindsay would play three years in Chicago, but his heart was always tattooed with Detroit's Winged Wheel. He retired a beaten man, an empty man.
Amazingly, after 4 years of retirement, he rejoined the Red Wings to finish off his career. "I just had the desire to wind up my career with the Red Wings," said Lindsay. "I liked playing in Chicago, and I gave them everything I had, but I knew in my heart I was a Red Wing."
"Through the years, I have so many wonderful memories of playing with the Red Wings: winning four Stanley Cups, scoring big goals, going into battle every night side by side with my teammates, playing with every ounce of effort I could muster."
The comeback only lasted one season but it was a season in which the Red Wings would lead the league for the first time in 8 years. Lindsay then re-retired and was inducted into the Hall of Fame a year later.
"Looking back, I've never had one regret," he said.