Red Wings nemesis Rick Vaive takes swipe at ‘Detroit, Murder City’ in autobiography

Detroit News

Mark Falkner
| The Detroit News

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive had a feeling he might stir up a hornet’s nest when he referred to Detroit as “Murder City” in his recent autobiography, “Catch 22: My Battles in Hockey and Life.”

Vaive was describing an incident in 1986 involving Detroit Red Wings team physician John “Hockeytown Doc” Finley, who died in 2017 after 46 years of attending to hockey stars from Ted Lindsay to Gordie Howe to Steve Yzerman.

Finley was the surgeon on call at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 26 when Vaive’s teammate Borje Salming suffered a facial injury that required more than 250 stitches during three hours of surgery from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Detroit Osteopathic Hospital

Salming was cut over the right eye and along the side of his nose by the skate blade of Red Wings forward Gerard Gallant during a goalmouth scramble while Salming’s defensive partner Chris Kostopolous battled with Detroit winger Bob Probert.

“It’s probably a good thing it happened in Detroit, Murder City because that plastic surgeon had probably sewn up more than a few knife wounds in his day,” Vaive said in the book written by Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Morrison of the Toronto Sun and Hockey Night in Canada. “He did a helluva job. That scar is barely visible.”

Vaive said he didn’t know that in 1986, Detroit had 648 murders, leading the nation’s largest cities. In 2020, however, Chicago now doubles the murder rate in Detroit — more than 700 to 321.

Vaive also said his comment may not be amusing to everyone.

“Around the old Olympia (the home of the Red Wings from 1927-1979 at the corner of McGraw and Grand River in the city’s west end), it wasn’t a very good area like Chicago and Chicago Stadium,” Vaive said on The Detroit News’ OctoPulse podcast.

“Even down by Joe Louis (Arena), there were some areas that for lack of a better word were a little sketchy. Walking from the hotel to Joe Louis, you were always looking over your back. It is what it is.”

In Salming’s book, “Blood, Sweat and Hockey: 17 Years in the NHL,” the Hockey Hall of Famer from Sweden said he was “lucky to fall under the care of Dr. John Finley.”

“The first thing he did when I reached the hospital was to calm me down. ‘This isn’t serious,’ he said. ‘You’ll be all right.’ Then he went to work.

“After what seemed like an eternity, I asked, ‘Almost done?’ ‘Young man,’ said the doctor, ‘We’ve just left second base.'”

Salming, the first Swede inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996, was back in the lineup two weeks later. After 16 seasons with the Maple Leafs, he signed with the Red Wings as a free agent in 1990 and had 19 points and was plus-20 in 49 games.

Here are other comments on Red Wings topics from Vaive, who scored 41 of his 441 career goals against Detroit, including his first NHL goal with the Vancouver Canucks against Rogie Vachon in 1979, his 50th goal against Gilles Gilbert in 1983, and four goals in one game against Corrado Micalef also in 1983.

►On playing Game 7 of the 1987 playoffs with a broken hand against the Red Wings and losing 3-0 at Joe Louis Arena: “I had broken my hand in Game 6 and had it had frozen in several places. Our regular doctor, though, didn’t come to Detroit. The younger doctor who was taking his place wouldn’t freeze it so we had to get the Red Wings doctor to do it. He just froze it in one spot and it only lasted about half a period. I didn’t play the rest of the game because I couldn’t hold the stick with my right hand.”

►On dressing Miroslav Ihnacak for the first time in Game 7 in 1987: “To throw him into the seventh game when you need to win was a ridiculous option. There were other guys who had played in the series. That was just another blunder which probably came from general manager Gerry McNamara. He was the one who brought him over from Czechoslovakia and he probably figured if Ihnacak goes out and does something good, I’m going to look really good, instead of thinking what was better for the team.”

►On Red Wings enforcer Bob Probert: “I wasn’t going to fight him. I was smart enough not to drop my gloves with him. He was a big intimidating factor and imposing figure. I just watched the documentary they made on him this week. I didn’t realize how many times he had been arrested before the border incident with the cocaine. Just watching that and what I went through in my life with my undiagnosed anxiety disorder, it was kind of eerie. I didn’t realize his problems ran so deep with alcohol and drugs.”

►On Salming’s medical attention at the Toronto bench after Salming suffered a 250-stitch cut to the face in 1986: “Our medical guy, Guy Kinnear, was a great person but he was (owner) Harold Ballard’s boat mechanic where he kept his boat in Midland (Ontario). I’m sure he took some courses on certain things but he also fainted when he saw lots of blood. So when Borje came to the door of the bench and there was blood everywhere, he fainted. Our equipment guy had to take him down the hallway.”

►On the comparison between owners Harold Ballard and Mike Ilitch: “It was a circus every day with Harold. He would do anything to get on the front of the sports page. He was more worried about how much money he could keep for himself rather than give to the players or a good general manager or a good coach. I remember hearing the story of (Red Wings forward) John Ogrodnick getting a $50,000 bonus left in his locker-room stall after scoring his 50th goal during a road trip out west.”

►On the Leafs beating the Red Wings on New Year’s Eve in 1981 with five 19-year-old defensemen (Jim Benning, Bob McGill, Craig Muni, Fred Boimistruck, Darwin McCutcheon): “It was frustrating for me to watch because those young guys were not ready and they could’ve had longer careers. It killed me to see that because  someone else was making that decision. If they had gone back to junior or the American League, I do believe by the mid-80s we would’ve been that much better.”

►On teammate Steve Yzerman with Canada’s silver-medal winning team at the 1985 world championships in Prague: “He was pretty good right from the get-go. It took him a few years to develop into an unbelievable player but that was the norm at a young age. You go from living with billets to living on your own. He won those Stanley Cups and now, within a short period of time, look what he’s done as a successful GM in Tampa Bay. I’m pretty sure he’ll have that Detroit organization back the way it was.”

Twitter: @falkner

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