Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Iron Man Cometh

One of the more annonymous figures included in the Power Player collection was a fresh faced player on the Detroit Red Wings with a thick plume of blond hair named Gary Unger. Unger's career had begun only two years before as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in another one of the moves made by Toronto GM Punch Imlach to remove any player whose ego inflated to the point where it might undermine the former's authority they would be unceremoniously given the heave ho. In Unger's case he wasn't the culprit, but Frank Mahovlich was. Unger, who until then was a largely untested commondity by the Leafs was thrown in to ensure the deal would be completed.

Unger would only play for the Red Wings for a year, before he was shipped off to the St. Louis Blues. This time, it was Unger who was proving to be a distraction in the dressing room, but it wasn't because of his ego; it was simply because he refused to get a haircut. To the Red Wings' coach, Mr. Mod had to go, and during the '70-'71 season, Unger was shipped off again - this time to the St. Louis Blues. Unger wasn't even 24 and he was on his third NHL team in two years, a trend if it continued would permanently attach the dreaded label "journeyman" to his profile. Seems as though St. Louis was a good fit, because Gary Unger would go on to represent the Blues in seven all-star games but more significantly, Unger would go on to play in 914 consecutive games, smashing the NHL record.

Maybe the intensity on Unger's mug on his stamp forshadowed his determination to play hard without missing a game for the next eight years, but then again we were young. Looking back at that picture now, it was clear that the Iron Man had arrived.