|After 16 seasons, 1,000 games, and 11 trips to the postseason, Dallas Drake was finally able to lift the Stanley Cup above his head.
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When Nicklas Lidstrom was done skating the Stanley Cup around the Mellon Arena ice he targeted only one player to hand the chalice to next.
Dallas Drake had waited 16 NHL seasons for this moment.
"I started thinking about it in the first round. What if we do win it? Who's going to get it?" Lidstrom said. "I decided fairly early on that 'Dally' would be the guy because he has been in the League 16 years and never had a chance to be this close to the Cup. I think he really earned it and deserved it."
This is Drake's year and Wednesday was his night despite the fact that he didn't register a point in the series or play even 10 minutes in the clincher.
"It meant an awful lot to me that the guys let me go grab it next," Drake said. "It was a great feeling. I didn't think that was going to happen. I didn't think I was ever going to get a chance to lift it up. It was a dream come true tonight."
According to Drake's teammates, there was no question who Lidstrom was passing it to.
Drake, who is 39 and has played in over 1,000 NHL games, earned that kind of respect from his teammates for his rugged and determined play in his first season in Detroit since 1994.
"Everyone said 'Dally, get up there,' " Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall told NHL.com. "There was no doubt about it. We're certainly happy he decided to play hockey for another year. He's a huge part of our team."
"You guys don't see him after games. He's got ice bags and he's in the hot tub trying to heal up," added Kirk Maltby, who sits next to Drake in the Red Wings' dressing room inside Joe Louis Arena and had gone through numerous battles against No. 17 when he was with St. Louis and Phoenix. "He puts everything on the ice and leaves it all out there. We're happy for everyone, but to have a guy like that get one near the end of his career, it's awesome.
"To see 'Dally' skating around with it, you can't be any happier for him."
While standing on the ice with family members who were flown into Pittsburgh by Wings owner Mike Ilitch, Drake thanked the organization, specifically GM Ken Holland and Assistant GM Jim Nill, for taking a shot on him this summer with a one-year contract.
"I'm sure there were a lot of doubters out there, but they believed in me and gave me a role," Drake said. "I couldn't have had more fun this year playing with this group of guys."
When Drake signed he had visions of lifting the Stanley Cup, but Wednesday night far exceeded his expectations.
"And then some," he said.
The Penguins, though, didn't make it easy on Drake.
"It went right down to the wire," he said. "Us old guys on the bench, our tickers can't take that, but I made it. What a special feeling."
What about his long-awaited lap around the ice?
"I couldn't cross over. Didn't you see me there? I thought my skates or my legs weren't working well," Drake said. "It felt pretty heavy to me. I don't know about the 35 pounds. I'm going to have to get a scale."
Drake said before Game 6 that had he never made it to the Stanley Cup Final he would have been OK with it.
Now that he got there?
"It's OK with me. It's really OK," he said laughing. "I always said if I got here and lost I would have felt it more. Once you get here you have to win. If we would have lost I don't know how I could have gotten over that."
Drake had to be thinking about the worst possible what-if scenarios before Game 5 because he said he was a nervous wreck. Imagine that, a 39-year-old veteran of 16 NHL seasons was a nervous wreck.
But hours before Game 6 he said all the butterflies were gone.
"I actually feel 100 times better today than I did before Game 5," Drake said.
Maybe it was because Drake had already played in what could have been a Stanley Cup-clinching game. Maybe it was because he knew the Red Wings still had one out left before they were facing the brink of elimination.
Maybe, though, it was because Drake never put pressure on himself to win the Stanley Cup.
"You know what, there are a lot of guys that have played a lot more years than I have that are a lot better than I will ever be that never won a Stanley Cup," Drake said. "If you think I put extra pressure on myself because I never won it, I didn't do that at all."
He doesn't have to even think about that anymore.
"It's a crowning achievement on a long career," Drake said. "As a little kid growing up in Canada all you think about is winning the Stanley Cup and raising it above your head. It's something I have thought about often."
Ironically, Drake started this long journey to Stanley Cup glory with these very same Red Wings. He was drafted in the sixth round by Detroit in 1989 and spent his first season and a half in Motown when the Red Wings were beginning the process of building their annual Stanley Cup contender.
Drake was shipped to Winnipeg late in the 1993-94 season, meaning he fell one season short of appearing in the Stanley Cup Final with the Wings. Years later he made it to the Western Conference Finals with St. Louis (2001), but that was as close as he would get until now.
"You wonder every day," Drake said. "As the years go by you don't know if you are ever going to get the chance. There are a lot of guys that play a lot of years and never get to the Final. I was one of those guys."
Now, Drake is one of the other guys. He'll get his day with the Cup sometime this summer. He'll get his name etched on it. He'll get a ring to add to the one he won in 1991 when he led Northern Michigan to the NCAA crown.
If there is a feel-good story coming out of this Final, Drake is it.
"Those are the stories within the playoff story," said Maltby. "Whether it's one-on-one battles against certain guys or what someone has gone through, it's just all about perseverance. 'Dally' has just stuck it out."
This summer, he'll get a day with the prize that he most definitely earned.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com