The Detroit Red Wings. 2008 Stanley Cup champions. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
It’s not a widely known fact, but beneath my menacing, cynical veneer, I’m actually one of the biggest softies you’ll ever meet. And the worst part about it is, I’m a big-time crier.
I mean, big-time.
I sob like Bobby Brown’s accountant whenever I’m at weddings, funerals and Britney Spears CD listening parties. I bawl like my life depends on it during reruns of E.T., The Color Purple and Say Anything. I get an awful case of the weepies just about every time I hear The Beatles’ The Long And Winding Road or some particularly melancholy song by David Gray or Richard Thompson.
So, naturally, the Proteau Waterworks opened up in a major way again last night as I watched the Detroit Red Wings celebrate their fourth Stanley Cup championship in 11 seasons.
It’s impossible for me not to, really; I’ve always bought wholeheartedly into the group and individual drama of sports championship celebrations – and now, because I’m lucky enough to get to know some of these remarkable athletes through my line of work, my appreciation for them has risen to new, misty-eyed heights that would make Shelley Duvall’s character from The Shining and anyone ever interviewed by Barbara Walters blush.
And while I could speak to and fawn over the superior skill displayed by the Red Wings from the beginning of the regular season right through to their Game 6, Cup-clinching triumph over Pittsburgh Wednesday night, I’d rather write about who Detroit’s players are as people. Because the personal side of a lucrative business is the only reason tears were traversing my mug as another NHL season officially came to a close.
I cried when Nicklas Lidstrom first picked up the Cup, knowing full well that the label of “first European captain of an NHL champion” really couldn’t have been applied to a more polite, respectful, decent human being.
I cried when the first person Lidstrom handed off the Cup to was Dallas Drake, a guy universally acknowledged as one of the league’s best foot-soldiers for the past 15 seasons, and now, someone who earned a spot where he was able to bask in the glow of championship glory.
I cried when Drake passed the trophy to Dan Cleary, a onetime elite prospect pushed to the periphery of the NHL before he scratched and clawed his way into a tryout opportunity with the Wings and turned the chance into a personal resurrection that will live on in the minds and hearts of his fellow Newfoundlanders for as long as the Atlantic tides touch the province’s shores.
I cried as the astoundingly-talented Henrik Zetterberg picked up the Cup and let out loud whoops of ecstasy that reverberated throughout Mellon Arena; I cried when Pavel Datsyuk – who kind of reminds me of E.T. with his big eyes, shy demeanor and magical hands – got his moment in the sun; I cried when Chris Osgood (another one of the game’s most approachable talents) established beyond a shadow of a doubt he was no passenger on a team with so many amazing components; I cried when Darren McCarty overcame his personal demons and was rewarded for it with the fourth championship of his career.
I cried for Detroit’s management, too – for head coach Mike Babcock, another man with a steely exterior that hides a heart of gold, and for senior vice-president Jim Devellano, who is simply one of the kindest hockey men I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering.
And I cried because the Wings delivered so many enduring, fantastic memories to a city that has fallen on such difficult and painful socio-economic times and certainly deserves to have its collective mindset relieved by some happiness, if only for a few moments and a handful of days.
Needless to say, all that crying left me a little dehydrated by the time I finally turned off the TV.
However, it was the least I could do, considering all the years of sacrifice, ache and effort it took for everyone in the Wings organization to demonstrate, yet again, it has no peer when it comes to creating not only on-ice champions, but champions of spirit and soul.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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