MARQUETTE, Mich. -- If there's anyone that knows what hockey means to the people of Marquette, Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, it's Dallas Drake.
Drake, a veteran of 15 NHL seasons, played four years at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, which included an undefeated season and a Division I National Championship in 1991. The retired forward was back at Lakeview Arena on Sunday to host youth hockey clinics. The arena was the winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016, received $350,000 in arena upgrades, and will host a preseason game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
"Hockey gave me everything in my life up to this point and it's important that you give back," Drake said. "The most fun I have is teaching the little guys who are always falling and still have smiles on their faces and aren't very serious at all. Those are the kids who have the most fun. I think it's important as a former NHL player to give back to your communities and help out as much as you can."
Drake, who attended Northern Michigan from 1988-92, ranks fifth in school history with 220 points, fourth in goals (92) and fourth in assists (128). He led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring, tied the school record with nine shorthanded goals and was named team MVP in 1991-92. He was inducted into the Northern Michigan University Hall of Fame in 2002.
He also scored the game-winning goal in Northern Michigan's 5-3 semifinal victory against Maine at the 1991 Division I NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats defeated Boston College 8-7 in triple overtime in the NCAA Final.
"We had a very good team that year," Drake said. "We expected ourselves to be in the situation we were in. More than anything else, we weren't the most well-known university, so for us to be in a situation like that, it was a big deal to us. It was a big deal to our city and we are very proud of that accomplishment."
Northern Michigan finished 38-5-4 in 1990-91 and were undefeated at Lakeview Arena, where the Wildcats played their home games from 1976-98. The arena, which has a capacity of 3,100 for hockey, recently received new glass from the Colorado Avalanche, repairs to the dehumidification system, locker rooms, Zamboni and lights, a sound system upgrade, coaches platforms on the benches, new protective end netting, and NHL standard protective end post padding.
"Playing here for a number of years, it's a big thrill that this rink is getting improvements because obviously there is a lot of history here going back beyond even when I played, the university played here a number of years," Drake said. "It was always a fantastic rink to be a part of and a great atmosphere."
Drake was an honorable mention all-league selection in each of his first three seasons at Northern Michigan before being named to the All-WCHA first team as a senior in 1991-92, when he was also named WCHA Defensive Player of the Year. That season, he had 39 goals and 83 points in 40 games.
The Detroit Red Wings selected Drake in the sixth round (No. 116) of the 1989 NHL Draft. He played parts of two seasons in Detroit before he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets on March 8, 1994. When Drake's NHL career was winding down, he signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings for the 2007-08 season. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup that season, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games, giving Drake the one thing that eluded him in his career. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom handed the Cup to Drake first during the on-ice celebration.
"That's something that will always be a memory for the rest of my life," said Drake, who retired from the NHL six weeks later. "I didn't expect to be the first guy that was given the Cup. I just wanted to touch it sometime that day so a huge thrill for me. I think that whole year was a dream season for me being around some of those guys and realizing what it takes to win. We had a very special team that year and it's something that I'll cherish for the rest of my life."
Drake, 47, lives in Traverse City, Michigan, where he coaches one of his children's youth hockey teams. He also still visits Marquette on occasion.
"Huge hockey market up here," Drake said. "All the small towns, all the kids can skate. You have to remember, the winters are pretty long here. A lot of the things you do are outdoors or in the snow and hockey obviously fits that bill very well. They support the community really well, the university sports and minor league hockey association really well. A lot of kids like to do it here in the winter time."