Jun 4, 2002
The 2002 Stanley Cup Final is set. Goliath is in one room in the form of the Detroit Red Wings, the big money boys representing Hockeytown U.S.A. The Red Wings all grab their weapons from the stick rack that stands at the entrance of the dressing room. The sticks are all patterned for the big names. First, the lightweight, smooth, pattern designed for the graceful passer and puck-handler, "Lidstrom" reads the weapon. The next is a little heavier, much sturdier, designed to crack, smash and inflict significant pain, "Chelios" is the brand on that one. The next is designed with multiple modes, for the player who does a little bit of everything; "Fedorov" is the pattern. The last two are the most vaunting weapons this team can produce. One is designed to fire with blinding speed and accuracy, "Hull" the name on the shaft. The last one is designed much like the "Fedorov", though it has been reinforced for the past three weeks of battle. It has been designed a little stiffer and stronger to use as a crutch for the wounded leader, the captain of the troops who is battling on one leg "Yzerman" is the pattern. They take to the ice weapons in hand. A true hockey Goliath made and trained for this moment.
David sits in the other room in the Carolina Hurricanes, the sleeper, Cinderella, team that has surprised everyone to get here. They are nervous and tentative as they wait to take the ice. They deserve to be here. They have earned their way into this battle for the ultimate prize, though they aren't really sure what awaits them. As they head out to the battle, they take arms. The Hurricanes know they need only one weapon for this fight, but the right person must use it. Coach Paul Maurice yells at his troops, "OK boys, who gets the sling shot?"
Carolina is in tough, very tough. It remains to be seen whether they are in way over their heads. One thing is for sure though, their chances to fire at the opponent will be rare and they must make them count. When they do get to use the sling shot, they must aim right between the Red Wings eyes. If there is a team that can play the David role well, it is these Hurricanes. The style they play is taken right from that historic confrontation. As they have shown throughout the playoffs, they only need a few shots to win. They are extremely poised and patient. Maurice and the players are resilient in the knowledge that they can strike at the most opportune time. After they strike a successful blow, they make time the enemy as they stifle and frustrate you until the clock strikes zero. This is the strategy they will employ to try and slay the Red Wings.
The historic analogy is not too far removed in this series, as the owners of these two teams have fought each other for territory for years. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is the owner of Little Ceasers Pizza, originating in Detroit Michigan. He has sponsored a powerhouse youth hockey organization in Michigan for a long time. Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos is the owner of Compuware, based in the high-class suburb of Michigan called Oak Park. He has sponsored a rival, powerhouse youth hockey organization in Michigan for just as many years. Compuware and Little Ceasers have spent and wrestled each other for the best youth players in the State of Michigan in search of the state championship year after year. Myself being from Southern Ontario, my minor hockey team faced both these powerful teams on many occasions growing up. We crossed the border to Detroit for tournaments and exhibition games against Little Ceasers. Compuware was a part of our Bluewater Minor Hockey League for a couple years. The Bluewater league was a triple-A league based in Ontario with centers such as London, which housed two teams, Windsor, Sarnia, and our Chatham team. In the years that Compuware was a part, they were always near the top of the standings. I remember travelling to Oak Park, Michigan for the games against them and being in awe of the rink. It was a beautifully built arena with dark wooden walls inside, unlike any "barn" in southern Ontario. On the wall at one end was the huge Compuware logo. A very intimidating rink to play in that just reeked of money. Our team from Chatham played a lot of teams from Michigan, ranging from Fraser to Grosse Point to Marquette and one thing was clear anytime we played Little Ceasers or Compuware. They had the best youth players in the state bar none. Drawn by the lure of all expenses paid.
Minor hockey is always fun at the heart of it, but in many subtle ways at the triple-A level it is hardcore competitive. These two Michigan powerhouses were run like a business in the way they lured and recruited their players. They had the best uniforms, jackets, gloves and bags. They entered the most elite tournaments around the globe, the whole nine. It was obvious that these two organizations were competing head to head for talent and supremacy in Michigan. Yes, the rivalry between these two was heated and stemmed from the top. The men slinging the bucks. Mr. Ilitch and Mr. Karmanos. The ill will between these two men gained national attention a few years ago when Peter Karmanos offered free agent Red Wing star Sergei Fedorov a front loaded contract to try and pry him away from the Wings. The contract was so ludicrous that Mike Ilitch may have let Fedorov go to save his wallet He may have to anyone but Karmanos. Ilitch dug deep and matched the offer.
This is the moment that both these men have been striving to for a long, long time now. Hockey supremacy at the highest level, on the biggest stage head to head against each other. Their respective dreams have come true. Yes this is match-up between the players. The players are the ones that will ultimately decide the outcome. The coaching staffs and management teams will play a part, but this series has huge implications for the respective owners, and the players know it. I have no allegiance here, but I know about this rivalry, and Karmanos is the underdog in every way. He wants to be where Ilitch has been. He wants nothing more than to knock off Ilitch to get there. This series could be a lopsided affair on the ice, without many hard feelings along the way. The most intriguing battle here is behind the scenes between owners and everyone in Michigan and the hockey world knows it. I'm taking Goliath in this one.
Detroit in 6
Conn Smythe Trophy- Steve Yzerman
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