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Red Wings relish club's history

by Shawn P. Roarke

The pictures of legendary Red Wings players and teams of the past that grace the walls of the Detroit locker room are a constant reminder to the current players how fortunate they are to be a part of one of the most historic franchises in all of professional sports. 
Check out the Red Wings locker room photo gallery
DETROIT -- From where Detroit tough guy Aaron Downey sits in the Red Wings' dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, he can't see the picture of Red Wings great Ted Lindsay hanging on the wall. But Downey doesn't need to see a picture when he can turn and chat with the Hall of Famer.

Lindsay, one of the most famous Red Wings of all time, still pops into "The Joe" occasionally, and he maintains a dressing room stall in the corner – just to Downey's left. Lindsay, 82, retired in 1965 after playing 862 of 1,068 NHL games as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, winning four Stanley Cups with the organization.

It's still hard for Downey, a journeyman who has seen tours of duty with six NHL clubs, to grasp his good fortune when visits from Lindsay and other stars happen – even though they appear to be fairly commonplace.

"All these legendary players are on the wall looking down on you," Downey said, looking up at the pictures he can see from his stall. "The other day, we were having a meeting and Ted Lindsay came in and sat down in his stall. It's pretty amazing around here – just the history and the love.  

"You still have the legends coming down. Guys like Gordie Howe was down here the other day and he's always here and Ted Lindsay is always here. People make appearances. You look on the wall and some of those people stop by. Konstantinov, he might be here tonight and sit down with the boys before the game."

Konstantinov, of course, is Vladimir Konstantinov, the Red Wings defenseman who won a Stanley Cup with the club in 1997 and then was paralyzed in a horrific car accident six days after carrying the Cup. He has become a staple around the team and in the dressing room in the past few years, providing a link to the glory days for the veterans on the team and an inspiration to the newcomers.

As an Original Six team, the Detroit Red Wings are in a unique position to trade in the currency of history, and they have not let that opportunity pass by.

In fact, the Red Wings will share a good portion of their history with the rest of the NHL Sunday night during a Salute to the Stanley Cup Legends, an NHL-sponsored event that will honor some of the players most responsible for bring Detroit four Stanley Cups in a six-year period from 1950 to 1955.

Howe, Lindsay, Red Kelly, Alex Delvecchio, Marty Pavelich, Johnny Wilson and Marcel Pronovost are scheduled to appear at the event.

While it will be a unique treat for those on hand to share in the stories of days gone by, it appears to be commonplace for an organization that clings tenaciously to its past as it barrels along as one of the model franchises of the modern-day NHL.

Detroit plays in the second-oldest building in the League. Joe Louis Arena opened in 1979; only Mellon Arena, home to the Pittsburgh Penguins – Detroit's opponent in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final – is older among the 30 buildings on the NHL circuit.

But what the building lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for in hockey history. You walk into this building, hard against the Detroit River in a corner of downtown, and you know greatness has taken place regularly inside the building.

It just screams old-time hockey.  

"It's special to be a part of this team and to play on this ice," says Red Wing Darren McCarty, a member of three Cup-winning teams before leaving the organization after the 2003-04 season. He returned to Detroit this season. "I also know that it is really hard to play as a visitor on this ice, too. It's just the atmosphere. (The arena) is built the old way, with the fans right on top of you."

No where in The Joe, though, is the history of the building more tangible than in the home dressing room. A Wall of Fame – filled with the names and pictures of some of the biggest names in hockey history – funnels the players into a room that only can be called intimate by the standards of today's modern arenas.

Once inside, there is a Red Wings logo on the carpeted floor, the aforementioned pictures of all the greats lining three walls. On the fourth wall – above the TV and the whiteboard – are representations of the 10 Cups the franchise has won since its inception.

Despite the fact that the dressing room underwent serious renovations about five years ago, it still remains one of the smallest rooms in the League and lacks many of the amenities that have become commonplace in other dressing rooms.

But you won't hear too many complaints.

"They did redo the room, but they made it with a lot of character," says Kris Draper, who has been in Detroit since joining the franchise in 1992 from the now-defunct Winnipeg Jets. "Every time I bring family, friends or guests in and you are walking down the hall (to the dressing room), you kind of lose them right away. They want to read the Wall of Fame and see the great players that have been a part of it. It's pretty neat.  

"Then you look up and obviously the Stanley Cups are there and then you look around and you see all the great Red Wings that have been a part of this. In the weight room, they have all the captains that have been a part of the Detroit Red Wings and all the different jerseys, so they did a great job in this dressing room. To me, it never gets old walking down here and being a part of this room."

Even the smallness of the space doesn't faze these players. Their home dressing room is smaller than the visiting rooms in many of the new buildings they visit. The players are packed like sardines, sitting on old-fashioned stools perched in front of their cubicles.

With no column in the middle of the room, each player can make eye contact with the player of his choice at any given moment.

"Camaraderie is a huge thing and everybody is within arm's reach in here, so nobody can hide from getting abuse some time – in the fun way that happens," says McCarty. "So, it's good – especially before the game or between periods or during practices and stuff like that.

"You can have a conversation with the guy beside you and everybody is involved in everybody's conversation around the room and you can have a group conversation and I think that goes a along way."

It also makes players accountable because there is no hiding from bad performances. You are right there before your teammates, required to answer for your actions.

When you put all those elements together, you get a very special place. Just ask Brad Stuart, who joined the Red Wings at this year's trade deadline and walked into the Joe Louis Arena home dressing room for the first time just four months ago.

He already is convinced that the room is an integral part of Detroit's on-ice mystique.

"There's just a feeling in the room here that there's just a confidence that they know what it takes to win," Stuart said. "It's not really talked about a lot, but you kind of get the sense from what the guys do say and how they react to some situations.

"Obviously, you look around at all the pictures that are up on the wall and you see all these good players and you see guys like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay walk in the room and those are the kinds of things that make it more special."


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