by | May 13, 1987 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I am here to calm your nerves. I am here to make it all better. Yes, the team from Edmonton has the home-ice advantage. The team from Edmonton has the talent advantage. The team from Edmonton has all the advantages, including a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven Stanley Cup semifinal series. I am here to tell you the good news: Relax.

The Wings have them right where they want ’em.

“What are you doing?” I say, when I find you in the garage, putting the hockey sticks away. “Just what on earth are you doing?”

“It’s over,” you say, wiping back a tear.

Over? Are you joking? You must be joking.

“No, no, it’s all going according to plan,” I say, climbing atop the cartons to retrieve your stick. “Give ’em a lead, let them get confident, then
— pow! Wipe them out three games straight. That’s drama. That’s entertainment.”

“But, but . . . really?” you say.

“Right where they want ’em,” I repeat.

Yes, it looks bad. It’s supposed to look bad. Did it look good for Rocky before the 15th round against Apollo Creed? Did it look good for Hickory before that final shot in “Hoosiers” ? Was James Bond ever sitting with his feet up on the desk with 15 minutes left in the film? Was he? No, he wasn’t. Good is bad. Bad is good. Where have you been?

“Do you know what happened at Joe Louis Arena Monday night?” I ask, as I pull a Red Wings jersey over your head. “When the game was over, Jacques Demers went back to his office, shut the door and leaped into the air with glee.”

“Really?” you say.

“Oh, sure,” I say. It’s all according to script

Where are your skates? Ah. There they are. Slip into those. Get into the spirit of this thing. Here. I’ll lace them.

“But the Oilers . . . ” you say.

“They’ve been perfect, right? Skating just well enough to win? Acting like no matter what the Wings throw at them, they can handle it?”

“But the Wings . . . “

“Yeah, how about them? The way Mark Kumpel aimed that shot off the goalpost in Game 2? And the rookie, Jeff Sharples? Hit Grant Fuhr in the leg with that potential tying goal in Game 4 — was that perfect? Was that great theater? It’s not easy to hit a leg, you know.”

“He did that . . . on purpose?” you ask.

“Oh, sure,” I answer.

Didn’t you know that? I thought everybody knew that. This is the proper destiny for the most unlikely hockey team in America. Weren’t the Red Wings the laughingstock of the league last year? Aren’t they made up of blue-collar players, grinders, overachievers? Should a team like that blow away its opponents en route to the Stanley Cup?

Uh-uh. No one would believe it. Isn’t that a better scenario for a comeback? Three-games-to-one? Isn’t it? Think about the Toronto series. The Wings trailed there, 3-1. And they came back. Wasn’t that fun? I’d call that as much fun as you can have standing up.

“But the Wings’ defensemen,” you moan. “Snepsts is out. Veitch is out. They’re using little kids, for Pete’s sake.”

“Now you’re catching on,” I say. “Small is good. Young is good. Overmatched is good. Remember ‘E.T.’? What was that? A bunch of little kids and a Gumby? And they beat the world. Two worlds, if I remember right. It’s perfect, I tell you. This whole thing is perfect.”

“You sure?” you ask, slipping on knee pads.

“Oh, sure,” I answer. Trust me: We’re still in it

Do not worry about Greg Stefan. He is fine. Do not worry about Steve Yzerman. He is fine. They know the script. They have been cued in. They have laid the perfect trap, caught the ugly Oilers in their net, strung them up with overconfidence.

And now they go for the kill.

We are on the threshold here. We are carrying the best sports story of the year like a young bride in our arms. Did we want this series to be tied, 2-2? No, we did not. Would they make a movie out of that? Would you get invited on
“The Tonight Show” for that? Hey! This is America.

Tonight begins the most amazing sports finish of the year. I see a book. I see a PBS special. I see Rivers, Letterman, Winfrey, Gumbel.

I see you are dressed. In full hockey uniform. Good. Now go back to the living room and sit there until the game comes on.

“You’re certain about this?” you ask.

“I am certain about this,” I answer. “I will 150 percent guarantee you Detroit will be a playoff team tomorrow. Is that enough? 150 percent?”

Finally, I see you smile. Finally, I see you believe me. Now relax.

“Wait a minute,” you suddenly say. “You guarantee Detroit will still be in the playoffs tomorrow. What if the Wings lose anyhow? What will you say then?”

I will say I meant the Pistons.


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