One of the reasons I love sports so much is the human drama that exists in every game. I'm not talking about the contrived drama that exists in the absurdity of the inappropriately titled "reality television." The only legitimate reality programming that exists in the world is on the ice, the field, between the lines or in any arena or sporting competition where the outcome is not predetermined.
The belief from both sides that they are better and will emerge victorious exists at almost every competitive level. The humanization of sports is what draws so many people in. The success and failure that is witnessed daily can show both the frailty and resolve of some of the world's most gifted athletes.
They may put their pants on one leg at a time, but they do it a hell of a lot better than the rest of us.
The perception that athletes are cold and emotionless pawns on field of play is a thing of the past. The excessive media coverage that exists today can be suffocating, repetitive and obnoxious at times, but it also offers fans unparalleled access to our favorite players and our favorite teams. The mixed blessings offered from social media are often embraced and utilized by today's athletes that enjoy the interaction away from the camera.
It has been through social media that I have been able to interact with some of my favorite former and current players. Some are certainly more interactive than others, but at times I feel like a re-tweet or a direct message on Twitter has become the newer, more personalized autograph equivalent that fans covet.
I struggle with the balance of fandom and objectivity when I write. One of the biggest compliments I've received was when a Detroit Red Wings fan asked me why I hated his team, suggesting I was either a Boston Bruin or Chicago Blackhawk fan.
My allegiance will forever lie with Hockeytown and the winged-wheel, so when Darren McCarty responded to one of my tweets, I felt like a kid waiting outside the players' entrance getting my jersey signed. OK, let's forget about the fact that McCarty is the same age as me. I remember that guy's career as well as anyone who played in Detroit! We grew up during the same time; he just had a slightly more awesome view of the games I was watching.
The interaction, though odd and unique, was personalized because he was responding specifically to questions I was asking him. What began as a request for a couple of questions evolved into a full-blown interview. Darren—I can call him that now because we're fast friends...all right, no we aren't—Mr. McCarty. was amazingly accommodating, and he answered every question I had and then some.
A little backstory about Darren McCarty. Drafted in 1992 with the 46th overall pick, McCarty combined hustle, grit, toughness and enough skill on the puck to drop the jaws of Detroit fans and opponents from time to time. He was a fan favorite immediately in Motown from his rookie season in 1993 until he retired in 2009. Four Stanley Cup rings and a goal that will live forever in any Red Wing fan's heart, McCarty personified the heart of Detroit and their Red Wings as a member of their "Grind Line."
I would like to personally thank Darren McCarty for being so generous with his time, and giving all of us a chance to reflect on an amazing career. It was also a great excuse to watch that goal from 1997 all over again! Enjoy now!
Question 1: With a birthday on April 1st, what’s the best prank you pulled on anyone? Best prank pulled on you?
McCarty: Best prank I pulled on anyone—it was on my mom on April fools day in 1972—I was born. Ha! Actually, it was pulling a pop machine in front of Jamie Pushor and Chris Osgood’s hotel room door in Florida, securing it with skate laces and hockey tape to the balcony railing. It made them late for practice because they were stuck in the room. Worst prank pulled on me—Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon broke into Draper and my hotel room at the Ritz in St. Louis and shoved the whole bedroom into the bathroom. Drapes and I claimed vandalism to the hotel staff to get a new room because there was no way in hell we we're putting all the stuff back.
Question 2: What was your favorite team growing up and you can’t say Detroit?
McCarty: Edmonton Oilers.
Question 3: At Belleville, your last season in juniors, you scored 127 points in addition to 177 penalty minutes. When the Red Wings drafted you, did they specify your role with the team?
McCarty: No, but I knew the way I had to play. I knew what they needed and that I was the guy they needed to provide it.
Question 4: You were drafted in the second round with the 46th pick. Your teammate, Brent Gretzky, was picked three spots behind you. Any good Gretzky stories from the Belleville days?
McCarty: I’m gonna claim the fifth! Let's just say the week before our last year at juniors at Wayne's house in L.A...hat's all I'm gonna say...you'll have to buy my book for the story!
Question 5: Who was the first Red Wings player you spoke to after being drafted?
McCarty: Can't remember a player, but I remember being greeted by Ken Holland and Bryan Murray.
Question 6: Detroit had emerged from the “Dead Wings” day by the time you got there and had one of the most talented rosters in hockey your rookie season. What was the best advice you got from a veteran, and from whom?
McCarty: Dino Ciccarelli. He told me to enjoy the ride because it will be over before you know it. To his word, it went faster then Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier.
Question 7: What’s the best memory from your rookie year in Detroit?
McCarty: Best memory was making the team!
Question 8: What’s the worst memory from the rookie season?
McCarty: Worst memory was losing at Game 7 at home to San Jose.
Question 9: Do you remember your first goal? First one to congratulate you?
McCarty: First goal was a two-on-one with Keith Primeau at the Joe against Bob Essensa. Primeau or Shawn Burr were the first to congratulate me.
Question 10: Do you remember your first fight? How did it feel having Probert’s back? Did Bob say anything to you about it afterward?
McCarty: I don't remember my first fight, but I do remember my fight that helped me make the team. There was a line brawl and I beat up Cam Russell twice in Chicago Stadium—even Scotty Bowman smiled. As for having Probey or Kocur's back, no one had their backs—they always had ours. Being 6'1" with them having my back, I felt like I was 6'6".
