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2002 Wings making their way to Hall of Fame

by John McGourty / Detroit Red Wings
The 1956-57 Montreal Canadiens sent nine players, their coach and their general manager to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and deservedly so -- that team won the third of five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60.

Captain Jean Beliveau, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion, Tom Johnson, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Bert Olmstead and Jacques Plante all went into the Hall of Fame, along with coach Hector "Toe" Blake and General Manager Frank Selke.

The 2002 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings are considered a sure thing to beat that mark. After Monday's induction ceremony, five members of that team -- Igor Larionov, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, captain Steve Yzerman and coach Scotty Bowman -- will have been inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and more are sure to follow. As many as 10 players from that group seem Hall-bound, as well as GM Ken Holland, the architect of four Stanley Cup-winning teams.

Expected to follow are Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk and Dominik Hasek. Long shots but worthy of serious consideration are Kris Draper, one of the best defensive forwards, penalty killers and faceoff men of his generation, and Tomas Holmstrom, whose screens and heavy lifting around the net made possible the success of others.

"It's unbelievable, isn't it?" Hull said. "You have a guy here, Steve Yzerman, leading us. They had an attitude that was already there, with guys like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. You came in and just did what you were supposed to do. There were no egos. Everyone was happy for everyone who had success. Guys like myself, guys like Nick Lidstrom, we appreciated all the things that the Drapers, Maltbys and (Darren) McCartys did and they had the utmost respect for what we did.

"I have never been a part of anything like that before, and it was something special," Lidstrom said. "Just by looking around the locker room, the players and the names we had back then, it was just amazing to be part of a team like that. And I think we still played as a team even though we had great superstars and individual players.

"We still played as a team and that's why we had the success we had. Guys bought into the system. If they were coming from another team, they knew they might have to take a little bit less ice time for the team to be successful. All the guys bought into that system and that's why we had success."

Robitaille, the all-time leading scorer among left wings, found himself on that team's fourth line. If his feelings were hurt, all he had to do was look at his linemates -- Larionov who revolutionized offensive attacks as a member of the Soviet's famed KLM line, and Holmstrom.

"That was amazing. I took back a lot of my experience in Detroit to L.A., because you realize to win a Stanley Cup you have to accept roles and understand roles and that's how you become a champion," he said. "At first, it was weird for me to be in a fourth-line situation. Igor helped me understand that we could make a difference at different times and we did. 'Homer' was a kick to play with because this kid just battled every day. I never saw a guy play hurt so much. He's an amazing player, even today, and man, does he pay a price for every one of his goals. These guys helped me cap my career and to this day, it's one of the greatest feelings in my career.

"I got to play with Igor Larionov. Another time I played seven games with Stevie and got seven or eight goals in those games. And then I'd play with Sergei. It was such a great organization and such a great team, a lot of fun."

When Bowman placed Hull on a line with youngsters Datsyuk and Boyd Devereaux, the writers labeled them the "Two Kids and a Goat" line. He remains amazed at the skills of his young center, Datsyuk.

"Oh my God, it's the same as it is today," Hull said. "I watch him with amazement. I just grew up playing hockey and I just imagine what he did to be that gifted with the puck. And he's just a great kid. I remember the three years I played with him as some of the best. It made the game a lot of fun to play again."

Brian Leetch is the only playing member of the 2009 Hall class not to play on that team, so he's the only one with the outside-looking-in perspective.

"They had it all. Their style of play was puck possession but they could dump it and they could grind you," Leetch said. "If they had to fight, they were ready to fight. If they wanted to skate, they could skate and then they had the difference-makers with the skill level, scoring and playmaking ability.

"Any team that wins is going to be good, but they were good for a number of years. Bringing that team together, you look back at the stats and it's very, very impressive."

Yzerman isn't a physically imposing person, but everyone in the locker room looked up to him for his lead-by-example style and quiet, calm confidence. Robitaille said that was obvious when he walked into the dressing room, but he didn't have to wait that long before Yzerman started integrating him into the team philosophy and structure.

"I had a lot of respect for him as a player, but I didn't know him," Robitaille said. "Then I signed and he gave me a call and told me we'd go to dinner. There's just an aura around Steve that's hard to describe. He's very humble and he treats everybody really good. Yet, he's a player and his love for the game shows every time.

