The Red Wings’ Defensive Great Marcel Pronovost

A few years back I had the pleasure of interviewing hockey hall of famer and former Red Wing All Star defenseman Marcel Pronovost for a feature in the Detroit Free Press.

During my research, I couldn’t believe that Pronovost was not also inducted into (the now apparently defunct) Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

pronovost2Pronovost was one of the greatest defensive players in hockey history and an important cog in the Red Wings’ 1950’s Stanley Cup years. For some reason he seems to be overlooked.

The following is my Free Press article on Marcel:

After his daily 1 ½ hour workout at the Lifestyle gym in Windsor, Marcel Pronovost, 72 sits down for a coffee at the Tim Horton (a former teammate) Restaurant to chat about his life in hockey.

The night before, the New Jersey Devil Scout was watching prospects at Windsor Arena, the same building where he began his playing career 55 years ago with the Spitfires as a Red Wings farmhand.

“You don’t discover players today because they can’t hide,” Pronovost says, his French Canadian accent still intact. “Back when I played, the big clubs relied on arena managers and it was more by word of mouth”.

Growing up in Quebec as the third of 12 children that included nine brothers, four of whom would play in the NHL (Marcel, Andre, Claude, Jean), Pronovost was snatched out from under the nose of the Montreal Canadiens by Wing scout Marcel Cote.

Cote could never have dreamed that the kid from Shawinigan Falls would play 21 years in the NHL as one of hockey’s greatest defenseman.

Pronovost’s indoctrination into the NHL was in storybook fashion.

When Gordie Howe was seriously injured in Toronto during the 1950 Stanley Cup semifinals, the 19 year old defenseman was summoned from the Wing’s Omaha farm team where he had been named the U.S. Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year. After playing impressively in nine playoff games, the teenager’s name was engraved in the Stanley Cup when the Wings defeated the Rangers.

“It was all like a dream. There I was sipping champagne at the Book Cadillac Hotel victory party,” says Pronovost, who would win three more Cups with the Wings in the 1950’s and one with Toronto.

In the 1950’s, many considered Pronovost one of the best rushing defenseman of his day, a fearless player who delivered hits in his own end but who also took them when he quickly penetrated the opposition on an end to end rush.

“I guess you could say I was kind of a “Kamikaze”. When I rushed I went through thick or thin,” he says. “But my style was whatever fit. If it required hitting I did the hitting. If it was puck handling, I did it.”

The biggest change to happen in hockey Pronovost says is when glass replaced fencing in the arenas.

“Defensemen don’t have to be as adept at puck handling because they can shoot it off the glass,”he says. “Doug Harvey said to me, ‘Marcel, can you see these guys today playing with the screen? They’d throw it up and it would fall back at their feet. They’d have to carry that son of a bitch out wouldn’t they?’”

Although Pronovost was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, according to hockey historian Stan Fischler, “Pronovost can lay claim to the unofficial award for the most frequently injured man in hockey.”

Pronovost says his nose was broken 14 times followed by two sub mucous operations. Putting his coffee down, he presses his nose down with a finger to demonstrate the lack of structure.

“To me accidents are as common as lacing up a pair of skates,” he once said.

Like so many players of the Original Six Era, Pronovost played through injuries.

In the ’61 playoffs against Chicago, Pronovost removed a cast before each game and played with a cracked ankle.

“I took Novocain shots but after 20 minutes the pain would come back and they would inject me again. I remember Sid Abel (coach) nearly passed out” he says with a chuckle.

After 16 seasons with the Wings, Pronovost was traded in an eight player deal to Toronto that brought Andy Bathgate to Detroit. Pronovost joined former Wing mates Terry Sawchuk and Red Kelley as an integral part of the “Over the Hill Gang” that won the last Original Six Stanley Cup in 1967.

Following four full seasons with Toronto, Pronovost became the player coach of the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers. He later coached the Chicago Cougars of the WHA, the Buffalo Sabres, the Windsor Spitfires, and Hull in the Quebec Junior Hockey League.

After two years in the NHL’s Central Scouting System, Pronovost is now completing his 15th year as a scout for New Jersey watching over 150 games in Michigan and Ontario.

“For me it’s been great because I still love this game so much,” Pronovost says, while sporting a diamond studded 1995 New Jersey Stanley Cup championship ring. When his name was inscribed on the Cup for a seventh time in 2000 with another Devil’s championship, Pronovost became the only person to have their name placed on the trophy a half century apart.

Before leaving Tim Horton’s, Pronovost is asked whether he suffers physically from his playing days.

“Nope. Number one, I have good genes. Two, I don’t really worry about it. Three, I go to the gym everyday. And four, always remember, I did the hitting,” he says with a grin.