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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.