DETROIT – Darren Helm
walked into Cobo Hall with the rest of his teammates and the Detroit Red Wings
rookie had only one thought.
"Whoa," Helm told NHL.com. "Like, what's going on here?"
Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final, rook. This isn't just a big deal, it's the biggest.
"I can definitely tell there is some buildup by the way I'm sleeping," Helm said. "I'm not sleeping well."
The buildup to Game 1 between the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, which is Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) inside Joe Louis Arena, reached its peak Friday as the players, coaches and general managers from both teams met the media at the NHL's Live at the Stanley Cup Final session.
Lining the walls inside Cobo Hall were banners of various NHL legends from Jean Beliveau to Mario Lemieux, Bob Gainey, Denis Potvin, Wayne Gretzky and Ray Bourque hoisting the Stanley Cup, which just happened to be sitting in one corner with the Conn Smythe Trophy to its right.
"Before we got here I think it was a little more low key," Penguins forward Ryan Malone told NHL.com, "but now with the media around and seeing all these guys holding the Stanley Cup it gets you excited and even pumped up for the morning skate (Saturday)."
Even for the Red Wings veterans, five of which have already won the Stanley Cup three times (1997-98, 2002), the whirlwind experience of Friday's afternoon with the media was just as exciting as it has ever been.
"It's been a little while so it's fresh and new and it's still a lot of fun," said Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby, one of those three-time Cup winners. "It's the whole aura of the Final, and it's a great experience. For the young guys the best piece of advice I can give them is to just soak it up and enjoy it."
Maltby said he had some of the younger Red Wings like Helm asking him the same question almost all day Friday.
"It can make for a long day, but it's definitely worth it because it's part of the whole experience," Maltby said of the afternoon media session. "You never know when the next chance is going to come; so right now just go with it and enjoy it while you can."
That's what everyone was trying to do Friday.
There was no pressure on them to move the puck, to make a save, or to stay out of the penalty box. So, they actually could sit back and soak up the atmosphere while answering countless questions about what this experience is like for them.
"I've got that nervous excitement building up inside of me," Red Wings forward Dan Cleary said. "The buildup to Game 1 is a great experience. It's like no other."
Cleary, though, knows the buildup is fleeting. It all goes away Saturday night.
"Once we get the puck dropped everything will kind of just fade away, all the nerves and excitement," he said. "We'll be ready to go and it's going to be a great series, but both teams are chomping at the bit."
Added Penguins winger Marian Hossa: "It is an exciting time, for sure, being here. It's a dream to play in these kinds of games. I'm just going to enjoy it."
For one more night the Penguins and Red Wings players had a chance to do just that; but business was still very much on their minds. They are here, after all, to finish the job and maybe get their picture on one of those banners in future years.
"You play these games to win it, not just to get here," Sidney Crosby said. "It's a great opportunity and I think a lot of us feel pretty fortunate to have it. It's not something that happens too often, so we're really looking forward to it."
To be successful, each team understands exactly what it has to do.
The Red Wings have to use their experience to their advantage, especially late in games and late in the series; should it go that long.
"I think on a personal level you just know what to expect," Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. "Mentally you know how to prepare yourself better for the games and kind of put the other stuff on the side and clear your mind for when the game starts because there is a lot of stuff going on."
The Penguins hope to counter that experience by keeping the amazing composure they've had throughout the playoffs. Not once has this team looked nervous.
"We're not nervous because we're well prepared for the challenge," Therrien said. "Even when we started the playoffs I didn't feel our team nervous. I think we were excited about it. That's a big difference.
"With the regular season that we had and the way we approached the playoffs, our team was not nervous. Our team was always excited to play the game. And that's the same feeling I got this week."
Friday, though, was their last day to act like wide-eyed kids.
This is, after all, the Stanley Cup Final. This is the biggest stage in hockey.
"We're trying to take it as another playoff series, but obviously it's a lot more important," Helm said. "These are the games and I'm looking forward to that puck dropping."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org