Sunday

Don Grosso


Skinny Don Grosso was nicknamed "The Count" because of his uncanny resemblance to Dracula.

The versatile left-winger's is best remembered skating alongside Sid Abel and Eddie Wares on Detroit's "Liniment Line." "It was called that because one of us was always hurt," Grosso explained. "That's because we got so much ice time on our regular shift, killing penalties and on the power play."

Grosso's best regular-season performance came in 1941-42, when he registered 23-30-53 totals to finish third in NHL scoring and establish a new Detroit single-season record for points.

Known as a money player who could always be "counted" on in big games, Grosso saved some of his best hockey for the playoffs. During the 1942 post-season, Grosso tallied a Stanley Cup-record 14 points, eight of them coming in Detroit's seven-game loss to Toronto in the finals.

His hat-trick in Game 3 of the 1943 finals at Boston paved the way for Detroit's 4-0 series win. It was the only time Grosso would win the Stanley Cup.

The Ottawa Citizen suggested a wealthy Detroit fan may have had something to do with Grosso's improved production come spring:

Grosso, who got $75 for his goals the first game from Harry Jacobson, No. 1 Detroit fan, picked up another $15 from the same source in the second game-but not for his scoring. "I offered $5 for a body check-that is a good clean check which put the man on the ice-and Grosso bowled over three of them," Jacobson explained. "Syd Abel got $5 and here's the payoff, Jimmy Orlando, a defenceman who was considered a cinch to pick up the most money, didn't get any.

In 1944-45 Grosso was traded to Chicago in mid-season as part of a package which allowed Detroit to grab perennial all-star defenseman Earl Seibert. He would also briefly play with the Boston Bruins.

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Tuesday

Rick Zombo

Born in Desplains, Illinois, defenseman Rick Zombo is the answer to a unique trivia question. When the Detroit Red Wings selected him 149th overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Zombo became the first player in history to be drafted to the NHL directly from the United States Hockey League. Most USHL players are not drafted until they reach NCAA or jump to the junior leagues. But Zombo and the Red Wings broke that barrier.

It turned out to be an astute move the Wings, as they landed solid but unspectacular defenseman who would play in the National Hockey League for 13 seasons. In 652 regular season games he scored only 24 goals and 154 points. But he was better known as a dependable depth rearguard.

Rick "Squirrel" Zombo was a surprisingly good skater, better than man stay-at-home defenders. He was blessed with good agility and quickness as well as exceptional balance. But he lacked the ability to read offensive plays very well so he never took the jump to the next level of two way defenseman. He could make a strong defensive zone breakout pass, but rarely jumped into the rush or gambled on pinches from the point. Safe and steady was his game plan, and it helped him last in the NHL for a long time.

Not that his arrival in the NHL was immediate. He may have been drafted back in 1981, but he did not land as a regular NHLer until 1987. First he was off to the University of North Dakota, where he majored in Business Administration and helped the Fighting Sioux captured the national championship in 1982. He also made two USA world juniors squads before leaving UND to pursue a career in professional hockey.

Zombo would apprentice for 2 and a half seasons in the minor leagues before catching on full time with the Red Wings. He would play six full seasons in Detroit, with another 5 in St. Louis and 1 in Boston.

Unfortunately, if Rick Zombo is remembered by history it may be for this slashing incident with lineseman Kevin Collins:



There was no penalty on the play as Collins admitted he was at fault for colliding with Zombo and forcing the turnover that led to the game winning goal. Zombo clearly slashes Collins immediately, but later claimed he did not realize it was an official rather than an opposing player. NHL disciplinarian agreed that Zombo had mistakenly slashed Collins thinking he was another player, but handed down a 10 game suspension (and, . . . wait for it . . . a $500 fine) for intentionally bumping Collins after the play was over.

The Collins slashing incident is an unfortunate footnote to Zombo's otherwise quiet but solid career.

After retiring in 1997 Zombo returned to his roots and worked as a scout, then a coach and then a manager in the USHL. He also opened his own hockey schools in St. Louis and San Antonio. An accomplished artist, he created his own kids hockey-themed colouring book and even worked on the City Of Heroes comic book series.

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Wednesday

Jimmy McFadden

The first - and likely the only - Belfast, Northern Ireland born hockey player to win the Calder Memorial Trophy (1948) as the NHL rookie of the year, Jimmy McFadden enjoyed a solid six-plus seasons in the National Hockey League.

McFadden likely could have had a longer career had he got a chance to play earlier. He was 27 when he was a rookie with Detroit. He had spent much of his earlier days serving with the Canadian Army at training bases near Winnipeg. He continued to play hockey while doing so, as his Winnipeg Army team twice challenged for the Allan Cup. Then he was off to Ottawa where he starred with the Senators of the Quebec Senior Hockey League.

McFadden's promising rookie campaign (24 goals, 48 points in 60 games) was never fully duplicated, but he did prove to be a capable player through the rest his NHL days. He helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1950.

He was traded to Chicago in 1951, and helped the Blackhawks emerge as the surprise playoff team of 1953, almost upsetting the Montreal Canadiens. 

McFadden's last NHL season proved to be 1953-54. He headed west to Calgary where he continued playing pro until 1957. He later moved back to Manitoba (Carman), where he coached senior hockey and drove a school bus for many years.

Jimmy McFadden played 412 NHL games with 100 goals, 126 assists and 226 points.

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Tuesday

Harvey "Rocky" Rockburn

This is Harvey "Rocky" Rockburn. Chances are very likely you've never heard of him. He was born in 1904 and played 94 games in the NHL way back in the 1920s. He played with Detroit back when they were known as Cougars and then Falcons. Then he played for the Ottawa Senators - the original Ottawa Senators.

Rockburn was a hard hitting defenseman. He and Reg Noble formed a particularly vaunted defense duo with  Detroit.

Cooper Smeaton, coach of the Philadelphia Quakers at the time, was an admirer of the duo.

"These two guys have perfected the art of sandwiching attackers. Noble steers people into Rockburn and then Rockburn creams you. If you try to split them you can get hurt. And I mean hurt!"

Smeaton tried getting that message through to his players. Stan Crossett apparently was not listening.

Archie Campbell, the Quakers trainer, carries on the Crossett story.

"Noble got him first, then Rockburn sent him flying off his feet. It was no ordinary hoist either. The big fellow seemed to take off like an airplane. Then he made a perfect three-point landing on elbows and stomach and started to skid along the ice. The wind had probably been knocked out of him before he ever touched the ice," said Campbell.

"He was helpless. He slid on his stomach from mid-ice right over to the boards with his stick extended in front of him. When the stick hit the boards, it jabbed Crossett's chin and knocked him out cold."

That was not the end of the story for Crossett. Somehow Crossett took a penalty on the play when he was up in the air and about to crash hard on to the ice. Even though Crossett was out cold, he was assessed a 5 minute major on the play. His stick somehow managed to snag Rockburn, opening a nasty and bloody cut over Rocky's eye.

Campbell was then summoned to the penalty box with the unconscious Crossett. As he dangled countless smelling salts to wake up Crossett he tried to explain why he was in the penalty box!

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