Detroit — Among those who gathered early Friday at Little Caesars Arena to pay their respects to Ted Lindsay, Michael Klug talked about the man more than the hockey player.
“My dad was of the generation of Ted Lindsay,” said Klug, of Wyandotte. “I learned about him later on, when I found out about the movie ‘Net Worth’ and what he did for the players union and things like that. I kind of became a fan of his.
“Then I was aware of the work he did in Detroit, that he was still around and that he was a great humanitarian.
“And so, I had the time, today,” said the schoolteacher. “And I’m here to pay my respects.”
After he arrived in Detroit from northern Ontario as 19-year-old in 1944, Ted Lindsay achieved fame with the Red Wings as one of the greatest hockey players of his generation.
But as those who mourned him Friday made clear, Lindsay also weaved himself inextricably into the community, establishing a reputation for kindness and work that transcends sport.
“I think Ted was probably the one who encouraged me the most to do the work in the community and charity work,” said Henrik Zetterberg, the retired Red Wings captain.
“All the stuff he has done here in Detroit, and for autism. He’s a true role model for everyone.”
That included his early efforts at organizing a union for the players in the National Hockey League, Zetterberg said.
“No one who plays now or in the past 20 years would have had the life and luxury we’ve had, it if weren’t for Ted,” he said.
Current and former Red Wings players shared their memories Friday of Lindsay's visits to their dressing room, where he'd pull up a stool and critique their performances.
General Manager Ken Holland and Coach Jeff Blashill said Lindsay never hesitated to offer managerial and coaching advice, even decades after he coached and managed the team in the 1970s.
“Lots of times,” Holland said, when asked how often Lindsay would walk into his office, sit down and talk about managing the team. “Ted had passion.”
But Holland also quickly mentioned Lindsay’s social responsibility and his leadership role in Michigan.
“Ted lived here,” Holland said. “He was part of the community, and he gave back.
“Today and tomorrow is the celebration of an incredible life, on the ice. But, I also think, just as importantly off the ice.
“What he meant to this game, to this sport, to this city, the respect that he gave and got, the passion that he had for the sport, the passion that he had for the people of this area,” he said. “He is a great role model for so many people who have been in this game, and for a long time.”
Like Lindsay, Kris Draper won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. Draper talked about his first, awestruck encounter with Lindsay in the Wings' dressing room.
He had planned to arrive first. But, Draper said, he found the retired, 68-year-old Lindsay lifting weights.
“The opportunities that we had, all of my teammates, to walk in and see Ted Lindsay in our dressing room, he just made us better. “He made us better people too.
“The amazing thing with Ted is, everything he did on the ice has obviously been applauded, and he’s been recognized for that,” Draper said. “But, everything he did off the ice is probably what Ted would tell you he’s been most proud of. And, that just speaks volumes for exactly what Ted Lindsay is all about.”
Lou Issel has worked in girls' and women’s hockey in Metro Detroit for 40 years, raising a daughter, Michele, who plays, helping establish teams and leagues, and writing about them.
“I had a lot of hours of bleacher time with Ted, enjoying watching senior women play the great game,” Issel said, after paying his respects to Lindsay and his family on the carpet-covered, curtain-shrouded ice in Little Caesars Arena.
“In the 1980s, at Eddie Edgar Ice Arena in Livonia, at 7 on Saturday mornings, he helped teach the women to skate and how to play hockey. And now, there are 43 teams in the Michigan Women’s Senior Hockey League that grew out of that.
“When there got to be five teams in 1993, they established the league,” Issel said.
“At the end of the year tournament, there’s Ted Lindsay, doing the honors at every championship game, dropping the puck, handing out prizes.”
Red Berenson, the former Red Wings player and coach at the University of Michigan, arrived in Detroit as the president of the NHL Players Association, the union that Lindsay had tried to establish in 1957, and which finally came to be a decade later.
“He was so respectful,” Berenson said. “And I eventually ran into him at more hockey banquets and charity events and things he didn’t have to go to. He would go to just about everyone he was asked to go to.
“It might have been a single team of women’s hockey, as they were trying to get women’s hockey going around Michigan. Ted Lindsay was the first guy to stand up and say that was the right thing to do. He was terrific.”
Since his death Monday in Oakland Township, Lindsay’s usual place at Lino’s Italian Restaurant in Rochester has remained set, in his honor.
“His own chair, with a sign that says, Mr. Lindsay’s table,” said Lino Borraccio, who arrived early to pay his respects Friday. “I loved him.
“I missed him last night. I sat there by myself,” Borraccio said. “It felt empty without him. Wonderful, wonderful memories. He was a great guy.”