Leonard “Red” Kelly had four careers. He spent roughly the first half of his 21 years in the NHL as a defenseman, and the latter half as a forward. Kelly also served in Canadian Parliament for two terms and later coached in the NHL for a decade.
So, it is hard to believe that it took 50 years since Kelly’s final shift — he was on the ice when the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup in 1967 — for a book to be written about him. While there was a short children’s story about Kelly in the 1970s, “The Red Kelly Story” gives the eight-time All-Star the all-star treatment that he deserves.
Now 89 years old, Kelly has done more in one lifetime than most people could do in four. Eight Stanley Cup Championships. Named to the First All-Star Team five times and the Second All-Star team three times. The first-ever winner of the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. Three-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Heck, he was the first defenseman to score 100 goals in his career and he even played half of a season on a broken ankle. Plus, he served in Parliament and helped push the redesign of the Canadian flag that we all know today.
“The Red Kelly Story”, written by Kelly and co-authors L. Waxy Gregoire and David M. Dupuis, narrates Kelly’s entire life story, spanning from his childhood to well-beyond his time in the NHL. The book is written in third-person, with Gregoire and Dupuis doing an impressive job of detailing Kelly’s life, while quotes from Red add color.
The majority of the book focuses on Kelly’s playing career, including his time with St. Michael’s College; a team he made completely by chance. Imagine that: an NHL all-time great almost didn’t make it in junior hockey. Kelly recounts what it was like to play hockey during the Original Six Era, and gives us a front row seat to being a part of two hockey dynasties: first with Detroit and later with Toronto.
Kelly did the balancing act of playing for the Maple Leafs while also serving two terms in Canadian Parliament. Interestingly, it was future NHLPA President Alan Eagleson that Kelly beat out for the seat in Parliament. This would not be the last run-in between the two.
A good portion of the book delves into Kelly’s NHL coaching career, his courtship and marriage to figure skating champion Andra McLaughlin and even some low points that he had to overcome.
Excerpt that epitomizes “The Red Kelly Story”: By December 17 , Red was still humming along with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points, still fifth among NHL point leaders. In an article by the Associated Press the same day, Boston Coach Lynn Patrick was asked which player he’d take for his team if he could, Gordie Howe or Rocket Richard.
“Neither!” Patrick answered. “I’ll take Red Kelly! Kelly is the best-all around performer in our league. Sure Howe and Richard are good, but Red is not only great on defense, he can score too! In my opinion, he’s the big reason Detroit has won five straight [regular season] championships. When Kelly rushes up the ice, it’s something to see. He sparks Howe, Ted Lindsay and the others. When we play the Wings we go out to stop him. We feel there’s a better chance of winning that way.”
“Lynn Patrick’s or anybody else’s quotes didn’t affect me at all,” Red recalled. “I was just happy to be playing in the NHL, and each game was a battle to the finish line. You could never quit till the final play. Your ego doesn’t play for you on the ice. You have to give it everything you had, to play in the NHL, and you had to give everything you had to stay there.”
What I like about “The Red Kelly Story”: Kelly did a lot during his lifetime, and this book doesn’t leave anything out.
What I do not like about “The Red Kelly Story”: At almost 400 pages, the book feels a bit long at times. Also, it is written in the third person, with Kelly’s quotes interjected liberally throughout. That style doesn’t appeal to me — perhaps I’m just so used to first-person autobiographies — but that doesn’t necessarily hinder the book.
“The Red Kelly Story” will hopefully introduce a new generation of fans to this amazing player. Those who watched and cheered for — or even against — Kelly will enjoy this book, as it gives us a great look at the NHL during the Original Six and Expansion Eras.