No matter where they finish at season's end—and so far they have run a gamut from first to fourth place in the National Hockey League standings—Detroit's current crop of Red Wings will be remembered as the team that sparked some of the most electric action of the 1962-63 hockey season. The brightest sparks of all were generated by the high-voltage youngster pictured at right flinging himself at an opponent who dared come too close to the Detroit goal. In more placid moments (see cover) Defenseman Howard John Edward Young resembles the apple-cheeked fullback of a high school football team making plans for the senior prom, but on the ice he is a one-man riot squad. Unlike most defensemen, Howie seldom checks with his hip—a blunt and generally well-padded weapon. "My job," explains the young man who learned his hockey from a teacher named Black Jack Stewart, "is to get my shoulder into somebody." And most times he performs the job well. While his roughhouse tactics have made him the target of taunts in every NHL city except Detroit (whose fans cheer him wildly every time he goes on or off the ice), they have discouraged a considerable number of opposing players from scoring goals.
Six-foot, 25-year-old Young, sinewed like a gnarled oak at a lithe 195 pounds, is as fast on skates as he is strong, and can play in the forward line as well as on defense. His only drawback is an attitude of ferocious competitiveness that has cost him (and Detroit) an appalling two hours plus in the penalty box, with the season only half over. Since this means that the Wings have had to play more than two hours of their season (i.e., two full games) with a five-man team, many of Young's detractors claim he does Detroit more harm than good, but Coach-Manager Sid Abel has now learned to live with that liability.
Howie came up to the Red Wings three years ago with a stock of resentments stored up inside him from an unhappy childhood and a broken home. At the end of his first season he was rehired, but at a reduced salary, so he promptly got mad. "I struggled for seven years to make the big time," he says, still smoldering. "You want to live better, dress better. Then you do a good job and they cut your pay. I used to get so worked up when I thought about it that I never knew what I might do."
What he did do was rack up so many penalties on the ice and behave so badly off it that Detroit offered him to any club that would have him. None would, so the Red Wings sent him back to the minors, hoping he'd reform. This season Abel decided to give him another chance, plus a raise, and Howie responded by helping to spark the Wings to the best start in their history. Moreover, he promised to be a good boy, or at least a better one—and he almost succeeded. Howie still finds occasion to jam an elbow into an opponent's ribs just for good measure when the referee is not looking. He still circles the ice like an angry bull, with head lowered and jaws gnashing at a wad of chewing gum. But this season his penalties have been mostly of the two-minute variety—for roughing, hooking, high-sticking and whatnot—rather than the longer ones he used to earn for fighting and "misconduct." On the very first day of the new year, however, sulking over a slump and a scolding from his coach, Howie had a relapse. After a New Year's Night game in Chicago, brooding and resentful over what he fancied was unfair treatment, Howie ducked away from his team in a Chicago railroad station and was not seen or heard of for four days.
Last week, contrite once again and only a little the worse for wear, Howie Young was back on duty in the Red Wings' defense, planning (he said) to try harder than ever to behave himself. A weary Sid Abel did his best to believe it. "After all," said Sid with a shrug in Howie's direction, "he's the most exciting player in hockey today." The glimpses in color by John G. Zimmerman on the following pages of Howie Young and his teammates in action show something of what the Red Wing coach meant.