Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly dies at age 91
TORONTO (AP) — Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly packed several careers into his lifetime — sometimes at the same time.
But hockey was always at the heart of the things for the smooth-skating Kelly.
Kelly won eight Stanley Cups during a stellar 20-season playing career, moonlighting as a member of Parliament as he won NHL championships with Toronto in the mid-1960s after starring in Detroit. He then took up coaching, making headlines in 1976 for “Pyramid Power” with the Maple Leafs.
Kelly, who died Thursday in Toronto at age 91, spent time as both an elite defenseman and a center.
“Red was a devoted husband and caring father and grandfather and was tremendously proud of his many hockey accomplishments,” Kelly’s family said in a statement. “He was very moved by decades of love and support from Red Wings fans and was humbled to have his jersey retired earlier this year. We are comforted in knowing that he impacted so many people both at and away from the rink and know that his life will be celebrated.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Kelly’s career was “so storied and distinguished that it may never be duplicated.”
“Red was the ultimate hockey renaissance man who seemingly could do it all,” Bettman added.
The flying redhead spent nearly 13 seasons with the Red Wings as a defenseman before he was traded to the Maple Leafs and became a forward.
Born Leonard Patrick Kelly on July 9, 1927, he grew up on the family farm in Simcoe, Ontario. He left home at 16 for St. Michael’s College, a Toronto hockey hotbed that his father had attended. Kelly was cut by three teams at St. Mike’s but got a second chance after impressing one of the teachers in a game. He made the midget team as a third-liner.
Kelly made his Red Wings debut at age 20. He soon earned a reputation for his ability to handle the puck, particularly with his skates when his stick wasn’t available, and accurate passing.
“He was the forerunner of the rushing defenseman,” fellow Red Wing Ted Lindsay said in the “Legends of Hockey” biography of Kelly.
Kelly and the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. Kelly won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1951, 1953 and 1954 as the league’s most gentlemanly player. In 1954, he was the first winner of the James Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.
After being traded to the New York Rangers in February 1960, Kelly retired rather than accept the move. The Maple Leafs talked him into joining them days later.
Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach asked Kelly to became a center, and Kelly accepted the challenge and flourished. The Maple Leafs lifted the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967. He has the lost Stanley Cup titles among players who didn’t play for the Montreal Canadiens.
From 1962 to ’65, he doubled as an MP — commuting to Ottawa.
Kelly, who won a fourth Lady Byng in 1961, retired a winner after his Maple Leafs beat Montreal to claim the 1967 Stanley Cup. He finished with 281 goals and 542 assists in 1,316 regular-season games, to go along with 33 goals and 59 assists in 164 playoff games.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969, with the mandatory waiting period waived.
Kelly went into coaching after his retirement, first with the expansion Los Angeles Kings in 1967 and then in 1969 with Pittsburgh. After being fired by the Penguins midway through the 1972-73 season, he got a job offer from Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard.
Kelly spent three years behind the Toronto bench, leading the team to the second round of the playoffs three straight times. He made headlines in 1976 when he unveiled “Pyramid Power” during a second-round encounter with Philadelphia. Kelly put tiny pyramids under the bench after wife Andra had read of their supposed power — and a small pyramid under the pillow had helped their daughter beat a string of headaches.
After losing the first two games, the Leafs won Games 3, 4 and 6. Kelly went public with Pyramid Power prior to Game 6, and Darryl Sittler scored five goals and added an assist in an 8-5 win. The Flyers prevailed in Game 7, and Kelly’s coaching career was over.
“For those of us who were lucky enough to have known or encountered Red, we will all miss his sharp mind and keen intellect,” said Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. “He was a gentle man but a fierce competitor.”
On Feb. 1, 2019, the Red Wings retired their No. 4 in Kelly’s honor.
“I want to thank the fans who backed us and supported us in those years. Even if we lost, they still supported us,” Kelly told the fans at Little Caesars Arena before the Red Wings’ game against Toronto.