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

The gloves were tossed, the confetti came down, and into the happy heap they flew, the old guys and the new guys and the 41-year-olds and the 21-year-olds and the guys who just got a second or third championship and the guys who fnally got their first. They leaped over the top. They barreled in from the side. Yzerman on top of Datsyyuk on top of Lidstrom on top of Hasek. Fedorov on top of Hull on top of Devereaux on top of Larionov. Old on new. Veteran on rookie. And in that delirious if somewhat toothless stack of players, the Detroit Red Wings evoked their team philosophy: In a pile up, everybody is a star.

And that’s just the way they like it.

They came. They clicked. They conquered. The Greatest Hockey Roster Ever Assembled just finished the kind of season that leaves fans weeping with satisfaction. These Detroit players carried a dream from the opening night in October to the closing horn in June, when the final foe, the Carolina Hurricanes, was vanquished. And in all that time, not once did their dream exceed three colors: red, white — and silver.

The Cup Runneth Home.

Welcome back, Stanley.

“Everybody on this team at some point stepped up for a big play in a big game,” said joyous captain Steve Yzerman, after lifting the most precious trophy in all of sports for the third time in his career. “The only thing that mattered was winning, and the only thing that mattered was the team.”

Indeed. There are championships, and there are championship teams. And this, folks, was a team for the ages — and one that will never be the same, because moments after the final horn, Scotty Bowman, who brought this team three championships in six years, whispered in his owner’s ear, “Mike, it’s time for me to go.”

He leaves on the highest of notes, having steered a veteran-heavy group that never faltered, never panicked and never seemed to tire. They overcame the hottest team in hockey in the first round, a supposedly blistering goalie in the second, the defending NHL champions in the third, and the most dangerous kinds of upstarts in the finals. Not one opponent resembled the other — except in the way they all ended, skating off, shaking their heads, marveling at the tank that had just rolled over them.

They came. They clicked. They conquered.

All in the family

“There’s no feeling like this,” said an overwhelmed Luc Robitaille, wearing his first Stanley Cup champions cap. “You work your whole life for this. . . . It was all worth it.”

His children were here. All their children seemed be here. And as their fathers skated around the ice with the cup, they seemed to stitch the tapestry of this team’s incredible year.

They came. The new additions. Dominik Hasek from Buffalo, Robitaille from Los Angeles, Brett Hull from St. Louis, Fredrik Olausson from Sweden, Pavel Datsyuk from Russia. All arrived with a single goal in mind: to reach the top of the heap by the end of the season.

They clicked. New players mixing with old. Young players learning from veterans. Czechs, Swedes, Canadians, Russians and Americans, leaving their egos at the door, dropping their superstar name tags, heeding the instructions of coaching legend Scotty Bowman and morphing under the quiet leadership of Steve Yzerman.

They conquered. Best record in hockey. Vancouver, St. Louis, Colorado and Carolina in the playoffs. If you knock out the rusty opening two games of the post-season, the Wings won four straight to advance, then four of five to advance again, then six of their last seven to seal the deal. They didn’t win every game. Just all the ones they had to.

The last of which came Thursday night, at the Joe, which, to be honest, had a party feeling hours before the players even showed up. Few people believed this series would go beyond Game 5, and the Wings confirmed that, continuing their pattern of solving a team, then eliminating it.

And Thursday night they picked up the beat like a needle being dropped in the middle of a jazz album. They outskated Carolina. Outhustled the Hurricanes. Outquicked them. And finally outed them altogether. Tomas Holmstrom, in the second period, lunged at a pretty feed from Larionov and poked it past Arturs Irbe before smacking into the boards and landing on his back. He raised his fists while still flat on the ice.

That was one.

Brendan Shanahan, on a power play not long after, took a quick brooming swing and banged the puck off Irbe and into the high net.

That was two.

Hasek stopped a dead-on shot from Bates Battaglia with a kick save that could have made the Bolshoi. He sprawled on another attempt, flopped on another, denied another and another and another.

And finally, with less than a minute left, Shanahan fired once again at an open goal from just inside the red line — and the puck nearly skipped into the net.

That was three.

And that was enough. Shanahan pummeled into Yzerman in a football bang that knocked them both to the ice, and the noise inside the Joe threatened to shake the rust off the rafters. Lord Stanley was back in Detroit for the third time in six years, and the 10th time in history.

We’re a double-digit town now.

The Cup Runneth Home.

The coach departs

“It’s time for me to go,” Bowman said afterward. “I’m just so happy to be leaving with a winning team.”

And nine championship rings — more than any coach in NHL history.

Savor him, and savor this team, because we will never see it again. The 2001-02 Red Wings were an elite unit assembled for a single, glorious mission. No matter what came their way — and they actually trailed in three of the four series — they reconfigured, reloaded, rebounded and were, ultimately, rewarded.

Critics will say the team was built on cash as well as camaraderie. And that is undeniable. It is also within the rules. Meanwhile, just try prying any one of them out of here with a bigger paycheck.

Besides, this was always less about money than moments. That’s why Hasek picked this franchise, and why Olausson came back from Europe for this franchise and why Hull kept bugging his agent to call this franchise and see whether it was interested.

And in the end, everyone, it seemed, got a moment. The expected stars had theirs, like Yzerman, Captain Courageous, who stopped the bleeding with key goals in the Vancouver series, and Shanahan, who poked in the infamous “Statue of Liberty” puck that undid Patrick Roy and the Avalanche, and Hull, who helped create one of Detroit’s longest ever playoff night with a tying goal in the closing minutes of Game 3 against Carolina.

But the unexpected stars had more than equal spotlight time. Darren McCarty with a hat trick on Roy. Olausson with an overtime miracle. And Holmstrom — well, he was a chapter in himself, wasn’t he? Eight goals in the post-season?

A team for the ages. If there is a single sports lesson in these Red Wings’ success, it’s that individual stardom is nowhere near as much fun as shared glory.

And there’s no glory like Stanley coming home to papa. You could see that in the eyes of the three-time holders, like Yzerman, Fedorov, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, you could see it in the eyes of the second-timers like Hull and Chris Chelios — who waited 16 years between Cups — and you could see it most of all in the teary eyes of the first-timers, like Robitaille and Hasek, who had finally been let into the secret society of their dreams.

You could see it in the jack-o-lantern smile of defenseman Steve Duchesne, 35 years old, a guy who’s been on six different teams and who never won a title and who took a puck in the mouth in Game 3 and lost a couple of teeth and was bleeding all over the place, yet only wanted to clean his shield and get back on the ice.

“I still got some lower ones left,” he mumbled after that game.

And as long as there was a tooth to give . . .

They came. They clicked. They conquered. There goes the Greatest Hockey Roster Ever Assembled. I don’t know how they plan to handle the parade, but if they could fit the whole team into a single car, they should, one atop the other. That happy heap, where every player is a star, is forever these Red Wings’ legacy, and it will not be forgotten, not around here, not for a long, long time.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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