During the past few years, you've come to Beards of War for hockey related comedy, satire, snark, and sarcasm- ...alright, that's wrong. Over the past...er, month, you've come here when you're bored at work and looking for time to kill. And for a quick chuckle. And that's what I'm usually good at, because it's a style I'm comfortable with.
However, in this entry, I've decided to go out of my comfort zone with a SERIOUS Red Wings post. During my travels throughout the Detroit blogosphere, I've noticed other bloggers and fans discussing what drew them to this team; whether it was by choice or whether they grew up with it.
I guess I just figured since I know a pretty good number of people read this, perhaps you'd like to know why I like...no, LOVE the Red Wings.
I guess I'll start at the beginning. I was born at the ass-end of 1985, so my memories of the "Dead Wings" era or missing the playoffs are practically non-existent. In fact, I believe my earliest hockey memory of any sort was a Red Wings/San Jose Sharks game from either 1992 or 1993. I don't remember who won. I don't even really remember many of the players, except for Steve Yzerman. I know this because my dad told me. I still didn't really get it. I'm just like, "oh, okay. That's cool."
My dad's been a Red Wings fan for as long as I remember; longer than I've had memories. He's more a Wings fan than a hockey fan; you know, doesn't really know anything about other teams, but could tell you a lot about the home team. His only memories aside from ones about the Wings have to do with rivalries. I remember this mug he got from Dunkin Donuts that had Paul Coffey on it. It was a Coffey Mug. I remember asking him "who's this?", and he responded "That's Paul Coffey, he plays for the Red Wings."
"What's a Red Wing?"
"It's a wheel with a wing on it. They play hockey."
"Oh. That's cool he makes coffee too! And his name is Coffey!" He just kind of laughed at that. I really didn't get it. I seriously thought Paul Coffey made coffee. 15 years later, I realize now that Tim Horton was the coffee guy. Though let's face it, Paul Coffey should think about starting up a franchise. Coffey Coffee. They could open up next to Pizza Pizza. I dunno.
These are my earliest sports memories. That, and going to Detroit Tigers spring training in 1992 in Florida and receiving a pen and a hat from a guy talking about the "new" expansion franchise coming to Miami soon. That's how I became a Florida Marlins fan, by the way. Hand out free crap to kids and they're fans for life. I have faint memories of the Detroit Pistons bad boy era too.
But as for hockey, we didn't have cable or any decent television coverage, so watching hockey games on TV was very rare; we either had to go to parents' friends' houses or restaurants. We got cable in 1994 and moved into the city in 1995. Having cable was a trip. Having ESPN in my own bloody bedroom was weird. Those were the days when Nickelodeon didn't suck, and thus, I was preoccupied with that instead of hockey. I regret that. Those were the days I also played outside with my friends...which I also don't do anymore.
I do remember 1997 and 1998's back to back championships. I remember my dad saving one of the newspapers from my paper route in '97 because it was the one with the Red Wings on the front. I was excited for them, even if I didn't know anything about the team. It's the home team! I remember him talking about the brawl that occurred that March. That's when I understood there was a rivalry between Detroit and Colorado. I didn't like Colorado.
I remember seeing the news when Vladdy Konstantinov was in that accident. I remember being bummed. Severely. Again, I didn't know why. It was the home team, I guess.
I remember seeing them lift the Cup in '98 and I saw Vladdy hold it from his wheelchair. Seriously uplifting.
Unfortunately, my hockey memories between the fall of '98 and fall '01 are nonexistent. We moved into an apartment in 2000, and then to Battle Creek, Michigan in the spring of 2001.
That March, my dad received a job offer from the FAA. The government. They were going to relocate him.
To Denver, Colorado.
At first, I liked the idea. We'd finish out the school year in Battle Creek and then my brother, my mom and I would join my dad and go house hunting in the summertime. I was 15 years old at that time and had lived my entire life in suburban Michigan. I wanted to see what life was like with the mountains and the thin air...and the Avalanche fans.
I thought this would be fun. I hoped it would be fun. It was a little tough, given it was my third high school in one year's time, not to mention leaving all my friends behind and moving 2,000 miles west of where I'd lived all my life. There's really no other way to go about it than to go into it with a good attitude. Where else could I go?
Unfortunately, the kids at my high school didn't much care for me. They weren't as friendly as I would've liked. In fact, that's an understatement. They were downright horrible. I don't really talk about this much, but it adds to the story...so I guess I have no choice. Here goes.
When we moved to Colorado, I was roughly 5'7" and close to 300 pounds. I was a fat kid. The Colorado kids made sure I knew it. The entire school year, I was called names from passing cars; beached whale. Fatty. Godzilla. Lardass. You name it. I had things thrown at me from cars; bottles. Cans. Garbage.
