Remembering the Detroit Red Wings’ tough left winger Nick Libett

Nick Libett fighting Keith Magnuson.

Nick Libett fighting Keith Magnuson.

Considered one of the best two way left wingers in Detroit Red Wings’ history, Nick Libett is remembered for his exceptional checking ability, and toughness during his twelve seasons in Detroit where he scored twenty or more goals six times.

The durable Stratford, Ontario native missed only two contests in his first six NHL seasons and once played a remarkable 389 consecutive games.

Although his hometown was closer to Toronto, Libett grew up a Wings fan, and fondly recalls seeing his first NHL game as a 12-year old when he traveled to Olympia Stadium with his Pee-Wee hockey teammates.

“We were supposed to go into the Red Wing locker room after the game, but because the Wings were blown away by Boston, Jack Adams (GM) wouldn’t allow anybody in,” Libett told me a few years ago. “But it was such a thrill just to be there.”

Three years later, the Red Wings were so impressed with the 15-year old and two other Stratford standouts, (one being future Red Wing Hank Monteith) that the club sponsored the entire Stratford minor league system to ensure they would retain rights to the promising players.

Eleven years after his first visit to the Olympia, and just days before the blockbuster trade that sent Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson, and Floyd Smith to Toronto for Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger, and the rights to Carl Brewer, Libett returned for another Red Wings-Bruins battle, but this time as a Detroit left winger.

What I remember most about that first game is giving it right back to Derek Sanderson like when we were in Juniors,” said Libett. “He never intimidated me.”

Early in his career, Libett let it be known that if challenged, he was more than ready to drop the gloves.

During the 1971-72 season, a campaign in which he scored a career high 31 goals, hockey fans across the country saw the 26-year old engage in a toe to toe brawl that in the words of Libett, “created a lot of room for me for a lot of years.”

In a national television broadcast on Gordie Howe Day, March 12, 1971, with Vice-President Spiro Agnew in attendance, Libett pummeled Black Hawk bad boy Keith Magnuson in front of 14, 291 cheering fans at Olympia Stadium.

“We were coming out of Chicago’s end and we were sticking each other in the shin pads and it was one of those, ‘hey do you wanna go?’”, Libett told me. “He swung and missed a lot and I swung and hit a lot. When the refs saw that I got him good three or four times they finally intervened.”

The day after the Magnuson fight, Red Wing coach Johnny Wilson raved about his pesky left winger to hockey writer Jack Berry.

“Nick is the best two-way left winger I’ve seen in hockey,” Wilson said. “I look at Bobby Hull and Dennis Hull and see them loaf coming back on defense. Nick always comes back. He kills penalties and there isn’t a better forechecking left wing.”

Although Libett enjoyed playing in Detroit, he summed up the experience in one word, “frustrating”.

“I thought we had a good combination of youth and experience and then Ned Harkness decimated the team,” said Libett who served as the Red Wings captain in ’73-’74 and ’78-’79.

“It made it very difficult for us to compete in the 70s because we were in a tough division, didn’t have enough talent, and we had all that turmoil,” said Libett whose Wings only made the playoffs twice in his 12 Detroit seasons before he was traded for Pittsburgh’s Peter Mahovlich.

After two seasons with the Penguins, Libett retired and remained in the Detroit area where he worked as a manufacturer’s representative for two different Tier 1 auto suppliers, AKZO Coatings, and Magna International before.

After successfully beating a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the late 1980’s, the cancer survivor counts his blessings every day. “The experience was very mind boggling, but it has certainly given me a better perspective on life,” he said.

For years Libett played on the Red Wing Alumni team and once served as its President and Treasurer.

Libett, who is now enjoying his retirement from business, still enjoys watching the Wings play.

6 replies on “Remembering the Detroit Red Wings’ tough left winger Nick Libett

  • Thomas mcgarity

    I am nicks cousin who grew up in Nj, I remember going to Ny to see him play when they played the rangers. I went to slippery rock college in Pa, he held tickets for me in in 79 I think. I went to the old civic arena to see him play with the pens, I relise now how lucky I was to see him play.

  • Bob

    I remember watching a Wings-Montreal game on TV and the Canadiens’ tough guy John Ferguson and Nick dropped their gloves. Nick pummeled Ferguson, and Ferguson, in the words of announcer Dan Kelly, ‘left the ice for repairs.’

  • Ulysses Berry

    I am a great fan of Nick Libbett he along with Bruce Martin made a young black kid from Detroit really like hockey. Thanks Nick, Dennis Hextall, Mickey Redmond, Bugsy Watson and all the rest if they 70’s Red Wings

  • Johnny Tomczak

    Two tuff and truly respected players…..always appreciated the “all” they gave on the ice. Asking if there is a 8×10 of this picture available. This is not just a picture of battle…….it is a picture of heart. God bless them both. JOHNNY

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