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Final a battle of youth vs. experience

by Mike G. Morreale

At age 46, Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios is the oldest player in the NHL, four years older than Pittsburgh's most senior player, Gary Roberts, who turns 42 on Friday.
Chris Chelios video highlights 
Will the young, spry Pittsburgh Penguins be able to beat the ageless Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final?

Inquiring minds want to know.

“The older you get, the more you have to make adjustments to your game,’’ Detroit right wing Dallas Drake said. “You have to realize what kind of player you are and what you could do differently to contribute. I realized a long time ago that I was never going to be a big scorer, and as the years went by I slowly adjusted. It doesn’t matter to me whether I play three minutes or 10 minutes a night, I just have to find a way to be effective in those minutes and that’s how I approach things.’’

Drake, 39 and a 15-season NHL veteran, had a goal, an assist, two hits, two blocked shots and two takeaways in 9:37 of ice time in Detroit’s 4-1 victory in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final.

“I told the guys that’ll probably never happen again,’’ Drake said. “You obviously want to contribute any time you can, but I know certain guys have to step up in certain situations and chip in because that’s how teams advance.

“Pittsburgh has a group of kids that are as dynamic as anybody and there’s nothing wrong with being young. You look back on those great Oilers teams of the 1980s and they were young when they won all those Cups. You could almost compare Pittsburgh with those teams because the best players are so young. Sure, we’re a lot older, but I don’t think that has anything to do with winning or losing this series. You just deal with it.’’

The average age of Pittsburgh players in this season’s playoffs is 27.9, while Detroit’s average age is 32.3. The Red Wings have 10 players who have captured the Cup a total of 23 times, while Pittsburgh has just three winners and a total of four rings.  

Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios, who turned 46 on Jan. 25, is second only to Gordie Howe (52 years, six days) for the distinction of oldest player in NHL history. Gary Roberts, who turns 42 on May 23, is Pittsburgh’s oldest player.

“(Chelios) doesn’t joke about (his age), but we do,’’ Drake said. “We have fun with him, but you should see the guy with his shirt off. It’s tough to make fun of him because he’s in such great condition. He may be the only guy in the NHL who doesn’t produce body fat.’’

Detroit’s old legs certainly didn’t show against their three previous playoff opponents. The Nashville Predators, who took Detroit to a six-game series, averaged 28.3 years in age. The Colorado Avalanche (27.8) and Dallas Stars (28.0) also were well below Detroit’s average, but combined for just two victories against the President’s Trophy winner.

The 2008 Stanley Cup Final is the first all-American Final since 2003, when the New Jersey Devils faced the Anaheim Ducks, and it gets underway Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

“I think we do have a pretty young team,’’ Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero said. “But we have some really good veterans that have been through it as well, like Petr Sykora, Roberts and Darryl Sydor, who are the voices of reason for us. Yes, Sidney Crosby (20) and Evgeni Malkin (21) are young, but these guys are superstar players ready to take the next step. Whether it’s a timely save from Marc-Andre Fleury (23) or a big offensive period, we’ve responded well this year.’’

Pittsburgh left wing Ryan Malone (28), who ranks fourth in the League with 62 hits this postseason, feels playing physical is imperative against the crafty Wings.

“Honestly, I don’t think anyone is really too sure how it’s going to be until we see how they play in Game 1,” Malone said. “We definitely want to be physical on them if it’s going to be a long series. We just have to make sure we’re playing smart with the puck and not allow them to join the rush. They have a lot of guys that can move the puck and jump right in, so we’ll have to make sure we’re thinking defense even when we’re in the offensive zone.’”

Holland said he strives to put together a complementary mix of youth and experience.

“You would like to have the mix of veterans and kids,” Holland said. “Kids bring enthusiasm and speed and veterans bring leadership and experience to calm everyone down. We think we have a good mix of veterans who have been through the wars and our young kids were impressive in Game 6 against Dallas when we took over the game in the opening 15 minutes. I believe both teams (Detroit and Pittsburgh) have a pretty good mix, actually. It’s going to be good.’’

Contact Mike Morreale at

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