by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Patience, patience. If there was one lesson learned from the opening of the most anticipated hockey playoffs in Detroit history — and let’s be honest, you shouldn’t learn more than one thing from the first game, right?
— it was that patience will not only be a worthy companion on this horse ride through the postseason, it may keep you sane.

“When already?” Wings fans seemed to ask, as Detroit went scoreless in the first and second periods Wednesday night, and trailed the eighth-seeded Jets by a 1-0 score as the final frame began. “What are you waiting for?”

“Patience,” the Wings seemed to say. “Trust us.”

Trust them. What’s that expression — the calm before the storm? Well, the Wings’ calm preceded hockey’s version of Hurricane Andrew. Less than three minutes into the third period, Kris Draper directed a group swarm of the net, and the puck trickled in for Goal 1 of the playoffs.

Goal 2 came a few blinks later, a marvelous pass from Sergei Fedorov to Slava Fetisov.

Goal 3 was just one verse behind, Steve Yzerman feeding Mike Ramsey feeding Greg Johnson — if Greg were an NBA player he’d have slammed it — and Goal 4 was a few minutes after that, Paul Coffey whacking the rubber long distance, and . . .

Well, you get the point. Four goals, less than six minutes.

Patience. Reward.

“Was there any panic in here after the second period?” someone asked forward Darren McCarty, following the 4-1 victory. “After all, you guys hadn’t won all season when trailing after two periods.”

“We hadn’t?” McCarty said. “Really?”

So much for panic. Bad memories

Now, let’s be honest. The players might be calm, but there were more than a few fans gulping after the second intermission — one guy turned to the press box and yelled, “I held my breath the whole period!” — and whether they said it or not, those fans were thinking “San Jose,” they were thinking “New Jersey.” They were thinking “one loss could mean two losses and two losses could mean three and three could mean . . .”

Stop it. You want to think like that, go to talk radio, get some therapy with the other worrywarts. One game is one game. It doesn’t mean anything for the next, not in a long, long playoff run. Win or lose, you get up, go back to work and forget it. That sounds like a cliche, but in fact, it’s actually the opposite. Making predictions based on 60 minutes of hockey — that’s a cliche.

Oh, many people do it, including TV announcers, radio analysts and, yes, columnists, because it makes them feel like they’re a step ahead of things, like the first person to spot land from a boat. How silly. In a week, they might eat their words like cookie crumbs.

Remember when the Wings knocked off Edmonton in the first game of the 1987 semifinals? Jacques Demers announced after the game, “Well, there won’t be a sweep.”

They lost the next four.

“Were you worried about winning this first one?” someone asked coach Scotty Bowman Wednesday night.

“You’re always worried. But it doesn’t help any. Once you get the first goal, there’s a big sigh of relief. Then everyone relaxes.”

“So did you think it was inevitable that–“

“Nothing,” the coach interrupted, “is inevitable.”

Patience, patience. The mission

The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to win a championship. Some teams, like the 1980 Oakland Raiders, partied all the way to the NFL title. Others, like the 1994 Houston Rockets, played steady, serious basketball, surprising the critics every step of the way.

The most important thing is that a team sticks with what has worked all season. For the Wings, what has worked is an even- keeled, office-like approach, that is manifested in the serious comments of a Paul Coffey, the studious glasses of Igor Larionov, the modest whispers of veteran Steve Yzerman and young goalie Chris Osgood. You walk into the Wings’ locker room after victories, it’s like an office building at 7 p.m. Dead quiet, nobody there, everyone in the back riding exercise bikes or lifting weights.

“We haven’t had a lot of big meetings or anything,” Yzerman explained, standing by his locker as his teammates dressed. “Guys on this team are pretty professional and methodical. There’s not a big need to motivate or chastise.”

“Did you all take any kind of team vow before these playoffs?” Yzerman was asked. “Like no shaving, or everyone gets their hair colored, things like that?”

He smiled. “We thought about not talking to the media.”

Bad idea.

But you get the point. Why change what has worked? Why worry when there was no worry before? “If people wanted to panic after the second period,” McCarty said, “let them panic for us. That’s not the way we work anymore.”

These Wings are not in a rush to win the Stanley Cup, they are simply on a mission. You want to go along, you better pack a lot of patience.

And some napkins, in case you get hit with an octopus.

On we go.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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