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

CHICAGO — It was over in an accident, a freak, a mini-moment that was here then gone, so fast that Shawn Burr couldn’t really remember how it took place. But now, in the crowded locker room, that was all anyone wanted to know.

“Did you see it coming?” someone asked.

“I sort of did,” he answered, smiling.

“Did you mean to knock it in?” someone yelled.

“I was just trying to get out of the way,” he said.

“Where did it hit?” came the question.

“On the glove,” came the answer.

“Which hand? Which hand?” they hollered.

He cocked his head. He held out his hands and studied them for a moment, like a newborn discovering his fingers. “Bleep!” he said, “I can’t even remember now.”

It was that quick. It was that unexpected. Which hand? He can’t remember. The shot went flying off the stick of Dave Lewis and hit Burr as he was charging toward the net and ricocheted off his glove — one of those gloves anyhow — and bounced gently over the shoulder of Chicago goalie Bob Sauve, a marshmallow into the fire, and bang! The Red Wings had a three- zip lead in their first playoff series and they piled on top of each other at center ice.

“Was that the longest war dance you’ve done all year?” someone asked Burr of his whoop-whoop celebration following the goal in the 4-3 overtime victory.

“Did I do a dance?” he said, his eyes widening. “Holy Jeez. I don’t even remember doing it.” Nasty setting, nasty crowd

Well, yes, Shawn. You did a dance. And so did Lewis, and Glen Hanlon, who had been painfully brilliant in the goal, and so did Steve Yzerman and Mel Bridgman — who had the other Detroit scores in this game — and so did Harold Snepsts, the designated baddie, who’d taken the brunt of the Chicago abuse in this choking hole of a stadium. And then there was Jacques Demers, the Red Wings’ coach, who was so happy he stood at the bottom of the stairs to the locker room and slapped five with his players as they came down.

“I call this a tug of war,” Demers said afterward, sweating through his suit. “Both teams were pulling from both sides. We just pulled a little harder in the end.”

Which was no small feat, considering the location. Remember the warnings coming in here? The Red Wings were intruders in an ancient burial ground. Wrong place, wrong time. That was all anyone would tell them before this game.

“You don’t want to be here,” the voices cooed, like Vincent Price in some black-and-white horror film. “You don’t want to be in Chicago Stadium, not on the peak of the weekend, not with the Blackhawks trailing this series, 2-0. Ahhh-hah-ha-hah-hah. They will tear you apart.”

Yeah? Where? When? How? The Red Wings stole the thunder from the Hawks just minutes after the national anthem — which is merely an excuse at this arena
— they scored three times in that first period, and, wait a minute. This was too easy. This was like coming to rob the joint and finding the safe unlocked and the lights on. Where was the war? Did somebody move it?

No. It was merely sleeping. And slowly, it awoke, filling the Hawks with a sudden intensity they’d been lacking all series. A goal, then another. Then, with the Wings trying desperately to hang on to a 3-2 lead, Ed Olczyk, a name familiar to Olympic hockey fans from 1984, came charging down the ice, right dead center, with two Red Wings defensemen on him, and yet the puck somehow wanted only his stick, and he met it and flicked it past Hanlon and the whole thing was back to where it started. Tie. 3-3. And it was overtime.

Now the war could begin. An innocent abroad

“Did you see it go in?” they were asking Burr back in the locker room.

“I saw it all the way,” he said.

“Did you say anything to Lewis afterward?”

“He asked me, ‘Did it hit ya?’ And I said yeah.”

“And then what?”

“And then . . . ” He just grinned.

Wrong place, wrong time? Nuh-uh. Just the opposite. And how ironic that Burr, the youngest Red Wing (20), the kid with the choirboy face, should decide the outcome of a game played in a snake pit. For the Chicago crowd was as ugly as its reputation. The fans cursed. They shook fists. They banged the glass whenever Hanlon came close, never giving him a chance to rest.

But in the end, they could do nothing. And neither could the Hawks. Four minutes and 51 seconds into overtime and fate had decided to wear the white hat this night. It didn’t care who would remember.

“Was that the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to you in hockey?” someone asked Burr.

“Well, I’ve had some crummy goals before,” he said, “but that was the best of the crummiest.”


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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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