Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sculptor Amrany Has One More Red Wing (At Least) To Capture

How wonderful it is that Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio are still in our midst.

I can't say with 100% certainty, but I'm pretty confident that no other Original Six team still has an entire forward line of the magnitude of those guys alive and kicking, and with their faculties. We're talking 50 years ago when nos. 7, 9, and 10 were doing their thing.

The Red Wings, as an organization, has done its part in recognizing this treasure trove of old school talent. Numbers have been retired and lifted to the rafters. Special nights have been held throughout the past 20 years or so. And Howe (age 80), Lindsay (83) and Delvecchio (76) are always included when the Red Wings celebrate a team banner-raising ceremony. It's great that that trio has received all the accolades and honors while they were still alive to see it.

The two most recent instances have occurred over the past couple of weeks, with the unveiling of statues bearing the likenesses of Lindsay and Delvecchio, similar to the one honoring Howe, which was dedicated in April 2007. All three statues were created by Chicago-based artist Omri Amrany. And, all three are scattered in the Joe Louis Arena concourse.

"One thing I love about my statue, it's indoors," Lindsay said. "The pigeons are not going to get a chance to get at it."

Well, that's ONE way to look at it, Terrible Ted.

I hope Amrany won't mind if I commission him for one more statue. Maybe he needs the money. You know, starving artists and all.

Sadly, it won't be one attended by the subject, but I don't know how you can get into statue-unveiling mode and not have one of Terry Sawchuk greeting JLA visitors. Even the kiddie Red Wings fans who've only known success by this franchise are aware of the exploits of Howe, Lindsay, and Delvecchio -- largely because they're semi-regulars at JLA and around the team in general. I wonder how many of them, though, have any idea what goalie Sawchuk did for their team, back in the day.

Terry Sawchuk, whose career record of 103 shutouts is only now being threatened (New Jersey's Martin Brodeur has 96), and he played his last game 38 years ago. Terry Sawchuck, who put on a display of goaltending in the Stanley Cup playoffs of 1952 so dominating it almost doesn't seem true (8-0, four shutouts, 0.63 GAA). Terry Sawchuk, who barely lived to see the end of his career, let alone any post-retirement honors that would have come his way.

Ask just about any Red Wing from those glory days of the 1950s, and Sawchuk will be one of the first teammates they talk about in terms of contributing to the success the Wings enjoyed. The Red Wings were a marvelous team, no doubt, but it was still left to Sawchuk to stone the opposition and steal two points on many a night. It's not a fit of homerism to declare him the best goaltender of all time.

He didn't just play for the Red Wings, though he did play for them on three different occasions. Sawchuk was, at various times, a Boston Bruin, a New York Ranger, a Toronto Maple Leaf, and a Los Angeles King. But he played most of his 971 games with the Red Wings, by far.

His no. 1 jersey is hanging alongside 7, 9, 10, 12, and 19 near the girders at JLA, and that's very nice. But now that we're erecting statues of the forwards, may as well include one for the goalie, too.

I think it's appropriate that fans get hit between the eyes with a larger-than-life, 3-D display of Sawchuk making a save as they enter the Joe -- and the new arena, whenever that may be. And make it of him maskless, as he spent most of his career.

We've had some fine netminders in Detroit: Glenn Hall; Roger Crozier; Roy Edwards; Dominik Hasek; Chris Osgood. But none, with the exception of maybe Hasek in his prime, can touch Sawchuk. And they'd all agree.

So sorry, Mr. Amrany -- but I don't think your work is done. Let me work on the Ilitches for you. Meanwhile, keep your chisel handy. And don't forget Steve Yzerman, who's going to be due for a statue, too -- but I think that one can wait till the Red Wings christen their new arena.

Sawchuck, who died tragically at age 40 in 1970 after some horseplay with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart led to internal bleeding and infection, won't be able to see it, but his family can. It's great that the Red Wings honor the living legends among us, but let them not forget about the goalie who died young who backstopped them to glory. Just because he's not around doesn't mean he should be left out of the statue party.

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