Remembering Detroit Red Wings Star Bill Gadsby

Former Red Wing and Hall of Fame defenseman Bill Gadsby will always be remembered for his hard hitting play and remarkable ability to block shots in front of the net, a rare skill deeply appreciated by his lucky goaltenders.

Bill Gadsby Red WingsHis face reveals some of the battle scars from over 600 stitches received during twenty seasons of Original Six hockey wars.

But until his recent autobiography “The Grateful Gadsby” was published a few years ago, only his closest friends knew the Calgary native survived much more than 90 mile an hour pucks and “B.C. two handers.” His close friends Gordie and Colleen Howe urged him to write his life story.

“I’ve always be an upfront person and I really don’t have a problem going over the challenges in my life because I got over them,” he said. “I’ve also had a lot more pluses than minuses, so that helps.”

Besides recalling his All Star hockey career with the Blackhawks, Rangers, and Red Wings, Gadsby’s book reveals the many challenges that came his way.

At age 12 with his mother, he survived the sinking of the ship Athenia that had been torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat in the first hours of WWII. In 1952 he nearly became permanently disabled from polio, but miraculously, six months later was selected to the NHL All Star team. Gadsby also candidly addresses his successful battle with alcoholism, a business failure, and his unexpected and bizarre firing as head coach by then Red Wing owner Bruce Norris.

Yet there is one incident that still haunts Gadsby and causes him to pause and count his blessings.

“I was about 14 and standing on a sidewalk in Calgary. A huge piece of concrete broke away from a building four stories up, grazed my shirt, and landed inches from my feet,” he said. “I would have been killed. Whenever I visit Calgary I go down to that building. The hole is still in that damn sidewalk.”

With a large blowup of a Sports Illustrated cover of number 4 laying the lumber on Stan Mikita as a backdrop, Gadsby is eager to talk about hockey and the secret to his NHL longevity.

“I think I lasted so long because of my love for the game. I even enjoyed the practices,” he said before recalling that in his rookie season at age 18, he presented Boston’s Dit Clapper a special gift from the Blackhawks.

“That year Clapper became the first player to play 20 years. I was selected to present a fishing outfit to him at center ice because I wasn’t even born when he started in the NHL. He told me, ‘I hope you play as long as I have.’

Sure enough, Clapper’s wish to the teenager came true. In the ’65-’66 season, Gadsby and Gordie Howe became the next players to reach the 20 year milestone.

After the Wings lost to Montreal in the 1966 Stanley Cup Finals, Gadsby retired without every winning a Cup. Two years later he coached an improved Wings club that featured the second “Production Line” of Howe, Frank Mahovolich, and Alex Delvecchio. The following season, after the Wings won their first two games, owner Bruce Norris, to the shock of the players and Wing fans dismissed the popular head coach.

“Just talking about that again gets me a little heated up,” he said. “We had a really good hockey club and it makes you wonder what might have been. The night before Norris had his arm around me and he said, ‘Bill, you really got the boys playing.’ I didn’t think one human being could do that to another guy especially when things were going so well,” he said, the hurt still evident in his eyes.

Gadsby soon pursued a sales career, played 22 years for charity with the Red Wing Oldtimers, and ran his own hockey school throughout metro Detroit. He was recently honored for his lifelong charity work.

Gadsby still resides in Southfield with his wife Edna.


“The Grateful Gadsby” by Bill Gadsby as told to Kevin Allen and published by Immortal Investment Publishing, 1-800-475-2066.