While it feels like the NHL Network has been showing the same three or four playoff series this summer—seriously, I think I have the play-by-play for Nashville vs Anaheim memorized—they have been occasionally showing some interesting programming.
Notable to me has been the airing of the Cup clinching game for each year since like, 1985 (I really don't know where they started) every day at noon (I think) in a series called "Raising the Cup."
While I haven't caught all of these games, a few weeks ago I did catch the Detroit Red Wings clincher from 2002. And as the game progressed I realized how much I really miss watching some of those players play hockey.
It was an odd moment.
I'm only 24 but have been a hockey fan since I was six. So for me, the Wings of the mid-'90s and early 2000's were the guys that I really got to sink my teeth into. So no, it isn't a little early for me to be reminiscing.
Here are the five Red Wings players from the last 15 years that I miss watching play on a regular basis.
Few players embodied the spirit of revival that Detroit experienced in 1997 more than Darren McCarty, when they won their first Cup in 42 years—not that anyone was counting.
It's widely believed that is was McCarty who broke the curse that had lingered over the Red Wings by beating the ever-loving will to fight out of Claude Lemieux in one of the most famous dust ups in recent sports history.
McCarty also put the final nail in the coffin of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a slick inside-outside move on Janne Niinimaa in the second period. The goal would prove to be the game winner.
(Listen to that crowd erupt! If you happened to be there and are reading this, I want to know how loud it was in person. Chills. Seriously, chills.)
The story of McCarty doesn't stop there though.
He would continue to embody the Red Wings mentality through his entire career, which was rife with roadblocks and stumbles. He has been to rehab on four separate occasions for undisclosed addiction issues, but never quit moving his feet.
Addiction wouldn't prove to be strong enough to keep No. 25 down. Just like he helped dispel the dark cloud that hung over the Red Wings for so long, the team would later return the favor as the healthy and driven McCarty began his comeback in 2007. After his career (and personal life) hit rock bottom in Calgary, McCarty righted his own ship and signed with the Flint Generals in December of that year.
The Generals were owned by former Grind Liner Kris Draper, who was instrumental in encouraging McCarty to return to pro hockey. But there are no handouts in Detroit. No contracts offered in nostalgia.
After 10 games in Flint, McCarty landed a tryout with the Grand Rapids Griffins. In his first game he scored a hat trick and tacked on an assist for good measure. It was clear at this point that he was fired up, and had reclaimed some of the spunk that had made him such a well-liked Red Wing.
The hockey gods smiled on McCarty, as he was finally called up to Detroit on March 7th—just in time for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Nashville. The comeback run would accumulate with McCarty lifting the Stanley Cup for the fourth time as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
When I think guts and determination, this is one of the first guys that come to mind. Looking at a league that is currently saturated with cheap shot artists, I miss McCarty even more. He was skilled enough to put up big goals, stuck up for his teammates (and best friends), and played with plenty of snarl without crossing the line.
I miss watching him play for these reasons. Sure, he'll always be connected to Fight Night at the Joe, and for finishing off the Flyers to end the drought. But what I truly miss is the drive and desire that this guy brought to the ice every night.
McCarty had a personality that was made apparent through his on-ice play, and I don't think it's a coincidence that he was part of the four most recent championship parades in Detroit.
Sergei Fedorov was the NHL's Russian assassin before being a Russian assassin was cool.
Before Pavel Datsyuk, there was Fedorov.
He played in the NHL at a time where Europeans were considered soft, toe dragging machines that couldn't play the game in all three zones and shied away from the physical side of the game. They were, in so many words, the antithesis of the Canadian style of hockey.
And he couldn't have broken the mold more than he did.
Fedorov's list of accomplishments is so long that it is almost boring. In a way that reading an overly ridiculous list of things gone right could be.
He holds the NHL record for most points in overtime, was the first European born player to win the Hart Trophy, and was the first Russian to reach 1,000 points. Fedorov is also the only player ever to win a Selke and Hart in the same season—ridiculous.
Just as good in the playoffs as he was in the regular season, Fedorov looms large when it matters most.
The guy wasn't just fast. His stride was as smooth as freshly blown glass, but he didn't only use this weapon to score goals. Fedorov was a dominating force in the neutral zone as well, stripping pucks and back-checking opponents before his presence was known.
