Most historic sports rivalries have a steady history. That is not the case for the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. The Wings and the Hawks have been in and out of the same division for nine decades, leading to an on-and-off rivalry. Despite its lack of consistency, it is considered to be one of the best rivalries in the NHL. Here are the highlights of the rivalry between the Hawks and the Wings.
How It Began
The tension between the two teams began decades before Detroit Sucks became a popular chant among Hawks fans. On Nov. 24, 1926, both teams made their NHL debut, and the Detroit Cougars defeated the Chicago Black Hawks 1-0. The Cougars were renamed the Red Wings in 1932 and entered their first Stanley Cup Final in 1934. The Hawks defeated them in four games, leading to their first Stanley Cup win. The hunger to win began to intensify and only grew with time.
The Original Six Era
When the Original Six era began in 1942, the rivalry intensified. Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, and Ted Lindsay, famously known as the “production line” made the Wings unstoppable. The three led the Wings to four Stanley Cups. Everything changed when the Wings traded Ted Lindsay to the Hawks in 1957. During his time in the NHL, Lindsay was infamous for his rough style of play and hatred towards other teams.
“My hatred was sincere,” said Lindsay to NHL.com. His hatred towards the Hawks did not affect his play during is three-year tenure, yet he was always a Wing at heart, “I still had Red Wings tattooed here, and here,” Lindsay said, tapping his heart, then his backside.
Lindsay retired before the Hawks’ 1961 Stanley Cup victory against the Wings. He witnessed the rise of prominent Hawks players of the 1960’s like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull.
The 60’s were an outstanding decade for the Hawks-Wings rivalry. The Hawks and Wings met in the playoffs four times from 1963 to 1966. The Wings won three out of the four series. The most infamous scrap of this period was between Bobby Hull of the Hawks and Bryan “Bugsy” Watson of the Wings. Hull was the one to beat in 1966, and Watson achieved this by consistently getting under his skin.
According to detroitathletic.com,”Watson was banished seven times for infractions against Hull while Hull was penalized five times for misdeeds against Watson.” The Wings defeated the Hawks in the series, and the scrap earned Watson’s famous nickname, Bugsy.
The rivalry disappeared in the 1970’s after the teams joined different divisions, but would soon make a fierce comeback.
Norris Division Foes
The Hawks-Wings rivalry resurfaced when both teams joined the Norris Division in the 1981-82 season. The Hawks swept the Wings in the 1985 Norris Division Semifinal, which reignited the rivalry.
“That was my first taste of the rivalry,” said Steve Yzerman in the NBCSN documentary NHL Rivals.
Many players clashed in this time period, the most famous being Stu Grimson of the Hawks and Bob Probert of the Wings. According to ESPN.com,
Bob Probert built his rep with the Red Wings, racking up 398 penalty minutes in 1987-88. He cemented his legacy in Chicago from 1995 to 2002, accomplishing the unthinkable: becoming a beloved enforcer in both cities. There wasn’t a player Probert fought more often than Stu Grimson, who also played for both the Hawks and Wings. Probert traded fists with the Grim Reaper 13 times, with most of the bouts taking center stage at Joe Louis Arena or Chicago Stadium. Probert and Grimson were continuing a hallowed tradition between these two teams.
Grimson and Probert made the rivalry interesting in the 80’s and early 90’s. Unfortunately, both teams were stuck in a Stanley Cup drought. Despite the championship drought, the rivalry persisted into the late 90’s. The Wings ended theirs by winning the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. As the Wings rose, the Hawks fell in the rankings.
Where It Stands Now
The rivalry resumed when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews joined the Hawks in the 2007-08 season. After losing to the Wings in the 2009 Western Conference Final, the Hawks acquired Marian Hossa from the Wings. Hossa was the final piece to the puzzle, and the Hawks ended their 49-year drought in 2010.
The 2013 Western Conference Semifinal emulated the golden age of the Hawks-Wings rivalry. The Hawks were easily the favorite to win but entered game five with a 3-1 disadvantage. The Hawks overcame the deficit and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Hawks won the Stanley Cup again in 2015, cementing their dynasty status.
The rivalry lost substance due to the NHL realignment in the 2013-14 season. Despite playing in separate conferences, neither team has forgotten the long and bitter history of the rivalry. As the Hawks continue to rise in the NHL, the Wings continue to fall in the standings. Although the rivalry is starting to disappear, the history will always remain.
Illinois State University graduate and lifelong Chicago Blackhawks fan. I also write for The Odyssey at Illinois State and Fans Talk Sports. Other than hockey, I love to write historical fiction and nonfiction.