NO PUCKS, STICKS: A YEAR MELTS AWAY

I went down to Joe Louis Arena earlier this week. The halls were dark, the tunnels empty. I was about to leave when I heard the sound of conversation.

“And that makes one year,” a voice whispered.

“One stinkin’ year,” said another.

“Happy anniversary.”

“Yeah. Happy stinkin’ anniversary.”

I crouched low. Through the dim light I saw a stick and a puck. The stick had hundreds of notches on its shaft. It had just cut a new one. I’m not sure how, since a stick has no arms. Then again, sticks aren’t supposed to talk, either.

“Three hundred sixty-five notches,” it said. “Three hundred sixty-five days. One full year. No Red Wings.”

“One full year,” the puck said, glumly.

Both items seemed pretty depressed; at least I think they were depressed. It’s hard to tell with sporting goods. I slid closer. I saw a pile of things on the floor in front of them, a calendar, a Red Wings schedule, a faded picture of Steve Yzerman.

“Can it really be a year since that last loss to Calgary?” the stick said.

“Hard to believe,” said the puck.

“When that dang Martin Gelinas scored in overtime?”

“Hard to believe,” the puck said.

“And the Wings had been shut out — twice in two games! — by a No. 6 seed, and they were done for the season and –“

“OK!” the puck said. “Stop!”

The stick stopped. It sighed. At least I think it sighed. It’s hard to tell with sporting goods.

“One full year,” it said.

“Hard to believe,” added the puck.

Flames snuffed Wings a year ago

It is hard to believe, isn’t it? It was one year ago Tuesday that Calgary won that series. One year ago last Sunday that Yzerman took a puck to his eye. One year ago Monday that Yzerman dragged himself to the airport to urge on his teammates. One year ago Wednesday that the Wings returned to Detroit and began taking their stuff home.

One year ago this week since any of them has played a game at Joe Louis.

One full year that “Hockeytown” has been a misrepresentation.

I moved in closer. It was dark. I banged against an empty seat.

“Someone’s coming!” the puck whispered.

“Maybe it’s Cujo!”

“Maybe it’s Shanahan!”

“Maybe it’s the Grind Line,” said the stick. “Draper, Maltby, McCarty. I haven’t seen those guys in so long, I won’t even be mad about all my cousins they snapped in two.”

They waited for a minute.

“Aw, nobody’s coming,” the stick finally said. “They’re locked out, remember?”

“How can I forget?” the puck said. “I haven’t been frozen in over a year. You know how dry I am? I’m a camel puck. That’s what I am. Look at my edges. All soft and mushy. I’m worse than my uncle, the bald tire. Or my brother-in-law, the dimple ball.”

“Stop complaining,” the stick said. “I haven’t been taped in so long, I might as well be a ‘Sopranos’ episode.

“Duke Ellington swings more than me — and he’s dead. I’m reduced to making notches in myself to feel useful. It’s embarrassing.”

Another sigh.

“This is ridiculous,” the puck said.

‘Slap me! For old times’ sake’

This is ridiculous, isn’t it? A few weeks ago, I spoke with Kris Draper. He was watching Barney videos with his son. The other day, I saw Shanahan and McCarty on an ESPN game show. A game show? No hockey in more than a year? No end in sight for the lockout? Barney? Game shows?

Ridiculous. Is there any other word for it?

“Hit me,” the puck said.

“What?” said the stick.

“Come on. Just hit me. For old times’ sake. Give me a whack. Slap me. One-time me.”

“I’m not gonna slap you.”

“I’m not asking, I’m telling. It’s been a year. Now slap me!”

“What are you, that guy from ‘Raging Bull?’ “

The puck sulked. At least I think it sulked. It’s hard to tell with sporting goods.

“All right, all right,” the stick sighed, “I’ll hit you.”

The stick hopped over, lined itself up, then ran toward the puck. It swung itself as hard as it could.

It landed on its side.

“That didn’t work,” the stick said.

“I guess not,” said the puck.

Here’s why: A puck just can’t go without a stick, a stick can’t go without a player, a player can’t go without a sport, and a sport can’t go without games. One year ago this week. And counting.

“How hard is it to become a baseball bat?” the stick asked.

“I dunno,” the puck said. “How hard is it to become a doorstop?”

Just then a flood of water came washing down the corridor.

“Happy anniversary, fellas,” it said.

The ice.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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