I experienced the personal end of an era today, as Kris Draper announced his retirement from the game of hockey. This wasn't quite the same as Steve Yzerman deciding that he couldn't will his way through another season of a professional sport. And this wasn't the same as finding out that Brendan Shanahan had been signed by the New York Rangers and that his time as a Red Wing were done.
But it was close.
I'm a bit of a young pup. I turn 24 this August, so I have no recollection of what it was like to be a Red Wing fan in the 1980's or even the early 1990's.
Instead, my first memories and attachment with this team started a bit later. And while the Detroit and Colorado rivalry may be a top-10 moment in the minds of some older fans, this was a defining moment in my hockey-life.
Because that's what it meant to be a Red Wing. Sticking tight and hanging tough and playing through when no one thought you could. That's what the captain and Shanny represented to me as a kid, and I burned to embody those elements of the game whenever I took to the floor.
What the guys on the Grind Line brought to the table was just as attractive and necessary to me. Hanging up next to my pictures of Yzerman and Fedorov were cards and photos of Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Joe Kocur and Kirk Maltby.
Detroit iced some of the most high octane clubs in recent memory through the early '90s. Their contingent of European magicians dazzled through the regular season, putting up outstanding numbers and skating circles around other teams most of the time.
But they fell short in the playoffs time and time again in heartbreaking fashion.
Their style and grace evaporated over the course of a seven game series, and all of that came to a head in 1995, when the Red Wings buckled in the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils in four games. And at the forefront of the Devils victory was the Crash Line.
Heading into the next season, Detroit's brain trusts decided that more grit was needed.
And to that end, they dealt for Shanahan and united the Grind Line.
The forward unit became just as important to the success of the Red Wings as guys like Fedorov and Yzerman. They were highly effective against the best lines of other teams, most notably against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.
They shut down that team's dangerous Legion of Doom line, turning it into (as one announcer at the time put it) the Legion of Bloom.
As a group, Draper, Maltby and Kocur (who was later replaced by McCarty) were a force on the ice and were good friends off of it. And it showed the way they stuck up for each other and played together.
Almost as miraculous as their play on the ice, though, were the paths that each individual took before landing a spot on one of the famous lines in the history of an incredibly storied franchise.
Kocur, who throughout his career was one of the most feared fighters in the league, was playing minor league hockey in the IHL. As the story goes, Yzerman recommending signing Kocur to a contract, and after a time, the deal was done.
After appearing to be out of the pros, the Red Wings found contributions where no one else even looked. Kocur was a key player in both the '97 and '98 playoff runs, scoring goals and shutting down the forward lines he played against.
He played his last game for Detroit in 1999 and still lives in Michigan with his family.
Maltby was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1992. It's still odd to see a hockey card or photo from him in that sweater because he was a consummate Wing throughout his career with the team.
After toiling in the minors and in half-season stints in Edmonton, Detroit made a deal for the player during the 95-96 season. They shipped blueliner Dan McGillis the other way, and Maltby went on to win four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings.
It's hard to imagine that he would have enjoyed that same level of success had his talents as a checking forward not been brought to life on the Grind Line. He was quite the goal scorer during his junior years, and the Oilers were no doubt looking for that same kind of production.
Maltby retired in 2010 and took a job as a scout with the Red Wings organization. He still owns and spends time in his home in Grosse Point, Michigan.
Few players I know of have experienced the ups and downs that Darren McCarty has, both professionally and personally. But he sticks out in my mind as the player who scored the most memorable goal of my life so far.
No one who saw it will ever forget the move McCarty put on Flyers defender Janne Niinimaa and goaltender Ron Hextall. And who could forget the "Fight Night at the Joe," on March 26, 1997—the game where McCarty pummeled the famously cowering Claude Lemieux, extracting a bloody revenge for Draper.
It was on that night through McCarty's tightly wound fists that Detroit came together as a unit. They'd go on to break the better than 40-year-old drought, winning the Stanley Cup in the ensuing playoffs.
It may be this string of events that the Grind Line is best known for.
Detroit was forced to buy out McCarty's contract when the salary cap was implemented. And while it appeared that his time with the team was done, this was only the beginning of a long, hard battle back to the Wings.
He played minor league hockey, dealt with substance abuse programs and came out on the other end of it all with another Stanley Cup ring. He completed his comeback in 2008, where he helped the Wings to yet another Finals victory.
McCarty retired in 2009 and has since pursued life as an on-air talent for both Versus and Detroit's sports radio station, The Ticket.
And the most recent retiree of the group, Kris Draper.
Out of all the Grind Line members, Draper's career was the most prolific. He won a Selke Trophy in 2004-2004 and was a member of the Canadian Olympic team in 2006. Draper would play over 1,000 career games in a Red Wings sweater—an accomplishment only four other players can claim.
The other members of that club include Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Not bad for one dollar.
In what is now a mildly notorious trade, the Winnipeg Jets dealt Draper to the Red Wings for a single dollar, the price of a cheeseburger or a small fry at McDonalds.
Talk about a return on investment.
But his story fits right in with the rest of the Grind Line's players, guys that no one else seemed to want or saw anything in. Yet Detroit pulled them together, counted on them and saw their way to many victories in part due to the Grind Line's play.
Unlikely memories from one of the unlikeliest groups in the history of the NHL. Grind Line, you will be missed, but you will never be forgotten.
Franklin Steele is a Red Wings featured columnist for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for entertaining hockey media from around the web, and for random musings about the sport. Follow @FranklinSteele1
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