WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND, WELL, HE’S NOT EXACTLY WHAT WE WERE EXPECTING

COLORADO — Well, here I am. Looks like my idea paid off. I’m the first one at the arena.

“Gonna be some battle this year, huh?” I yell to the maintenance man.

“Mister,” he says, “you’re –“

Early, I know. I wanted to get here early. You can never be early enough, not when the Wings play the Avalanche. After last year’s insanity? It’s war, plain and simple. You need to find your foxhole fast.

“You think the Wings have a chance?” I ask the maintenance man.

“Well, they drew a tough opponent,” he says. “But you’re –“

From Detroit. That’s right. And proud of it. Oh, sure, the Avs are a tough opponent. I’ll give you that. But the Wings beat them last year, and they can do it again.

Hmm. When are they gonna turn the lights on?

“That goalie had better be careful,” I say to the maintenance man. “The Wings’ power play is cookin’ like Julia Child. They’re coming after him this year. What’s his name again? Patrick . . .”

“Fuhr,” says the maintenance man. “But he’s –“

Fuhr? That’s how he’s pronouncing it this year? What’s with this guy? His last name is spelled Roy, as in Roy Rogers, but last year he pronounced it roi, as in foie gras, and this year he’s going by …Fuhr? Patrick Fuhr?

“How about Claude Lemieux?” I ask. “He still around?”

“He’s still around,” the maintenance man says, “but he’s not coming here tonight.”

“Ha!” I say. “I always knew he was a chicken! Not even showing up? I guess he learned his lesson.”

“Mister,” the maintenance man says, “there’s something you need to know –“

“Here’s what I need to know,” I say. “When are we gonna get some heat in this press box?”

He walks away, shaking his head.

Typical Colorado fan. Can’t take the truth.

Hello — anybody home?

Oh, I can hardly wait for this series to begin. That’s why I left Detroit on Monday, when the Avalanche was about to play the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7. I knew everyone else was going to wait and see what happened, even though we all knew Colorado would win. I also knew if I got a jump, I’d arrive first and claim the best seat in the house.

And here I am, dead center ice.

I wonder when they’re gonna unlock the bathroom.

“Hey, buddy!” I yell to an electrician working on the scoreboard. “You got a spare set of keys?”

“Mister,” he says, “you’re –“

From Detroit. I know. What gave it away? My red shirt? My red hat? The Winged Wheel on my lapel?

Hey. I can’t help it. I am geeked for this series. I’ve waited all year for this series. Detroit-Colorado. It’s a modern-day classic. The battle of No. 19’s, our Steve Yzerman, their Joe Sakic. The war between our Swede, Nick Lidstrom, and their Swede, Peter Forsberg. The showdown between goalies, our Chris Osgood against their Patrick Roy — er, Fuhr. Patrick Fuhr.

“Tell me the truth,” I say to the electrician. “Who do you think the Wings have to stop to win?”

“Hmm,” he says, scratching his head, “Brett Hull?”

Brett Hull? The Avs got him? Geez. This free agent thing is really unfair.

“How about defense?” I ask. “What are they gonna throw at us?”

“I’d watch out for Steve Duchesne, Al MacInnis, Todd Gill,” he says.

Wow. These Colorado guys have really retooled.

“Of course,” I say, “the biggest thorn in our side is bound to be –“

“Pronger,” he says, nodding.

Pronger? That’s what they’re calling Adam Deadmarsh now? Pronger? Jeez. I knew he was a tough player. I didn’t know he went around pronging people.

“How’s the mood here toward the second round?” I ask.

“Nobody cares,” he says.

“Boy. You guys are giving up easily.”

“Mister,” he says, “there’s something you’re missing –“

“You can say that again. Where are my press notes? How am I going to know the stats without my press notes?”

He shakes his head and walks away.

These Avalanche folks are really unfriendly.

Singin’ the Blues

Anyhow, Detroit and Colorado are obviously taking this showdown very seriously. Neither team has come out for the warm-up skate. Must be extra strategy sessions with their coaches.

“You guys getting a little nervous?” I ask a man with a broom.

“About what?” he says.

“The Wings,” I say.

“Oh, the Wings,” he says. “Nah. I hope they win.”

Wow. Can you believe how they’re jumping off the bandwagon?

“Don’t sell your team short,” I say. “You still have Sakic, Forsberg, Kamensky, Ozolinsh, Krupp, Foote and, of course, Roy — I mean, Fuhr. I heard about his name change.”

“Listen, mister,” says the man with the broom. “You’re in the wrong place. You should be in Detroit.”

“Believe me, if I could, I would,” I say. “But this crazy seeding system the NHL has, the Wings have to open on the road.”

“But the Avs didn’t win –“

“Didn’t win more games than the Wings, I know. Isn’t it crazy?”

“No, listen. Detroit has the Blues.”

“Well, that’s not fair. Sure, we have some urban problems, like everyone else, but –“

“NO! St. Louis is –“

“No better than Detroit. I agree.”

“LISTEN TO ME! YOU GOT THE BLUES! YOU GOT THE BLUES!”

“You’re telling me,” I say. “I got no press notes, the bathroom’s locked, and I’m still waiting for them to turn the heat on.”

He shakes his head and walks away.

Hmm. If these Avs fans are any indication, the Wings are gonna sweep this series.

As soon as they put the ice down.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581. He will sign
“Tuesdays With Morrie” 7:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at Borders in Ann Arbor and 1-2 p.m. May 16 at Little Professor in Plymouth.

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