The Detroit Red Wings have often been accused of being small and weak up front. Their forwards, critics would assert, are certainly talented, but when the playoffs arrive, they aren't resilient enough to succeed in the playoffs.
Perhaps there was some truth in that. At the 2007 trade deadline, the Wings signed Todd Bertuzzi, a 6 foot 3, 230-pound bruiser who also happened to be a forty goal scorer. Folks in Michigan relaxed, knowing their Red Wings were no longer the chief pussies of the NHL.
But when the playoffs arrived, Bertuzzi found it hard to find his place on the team, and after the Wings lost in the conference finals, Bertuzzi decided it was time to split.
Fast forward to the present. Todd Bertuzzi is golfing in Anaheim, and his old team is up two games to none against the Colorado Avalanche.
One of the biggest reasons for the Wings success is Johan Franzen, who scored a hat trick Saturday. Now, if you're not from Detroit, you might be thinking this guy is a new phenomenon. However, he played last playoffs as well and netted some clutch goals, equaling Bertuzzi's playoff stats.
Johan Franzen, who is also 6 foot 3 and weighs 220 pounds, had a good season this year, especially down the stretch. He ended the season with 27 goals and 38 points, and he has carried that momentum into the playoffs. Thus far, he is second in the league in playoff scoring.
Nicknamed "The Mule," a name that Steve Yzerman first coined, Franzen speculated about its origins. "Probably," he said, "because I'm strong and [I] work hard."
Mr. Franzen, I think players call you that because you're stubborn and you won't move when defencemen want you to.
Once thought to belong only to North American players, Franzen possesses a strong playoff constitution, which in layman's terms means he is a money player. He has smooth hands around the net, a heavy shot, and a body check more like a Mack truck than a mule.
Far from being the goon Bertuzzi has turned out to be, Franzen plays a hard yet clean game, has a distinct air of humility to him, and always credits the team above his personal successes.
Which is why it's time to get behind "The Mule."