TBT: Ted Lindsay’s lost debut

The history of the Indianapolis Capitals includes some of hockey’s greatest names – Herb Lewis, Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Glenn Hall, Harry Lumley, Terry Sawchuk, Marcel Pronovost and a handful more – all passed through the Circle City in their Hall of Fame careers.

"Terrible Ted" Lindsay began his career as an Indianapolis Capital, but his presence caused the Capitals to forfeit after he was called up to Detroit.

“Terrible Ted” Lindsay began his career as an Indianapolis Capital, but his presence caused the Capitals to forfeit after he was called up to Detroit.

Many of the key parts of the Red Wings’ dynasty of the 1950s – when they, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens traded winning Stanley Cups for a decade – matriculated through Indianapolis, and a number of other prospects came through Indy before being a key part of other teams in the Original Six era.

One of the most decorated players of the Red Wings’ dynasty was an Indianapolis Capital for the shortest of times – one game, a road game in Hershey, Pa. And his presence caused a rarity – a hockey forfeit.

“Terrible Ted” Lindsay was the captain of the Red Wings and one-third of the best line in hockey in its era – the Production Line with Gordie Howe and Sid Abel. He turned professional in 1944 after scoring a goal-a-game in junior and winning the Memorial Cup. He played 17 NHL seasons, with 851 points in 1,068 NHL games, won four Stanley Cups, and was the NHL’s leading scorer in 1950. His number hangs in the rafters at Joe Louis Arena and he has a statue in front of the Red Wings’ building. And he’s also one of the most important figures in hockey history, for his role in trying to organize a player’s union, which would come to fruition a decade later.

His professional career included 1,069 games – 1,068 in the NHL, and one in the American Hockey League.

It was Oct. 25, 1944 and the Capitals went on a two-game swing through Pennsylvania. They were 1-1-1 – having beaten Buffalo in the opener, then losing to Cleveland and tying the AHL’s new entry in St. Louis. World War II was still in full swing, and that caused a shortage of players on pro hockey rosters everywhere. In fact, Lindsay had turned 19 just a few months earlier.

If one looks at the records for that game, the Capitals lost 3-0 to the Hershey Bears on that October night in Pennsylvania.

But the Capitals scored seven goals – Judd McAtee had four of them, and Tony Bukovich assisted on three. Nick Damore didn’t have a great night in the Hershey net, but it didn’t matter.

None of it counted, all because of the appearance of a 19-year-old making his pro hockey debut.

Officially, there’s nothing in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s records showing Lindsay played. HockeyDB’s page for Lindsay shows he had no stats, not someone who had an an assist and four penalty minutes.

Ted Lindsay signed with the Red Wings on Oct. 18, 1944, and had a contract guaranteeing he would play in the NHL. He had impressed Wings scouts during the previous spring’s Memorial Cup tournament, where he had nine points in seven games. But, to give him some seasoning, he headed to Indianapolis, as the American Hockey League season started before the NHL’s.

So, on that night in Hershey, Lindsay started on left wing next to Dick Kowcinak and Bill Thomson, a couple of AHL veterans. Lindsay assisted on Thomson’s goal 2:36 into the second period, tying the game at 2-2. McAtee would score twice in 1:12 and Lindsay’s linemate Kowcinak would add a goal to give Indy a 5-3 lead after two. McAtee would score his fourth goal and Steve Wochy would add an exclamation point in the third.

Lindsay also showed up in the scoresheet in another way he’d become familiar for, garnering the first four penalty minutes of the 1,812 he would garner as a pro.

Five nights later, the NHL campaign started, and the Red Wings opened with a 7-1 win over the Boston Bruins at the Olympia. Lindsay was in the lineup, and would play 45 games in Detroit that season. He was the youngest player on the team that night, but would be joined by someone even younger (and more experienced) in goaltender Harry Lumley, who allowed three goals that night in Hershey for the Caps as he was beginning his second pro season a few days before his 18th birthday. Lumley would be called up to Detroit mid-season, as well, and post a 24-10-3 record in the NHL net. They’d help lead the Wings to a 31-14-5 record and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, where they eventually lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.

But that’s the problem – he was in the Red Wings’ lineup five nights later.

At the time, the AHL had a rule stating that players assigned from NHL teams had to be in the league for two weeks. It was a rule designed to prevent teams from sending down ringers to play a game or two during holes in the NHL schedule. The rule would seem preposterous today, but it was a different world in the 1940s. First of all, the war created a player shortage, and the AHL was down to seven teams, so excessive player movement would cause a substantial burden. Second of all, there was fear that teams, especially those directly affiliated with NHL teams – would gain advantage by sending players down to get as many games in as possible and “stack” the minor pro team. At the time, the AHL had seven teams, and the Capitals were the only team in the 1944-45 season with a direct NHL affiliation. Many of the other Original Six teams would pick up affiliations again after World War II, but the Red Wings and Caps were the lone teams to keep it up throughout the war. Minor pro leagues often ran themselves like major leagues at the time.

So, because Lindsay was not in Indianapolis for two weeks, but for just one game, AHL president Maurice Podoloff ruled him a ringer, his send-down by and subsequent callup to the Red Wings was illegal, and ordered the Capitals forfeit the game. Indianapolis’ records were vacated from it, and the 7-3 Capitals victory it went into the books as a 3-0 Hershey win.

Podoloff – who presided over the AHL when it expanded west to incorporate the Capitals in 1939 – would go on to become the first president of the Basketball Association of America, a circuit created to add more teams to the hockey arenas that filled the AHL, and was a direct forerunner of the NBA, and is one of a few people in Halls of Fame in both hockey (the American Hockey League HOF) and basketball (National Basketball Hall of Fame).

Terrible Ted Lindsay would go on to a long and outstanding Hall of Fame career, one that began with a little bit of forgotten controversy.

Sources for info: Indianapolis Star, News & Times stories from the era, as well as HockeyDB.com and the Hockey Hall of Fame.