Born: June 15, 1930 (Lac-à-la-Tortue, Québec)
Died: April 26, 2015 (Windsor, Ontario)
Hockey Hall of Fame (1978)
Windsor-Essex County (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame
The smooth-skating Marcel Pronovost was a rushing defenceman and a key part of the Detroit Red Wings powerhouse teams of the early 1950s. He won four Stanley Cup championships in Detroit before capping his career by helping the Toronto Maple Leafs win their most recent Cup in 1967.
When profiled by Andy O’Brien for Weekend magazine in 1963, the hard-checking Pronovost said his injuries included more than 200 stitches, as well as a broken jaw and a crushed vertebra. His nose was broken at least a dozen times. The hockey writer Stan Fischler called him “the most embroidered man in hockey.”
Often overshadowed as a hockey star by flashier teammates, Pronovost skated in 10 All-Star Games. He was named to either the First or Second All-Star Team for four consecutive seasons from 1957-58 to 1960-61. Pronovost never won the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenceman, though he was runner-up to Doug Harvey in 1961.
René-Marcel-Joseph Pronovost was born into a family of 12 children (nine boys, three girls) in Lac-à-la-Tortue in the Mauricie region of Québec. He grew up playing hockey with his nine brothers, two of whom also made the NHL. (Claude Pronovost was a goalie, while Jean Pronovost was a forward.) The family moved to ShawiniganFalls, where Marcel starred on his high school team, Shawinigan Tech. Even then, he was overshadowed by brothers Larry and John Wilson, future NHLers, who played for crosstown rival Shawinigan High. Larry Wilson told Detroit scout Marcel Coté to sign Pronovost, which he did, denying the Montreal Canadiens a future Hall of Famer.
Detroit sent the young defenceman to play junior hockey with the Windsor (Ont.) Spitfires for the 1947-48 season, during which he also played in 19 games with Detroit Auto Club of the International Hockey League. After a second season split between junior and the IHL, Pronovost turned professional with the Omaha Knights of the United States Hockey League in 1949-50. He was named the league’s rookie of the year.
Late in the season, Gordie Howe suffered a serious injury with the parent Red Wings, who decided to move Red Kelly from the blue line to forward. Young Pronovost, still only 19, made his debut for the Red Wings in the 1950 NHL playoffs. The young rear-guard skated in nine of Detroit’s 14 playoff games, as the Howe-less Red Wings eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games before outlasting the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup on Pete Babando’s goal in double overtime of Game 7. Pronovost had his name engraved on the trophy while still a teenager.
He split the following season between the Red Wings and the Indianapolis Capitals of the American Hockey League before earning a spot on Detroit’s roster in the 1951-52 campaign. The Red Wings then won three championships in the next four seasons (making it four titles in six campaigns).
While Pronovost seemed to be often injured, he missed fewer than three games in 12 of his 14 seasons with the Red Wings. He was surprisingly durable.
At the end of the 1964-65 season, Pronovost was part of a nine-player trade with the Maple Leafs. He was a favourite of manager Punch Imlach, whose Over-the-Hill Gang won a surprise Stanley Cup in Centennial Year by upsetting the Canadiens. By then, Pronovost, age 36, was paired with Larry Hillman, 30, protecting Johnny Bower, 42 (possibly older), in goal.
Pronovost decided seven games into 1969-70 season that he could no longer keep up with the pace of the NHL. He became a playing coach with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League. In 1,206 NHL games, he scored 88 goals with 257 assists. He added another eight playoff goals with 23 assists in 134 playoff games.
He had a long coaching career after retiring as a player, including three seasons behind the bench for the Chicago Cougars of the NHL rival World Hockey Association. In 1979, he was reunited with Imlach when the general manager hired him to coach the Buffalo Sabres. Pronovost later worked as an assistant coach with the Red Wings and as a head coach of the junior Windsor Spitfires, the team he had joined at age 17.
After 1989, he worked as a scout for the New Jersey Devils.
Pronovost wrote a memoir with Bob Duff, a hockey writer for the Windsor Star, which was published in 2012.
Marcel Pronovost models a special mask to protect a broken nose and cheekbone.
Defenceman Marcel Pronovost looks to clear a rebound on a save by Glenn Hall.