Legends: Bukovich had stint with Red Wings
PAINESDALE — If you ever wanted to have an auspicious debut in sports, it would be tough to top the one Tony Bukovich had.
In his first game for the Detroit Red Wings in 1945, the late Painesdale native scored a goal in his first shift on the ice.
He also had the chance to play in a Stanley Cup Finals in his first NHL season — against the Montreal Canadiens, of all teams.
He also earned some ice time versus legendary Maurice “Rocket” Richard of Montreal.
“He was the fastest payer I’ve ever seen on the ice,” Bukovich said in a 2005 interview. “My job was to shadow him but I seldom got close enough to do that.”
Even though Bukovich, who played in 20 games and had seven goals and three assists over parts of two seasons for the Wings, didn’t have a lengthy career, he stayed close to his former teammates.
“I lost my spot on the roster to a kid they wanted to bring up,” Bukovich said. “His name was Gordie Howe.”
Bukovich later opened up a bar in Houghton, named Tony’s Red Wing Lounge. Many Detroit players would visit him there in the off-season. That attracted local sports fans.
“Gordie Howe was up here and so were Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay,” Bukovich said. “Ted was a close friend of mine and he invited other Detroit players, including some Tigers, here.”
Of course, Bukovich had other athletic skills besides hockey.
Growing up in Painesdale, Tony and brothers Joe and Mike, dominated on the ice rinks and baseball diamonds of the area.
He was a good enough baseball pitcher to be signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers after posting a 17-7 record with Iron River of the Northern Michigan-Wisconsin League.
That led to Dodgers’ minor league stints in the Mid Atlantic League and the Ohio-Indiana League.
“There wasn’t a whole of money in baseball back then,” he said. “So when the Red Wings offered me a contract in 1942, I took it gladly.”
Bukovich earned a look from the Red Wings after being named MVP in the Michigan State Amateur championships at Olympia Stadium. He was playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Indians at the time.
After being sent to the Wings minor league team in Indianapolis, he had a good season and earned a callup from the big team.
After playing several more seasons in the minors, he returned to the area in 1948.
Playing for the Portage Lake Pioneers between 1947 and 1955, he totaled 276 goals and 178 assists. He led the league in scoring five times in that time.
In a memorable game against Marquette, he tallied eight goals and two assists in a 12-2 win.
Combining with his brothers, he helped to reorganize the Houghton Copper Sox baseball team in the early 1950s.
He went on to coach the newly former Green Bay Bobcats of the USHL for one season in 1958.
Elected to the Upper Peninsula Sports of Fame, he died in 2009 at the age of 94.