The city of Detroit had been home to a team in the National Hockey League for six years before the Red Wings took the ice. Detroit’s first team was the Detroit Cougars, who lasted for four seasons from 1926-30. After two years of the Detroit Falcons, the newly-named Red Wings took to the ice for the first time on November 11, 1932.
The game was held at the Olympia Stadium, and the opponents were the Chicago Blackhawks. A crowd of 8,000 showed up. Detroit had finished above .500 just once it its first six years in the NHL with two playoff teams. Both lost in the quarterfinals.
So, on a Thursday night, optimism was not overflowing. The team had a third name in seven seasons. Who knew this name – the Red Wings – would not only be the one to stick, but it would signify winning hockey for many decades.
Prior to the game, an 11-year-old girl, Laura Jane Brown, the youngest member of the Olympia Skating Club, offered the team a cake she had baked herself, and between period she put on a skating exhibition.
The Detroit coach was Jack Adams, who had been the team’s coach for its first six seasons. For the record, here are the first starters and subs for the Red Wings in their first game:
Starters: Defense-Stewart Evans, Doug Young. Center-Gus Marker. Right wing-Leroy Goldsworthy. Left wing-John Sorrell. Goalie-John Ross Roach. Subs-Larry Aurie (C), Ebbie Goodfellow, Eddie Wiseman, Frank Carson, Hap Emms, Herbie Lewis, Emil Hanson and Walt Buswell. Cooper Smeaton was the referee, and Art Duncan, who coached Detroit’s first professional hockey team, was the other.
The Red Wings controlled the play early, and 12 minutes into the first period, Carson scored the first goal. Emms passed to Aurie, who lost possession for a moment before passing to Carson in front of the goal, and Carson beat Blackhawks goalie Charlie Gardiner. Emms and Aurie each drew an assist, and as the first period ended, Detroit had a 1-0 lead and nine penalties had been called, including three early in the game.
At 9:45 into the second period, the Red Wings were on the power play, and again it was Emms to Aurie before Carson scored his second goal of the game to give Detroit a 2-0 lead. The game remained 2-0 until late in the third period when Johnny Gottselig scored for Chicago on an assist from Paul Thompson. With 15 seconds left, Wiseman scored on a two-man breakaway with an assist from Lewis.
The shutout was huge for Ross-Roach, who had been in the NHL since the 1921-22 season but was making his first appearance for Detroit. Alec Connell had been the previous goalie in Detroit, and he had moved on to the Ottawa Senators.
The victory was a springboard to a fine season for Detroit, which finished 26-15-8 (58 points) and finished second in the American Division. The Red Wings swept two games from the Montreal Maroons in the quarterfinals before getting swept in two games by the New York Rangers in the semi-finals.
Lewis led the team with 20 goals and 34 points, while Carson, who had the first two goals, finished with 12 and 13 assists. The shutout by Ross-Roach was the first of 10 that season, and he finished with a 1.88 goals-against average.
Three years later, the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.