I think about hockey a lot. More specifically - I think about Detroit Red Wings hockey a lot. The amount of love I have for this organization goes way back to my younger years when I would spend most of my summers on my grandma's uneven driveway standing in front of a rinky-dink net that was a gift to my uncle way before I was even born. I loved playing goalie. It was my thing, I was a weird kid. Most of the guys in my neighborhood had no interest in putting on the ripped-up pads held together by stale sweat and duct tape that were available to us. Not me, no way. I'd strap those on and jump in front of the net with a crooked-tooth smile on my face.
I wasn't kidding about the duct tape.
I didn't have the most "blessed" childhood. Both of my parents worked in the horse racing business - Something that had gone back in my family for decades. I had no interest in it, so it made me a bit of a wild card. My father, a harness racer, introduced me to hockey. While my family was never rich, they gave me just about everything I ever needed as a kid. My incredible mother, Linda, supported me with whatever I wanted to do no matter what. While my dad was usually in and out with work, he gave me something that I'm not sure could ever be matched. He showed me the Red Wings, and bought me my first set of goalie pads.
Yes, that is a Montreal Canadiens helmet. I was a kid.. Beggars cannot be choosers, right?
I'll tell you the first Red Wings game I ever saw. Disclaimer: I was a very spoiled kid, in terms of hockey I got to watch. I started watching the game on December 26th, 1996. I was seven years old. The Red Wings were playing the Washington Capitals. It was a game that saw nine goals scored between the two clubs. You might remember this game, because something extraordinary happened late that cold winter night in Detroit, Michigan:
Yep. The first full game of hockey I ever watched was when Sergei Fedorov scored five goals, with the fifth one coming in overtime. I remember it like it was yesterday. The Russian Five were the reason I stayed up late that night completely googly-eyed over the way they played the game. It was rather symphonic, and that's putting it lightly. Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov, and Viacheslav Fetisov moved the puck with an ungodly amount of speed and puck control was mesmerizing. It was like they were on a completely different level from every other opposing player. I wish I could go back to those days now, as a 26-year-old, and marvel at what they were able to do. If my mom had known that I stayed up that late, she would have freaked out, but it was worth it. Seeing Fedorov score his fifth goal in overtime is something that will never leave me. It was the first time I stood up and yelled at a sporting event. I was amped. Pretty sure I didn't even sleep that night, because I was just so damn excited. The constant thought of "that was freaking awesome" riddled my mind for days to come.
From that point, I was hooked. I watched every game, and I started playing more street hockey just because of that one game. I was a goalie, so obviously I had a total thing for Chris Osgood. While he wasn't the most dominant of goalies, I just loved the guy. Hell, the first jersey I ever owned was Osgood's.
As I said before, I started watching in 1996, so naturally, I was a spoiled hockey child. The Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup Championship that year. Again, another game I will never forget:
I watched that game like a hawk. I sat myself about three feet in front of the television, wearing my blank Red Wings jersey. Osgood wasn't playing, but I was a fan of Mike Vernon after he knocked the snot out of Patrick Roy during Fight Night At The Joe.. Another event that is an obvious favorite of any Red Wings fan. The first goal of the night came from a familiar name. Nicklas Lidstrom blasts the puck from the point past Ron Hextall. I remember yelling "WE'RE GONNA DO IT! WE'RE GONNA WIN THE CUP!!" while all of my family smiled and laughed at my gleaming fandom. Little did I know, that very defenseman would become the best defenseman I have ever watched. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. The sound of the Red Wings goal horn, the blaring cheers of fans at Joe Louis Arena. Hockeytown at it's absolute finest. I felt like I was right there.
The most important part of this game was what Darren McCarty did. What he did turned a young Kyle into a raging lunatic running around his parent's living room. You all know the goal. Just watch.
This was the moment I became a Red Wings die-hard
Little did I know, this would be one of four times I got to watch my favorite team hoist the Stanley Cup.
During the offseason, the Red Wings were struck with tragedy when Vladimir Konstantinov, and Viacheslav Fetisov were involved in a limousine wreck. Vladdy spent multiple weeks in a coma, while Fetisov escaped serious injury and returned the following season. Being the wonder that he is, Konstantinov pulled through despite being put into a wheelchair indefinitely. I'm not sure I've ever had a more emotional time as a fan in my entire life during this. Sure, I was young, but it was a core piece of The Russian Five - The group of hockey craftsmen that opened my eyes to hockey.
I didn't get to see my first Red Wings game until 1998. Again, being a spoiled hockey youngster, it was game two of the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals., the same match-up that made me fall in love with this team. I don't know if I can really describe the nerves I had. The only way I can put it is sort of like kissing a girl for the first time.. Mind you, that event came many, many years later. But hey, that's none of your business. Like any crazy young hockey fan, I went all out:
Oh yeah.. That's a dyed bowl cut, and some masterful war paint by the old man.
It was my first hockey game ever. It was loud... And I mean loud. The coolest part? It was on my birthday. So, the best birthday ever.
The Red Wings played a somewhat sloppy game for most of it. At one point being down 3-1 in the 2nd period, the Red Wings rumbled back to tie the game on a goal by Doug Brown which took it to overtime. I'll admit, being such a young fan, I felt defeated even going into overtime, basically on the verge of nervous tears. Fast forward to 4:37 left in the first overtime, Kris Draper scored, and the Red Wings pulled off the wondrous comeback to win the game 5-4. I don't really remember what happened when Drapes scored the game-winner, because everyone around me was much taller. All I know is that I had no voice for the next week.
Two games later, the Red Wings won their second Stanley Cup Championship in two years. The remarkable Detroit hockey team swept the Washington Capitals, and started a true NHL dynasty. A moment that I will never forget is when they wheeled Vladimir Konstantinov onto the ice for the celebration. I get choked up even watching it today. A true inspiration to the entire team, and forever a Detroit Red Wing.
Okay, now that I've done my fair share of monotonous fanboying over my favorite team.. I want to get down to real life..
I've battled most of my life with depression, and anxiety. I live most days with a constant uphill battle, and while many of you might not see it, I experience it every day. I can honestly say to you that hockey has given me a "home." It's made me feel incredible, it's made me feel like complete crap, but the fact of the matter is that it's made me feel. Some of you can relate, some of you can not.. But we all have our quarrels in life. We all find different ways of dealing with them, and overcoming what's put in front of you. For me, the Detroit Red Wings, The Russian Five, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, and many others have given me something to be passionate about. I've watched roughly 95% of Red Wings games since becoming a fan, and that's not only because I think it's the greatest game on earth. It's because it's my home, it's my safehaven, It's the flip-side of my pillow.
I recently started writing for all of your wonderful folks here at Winging it in Motown, and while some of you like to yell at me for using bad grammar, or having bad opinions, just know that writing about my favorite team to people who feel the same way about them as I do has saved my life in more ways than one. I'm not a journalist, and I am certainly no professional... I'm merely a fan with a computer in front of me watching games, saying swear words, and above all else - Loving this sport. The past Red Wings teams I have had the pleasure of cheering for have taught me a whole new love for the game.
So yeah, if you've made it this far, I just want to say thank you for reading. I'm a complete homer for this team, but I love everything that is hockey. There are likely hundreds of you who share a similar story to how your favorite team changed your life, and if I can give you any piece of advice it's that you shouldn't be afraid to tell the world. It's a pretty awesome thing.