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It's Cup time in the Motor City!
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The Morning Line

Sports Illustrated staff writer Kostya Kennedy checks in after each game of the Stanley Cup finals.

Posted: Wed June 10, 1998


No one notices Darryl Laplante in the postgame locker room. He is lithe, quiet in manner and in voice, and hasn't taken a shift all playoffs. He won't, either, not this year. This is the beginning of an education. "We want him up here so he can see how we go about things," says Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "We think he's a future Red Wing."

A future Red Wing. Now he is still a minor-league center, a 21-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, who has seen the Stanley Cup shimmering in his dreams since boyhood. From the beginning of these playoffs he has been practicing with the Wings, going everywhere with the team. He keeps to himself, slightly daunted, very proud. On this night Detroit has just won Game 1 of the finals, 2-1 over the Washington Capitals, and Laplante stands by himself in an unpopulated corner of the overpopulated Red Wings locker room. He is NHL-chic in an olive suit, patterned tie, milk-white shirt. Laplante shifts his weight from leg to leg; with one hand he kneads the knuckles of his other.

Nearby, earnest packs of reporters surround men like Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov and Darren McCarty. Long microphones are thrust into faces. People yap. Television lights burn bright. The Wings hardly flutter. "It is just awesome," says Laplante softly. "These guys always stay calm. They're happy when they win, but they're not too loud and they're focussed on the next game—even in the Stanley Cup final. This isn't like juniors. We played on emotion there."

Laplante's first lesson in this immersion course is an honest one. The Red Wings react to their Game 1 win with the tentative satisfaction of a veteran group that knows how long a series can get in a hurry. They speak of their own fallibility—the way they fell sleepily off their game in the second period. "We were back on our heels," says Shanahan. In that period Detroit's 2-0 lead was cut in half. Then in the third the Wings came back as their usual, rugged, body-checking selves. Detroit won not with offensive dynamics but by force of will, and by going into the corners and wresting the puck away from anyone in Washington blue.

It was a hard-fought win, and nothing described it more eloquently than the tableau of Kris Draper's unoccupied stall: A dozen scrolls of bandage tape; a few pairs of scissors; a worn hockey puck; the snapped-off and splintering blade of a stick; knee pads; knee wraps; and, in a little red dish, a mouthpiece not unlike those that boxers wear. Draper had done his hard work as always, throwing his body swiftly and determinedly around the ice. Now the game was done and he was in a back room riding hard on a stationary bicycle, in the flush of victory still training his body for games yet to come.

That was where we found Darryl Laplante—standing in front of Draper's locker, quietly scanning the scene in the room before him. Then, in his low and eager voice, he started talking about being around the Red Wings, at age 21, at this time of year. He looked around and said just how awe-inspiring it all was, and that he hoped that just by being here he was learning something.

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