by | May 16, 1996 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

When Frank Sinatra was at his peak, he performed one night with an all-star band. He had already sold millions of albums, and was famous throughout the world. At the end of the last song, the sell-out crowd erupted into applause, standing on its feet. As Sinatra waved, the bandleader grinned and whispered in his ear, “You got the job, kid.”

Maybe someone should whisper that to Chris Osgood.

Then again, maybe we don’t have to.

If we’ve learned one thing from this roller-coaster playoff between Detroit and St. Louis, a series that will end tonight, one way or another, and thank heaven for that, this is the lesson: Chris Osgood has the job. He is The Man, the lead singer, he is no longer the goalie of the future, unless, by future, you mean starting last week.

For while criticism was shoveled back and forth during this series — the defense isn’t hitting, the offense isn’t clicking, the Russians aren’t pulling their load — not a bad word was spoken about the 23-year-old goalie with the blond Fu Manchu mustache and the skin of a child half his age. Osgood has been terrific. Osgood has been heroic.

And, most important, Osgood has been out there, night after night. Not every other night. Not just home games. Night after night.

You got the job, kid.

“He’s the guy,” admits Mike Vernon, who was “the guy” last year, and, at the start of these playoffs, was supposed to share equal billing with Osgood.
“It’s hard for me to sit, but what can you do? He’s a Vezina Trophy candidate, one of the best in the league right now. My job is to be ready in case something happens.”

The job of a backup.

Chris Osgood is front and center. His saves do the talking

Of course, you wouldn’t know this by Osgood. He hates talking about his past, he hates talking about his status. I’m not sure Osgood even likes talking at all.

“When he first got here,” recalls captain Steve Yzerman, “he was so, so quiet. He didn’t say boo.”

“And now?”

Yzerman smiles. “Now he almost says boo.”

Ah, well. If goalies were meant to talk, they’d have microphones in their masks. The fact is, Osgood does plenty of mumbling in the net — if a puck gets past him. His teammates claim he is savagely competitive. He hates when they score in practice. And he despises any opponent bold enough to put a puck past him in an actual game.

Which doesn’t happen very often. Already in this series, Osgood has stopped Wayne Gretzky on solo breakaways, Brett Hull smack in front of the net, Adam Creighton in dead-eye range, an amazing save, Osgood down, seemingly beaten, just able to flip his stick to the fat side and clomp it on the ice in time to stop the puck.

He won Games 1 and 2 of this series. In the Game 4 loss, he allowed just one goal. In Game 5, he allowed three — none of which was his fault. In Game 6, he shut the Blues out until the last minutes of the third period.

What impresses most are not the saves he makes when the defense is clicking, but the blocks and pokes and catches he makes when the defense breaks down. It is no exaggeration to say this: if not for Chris Osgood, the Wings would be golfing by now.

“He’s definitely a huge part of our success,” says Kris Draper. “And what I’ve noticed this year more than anything is how fierce a competitor Ozzie is. He really, really hates to lose.”

Draper knows Osgood better than most. The two have lived together the last few seasons in an apartment that, according to Draper, can best be described as Early Frat House. There is generally a pile of clothes that needs to be washed and a rent payment that needs to be made. It is not that either player is low on money. But both — Osgood especially — are as single- minded as teenagers with a crush. They practice, they play, and they come home and do the video game thing. And when they put down the joysticks, they accidentally discover the past-due rent notice. Oops. Guess we better pay this, eh? There’s no way to San Jose

And yet, there was a night two years ago that was not so innocent. The Wings had just lost Game 7 to the San Jose Sharks. It was their most embarrassing playoff exit in years. Osgood, in goal that night, blamed himself. He wept during the postgame interviews. He and Draper and Darren McCarty stayed at the rink for hours, and when they finally went home, they did not sleep.

Tonight, Osgood can erase the last shreds of that haunted night. He finally has another Game 7. He wins, no one whispers “San Jose” again.

Not that they should anyhow. “I don’t even think about that season anymore,” Osgood says. “I’m such a different goalie. And my confidence level is much higher.”

Of course, he says this as he looks at his feet. But then, Osgood in the net is a different man than Osgood surrounded by reporters. And that is all that counts.

He makes no claim to the No. 1 spot. He says he wouldn’t be surprised if he’s platooning next series. But I would. And you would. Because there comes a point when your work speaks for you, when the crowd, the band, even the stagehands are applauding. There is nothing wrong with Mike Vernon, but this is Chris Osgood’s moment to shine.

You got the job, kid.

Go out there and bring home a rainbow.


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