Sports

Call it Hockeytown

Detroit savors a second straight Stanley Cup

JAMES DEACON July 1 1998
Sports

Call it Hockeytown

Detroit savors a second straight Stanley Cup

JAMES DEACON July 1 1998

Call it Hockeytown

Detroit savors a second straight Stanley Cup

Sports

Bleary-eyed Stacy Orlando and Mark Kaiser haven’t slept for 36 hours.

They’re pressed against an aluminum parade barrier by the swelling crowd behind them, they’re turning red under a blistering-hot sun—and they’re having a ball. With a couple of friends, Orlando, 19, and Kaiser,

21, drove in from suburban Warren and spent the night on the cold concrete of Detroit’s Hart Plaza to secure a front-row perch at the Red Wings’ post-Stanley Cup celebration last week. They arrived about 2 a.m.—“We brought a bunch of beer and drank ’em all,” says Kaiser, an assistant manager of a sporting goods store—and they only just beat the rush. Police estimate that 1.2 million people lined the parade route and packed the plaza to cheer the Red Wings for winning their second-straight Cup.

‘There’s no sleeping when the Wings win the Cup,” Kaiser says.

“And we have a whole summer for the post-parade party.”

No wonder they call it Hockeytown. Detroit fans faithfully support a major-junior team and an International Hockey League franchise, and they are crazy about the Red Wings. For a few hours on parade day, they hung off lampposts and trees, leaned out of office windows, crowded onto rooftops and anchored pleasure boats in the Detroit River by Hart Plaza, all to get a better view of their heroes. They draped red-and-white Wings jerseys on civic monuments and statues, and celebrated what was actually a rather dull Cup final—a 4-0 sweep of the Washington Capitals.

Of course, not everyone was in the “Hockeytown” spirit. The sport, beloved in the suburbs, is mostly a curiosity to the predominantly black (75 per cent of Detroit proper) and poor residents of the decrepit city centre. There, once-grand buildings now stand as scarred and abandoned symbols of the postwar, post-1967-riots white flight to the burbs. Jamar Williams, 29, a bank employee who has lived downtown all his life, says hockey has failed to win innercity converts because there are too few black players. “It would be different if the

[basketball] Pistons or [baseball] Tigers had won,” Williams says, adding: “You’ve got to be able to relate to the players.”

For those in the grip of Wings fever, however, the franchise has been a rock in the uncertain world of professional sports. Most teams’ fortunes fluctuate with free agency, injuries or the whim of the owner, as in the case of baseball’s Florida Marlins, who won the 1997 World Series and then dumped their expensive players. The Red Wings, meanwhile, have played in three of the last four Cup finals and, given that their stars are

BOWMAN’S BANNERS

With Detroit’s triumph, Scotty Bowman tied Canadiens great Toe Blake as the winnlngest coach in Stanley Cup history. Bowman's victories, the year and the team:

1973 MONTREAL

1976 MONTREAL

1977 MONTREAL

1978 MONTREAL

1979 MONTREAL 1992 PITTSBURGH

1997 DETROIT

1998 DETROIT

all under contract for at least another season, their fans can even dream of a Stanley Cup three-peat. Captain Steve Yzerman, the landslide winner of the playoff’s mostvaluable player award, told the plaza crowd, “Somehow, I don’t think anyone’s going to be satisfied with just two.”

Good teams don’t just happen. Pizza baron Mike Illitch bought the Wings in 1982, but it took years of shrewd draft choices, the maturing of Yzerman and the coaching of Scotty Bowman to finally produce Cup-winning results. “You need a strong organization to win it all,” said winger Brendan Shanahan, relaxing backstage after the rally. “And when the time is right, Mr. Illitch has never been afraid to spend the money in a trade or for the right free agents.” But it was off the ice where Illitch, Bowman and general manager Ken Holland really scored with their players. Since star defenceman Vladimir Konstantinov and masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov were critically injured in a limousine accident after last year’s Cup celebrations, team officials have provided staunch emotional and financial support to their families. Though both remain confined to wheelchairs, they have made significant recoveries, which helped inspire their mates to another triumph. On the stage at last week’s rally, the players applauded as Konstantinov gingerly took a few steps with the help of team physiotherapist John Wharton and defenceman Slava Fetisov. Fetisov says Illitch made sure the stricken defenceman was in Washington, wearing his No. 16, when the Wings clinched victory last week. “It’s not just sport, not just hockey,” Fetisov says. "It’s something more than that. People care here.”

Even on a sunny day by the river, with the cheers still ringing around the city, Fetisov can remember the accident too well. He was in the same limousine—“I was a couple of inches, maybe less, from being in the same situation,” he says, his usually granite countenance softening. Fetisov’s own injuries—a bruised chest and lung, nerve damage and a deep cut in one leg—required rehabilitation and, nearing 40, he did not expect the team to offer him another contract last summer. Holland, however, did just that, and a grateful Fetisov responded with a solid season. “Everywhere, sports is a business,” the scarred veteran says. “But here, they want to build a dynasty, and you cannot buy that. You build it with people, not money.” And right now, the Red Wings seem to have all the right people.

JAMES DEACON in Detroit

JAMES DEACON