Paul Woods was certainly no slouch as a hockey player. He captained the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League and once scored 119 points in a season. And before Steve Yzerman came along, Woods was the youngest captain in the National Hockey League history of the storied Detroit Red Wings. But it is as a Red Wings radio broadcaster that Woods has become an unlikely legend.
Woods said he never envisioned a career in radio broadcasting. And even after he was hired by play by play announcer Bruce Maryin to be the analyst on the Red Wings radio broadcasts in 1987, Woods said he didn’t think he would stay around for more for than a year or two.
But the gig has now turned into 36 years running and more than 3,000 games behind the microphone for Woods as the Red Wings radio analyst. In fact, the 68-year old Woods is now the longest serving radio commentator in Detroit sports history.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t overly excited to get into radio broadcasting in the first place. Woods explained how his venture into broadcasting came about.
“I had just recently retired from playing due to a hip injury and I wanted to get into coaching at some level,” Woods relayed to Hockey News North. “Then Bruce Martyn called me one day and asked me if I would be interested in being the colour commentator for the Red Wings radio broadcasts. I had never done any radio before but I didn’t have a job so I thought I would give it a try.
“For sure,” Woods continued, “I thought I would maybe do it for a year or two and try to get into coaching somewhere. But the more I took it seriously and the more I prepared for the broadcasts and really got into doing the games with Bruce, the more I liked it. And all these years later, I still love what I am doing.”
A refreshingly down to earth individual, Woods said his goal as a young player was always to make it to the NHL. But when he was bypassed at the 1972 OHL priority selections draft, Woods said he had some doubts that he would even make it to the junior level, let alone the NHL.
He recalled leaving his Hespeler, Ontario home for Sault Ste. Marie for the start of training camp in 1972. The Greyhounds were an expansion team in the league and Woods was one of about 100 players who were at the Soo’s first ever OHL training camp.
“I only packed a small suitcase of clothes because I was an un-drafted player and I didn’t think I had much of a chance to make the team,” relayed Woods. “But then the first round of cuts came and then more cuts and the next thing I knew (coach) Abbie Carricato and (general manager) Angelo Bumbacco told me I had made the team.”
Woods would score the Greyhounds first goal in their OHL franchise history. Not only that, the 5-foot-11, 170 pound, speedy centre finished third in scoring with 30 goals, 34 assists, 64 points on a Greyhounds team that finished in last place in the OHL with a record of 11-42-10.
Woods would play two more seasons for the Greyhounds. He followed up the 1972-1973 season with 17 goals, 32 assists, 49 points (in just 48 points) in 1973-1974 and finished up his OHL career in 1974-1975 with 37 goals, 84 assists, 121 points on a Greyhounds team that narrowly missed its first ever playoff spot by a single point.
Woods ended up being selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the 1975 NHL draft. He played two full seasons for Montreal’s American Hockey League farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, before being plucked by the Red Wings from the Canadiens in the 1977 NHL waiver draft.
Woods scored 19 goals in his rookie NHL season in Detroit and although he never matched that number over his next six seasons with the Red Wings, he eventually became team captain and was a fan favourite because of his speed and work ethic.
Detroit only made the playoffs once in the seven years that Woods played for the Red Wings. He finished his NHL career by playing in 508 games — regular season and playoffs included — and had 72 goals, 129 assists, 201 points, all with the Red Wings.
Now, he said he considers himself blessed to have been around the game for as long as he has, including 43 years with the Red Wings as first a player and now a broadcaster.
“When I was young, I went with my family to one NHL game in my life and the second one I saw I was playing in for Detroit. I didn’t get a chance to go to NHL games when I was a kid and then I got a chance to play in the NHL. And now I do this job (as the Red Wings radio analyst) and see all these NHL games and they pay me for it. It is almost surreal,” Woods shared.
“I love every little part of my radio job with the Red Wings. I always tell people, this job, once you understand the process of it and the work that goes behind it, and once you start to understand it, then you enjoy it even more. The longer I do it, the more I love it. Staying in the game has been amazing,” he added.
I asked Woods if he still thinks about Sault Ste. and his three years with the Greyhounds.
“Absolutely,” he exclaimed. “My three years there were one of the best experiences of my life.”
To this day, Woods stays in contact with one set of his land parents from his Greyhound days, namely Steve and Sharon Butland.
“They were awesome land parents,” Woods said of the Butlands. “There was always so much food. Their home was so comfortable and inviting. I remember other players on the team being jealous of me having Steve and Sharon as land parents.”
Woods said he made a lot of friends among teammates during his three seasons in a Greyhound uniform, including Bruce O’Grady and roommates such as Jack Valiquette, Mike Boland and Doug Nowels. He also remembers the number of local players who he played with on the Greyhounds, naming the likes of goalie Billy Thompson, defenseman Dave Mancuso and forwards John Campbell, Cary Farelli, Greg Keating and Lorne Jarrett as well as tough guy John Simon from Wawa.
“Please give a shout out from me to all of the great hockey fans of Sault Ste. Marie,” Woods insisted. “The people of the Soo and the Greyhounds will always be a big part of my life.”
As for his broadcasting career with the Red Wings, Woods said he has missed only five games since doing his first game in 1987. Three were related to Covid, one was to attend his daughter’s graduation and the other was for his dad’s funeral.
“This has turned into a dream job,” Woods said of being a part of the Red Wings radio broadcasts, first with the aforementioned Bruce Martyn and now with Ken Kal. “I sure did not ever envision doing this for so long. I am absolutely blessed.”