Keeping the Cup in Detroit
Red Wings run keyed by role players, hard work
Posted: Wednesday June 17, 1998 03:42 PM
Steve Yzerman pulled in a Conn Smythe trophy (AP)|
DETROIT (AP) -- Jamie Macoun felt he
had landed someplace special when the Detroit Red Wings rescued
him from Toronto in a late-season deal. He was right.
Wings swept the Washington
Capitals to clinch their second Stanley Cup on Tuesday, becoming the
first team to repeat as Cup champion since 1992.
impressed, not so much by what he saw on the ice, but by what he saw the
Red Wings doing off the ice.
"We had trouble winning games in
Toronto, and we paid for it with long, tough practice sessions," the
veteran defenseman said. "When they were over, guys just wanted to get out
of the building."
But in Detroit, he saw players heading for the
exercise room after practice -- and after games, too. Macoun saw them
spending 30 more minutes on the bikes, or working with weights.
"When I saw how these guys pushed themselves, I knew why the Red Wings are
always so good," Macoun said. "These guys are really dedicated."
The Red Wings were especially dedicated this season. They had to be.
When they stepped onto the ice in Traverse City last September to
begin training camp, the Red Wings were already a vastly different team
from the one that won the Cup back in June, ending 42 years of
Star defenseman Vladimir
Konstantinov and team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov remained
hospitalized from a June 13 limousine crash that ended both of their
careers. Playoff hero Mike Vernon was
Sandstrom left as a free agent. Vyacheslav Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov
In fact, there were whispers Fedorov might not
want to return to Detroit, that he had grown tired of coach Scotty Bowman
and his iron-fisted ways.
Despite those distractions, something
good happened at Traverse City, a four-hour drive north from Detroit.
"We really bonded and were as close as could be," defenseman Joe
Kocur said. "It was a good idea moving camp up there. We could reconnect
with the guys and do things as a team. It brought some feeling back."
Nothing would bring Fedorov back, however. It took a six-year, $38
million contract to do that -- following a 59-game holdout. Still, it
proved to be worth the time and money as Fedorov, on fresh legs, carried
the Red Wings through the early rounds of the playoffs -- earning a $12
Chris Osgood held the Capitals to one goal in three out of the four games (AP)||
But Bowman, who tied Toe Blake by winning his
eighth Cup, is nothing if not deft amid adversity. He made up for
Fedorov's absence by maneuvering other players into key roles. Basically,
he made role players of everyone on the team, including star players like
Shanahan and Nicklas
"Their superstars played rugged, they played
tough," Washington forward Brian Bellows said.
"Yzerman, Fedorov, they play within their system. Everybody does what's
expected. I think they all feel responsible to each other, and that's the
Bowman's grand plan accomplished two things: the
star players weren't on the ice as much as usual, and the role players
weren't warming the bench as often.
In the process, the Red
Wings developed a great depth that only got better when Fedorov finally
returned. That depth proved invaluable in the playoffs as Bowman regularly
rolled over four lines, wearing down formidable opponents in Phoenix, St.
Louis and Dallas before sweeping the upstart Washington Capitals in the Cup
"Going in, I didn't know if we could really win another
Cup," Bowman said. "But I knew that the desire and the motivation was
there, and fortunately we did."
The triumph, of course, was
bittersweet. The fate of Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov was always on the
minds of the players.
At Joe Louis Arena, along the back wall of
the Red Wings' dressing room where the defensemen sit, Konstantinov's
locker remained unchanged. His skates hung on hooks and his pads and
uniform were stored inside. A rock with the message "believe" painted on
the front rested on the top shelf.
All season long, Detroit
players wore a patch below the right shoulder of their jerseys. The patch
bore the initials of their two injured friends and the word "believe" in
both English and Russian.
Konstantinov was at Washington's MCI
Center when the Red Wings retained the Cup. After hoisting the prized
chalice above his head for the second straight year, Yzerman, the captain,
put the big trophy in Konstantinov's lap.
"I think that was
outstanding," Washington coach Ron Wilson said. "That's outstanding what
they did. That was a very emotional professional thing that they did, and
you'd only see that in hockey."
Almost everyone wept at the
sight of a smiling Konstantinov, cradling the Cup and holding a cigar,
being wheeled around the ice at the head of the Red Wings' victory lap.
Tears of joy, to be sure.
"Not too often does a moment in hockey
transcend sports, but that was one of them," Shanahan said."'That was one
of the greatest moments I've ever had as an athlete."
moment for what turned out to be a special team. But, then, Macoun had a
feeling it might be.
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