This prowess in all three zones lead to an astonishing plus-262 all while playing against the top players in the league. He was so good on both sides of the puck that he was regularly used on the blue line throughout his career.
Fedorov was my first favorite hockey player. It was a shiny Upper Deck card featuring No. 91 that lead to my Red Wings fan hood as a child. I skated figure eights in the street so I could be quick in the same way. In the same manner that Canadian players grew up idolizing Gretzky or Messier or Lemieux, I grew up idolizing Fedorov.
I wish he could have retired a Wing.
Who didn't love watching Vlad the Impaler fly all over the ice, delivering viscous body checks to whoever he could find?
He only played in six seasons for the Red Wings, but what an outstanding set of seasons it was. After being selected 221st overall in 1989, he landed a full time spot on Detroit's blue line in 1991. His offensive numbers weren't staggering—he put up 174 points in 446 games.
But he was dangerous enough with the puck to earn a reputation as a player who could do more than be an agitating force on the ice. I was young, but I remember Konstantinov destroying anyone who was carrying the puck and not paying attention.
If I had known the phrase "Keep your head up sucka'!" at that stage in my life I am confident I could have used it more then than I can now.
He wasn't half bad with his stick either, if I recall correctly. He won the plus/minus award in 1995-1996, blowing the competition away with a plus-60. Goals were rare when Konstantinov was on the ice. And his feral aggression was an important part of Detroit's game, as the Wings were generally filled with slick skill players.
Konstantinov was the runner up for the Norris in 1996-1997, and great things appeared to be on the horizon.
Then shortly after helping Detroit defeat the Flyers to win the Cup, he was injured badly in a limo accident. The rest is Red Wings history. The near-fatal injury lit a fire under the 1998 squad, who won the Cup to honor their fallen comrade.
I want to avoid the usual "what could have been" angle here. I'm thankful that the Wings had six great years from a hammer of a hockey player—the likes of which haven't been seen in Detroit except for flashes out of Niklas Kronwall.
I am glad that the accident didn't rob us of a life too early. Some things are more important than playing hockey, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't love to see Vladdy lace up the skates again.
I blame the following little tidbit on repeated viewings of the Hockeytown video that chronicled Detroit's championship run in 96-97. But I can tell you off the top of my head that the Wings landed Brendan Shanahan on October 9th, 1996 while I can't tell you my own mother's birthday.
In my defense I am awful with dates.
A calendar can't save me. Alarms on my cell phone can't save me. I know two dates off hand. My own birthday, sometimes a girlfriend's birthday...but I will always remember what happened on October 9th.
That is probably pathetic to all but the most extreme hockey fans, but it should illustrate just how much I enjoyed watching Shanny play across nine seasons in Detroit. From the Irish Jig that played every time he scored a goal, to the fights, to the gaped-mouth stare he seemed to take in every game from behind.
Shanahan embodied another dimension of the game entirely, bringing a power forward type presence to a team that badly needed his grit and drive. And did he ever bring it.
He was the key to a change in direction to start the season in 1996, appearing in Detroit's home opener. Guys like McCarty would see more ice time, and an old school roughneck like Joey Kocur (who started the season playing semi-pro hockey) would find a spot on the original Grind Line.
The Wings won three cups during Shanahan's nine year tenure with the squad—a pretty good percentage all things considered. During that magical first season though, he netted nearly 50 goals, and put up 17 points en route to shutting out the Flyers 4-0.
He was also a part of arguably the greatest team ever assembled in 2002, skating with at least half the team being legitimate Hall of Fame worthy players.
It's the Captain, and so long as I live and root for this Red Wings team there will be no other player like him. Sometimes I am made uncomfortable by the fact that Detroit's generation-defining talent came and went while I was still a kid, but I am glad I got to see Steve Yzerman play a lot of hockey.
If you don't understand why a fan would miss watching a player like this, then I don't think I could explain it anyway.
Well that makes two of us.
Feel free to become a fan, comment on anything you'd like (I'm always down for hockey conversation!) and to stay up-to-date on my other articles and musings by following me on Twitter.
I even made it easy for you. Who doesn't love buttons?
Sorry. I'm still working on a button for that.