Question 11: You had 23 fights in your rookie season to go with nine goals and 26 points. Were guys calling you out to fight, or was it just a product of being a rookie?
McCarty: I was crazy then and had to establish my physical presence to establish my offensive game.
Question 12: You only missed the playoffs one season in your career; what’s the most impressive thing about Detroit’s playoff streak?
McCarty: Consistency. Year after year after year, no matter who is on the team. That's a testament to what a great GM Ken Holland is.
Question 13: Bowman was running Detroit when you got there, and there were stories of Yzerman being on the trading block. What do you remember about that time?
McCarty: What I remember is what a great leader and professional he was and how he shut up, went about his job and never said anything. His play and actions spoke for themselves and we all know what happened.
Question 14: What were your interactions with Scotty Bowman? He seemed to be a pretty intimidating presence with a long history of success. What were his plans for you?
McCarty: Best way to describe Scotty is that he was the Bobby Fischer of coaching. He was always five moves ahead and a lot of times we had no clue what he was thinking. (At times) I would even question his tactics. Larry Robinson said it the best in his book:
"364 days of the year you hated Scotty Bowman and on the 365th you picked up your Stanley Cup ring."
My proudest moment was Scotty talking to my father, Craig and I at our Stanley Cup party in 1998. He said, "I want you to know you're my second favorite right winger to play for me. Guy Lafleur was the first, I hope you're not mad." I was floored and very flattered. To me that's better then being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Question 15: I know Maltby was drafted the same year and Draper got to Detroit around the same time. How often did you guys give him crap about the $1 trade (with Winnipeg)? When did you guys become a line, specifically the “Grind Line”?
McCarty: I give him crap that he's older then Malts and Ozzie and I more then I tease him about anything. Just for clarification, it was a dollar Canadian, which at the time was actually only 50 cents in American! As for when we became a line? Grind line in 1997, when (Scotty) lined us up for the very first time.
Question 16: Other than the grinders, who was your favorite linemate and why?
McCarty: Other then the grinders my favorite linemate was Stevie Y. Enough said.
Question 17: Least favorite player to play against?
McCarty: Least favorite player to play against was Derian Hatcher when he was with Dallas because he was so big. We always ended up butting heads. He was huge. He was Chara before Chara.
Question 18: The Lemieux drama is something you’ve been asked about once or twice and we all know the story, but you got to live it. How did you and Lemieux bury the hatchet? Who approached whom and when?
McCarty: Michael Lansberg from TSN contacted me about doing an interview for a show with Claude. I said yes. First time we ever talked. It was cordial and honest. I don't condone what he did, but as a man today, I'd shake his hand and talk to him like a man...off the ice of course.
Question 19: Walk through the 1997 Stanley Cup winning goal against the Flyers.
McCarty: '97 goal against the Flyers: Puck went into the corner to Konstantinov and he threw it up the wall to Sandstrom. They were on a line change and I came through the middle for support and got the pass and was one-on-one from the red line in. I really meant to dump it in and line change, but I shanked the dump and in reaction, toe-dragged it around (Janne) Niinimaa. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Hextall charging out at me. My reaction was a quick pull to my forehand and the next thing you know, I'm in the blue paint and last thing I remember from two-feet in front of the net was "Don't miss!" Thank God I didn't, and the rest was history.
Question 20: What was the first thing through your mind when you lifted the Stanley Cup?
McCarty: Lifting the Cup: The first thing going through my mind was "Is this real or a dream?" I kind of lost grip with reality as we worked so hard to get there and it was actually happening.
Question 21: What is the wackiest thing (PG please) you did with the Stanley Cup over the four Cups you won?
McCarty: Wackiest thing I did with the Cup was banked in an eagle putt off of it or the 20 scoops of ice cream with my kids.
Click link to read about McCarty's ice cream celebration.
Question: Who is a player in today’s game that we could consider a modern-day Darren McCarty?
McCarty: David Clarkson (New Jersey) and Chris Stewart (Colorado/St. Louis), but I'd say David more. I had a two-minute fight against Clarkson my last year with Detroit. They play the game the old-school way, the right way.
Question: Other than chasing your kids around, what are you up to these days?
McCarty: Working on a few books, enjoying married life and retirement. Staying healthy. Life is good!
Question 24: Will you be playing in the Alumni game at the Winter Classic?
McCarty: Yes, I'm playing in the Alumni Winter Classic.
Question 25: What was the funniest thing you ever heard come out of a Russian player’s mouth?
McCarty: The funniest thing I've heard out of a Russian player's mouth would be when I sat beside Slava Kozlov (the grumpiest Russian in hockey). For 10 years, every morning I would come into the dressing room and say very loudly "MORNING KOZZY!!! How you doin today!?!?" He would reply, for 10 straight years, "F___ you, Mac!" It always made my day.
- Weirdest superstition from the Joe Louis locker room?
McCarty: Weirdest superstition. I was always last on and off the ice because I felt like the guys I had to protect were in front of me.
- Were you ever hit by an octopus? Any near misses?
McCarty: No, never even close to getting hit, BUT those things stink bad! I pushed an opponent's face into a splatter spot of one, though. That's playoff hockey!
- Did you ever see Nick Lidstrom get angry?
McCarty: Yes, I saw Nick get angry once—when Europe lost the Ryder Cup.