A gritty, hard-nosed defenseman who earned the nickname “Hack” for his heavy handed style of play, Lee Norwood was an integral part of the Jacques Demers’ era in the late eighties when the Red Wing coach’s team resuscitated the “Dead Wings” and helped lay the foundation for “Hockeytown” and subsequent Stanley Cup championships.
Born in California but raised in Trenton Michigan from the age of three, Lee Norwood knew early on what he wanted to do for a living.
“I remember my Mom first took me to see the Junior Red Wings at Olympia Stadium. I then became a huge Red Wings fan. Besides of course Gordie Howe, my favorite players were Ron Harris and Gary Bergman. By the age of eight I knew what I wanted to do.”
Norwood quickly advanced in Trenton’s minor hockey program and starred with Little Caesar’s where he captured two state and two national titles before playing Juniors in Canada with Hull and Oshawa. Selected 62nd overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Jacques Demers and the Quebec Nordiques, Norwood briefly had a taste of the NHL with Quebec and Washington but spent most of his first five pro seasons in the minors before Demers, then the Blues head coach, gave him an opportunity to prove himself.
Keeping his promise, Demers brought Norwood up to St. Louis for the ’85-86 campaign that saw the Blues just miss the Stanley Cup championship round by one victory.
When Demers was tabbed as the Red Wings head coach the following year, he convinced GM Jimmy Devellano to acquire Norwood to toughen up the blue line.
“Lee could really make the first pass out of the zone very well, he had a great shot, and had a real physical presence which was what we needed,” says Demers. “He didn’t back down from anybody and he was somebody I could trust.”
For Norwood, it was a dream come true.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to know that you were coming home to play for the team you grew up idolizing,” Norwood says. “A lot of guys don’t like the pressure of playing in front of their hometown but for me it was the greatest time of my life to step onto the ice in front of family and friends. I used it as a motivating tool.”
With Demers at the helm and a lineup that included Steve Yzerman, Gerard Gallant, Petr Klima, and Bob Probert, Demers led the Wings out of the dark ages as it captured within a four year period, two consecutive division titles and Semi-Finals appearances against the powerful Edmonton Oilers led by Wayne Gretzky.
To check the opponent’s top lines, Demers gave the assignment to Norwood (“Hack”) and his blue line buddy Gilbert Delorme (“Whack”) before using a tandem of Norwood and Rick Zombo. During one stretch, Norwood and Zombo played 17 consecutive games where they did not allow a goal in even strength situations.
“They took pride playing against the top lines, and if you didn’t keep your head up, you’d get hurt by those guys,” says Demers. “Lee was a real big part of our success and he did what he had to do to win.”
Although Norwood fondly remembers watching Yzerman mature as a player while assisting on number 19’s 50th goal of the ’87-88 season and his 400th career goal, Norwood takes special pride in the role his team had creating the winning atmosphere that set the stage for the franchise’s future success.
“We had developed into a close knit team with an old Oakland A’s attitude where it was ok to fight amongst ourselves but if anybody else stuck there nose into us we ganged up on them,” says Norwood.
After Demers was fired following the ’89-’90 season and replaced by Bryan Murray, Norwood was soon traded to New Jersey for Paul Ysebaert. Norwood later completed his NHL career with stops in Hartford, St. Louis again, and Calgary before winding his playing career down in the IHL, including a brief stint in 1995-’96 with the Detroit Vipers.
Norwood still works and lives in the Detroit area and enjoys playing for the Detroit Red Wing Alumni team in their charity games.