Iron River native was once in line to rule NHL

Books

The late Don Ruck of Iron River nearly became president of the National Hockey League.

Hockey writing great Stan Fischler, author of “Detroit Red Wings: Greatest Moments and Players (Sports Publishing),” knew Ruck very well from their New York City days.

“We got very close,” Fischler told The Daily News. “Don Ruck was ahead of his time. At another time he would have become president.”

Born in Iron River in 1928, Ruck became the NHL’s director of public relations in the mid-1960s. He later became vice president, the first American to hold an executive position with the NHL.

When Clarence Campbell retired in 1977 after 31 years, Ruck was considered a strong candidate but John Ziegler got the job.

“Ruck was an American up against the Canadian bloc,” Fischler said of Ruck’s prime obstacle to becoming NHL president. “Don Ruck was an asset to the league. I was disappointed he didn’t move into the role of president.”

In a Sports Business Daily story listing “100 people who changed the NHL’s business,” Ruck was named 31st, cited as the first marketing executive for the league.

His obituary said “Don played a pivotal role in the expansion of the NHL beyond its original six teams, shepherding the emergence of hockey as a major American sport.”

“Don Ruck was very keen on marketing,” said Fischler, noting Ruck was farsighted with his ideas. “He was very progressive but a little bit too modern in his thinking back then. He was a very solid guy with a lot of good ideas.”

Don Ruck died in July, 2013, at his home on Smoky Lake.

As for Ruck’s book on the Red Wings, it’s a must-read for any hockey fan. Fischler offers his views on the great “who’s better” debate between Wings icon Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.

“No athlete in any sport has withstood the test of time as well as this Western Canadian, nor has any withstood physical punishment for so long and excelled at such a high level,” Fischler wrote of Howe. “In that sense, Howe clearly surpasses Wayne Gretzky.”