|Dave Strader: TheVoiceDS on Twitter |
In May of 1988, I was in my third season as the voice of the Detroit Red Wings. The team had made its second straight unexpected trip to the Western Conference Finals. And, as they were the season before, the Wings were up against Wayne Gretzky’s powerful Edmonton Oilers. In those days, the local broadcasts followed their teams as far as they advanced in the playoffs and we also traveled on the team charter. After an overtime loss in Game 4, the Wings were down three games to one and scheduled to hop on their charter flight back to Edmonton immediately after the game.
The day before Game 4, I had spoken with my boss at the time, Jim Lites. He knew my wife Colleen was expecting twins any day. I expressed my concern about leaving after Game 4 with the team and spending an extra day on the road. I asked for permission to fly commercial late on the off day between Games 4 and 5. He thought about it for a moment and then he said he would check with Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch (Red Wings’ owners) to see if I could fly on their private plane on the day of Game 5. I would also be able to fly back with them after Game 5. I was thrilled at the offer. Later in the day, Jim confirmed that I was indeed on the Ilitch’s plane and gave me instructions on where and when to be at the Detroit airport.
Everyone in the traveling party arrived early at Detroit airport…everyone except Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch. They got caught in a meeting and arrived about an hour after the rest of us. As we boarded the plane and we were informed about the flight time to Edmonton, I was concerned about how I could possibly get to Northlands Coliseum in time for the broadcast. The Gulfstream jet had a video screen with constant updates about our expected arrival time in Edmonton. At one point during the flight, Mr. Ilitch sensed my concern. “What’s wrong, Strader?” he asked. I explained my concern and I asked if we were landing at the main Edmonton airport (about 30 minutes from the arena) or the downtown city airport. Mr. Ilitch went into the cockpit for a few moments. He returned and said to me, “You’re all set.” I had no idea what he meant.
We landed at the main Edmonton airport sometime between 6:30 and 7 p.m. local time. The game started at 7:30. Keep in mind, this was long before cell phones. I had no way of contacting my producer, Toby Cunningham, or my partner, Mickey Redmond. As the jet taxied to a stop, I looked out the window to see a helicopter parked next to us. “That’s your ride downtown,” Mr. Ilitch said. As other members of the family and business associates laughed, I looked around and said, “Who’s coming with me?” I had never been in a helicopter and I was looking for moral support as much as anything. Two guys volunteered and within minutes we were airborne in the helicopter, heading towards the downtown city airport. I remember that we were securely strapped into our seats with headphones over our ears to help deal with the noise and listen to any instructions from the pilot. He let us know when we were flying over the estate of then Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington. It was all so surreal.
|Rexall Place in Edmonton, formerly Northlands Coliseum. |
We landed at the city airport where a limo was waiting to bring me to the arena. As I recall, I ran into Northlands Coliseum less than 10 minutes before puck drop. The press box there is not the easiest to get to and the on-camera position is about 20 yards from the broadcast booth position. As I passed our booth heading to the on-camera position, Mickey Redmond was just getting ready to head down there himself. “Come on Mick,” I yelled. “We’re going to be late!” He couldn’t believe I had made it. CBC’s Chris Cuthbert was on standby, ready to call the game in my absence. As it turned out, Mickey and I got into position with less than a minute to air. Toby Cunningham quickly let me know what we were covering in the open. Mickey and I did our thing and the telecast went off without a hitch. The Wings lost that night, 8-4, and I got back home early the next morning.
As it turned out, the boys cooperated. They went almost full term and arrived two weeks later…over seven pounds each! But, I’ll never forget what Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, Jim Lites and the Red Wings’ organization did for Colleen and me. It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years.
Happy birthday Casey and Trevor!
Thanks for reading.
► EDITOR'S NOTE:
Follow Dave Strader on Twitter @TheVoiceDS.