Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Sid Abel
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One on One with Sid Abel

22 MAY 2012
Sid Abel contributed to three Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings.
Sid Abel contributed to three Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings. (Bill Galloway/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The centre on one of hockey's greatest trios — the Detroit Red Wings' Production Line — Sid Abel led the team during one of its most prolific eras.

Born Sidney Gerald Abel in Melville, Saskatchewan on February 22, 1918, Sid learned to play hockey on the outdoor rinks that dotted his hometown. By the time he was in his teens, Abel showed great promise and in 1936-37, joined the Saskatoon Wesleys in their pursuit of the Memorial Cup for the junior championship of Canada. Sid scored 11 goals and 17 points in the team's unsuccessful pursuit.

The postmaster in Melville also served as a scout for the Detroit Red Wings, and Sid was invited to the team's training camp in the fall of 1937. When general manager and coach Jack Adams suggested that Abel play a season in the Michigan or Ontario areas so they could keep an eye on him, Sid declined and returned to western Canada, joining the FlinFlon Bombers of the North Saskatchewan Senior Hockey League.

1949 First All-Star team - Coach Tommy Ivan, Maurice Richard, Sid Abel, Jack Stewart, Bill Durnan, Bill Quackenbush, Roy Conacher, NHL President Clarence Campbell.
1949 First All-Star team - Coach Tommy Ivan, Maurice Richard, Sid Abel, Jack Stewart, Bill Durnan, Bill Quackenbush, Roy Conacher, NHL President Clarence Campbell.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
On October 21, 1938, the Detroit Red Wings signed Sid as a free agent and assigned him to their International-American Hockey League affiliate in Pittsburgh. Playing professionally for the Hornets, Sid scored 22 goals and 46 points in 41 games, earning himself a stint with the parent Wings that same season. In 1939-40, he began the season with the Red Wings, but after breaking his shoulder, he was sent to the Indianapolis Capitals, who had taken over as Detroit's farm team in the IAHL.

By 1940-41, Abel had earned a fulltime role playing left wing with the Red Wings. The next season, Sid was selected for the NHL's Second All-Star Team.

Twenty-four-year-old Sid Abel was named captain of the Red Wings in 1942-43, replacing Ebbie Goodfellow and Syd Howe. That season, the Wings went on to finish in first-place through the regular season, and then won the Stanley Cup.

After serving in the Second World War, Abel returned to the Red Wings late in the 1945-46 season.

Detroit's Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay were dubbed the Production Line during the 1948-49 season.
Detroit's Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay were dubbed the Production Line during the 1948-49 season.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Tommy Ivan replaced Jack Adams as coach of the Red Wings in 1947, and Ivan tinkered with the line-up. He moved Abel to centre and placed his two best forwards on either wing. The trio of Sid Abel, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay proved to not only be effective, but over time, can be regarded as one of the greatest lines in NHL history. Tagged the 'Production Line,' reflecting not only their productivity but a nod to their hometown's auto manufacturing, the trio employed the best skills of the three Hall of Famers. Howe was big, tough and an excellent scorer. Lindsay was fast, tough and could also score. Abel complemented his wingers perfectly as a terrific playmaker.

The three often stayed after practice to work on plays. They perfected an innovative play not seen before but utilized extensively today. To take advantage of the speed of the wingers and to minimize the problems of having a slow centre, either Lindsay or Howe would shoot the puck into the opponent's end after crossing the centre red line. They angled their shoot-in so that the puck would bounce off the end boards and bounce out to the front of the goal where the other winger would get to it. That winger would either make a quick pass to Abel in the slot or shoot quickly himself. It was an outstanding and innovative play for that era because goalies seldom left their crease, and were not prepared to block either the shoot-in or block the pass in front.

The Production Line worked so well together that in 1947-48, the three finished one, two, three in team scoring.

In 1948-49, Sid enjoyed an excellent season, finishing third in scoring and leading the NHL with 28 goals, was selected as a First Team All-Star at centre (the first player to attain All-Star status at two different positions), and he was the recipient of the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League's most valuable player. Sport Magazine named Abel its 'Hockey Man of the Year.' The Red Wings finished first that season.

Partway through the 1957-58 season, Sid Abel took
over the Red Wings coaching position when Jimmy Skinner was forced to resign due to an illness.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The next season was even more dominant for Detroit. Howe, Abel and Lindsay finished first, second and third in NHL scoring, and the Wings again finished first. Sid enjoyed the best season of his career, scoring 34 goals and adding 35 assists for 69 points. Again, Sid was the NHL's First All-Star Team centre. That spring, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and the team captain, Sid Abel, accepted the trophy from NHL president Clarence Campbell.

The Red Wings again finished first in 1950-51, and after finishing fourth in scoring, Sid was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team. The next season, the Wings again finished first, but this time, they were able to capture the Stanley Cup once again. Sid finished seventh in league scoring.

Sid left Detroit in July 1952 to become playing-coach of the Chicago Black Hawks, and in 1952-53, led the team to its first playoff berth in nine seasons. In 1953-54, finding playing and coaching onerous, he limited his playing to but three games. It was his final season as a player.

Through fourteen NHL seasons, Sid Abel scored 189 goals and 283 assists for 472 points in 612 regular season games. He also scored 28 goals and added 30 assists for 58 points in 97 playoff contests.

Following his playing career, Abel returned to Detroit as a broadcaster, but when Jimmy Skinner resigned during the 1957-58 season, Sid was hired as the Red Wings' coach, a position in which he remained until 1968. By that time, he was also serving as the team's general manager. Abel later was hired as general manager of the St. Louis Blues and went on to serve as head coach of the Kansas City Scouts.

Sid Abel passed away on February 8, 2000. He is immortalized with his number 12 hanging from the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.