For 42 years the city of Detroit had waited. Through nine presidents, through tail fins and K-cars and ABS brakes, through cold wars and cold teams, through whatever historical blank you care to fill in. During that time Detroit had seen the Stanley Cup pass through 12 other franchises, wondering whether the city's nickname, Hockeytown, would ever be more than a registered trademark.
Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman had been there for 14 years, a lifetime for an athlete. He had come to Detroit as a shy 18-year-old who was so polite he once apologized to the penalty-box gatekeeper for using profanity. When Yzerman was 21, the franchise that had missed the playoffs for 16 of the previous 20 seasons slapped a C on his jersey. In his way, Yzerman became the Red Wings. He lived through the era of the Dead Things, the revival of the late 1980s, the playoff disappointments of the '90s. Hey, that's hockey. You could see it all if you played for Detroit long enough.
You could see everything but this. Yzerman was slowly circling the ice at Joe Louis Arena last Saturday night after the Red Wings had completed a sweep of the Stanley Cup finals with a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, pressing the chalice above his head, smiling as brightly as the 19,983 faces in the arena. The Stanley Cup weighs about 35 pounds and who knows how much on the imagination of a hockey player.
"I'm glad the game is over," Yzerman said. "But I wish it had never ended. Since I was five years old, I've watched the Stanley Cup. I have stayed up [late], made a point of watching it being presented in the locker room and always dreamed of the day that maybe I would get there. It's almost like I wanted [the game] back so I could watch the whole thing again and never forget a minute of it."
For Yzerman this was a recurring dream, but for the man who directed him to start his solo lap around the rink with the Cup, it was a recurring reality. Scotty Bowman and the Wings will decide by the June 21 draft if he will come back as the coach in 1997-98, but as his wife, Suella, said in his office on Saturday night, it would be difficult to top this. Even the usually inscrutable Bowman, whose contract expires at the end of this month, hinted that he would leave after winning his seventh Cup as a coach, musing about Toe Blake, who guided eight Stanley Cup winners between 1956 and '68 and, maybe more important, won his last game. If Bowman, who became the first coach to win the Cup with three teams, wants to, he can remain in Detroit or perhaps get a coaching or general managing job elsewhere. If he doesn't return, he can always remember the night he took the Stanley Cup for a spin.
While his players celebrated their victory on the ice, Bowman ducked into the dressing room and grabbed his skates to prepare for his turn carrying the Cup. Surely no coach had ever ditched brogues for blades before, but Bowman was always an innovator. In winning five Cups with the Montreal Canadiens (1973 and 76-79), he left the glory to the players during celebrations. On Saturday, however, a 63-year-old laced 'em up and became a boy again.
"I always wanted to be a player in the NHL and skate with the Cup," Bowman said. "How many chances do you get? I said, 'If we win, I'll go for it.' "
How did it feel toting the Cup around? "It's pretty heavy, but it's pretty light, too," said Bowman.
He might have been talking of the Red Wings' burden. For those in the cars cruising Jefferson Avenue, honking their horns well into Sunday morning, the talk might have been of the 42-year wait, but history goes back only three springs for many of Detroit's current players. In 1995 they were swept in the finals by the underdog New Jersey Devils in a mirror image of the Flyers series. "We're always going to remember that," said Darren McCarty, who scored the Cup-winning goal on an outside-inside, one-on-one move so sweet that as he took a seat for the postgame press conference, Yzerman intoned, "On my left is Bobby Orr." "We were embarrassed," McCarty said. "Losing is the best teacher. It's a hard lesson, but it's the best teacher because you remember."
Now the loss to New Jersey has been all but expunged from everyone's record, including Bowman's. "Best coach I've had," left wing Brendan Shanahan said. "He started coaching the Plager brothers [in St. Louis in 1967-68], guys with crewcuts. Then he coached through the disco craze, then into the '80s and '90s, and he still wins. He's had to be mentally in tune with and know how to motivate men between the ages of 18 and 38 over the last 30 years. He has a great knowledge of the game. The bottom line is, you can trust Scotty's knowledge."