Once upon a time, long before I was a rich and famous somewhat-recognizable Leafs video blogger, the Detroit Red Wings were my second team.
That picture features just one of the Red Wings hats I had as a kid. I got another one after they won the Cup in 1996-97. I remember buying the newspaper the day after they won that year. I remember buying it again during operation "Win it for Vladdy" the next year. I was a Leafs fan at heart, but for a chunk of my childhood, I absolutely loved the Detroit Red Wings.
It all started with my Grade 2 teacher Mr. Cody. He was a big hockey fan and whenever hockey came up in class he would talk about this student he had once upon a time named Kris Draper. That's where my fascination with the Red Wings began.
I remember watching the first series in the heated Detroit-Colorado rivalry and cheering for the Red Wings all the way. They had Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, and most importantly to me - Kris Draper. You can imagine how much I freaked out when Claude Lemieux decked him from behind.
While Kris was recovering from his injuries, Mr. Cody set aside some time in class for all of his students to write "get well" notes to him. I remember writing something along the lines of "Don't let that dumb meanie Clud Lemieux hurt you again!" Claude was intentionally misspelled because I thought "Clud" was another word for dummy. I probably heard "clutz" and thought it was clud. Whatever. Kids are stupid.
When he was better, Kris returned to his old neighbourhood in Scarborough to drop in on Mr. Cody and his Grade 2 class, which I was in.
I got Kris Draper's hockey card as a birthday present just a few months prior and it was hanging on our school's wall of fame. I told the principal this and he ran down the hall, found the card, and made like 100 copies of it so every student in the class could get Kris' autograph. It was awesome!
Sorry to tell this relatively insignificant story and wax all poetically. I'm sure Red Wings fans have bigger fish to fry right now; namely the Boston Bruins.
But I tell you this story because of this.
I didn't stay a Red Wings fan. Shortly after the Wings' back-to-back Cups, the Leafs got Curtis Joseph and began to resurge. The good Leafs I remembered from the Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk, and Wendel Clark days had returned and I could cheer for my hometown team once again. I still liked the Red Wings, but it was all about the Leafs.
Just a few years later, Curtis Joseph became Ed Belfour (thanks for that by the way, you jerks). What followed the Leafs' playoff elimination in 2004 was a dog pile of disappointment, baseless hope, and failure.
I guess the reason I'm telling you this on the eve of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs is because, well, I just hope Red Wings fans truly appreciate the team that they have.
Detroit has made the playoffs for 23 consecutive years. I don't even know how to wrap my head around that.
I made a video about two years ago, that's actually kind of haunting now given what has happened, pleading with Vancouver Canucks fans to start appreciating the team they've got. I talked about how Canucks fans complain way too much and even on their worst nights, their team was still twice the team most other NHL clubs were. I even pointed out, "Hey - if you don't want Mason Raymond then the Leafs will gladly take him." That one was pretty creepy.
"Well if the Leafs suck so much then why not become a Wings fan again? Come on! Drop the zero and get with a hero!"
I've tried to stop liking the Leafs. I really have. I just can't do it.
That's why I hope you appreciate the fact that your team has made the playoffs in every season for over two decades now.
I hope you can appreciate that while your stars like Datsyuk and Zetterberg will one day fade, you have an organization that knows how to draft and develop the likes of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.
I hope you can appreciate that, rightly or wrongly, Mike Babcock is constantly brought up as one of the greatest coaches in the game today.
I hope you can appreciate that when an organization adds a guy in a hockey ops role and he's had anything to do with the Detroit Red Wings in the past (blatant Brendan Shanahan reference), people immediately get excited.
You've got a class organization, Motor City. Just sayin'.
[Editor's Note: Thanks so much to Steve for putting this out. What a great perspective on fandom. You can follow him @Steve_Dangle on Twitter, catch his podcast here, or read more of his stuff at The Leafs Nation]