by | Jun 10, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Dear Commissioner Bettman:

May I make a request, before it’s too late? I know it sounds strange, coming from a Detroit guy and all, but here it is:

Give us back the Avalanche.

Send them all plane tickets. Tell them there was a terrible mistake and they, not Carolina, are in the finals against the Red Wings, starting tonight in Game 4. I know the Avalanche has angered the Wings. Even beaten the Wings. But at least the Avs never dulled them to death.

They also never tried to ruin our economy. This morning, all across Detroit, people are stumbling into work completely useless, eyes bleary, gulping black coffee.

“Wings game, huh?” someone says.

“Ugggh,” they answer.

Stop the insanity. You have, Mr. Commish, one of the greatest NHL rosters ever assembled, nine future Hall of Famers on one Red Wings team, great scorers, wonderful shooters, magnificent passers — and after three prime-time TV games, they might as well be playing under a blanket.

No offense to the Hurricanes, a fine collection of worker bees, but I think you need to tell them as sweetly as possible: GO BACK TO YOUR PLANET! THIS IS NOT HOCKEY!

In hockey BOTH teams try to score.

Did you see all of Game 3, Mr. Commish? Good. That makes you one of eight people. The rest started watching it, made 11 trips to splash water on their faces, then fell asleep on the couch. For all they know, Game 3 is still being played. What was that “scrape” sound? Another Wing being bashed off course or tangled in a boring stick-lock?

Not to be blunt, but if fans wanted to watch skaters draped all over each other, they’d be French judges. These Stanley Cup finals are becoming a treadmill without an “off” switch. No matter how good the experts say it is for you, after a while, it’s just . . . tedious.

“They came back from losses in the Montreal series and they came back from losses in the Toronto series,” Steve Yzerman said Sunday. “So I don’t expect them to be discouraged by this loss.”

Precisely the problem. The Hurricanes are ready to play a game like that again. Clearly, Mr. Commissioner, it is time for intervention.

Can I reveal something?

I miss Peter Forsberg.

There, I said it. And I’m not ashamed.

I miss the tingle of anticipation as Forsberg motored into the Wings’ end. I miss the awful cringe when Joe Sakic pulled up in a spray of ice and prepared to shoot. Mostly, I miss knowing the name of an opposing player.

Carolina? Tell me one guy from the other. It’s like they get their instructions off a Xerox machine:

“You? Tie up the nearest Red Wing.

“And you? Tie up the nearest Red Wing.

“And you? Well. You. You have to tie up the nearest Red Wing.”

There’s no flow. There’s no fluidity. Yes, the good part was that Igor Larionov, the oldest player in hockey, scored two goals in Game 3.

The bad part was his first goal came about 9 o’clock Saturday evening and his second came at 1:15 Sunday morning. By that point, everyone on the ice was 41 years old. I’m not sure Igor’s family stuck around that long, much less the casual fan.

Something must be done. We’re all happy the Wings are leading this thing, don’t get me wrong. But we’re losing a golden opportunity to showcase this sport. People are yawning. OK. Not Detroiters. Well. We are yawning, but that’s because of our 2 a.m. bedtimes. Non-Wings fans are yawning during the first period.

Don’t be fooled by the hysterical Game 3 crowd at the Sports and Entertainment Center. It was Saturday night in Raleigh. What was their alternative?

Besides, those people started tailgating at a nearby football stadium around 2 in the afternoon. By game time, half of them thought they were watching Duke-North Carolina.

Anyhow, the Hurricanes are their team, and they’ve had hockey for what, only eight minutes? They’ve been weaned on this stuff. It’s like a kid whose parents feed him only vegetables. What does he know from chocolate cake?

We in Detroit know chocolate cake. We know what fast skating, crisp passing and pinpoint shooting look like.

“They bounced back,” Carolina’s Bates Battaglia said Sunday, “and we’ll bounce back.”

Oh, no. He sounds like he’s ready to do it . . . again.

Quick. Find Patrick Roy. Tell him all is forgiven.

Now as you know, Mr. Commish, wherever I go, I try to be an ambassador for the great game of hockey. I talk it up. I say it deserves equal status with basketball, football and baseball.

You know what is happening? Sports writers around the country are saying, “I thought these Red Wings were such a great team. Where are all those stars you talked about? Where’s their skill and speed and grace?”

I’ll tell you where. Draped by Hurricanes uniforms. Carolina seems happy to play six or seven or eight hours straight just shadowing Detroit, hoping eventually a puck will roll past Dominik Hasek, who, by that time, will have fallen asleep.

Enough. The Wings are up, two games to one. Can’t we just call it a best-of-three and stop it there? Please, Mr. Commish? Please?


Well, fine, be that way. The Wings will simply have to win the next two, then mail a video of their stars to all the curious fans who tuned in to see the greatest team ever assembled and instead got a tractor pull.

As for the hard-core faithful here in Detroit? Reheat the coffee from Game 3. Prepare an excuse for the office tomorrow.

“This loss was a bump in the road,” said Carolina’s Sean Hill. “But it’s not a back-breaker.”

Easy for you to say. You work nights.

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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