Rick Zombo

Born in Desplains, Illinois, defenseman Rick Zombo is the answer to a unique trivia question. When the Detroit Red Wings selected him 149th overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Zombo became the first player in history to be drafted to the NHL directly from the United States Hockey League. Most USHL players are not drafted until they reach NCAA or jump to the junior leagues. But Zombo and the Red Wings broke that barrier.

It turned out to be an astute move the Wings, as they landed solid but unspectacular defenseman who would play in the National Hockey League for 13 seasons. In 652 regular season games he scored only 24 goals and 154 points. But he was better known as a dependable depth rearguard.

Rick "Squirrel" Zombo was a surprisingly good skater, better than man stay-at-home defenders. He was blessed with good agility and quickness as well as exceptional balance. But he lacked the ability to read offensive plays very well so he never took the jump to the next level of two way defenseman. He could make a strong defensive zone breakout pass, but rarely jumped into the rush or gambled on pinches from the point. Safe and steady was his game plan, and it helped him last in the NHL for a long time.

Not that his arrival in the NHL was immediate. He may have been drafted back in 1981, but he did not land as a regular NHLer until 1987. First he was off to the University of North Dakota, where he majored in Business Administration and helped the Fighting Sioux captured the national championship in 1982. He also made two USA world juniors squads before leaving UND to pursue a career in professional hockey.

Zombo would apprentice for 2 and a half seasons in the minor leagues before catching on full time with the Red Wings. He would play six full seasons in Detroit, with another 5 in St. Louis and 1 in Boston.

Unfortunately, if Rick Zombo is remembered by history it may be for this slashing incident with lineseman Kevin Collins:

There was no penalty on the play as Collins admitted he was at fault for colliding with Zombo and forcing the turnover that led to the game winning goal. Zombo clearly slashes Collins immediately, but later claimed he did not realize it was an official rather than an opposing player. NHL disciplinarian agreed that Zombo had mistakenly slashed Collins thinking he was another player, but handed down a 10 game suspension (and, . . . wait for it . . . a $500 fine) for intentionally bumping Collins after the play was over.

The Collins slashing incident is an unfortunate footnote to Zombo's otherwise quiet but solid career.

After retiring in 1997 Zombo returned to his roots and worked as a scout, then a coach and then a manager in the USHL. He also opened his own hockey schools in St. Louis and San Antonio. An accomplished artist, he created his own kids hockey-themed colouring book and even worked on the City Of Heroes comic book series.


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