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

He remembers his goals. Both of them. You ask Kris Draper if he can describe the two times he scored during the regular season and he gushes, “Oh, yes, of course. . . . You want me to describe my assists, too?”

He laughs and wipes the sweat off his pumpkin-colored goatee. It is 40 minutes after the game and he is still wearing his uniform, still sweating, and so what? He has no intention of rushing this moment. He has no intention of rushing the TV cameras away. The only thing Kris Draper rushed on this day was the shot heard ’round the city, the puck that flipped off Ed Belfour’s body and lay there on the ice for a whisker of a moment, and, suddenly, here was Draper — whose hands are not supposed to be quick enough to do this — and he was flicking the puck over Belfour’s shoulder and raising his fists in celebration.

“I never really saw it go in, but I saw the water bottle move on top of the net. So I knew,” he said.

He knew. He yelled. He circled behind the net, alone, because the red light had not yet flashed. It was one of those frozen moments in sports, Stanley Cup playoffs, a backup player, a 24-year-old kid the Winnipeg Jets didn’t want, so he came to Detroit and worked like an immigrant, tortured his body, waited for an opportunity, and here he was, having just bagged the Wings a precious 3-2 lead with 1:45 to play. His fists were up high, he was dancing by himself.

“To be honest, I was hoping someone would grab me. I was starting to feel stupid out there,” he said.

And then the light flashed, the crowd erupted, and his teammates mobbed him. They patted his head. They escorted him to the bench. Kris Draper had joined the unlikely list of goal scorers who have taken these Red Wings further in the playoffs than they’ve been since Lyndon Johnson was president.

Lyndon Johnson?

Two up, two down. The role players shine

“I’m so happy for Kris,” said Darren McCarty, his buddy, looking across at the media mob that had Draper surrounded. “He works so hard, he’s on the exercise bike as much as Paul Coffey. And I know he’s not known for his offense, but we were sitting together on the bench in the third period, and he said to me, ‘We can make something happen.’ “

Well. Someone had to. Was this a clogged afternoon or what? The Wings played like storming elephants in the first period and came away with only a 1-1 tie. They played like dead elephants in the second period and came away trailing only 2-1.

“In the locker room after the second, we had 20 very frustrated hockey players,” Draper said. “We said OK, we’ve played three good periods last game, one good one today, and now a bad one. Let’s get back to the good ones.”

The philosophy was sound. The personnel was curious. You would think, in the third period of a tight playoff game, that maybe Coffey or Ray Sheppard or Sergei Fedorov would score a key goal. After all, they were the top scorers during the season. And with Steve Yzerman out, weren’t the other superstars supposed to step up?

Instead, who scored the key goals Sunday? The tying one was lifted over Belfour by Doug Brown — another guy not hired for his offense.

And the winner? Well, you know about that one. Draper’s reputation is as a hard worker and a quick skater, but if there’s any criticism, it’s that he has a hard time finishing scoring chances.

Not Sunday.

“When was the last time you won a game with a goal?” Draper was asked.

“Uh . . . house league?” he said.

House league? Well. Strange as it seems, this is the subplot. Nicklas Lidstrom won Game 1 with a 58-foot slap shot in overtime, and Sunday, Draper and Brown won it. Someone spotted Jimmy Devellano, the Wings’ senior vice president, walking around the locker room. Devellano knows a thing or two about player acquisition.

“We originally got Doug Brown because Scotty (Bowman) liked the way he could kill penalties,” he said.

And Draper?

“Well, Kris Draper was brought in by Doug MacLean, when he was the assistant GM. And Doug, to be honest, wanted to get some more players for Adirondack.”

Wait a second. Draper was originally brought in to stock the minor leagues
— and Sunday he put the game winner over one of the toughest goalies in hockey?

“Well . . . yeah,” Devellano said.

Two up, two down. The stars struggle

Now, I’m not sure what you make of this. On the one hand, I’ve never seen a team win a championship without its superstars rising to the top. And the Wings might be concerned that Fedorov had just one shot Sunday and really didn’t seem ready to charge into the punishment a forward has to take to score on Chicago. And Sheppard had just three shots, none strong, and Coffey had more chances than anyone else, 10 shots — half as many as the entire Chicago team — but couldn’t connect.

Sooner or later, you figure, these guys will have to lead. Then again, another sign of a championship team is that it gets contributions from everyone, even unlikely sources.

I think the Wings are doing fine in that department.

“With a goalie like Belfour you just have to keep coming after him, never give up, figure sooner or later, something will happen,” Dino Ciccarelli said.

“You know the difference between this year and other years?” Shawn Burr said. “Last year, we might have been bothered by all the shots we took that didn’t score in the first period. But this year, we were taking our pride in how many shots they didn’t get, not how many we did. That’s the difference.”

Hey. Whatever works. There was an ominous sign at the end of the game, when Tony Amonte took an 85-foot desperation shot that actually got past Mike Vernon before hitting the post. That choked the Red Wings for one guilty moment. They still have to up the ante. It says here they will not win the next two in Chicago if both teams play the same way.

But that’s tomorrow. For now, take these images. Brown, celebrating his tying score, and Burr, scooping octopus gunk off the ice, and Vernon, having played brilliantly yet again, breathing a sigh of relief at the horn.

And finally, Draper, who can tell you about both goals he scored during the regular season and can now tell you about one more, every glorious little detail.

Two up, two down.

Goose bumps yet?


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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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