"That year, he only spoke to the team three or four times, but when he did he found a way to get all these big egos to come together. All of us had been on other teams where we the guys. Suddenly we were all in one group and to win you have to accept roles. I remember opening night we won in overtime but we gave up three goals and made a comeback and he said, 'Never again, we're not doing this.' I don't think we gave up a lead the rest of the season.

"Then we were down, 2-0, to Vancouver and we were in Vancouver for Game 3 and he closed the door and very calmly said, 'This is no big deal. We are going to go out and win tomorrow. It's just one game. We'll win the next one and then we'll just move on and go about our way.'

"I couldn't believe how calm he was and he made us believe it. We were down, 3-2, against Colorado and he said, 'Guys, we're going to win tonight. We're going to win Game 7 and we're not going to celebrate that because we want to win the Stanley Cup.' We won the game and just tapped the goalie like it was the 15th game of the season.'

"It was amazing to see how he handled the leadership. I learned a lot that year from him."

Yzerman said he wasn't concerned as Holland loaded up on players who were among the best in the game and who had been leaders on their previous teams. He was asked if he wasn't afraid it would be like herding cats or a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

"Scotty was the chief and he was in charge and we just played," Yzerman said. "He told us where to go and who to play with and the guys were really good as far as being really professional. With me as captain we didn't have a lot of meetings; there wasn't a lot for me to say. For the most part the season went really well, we won a lot of games. We had a bump in the road early in the playoffs against Vancouver, but with a veteran group and Scotty as the coach, we went into Vancouver calm, elevated our play, did well and we were able to win both of those games."

"I think you need a special coach that can handle a locker room like that with lots of veterans, leaders and star players," said Lidstrom, who succeeded Yzerman as captain upon the latter's retirement in 2006. "Scotty was perfect for that because he made the whole team accountable and made the whole team play as a team."
I have never been a part of anything like that before, and it was something special. Just by looking around the locker room, the players and the names we had back then, it was just amazing to be part of a team like that. And I think we still played as a team even though we had great superstars and individual players. - Nicklas Lidstrom

"It was a fun year because everybody just came and played whatever role we were given and accepted it," Yzerman said. "The goal was to win the Stanley Cup and appreciate the good players we had around us, the great linemates we had. Scotty was in charge of that group, set the tone and we just followed along."

Lamoriello, who built three Stanley Cup championship teams in New Jersey, ranks with the all-time best in analyzing a team's strengths, weaknesses and needs. He was asked if it was dangerous to load up with so many stars and big egos. An 82-game NHL season is long enough to expose a team's character -- or lack thereof. Wouldn't you be afraid that somewhere along the line some star would say to another, "I've got 200 more goals and you think I should listen to you?" or "I didn't sign here to play 12 minutes a night. My career stats are going down the drain."

"You have look at people and see what they look at as a priority," Lamoriello said. "Success is a priority. Winning is a priority. When you get into an environment that is conditioned to win and structured to win, you either get on or you get out. There's no question that everyone got on. When that happens, success is the result. You have to weed that out. We've had people come into our organization that we had some questions about. They saw the character and they saw the support mechanisms and they just fell in. They often knew that if they didn't fall in, they didn't have a chance to be here."

Yzerman also captained the 1997 and '98 Red Wings' Stanley Cup winners that defeated the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, respectively. He was asked how the 2002 team compared to those two teams.

"The teams previous to that were very good teams but (the '02 team) had more scoring depth. We were a good offensive team in 1997 and 1998 but we probably had a little more that year. We had Sergei Fedorov on one line and Brendan Shanahan on another, Luc on another and Brett on another. All of our lines were able to throw out guys who were proven goal scorers."

The 2002 Detroit Red Wings were obviously among the best teams of the past 20 years, but how good?

"It's hard to say where it ranks all-time because all of us were older, but if you put together the talent and the statistics, it was probably one of the greatest teams ever," Robitaille said. "I don't think it will ever happen again because of the cap era and so forth, but if you were look at the statistics and the character of those guys, it was definitely one of the best teams for one season.

"It was amazing, at every position and the coaching staff to the general manager. Everyone in that organization deserves to get into the Hall of Fame."

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