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Doug Ward | NHL.com correspondent
Dec 2, 2006, 12:00 PM EST


To gain a greater appreciation for the game Mickey Redmond will never forget, it helps to understand the dynamic of the player-coach relationship that existed in the "Original Six" era of the NHL.
In addition to having respect for Toe Blake, his Hall of Fame coach as a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens in 1967-68, Redmond says he had another sentiment.

“I was deathly afraid of him,” Redmond, now a television analyst for the Detroit Red Wings, says with a chuckle.

“Toe Blake, and all the coaches in those days, did not talk to players unless they were giving them hell," Redmond said. "Even if you got into an elevator together, Toe Blake and Punch Imlach in Toronto would just put their Fedoras down and wouldn’t talk. The only time you heard from them was when something was wrong, and when that happened, you heard from them in a big way.”

Given the management style of the league’s coaches at the time, Redmond’s sole ambition in his first couple NHL seasons was to stay out of the way and not the mess up the Canadiens’ perennial quest for the Stanley Cup.

A game in the spring of 1968, his second year in the league, is, above all others, the one Redmond says he’ll never forget.

“I did not play all that much that year, and we’re going up against the Boston Bruins in a Stanley Cup playoff game,” he says. “We were trailing, 2-0, late in that game.”

That’s when the ghosts at the old Forum in Montreal seemed to materialize. Suddenly, remarkably, the Habs got back in the game.

“We scored two quick goals on Gerry Cheevers,” Redmond recalls. “I believe they were scored by John Ferguson and Serge Savard. That tied the game up at 2-2 and sent it into overtime.”

Up until that point, Redmond had been one of the many awestruck spectators in the building.

“I hadn’t played at all, so when we went in the locker room after regulation and before overtime, I didn’t expect that I would get on the ice.”

Redmond would have been quite content had Claude Ruel, the first-year Montreal coach who had taken over for Blake, not even acknowledged his presence in the room.

“But,” he says, “as we were getting prepared to go into overtime, he said, ‘to start overtime, I want (Ralph) Backstrom at center, (John) Ferguson on left wing, and (Mickey) Redmond on the right side.’”

Redmond was stunned.

“Usually,” he explains, “it would have been Claude Provost on the right side. I thought, ‘Oh my god; I don’t want to be the guy to cough it up and cost us the game.’ I was a young kid, it was one of my first years in the league, and I was scared skinny.”

The ice was resurfaced and the puck was dropped with Redmond lined up at right wing. He was thrilled when his shift ended with absolutely nothing happening.

“In those days, our shifts were probably 1:15, maybe 1:30 in length,” he says. “We got through the first shift and we didn’t get scored on. I came off the ice thinking, ‘Thank god that’s over. It’ll be the last I see of the ice.’”

It was only later, while playing for the Red Wings, that Redmond realized it was no accident that Ruel had called the name of a kid who had not played in regulation to start overtime.

“I came to notice that the Montreal system had a penchant for doing things like that,” Redmond says. “When Scotty Bowman coached them years later, he would do the same thing. I can remember when we had Bobby Sheehan playing with us; they’d use him the same way. Bobby wouldn’t play for long stretches of time, then they would put him out on the ice and he’d go 100 miles per hour and at least draw a penalty.”

The uncanny ability to call the right name at the right time was one of the things that separated Blake and Bowman, and in this case Ruel, from so many other NHL coaches.

“I think it was like a sixth sense,” Redmond marvels. “I’ve seen Scotty do it a lot of times. He would just know. Something told him, ‘It’s that kid’s time; we need an injection of fresh legs, he hasn’t played all night, so he’ll be champing at the bit.’ You can call it a hunch if you want, but all I know is that more times than not, those hunches seem to work. Is it a coincidence? I don’t think so.”

Redmond didn’t know it at the time, but when Ruel called his name to start the overtime, it was as if he were being ordained for greatness.

“Two more lines went through,” Redmond says, “and as we were getting ready for the next line change, I heard, ‘Backstrom, Ferguson, Redmond.’ I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go again. I was deathly afraid that I was going turn the puck over, and be the goat of the game.”

Redmond was too young to know that, in the old Montreal Forum, destiny had a way of dictating the outcome of many games, and, on this night, he would be destiny’s child.

“I was standing at the top of the circle to the right of the goaltender,” Redmond says. “I was way out, about 40 feet from the net. Serge Savard took a shot that ricocheted off the handle of my stick and proceed to go right in the top corner of the net.”

Montreal won the game in overtime, 3-2.

“As was customary in Montreal,” Redmond says, “the player that scored the game winner was typically the No. 1 star of the game. So, after playing approximately two minutes of a hockey game that lasted about 65 minutes, I got the first star of the game because I scored the winning goal in overtime.”

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