I was beat up more than a few times my dudes much taller and stronger than me. I still don't know why. I was threatened with further violence and with death. Fortunately, they were too cowardly and coked up to follow through with anything more than what they already did.
My self-esteem was already on very shaky ground by just moving out there. I was always a very shy kid, and I still am. But at least people in Michigan didn't hate me because I was fat...or whatever reason.
The fact they didn't hesitate to do that stuff in front of my younger brother killed me too. The fact he couldn't do anything but look at me with a sad expression or say "sorry" as they called me names and drove away or whatever sucked even more. How are you supposed to look at your older siblings when they're being dehumanized right in front of you?
Those guys didn't even know me.
Needless to say, I didn't have any friends. I hated going to school. I hated leaving my room. I don't know how many times I'd sit in my room and cry about my life; at 15 years old. Kind of pathetic now that I look back on it. I'd sit and wonder what was wrong with me. What had I done to upset them? Did I exude something that was automatically unlikeable?
I wanted to die. I wanted to kill myself. I thought I was better off dead. I did not want this life anymore. I thought there was no way out.
We'd take day trips into Denver, and I wouldn't talk. All I would say is "I want to go home." I didn't like being out in public anymore. I didn't like people even glancing at me, because I assumed they were judging me. It's sad what I'd become.
As school was winding down, I started to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs. When I first tuned in, Detroit was playing St. Louis. They ended up winning that series in 5 games. That's not to say I didn't watch the occasional game when I could; this was the first year I actually knew who was on the team!
The next round is one you should remember. And it's why I love the Red Wings.
The Western Conference finals of the 2002 pitted the Detroit Red Wings against the Colorado Avalanche. It seems sort of symbolic for me now, just because it was Michigan versus Colorado, which is how I saw my situation. I'm a Michigan boy caught in the awful state of Colorado.
The Colorado Avalanche represented everything disgusting and horrible and wrong with the world. The Colorado Avalanche were sin. The Colorado Avalanche were pestilence. They were the assholes beating on me. They were the guys throwing their pop bottles at me from their moving car. They were the coked up morons telling me they were going to slit my throat if they saw me again.
The Detroit Red Wings were the heroes. Steve Yzerman was the glowing god with the glowing sword. Every time they won, I gained hope. Every time they lost, I died a little. When it went to a Game 7, I was on pins and needles. I'd never hoped for anything more in my life. I wanted them to crush the Avs, and I wanted them to do it with an exclamation mark.
They didn't disappoint.
Patrick Roy, the king of all douchebags on the douchebaggiest team in the douchebaggiest city in the douchebaggiest state in America, gets PULLED.
Oh, but we're not done. Olausson on the powerplay.
And Pavel Datsyuk on the powerplay.
7-0. The Detroit Red Wings didn't just beat Colorado, they crushed them. They chased Patrick Roy. They were going to the Stanley Cup finals.
I watched this game alone in my room while my parents and brother were out at a party. No one was there to see me bawl like a little girl as I watched *MY* Red Wings celebrate beating the Colorado Avalanche.
Steve Yzerman and his crew had thwarted all that was wrong with the world.
It gave me hope. Maybe *I* could beat this Colorado thing too.
Through finals week at school, nothing could bother me. I didn't listen to the kids. I wore my Red Wings shirt to school for the first time ever. I caught so many dirty looks and so many threats. But I didn't care. MY team was better than THEIR team. I watched the Wings play the Carolina Hurricanes. I watched them lose Game 1, but I didn't see them lose any more after that.
I remember triple overtime.
I remember Game 5. My favorite game of all time. I remember all the goals.
I remember Brendan Shanahan's empty netter with 45 seconds to go. "SCOOOORES!!! BRENDAN SHANAHAN!!!!"
I remember Gary Thorne's call: "...THE DETROIT RED WINGS HAVE WON THE 2002 STANLEY CUP!"
I remember it vividly. I don't know how many times I've replayed it on YouTube since then. But to this day, it still gives me goosebumps. It still almost makes me tear up.
To me, this wasn't just a hockey team playing a hockey game for a hockey prize. They were playing for me. They were playing for me stuck behind enemy lines, with no hope. They gave me hope. They gave me something to be happy for. They gave me something to believe in. I believed in them. They didn't let me down. They won it all.
And they won it for me.
A happy footnote to this story; that fall, the FAA offered my dad a relocation back to Michigan. He accepted.
We left Colorado forever on September 22, 2002.
I was back home. In Michigan.
Colorado left its scars and its damage, but I survived...thanks to the Red Wings.
All these years later, I still have an undying love for the team that pulled me through the most difficult period of my young life. It's something that'll never go away, because it can't. They're my heroes. And they always will be. The faces and names may change, but the love never will.
And that's what the Red Wings mean to me.