A four-time Stanley Cup winner, who won the Selke Trophy in 2004 as the NHL’s best defensive forward, who became the fifth player in NHL history to play 1,000 games in a Red Wings’ uniform.
Not bad for a guy who was acquired by the Original Six franchise for one dollar.
Over 17 seasons, the Wings definitely got plenty of returned value on their investment as center Kris Draper would become fixture on the club’s Grind Line. The famed line, along with Kirk Maltby, Joey Kocur and Darren McCarty hope to be reunited in the last week of December when the Wings alumni host former Toronto Maple Leafs in an alumni showdown at Comerica Park.
Draper, 41, recently sat down for an exclusive interview with DetroitRedWings.com to discuss his illustrious career, growing up in Toronto, his memories of the Wings-Leafs rivalry, as well as his expectations of the Alumni Showdown game that will be played on New Year’s Eve.
QUESTION: What were your first experiences with the Detroit-Toronto rivalry?
DRAPER: “Well, for me growing up in Toronto my dad had season tickets and obviously during the week I couldn’t go because of the school nights, but as soon as there was a weekend game my dad would take me out to dinner and I would be wearing my hockey jacket and getting to the arena to watch warm-ups. It was such a huge thrill and the memories – still to this day – you don’t forget about your dad taking you down to Maple Leaf Gardens for ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ and watching the Maple Leafs play was always a huge thrill for me and something that I will never forget.”
Q. Which hockey player did you idolize as a young boy?
DRAPER: “Growing up in Toronto I was always a fan of Lanny MacDonald, and Darryl Sittler was one of my favorites. Anytime I played ball hockey I was (goalie) Mike Palmateer. … Whenever I was playing it was a team that I would follow. I think it was my first or second year in Winnipeg and Doug Gilmour was in Toronto, we were knocked out of the playoffs and I was home and we went down with my dad to go watch the Maple Leafs in that Stanley Cup run when they came up short against the Los Angeles Kings. I just remember going to the rink, and here I am with aspirations to be in the NHL and I was kind of close at the time playing in the American Hockey League, and yet the first thing I wanted to do when I came home was to go watch the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs.
“It’s ingrained in you, those kinds of things are memories that you don’t forget and it doesn’t matter. Those would be the moments that I remember, going down to Maple Leaf Gardens.”
Q. Did you have dreams of playing for the Leafs?
DRAPER: “Yes I did. Of course and as a Canadian boy growing up in a city like Toronto or Calgary or Edmonton, you want to grow-up and play for those teams. For me, obviously, I wanted to grow-up and play in the NHL and when you get a little bit older you don’t care where you play in the NHL. But it couldn’t have worked out any better for me, obviously playing for almost 18 years and a 1,000 games for the Detroit Red Wings. But you always wonder, ‘If it doesn’t work out here, would there have been a chance to go back and play in Toronto,’ which certainly would have been special.”
Q. Did you listen to games in bed on weeknights?
DRAPER: “I could listen to maybe the first period then I would have to go to sleep, unless I was driving home from one of my own practices or games and certainly we would have the game on the radio in the car driving home.”
Q. Do you recall the first time you had the Red Wings sweater on in Maple Leaf Gardens?
DRAPER: “I remember that, absolutely. My first time would have been an exhibition game, but it didn’t matter. My first NHL game was against Toronto and I ended up scoring against them, which obviously was a huge thrill. When I found out the day before that, not only did I make the team, but that I was actually playing, I flew my mom and dad down and they were in the stands for that game. You can imagine how cool that is for my parents and coming to see their son playing his first game in the National Hockey League and against a team that I grew-up idolizing and the number of games that I went to as a kid.
“My first game played in Toronto was part of the Detroit-Toronto rivalry, which was just unbelievable. When you go into Toronto you know it’s a sellout and things are ramped up and the same thing for us at Joe Louis. That’s why those back-to-back exhibition games, even as you get older, you want to make sure you’re in the lineup for those games. You want to be a part of those.
“The one thing that I would have loved was to have a playoff series against them. The one thing that I’ll never forget is when Toronto was in the playoffs and playing in Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals. While you never look past anything, I was think, ‘Man, this could be unbelievable.’ A Detroit-Toronto Stanley Cup final, especially for me, we wanted to take care of business in 2002 against Colorado and I was hoping that Toronto would win just to have the experience. It would have been something special, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Q. Do you remember anything specific about your first game in Toronto?
DRAPER: “I can remember what it cost me with all of those tickets. But it was so special that I wanted to make sure that my whole family was there, my mom and dad, and my sisters were there, a couple of my best friends. I probably had 20-25 people there after the game, and all my buddies that I grew-up with were all there watching me in a Detroit jersey playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was real special and I remember going in there the whole day, stuff you don’t forget. And for me, it was always special to play against Toronto, right to the end.”
Q. What are your thoughts on the whole Winter Classic events planned for next year?
DRAPER: “I’ve been to the football games when they get 115,000 people there, and what a building that’s absolutely amazing. You started hearing some rumors about it and you think, ‘Man, this is going to be something special.’ To me, my Chicago Winter Classic was awesome, I had that much fun playing in it and being able to skate outdoors with my family on that free-skate. Everything about that Winter Classic was a big highlight of my career. And now that it’s Detroit-Toronto, it’s going to take the Winter Classic to a whole new level. Obviously playing at the Big House with as many people as we’re going to get is going to be absolutely amazing. It’s hockey, certainly, but I think you can almost term this as an event, this is bigger than just a hockey game. I know the people that want to be a part of it will have an amazing time.
“I’ve joked around with Kenny (Holland) about our lineup for the alumni game and the players that we can have. I mean, there are 50,000 seats at Comerica and you’re going to have 50,000. People are going to want to see Detroit and Toronto. We were kind of talking about it with friends and family and that whole deal after Christmas is going to be like Christmas Day for an extra week with all of the stuff going on with all of the alumni events and it sounds like the Great Lakes Invitational is going to be there, sounds like Grand Rapids is going to play there and the OHL is going to be there, and I’m lobbying hard to have Little Caesars have a day there so I can take my son’s team down there.
“For us as alumni to be involved on the 31st in that game is going to be fun, and I’ve already talked to Malts and Ozzie, and your face just lights up with a big smile. It’s like you’re reborn and a kid again because you have this opportunity that’s going to be great. And of course Malts and Ozzie are kidding around that I’m going to be holding the training camp to make sure that everybody is going to be ready to go.
“Every time I play Toronto I have to beat Toronto, even this year when we when there and I wasn’t playing, people were giving it to me because we lost. They still consider me part of the rivalry, and my dad liked it even less because he and my father-in-law still live in Toronto and have to take the brunt of it all.
“It’s one of the greatest rivalries in professional sports and it’s one of those things where people get excited about. And it’s not just people in the city of Detroit or the city of Toronto, we have fans in Windsor and we have fans in London and they have the same thing throughout and that’s what makes it special because it’s passed down from generation to generation. People grew-up in Toronto liking the Red Wings because of Gordie Howe and because of Ted Lindsay, because of Terry Sawchuk, and other people grew-up liking the Toronto Maple Leafs – I’m not quite sure why – but they did. That’s the beauty of professional sports when fans rally around their team and rally around their organization and I certainly don’t think there’s anything better than Toronto and Detroit.”