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It's finally Drake's turn at Cup

by Larry Wigge

After watching a collection of veteran forwards raise the Stanley Cup for the first time in recent seasons, Dallas Drake is ready for his opportunity to break through on the game's biggest stage.
Year after year, Dallas Drake has watched veteran after veteran get the chance to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time and put an exclamation point on a long and successful career.

Last year, it was Teemu Selanne. Before that, it was Doug Weight and Glen Wesley and Dave Andreychuk and Luc Robitaille and Ray Bourque before that.

"I've felt happy for all of those guys, not jealous. Well maybe a little," Drake admitted before the Red Wings faced off with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. "I remember having chills when I saw Dougie Weight try to raise the Stanley Cup in celebration with a bum shoulder after Carolina won the Cup (in 2006). I've been to the conference finals twice, but really I've never been close."

The 39-year-old heart-and soul forward from Trail, British Columbia, remembered text-messaging Weight several times during his run through the Final with the Carolina Hurricanes two years ago wishing him the best ... then paused for a moment of reflection and provided the sound bite of the century when he said, "You hope to God that someday you'll get the chance."

He added, "I'm not going to lie to you and say I haven't thought ‘what if’ a thousand times ..."

The "what-if” part of that quote refers to the fact that Drake was originally chosen by the Red Wings in that famous 1989 draft that includes Detroit legends Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov. He played for the Wings for a season and a half before he was traded to Winnipeg with goaltender Tim Cheveldae for goalie Bob Essensa. He then spent more than six seasons playing for the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise before going to St. Louis for another six seasons and becoming captain of the Blues.

"I didn't ask the Red Wings to trade for a goaltender," Drake said with the longing of that what-if scenario that took him away from Detroit before he was released last June by the Blues and was signed a week later by Detroit as a free agent.

"I've watched Detroit grow and establish a skilled, yet disciplined, team over the years," Drake continued. "I watched the Wings fall two wins short of the Stanley Cup Final last season. And to get a good chance to win a Cup at this stage of my career is exciting. This is a team that competes for the Stanley Cup every year and that's what I was looking for."

Pound for pound, Drake is one of those warriors that any team would love to have. In fact, put 20 players like him on a team and they win multiple Stanley Cups.

Drake said it's all about commitment. It's all about paying a price to win. It's all about chemistry.

"When I started out in this League with Detroit, I had visions of scoring 20 and 30 goals every season. But you soon learn that there's much, much more involved in winning," Drake said. "What is important is making your team difficult to play every night. And that starts with everyone competing. To me, the only way to think about it is to play each game like it might be your last."

We all know about the grit and determination, but there aren't many smarter players in the game. The Northern Michigan University graduate is more than just street smart. No one watches more hockey from around the NHL than Drake. He knows the tendencies, he knows the players to watch, he knows the players you can distract with a big hit -- even before the coaching staff goes over the opposition in a pregame video session.

"I hate to lose -- in anything I do," Drake said with a smile. "I have a friend I go fishing with each summer, and if I come home without a fish you don't want to be around me. When I lose at cards to my wife, I'm hard to live with. And when my son beats me at PlayStation, well ..."

Drake will never say anything bad about the players or teams he played with in Winnipeg, Phoenix or St. Louis, but he's not afraid to say how happy he is to be back in Detroit. And it's not just because he's been reunited with old friends Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper or Darren McCarty.

"This is incredible, especially when I look back to where I was last year at this time," Drake said of being out of the playoffs for the second straight year in St. Louis, where he obviously saw a lot of the Red Wings being in the Central Division together for so many years. "It's scary how you come to the rink every day and expect to win ... and usually do. Think about that for a minute.

"Also, I've been amazed at how many Wings fans we run into almost everywhere on the road. It's like they've got a cult following or something."

Different faces. Different management. Different coaches. But the Ilitch family still owns the Red Wings, and Drake is clearly the kind of player who brings the passion to win with him every night.

"You know the Ilitches are going to do everything humanly possible to bring another Cup back to Detroit," Drake said. "Asking me to come back and help them achieve their dream is pretty special."

Pound for pound, the Red Wings have gotten a pretty special warrior on their side.

You have to know that Drake just thinking about finally getting his chance to win a Stanley Cup ... is already sending chills up his spine.


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