The end of an era was announced Tuesday when Draper, the last remaining Grind Line member, retired following a highly-successful 20-season NHL career. Mainly consisting of Draper and forward Kirk Maltby – with enforcers Joey Kocur and Darren McCarty shuffled in – the Grind Line was best known for wearing down the opposition’s top scoring lines.
“It was special,” Draper said. “Malts and I talked about it when he retired. There was just something, whether it was Mac playing right wing or Joey playing right wing – there was something special with that group with those guys and the type of characters. For Malts and I, we knew that we were protected. We could play on that edge.”
The line’s name didn’t come over night, Draper said, as he shared a story about former equipment manager John Wharton, who insisted that Draper, Maltby and Kocur adopt a moniker during the 1997 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We were going through the playoffs with St. Louis,” Draper recalled. “Johnny Wharton said, ‘You guys need a line. You need a name for your line.’ So we threw out some stuff and the Grind Line came about and Joey stepped up and said, ‘That’s it. It’s the Grind Line.’ ”
That spring, the Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup, sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers and its top scoring line known as the Legion of Doom with Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg. And it was the Grind Line that played an invaluable role.
“Scotty Bowman trusted us with a lot of different situations,” said Draper, who is among five players to play in more than 1,000 games for the Wings. “If you have the confidence in your coach that you can go out and play in these situations, you want to go out there and do it, and you want to do it well.
“I think that’s why that line was so special. I’ve seen highlights – Mac going hat trick in the conference finals against the Colorado Avalanche and the goals that Malts scored, and he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated; we broke the jinx. Things like that. We were able to do so much, and to be so successful, but Scotty thought that we could play in any situation, and that’s why we were able to do so well.”
Together, Draper and Maltby won four Stanley Cup titles with the Wings, and built an unbreakable friendship.
“On a personal level, Kris is a great friend. We roomed together quite a bit, and obviously played together a lot,” Maltby said. “We stuck up for each other and were in some tense situations – both good and bad – but at the end of the day we both had each other’s back. He’s a great person and had a great career.”
Draper’s energetic enthusiasm is what Kocur said he’ll always remember.
“He was intense. As bad as you wanted to work for yourself, you had to work for him, because he would let you know it,” Kocur said. “If you made a mistake, he was going to tell you, which made us all better. He made you accountable.”
Whether it was the heated rivalry born out of a brutal incident one May evening in Denver, or an overtime goal that helped the team secured a second straight Cup championship, Kris Draper and the Grind Line will forever live in the hearts and minds of a generation of Detroit hockey fans.
“The Grind Line is over,” Draper said. “Basically, the last one retired, but we were able to put out so many good memories. We did it right and I enjoyed playing with them, for sure.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill