Marcel Pronovost was born in 1930 in Lac la Tortue, Quebec, one of 12 children including nine brothers; pretty well a hockey team in itself as younger members donned their older siblings' used garb to continue the family tradition on the ice. After a move with the brood to Shawinigan Falls, Marcel was a standout with Shawinigan Tech, his high school team, but he wasn't snapped up by the Montreal Canadiens like so many other Quebec youngsters. The crosstown rival Shawinigan High team was the area's powerhouse squad, led by brothers Larry and John Wilson, both highly praised junior players who received most of the attention in the city.
The Wilson boys were in a tournament in Quebec City when Larry was signed by the Detroit Red Wings, while Marcel was stolen out from under the eyes of the Canadiens when Detroit scout Marcel Cote heeded Larry's advice and went to see Pronovost, who was then a high-scoring center. He was sent to the Windsor Spitfires, where he was moved back to defense, and then spent two years with the Wings' International Hockey League team before turning pro in 1949 with Detroit's farm team in Omaha.
In 1950 the Red Wings were in a tough semi-final series with the Toronto Maple Leafs when Gordie Howe was seriously injured. Red Kelly, a defender, was thrust into duty as a forward and Pronovost was called up from Omaha to take Kelly's place on the blue line. His name was engraved on the Stanley Cup when the Red Wings recovered from Howe's loss to defeat the Leafs and then the Rangers to win the championship. Pronovost was in the minors for part of the next season but won a permanent job with Detroit in 1951-52. He would win the Cup three more times with the Wings, garner seven regular-season titles and be on four consecutive league All-Star Teams including the First Team in 1960 and 1961.
A player like Pronovost, who delivered hits and took even more on his rushes, could expect to receive a daunting array of injuries. In one three-game stretch with the Red Wings, his face was struck by seemingly every conceivable hard surface in a rink - the puck, when his own goalie attempted to clear it; an opponent's stick, though not on purpose; and, on a memorable dive through two defenders, the ice, the net and then the boards. He had four long cuts requiring stitches and a broken nose from the week's work. He estimated at the end of his career that he had broken his nose 14 times, and the list of his many aches and pains reads like a medical exam for trauma care.
In 1965-66, Pronovost was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in an eight-player deal that involved Andy Bathgate's going to Detroit. Pronovost joined a solid core of defenders in Toronto and was an integral part of the Over-the-Hill-Gang that won Toronto's last Stanley Cup in 1967 under coach Punch Imlach.
Pronovost retired after playing seven games in 1969-70, feeling he no longer had the legs to compete in the league. He played with the Tulsa Oilers in the Central Hockey League for a season and a half until he decided to hang up the blades at the age of 41. He coached in Tulsa before accepting a job behind the bench in Buffalo, where his former boss with the Maple Leafs, Imlach, was the general manager. He steered the Sabres to a 105-point season in 1977-78 but was shown the door midway through the next season, following Imlach out of the organization when the team struggled.
After a brief stint with the Ontario Hockey Association's Windsor Spitfires in 1982-83, he became a scout with the NHL's Central Scouting Service and later with the New Jersey Devils. Two brothers followed him into the NHL, including Jean, who played almost a thousand games in the league, primarily with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Marcel was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.