|Drake took a tour of the northern Michigan skies with the Blue Angels in an F/A-18 Hornet in early July. (Photo by Kristine Volk)
– After 15 grinding NHL seasons, Dallas Drake has heard the message that his aging 39-year-old body was telling him.
“I love the game as much as I ever have,” Drake said. “Mentally, I think I really want to play, but my body has just gotten to the point where I just don’t recover very well anymore and I don’t play up to a level that you become used to playing, a physical level that I was used to playing. I think the years kind of wore me out a little bit. You keep telling yourself to play as long as you can, and I think I’ve done that.”
After 1,009 career games and one Stanley Cup championship, Drake announced his retirement as a player on Tuesday.
“There was a lot of speculation on weather I would play anymore and I just wanted to formally announce my retirement,” Drake told reporters during a teleconference. “I’ve played a long time and had a lot of fun. I just feel that after winning the Stanley Cup this year there’s not a better way for me to go out, and a lot of thanks goes out to the Detroit organization for giving me another chance.”
In his pro career that began as the Red Wings’ sixth-round draft pick in 1989, Drake accumulated 177 goals and 477 points with three different organizations. He earned career assist No. 300 – his last in the NHL – in the first period of his 1,000 career game on March 11.
He played in 90 playoff games, amassing 14 goals and 19 assists. During the Wings’ run to the Stanley Cup, Drake scored a goal with three assists and had a plus-2 rating. His biggest contribution came in the series-deciding Game 6 at Dallas when he chipped in with a goal and an assist.
The Red Wings traded Drake and goalie Tim Cheveldae to Winnipeg during the 1993-94 season. Drake remained with the Jets’ organization for another six seasons, even relocating with them to Phoenix. He then signed with St. Louis as a free agent prior to the 2000-01 campaign.
|Drake rarely backed down from anyone. Here he goes with Chicago's Adam Burish at Joe Louis Arena early in the 2007-08 season. |
“I played in St. Louis for a number of years, and I have the utmost respect for that organization but I just couldn’t imagine finishing on a better note than playing Detroit where I started and playing with guys that wanted to win so badly every night,” Drake said. “It was such a huge thrill for me to be a part of that.”
Prior to his NHL career, Drake played four seasons at Northern Michigan University, where he helped the Wildcats win the NCAA championship in 1991.
Drake, 39, is in south central British Columbia this week, the place where he born, raised and played minor hockey.
“I get the Stanley Cup today, so I’m really thrilled about that,” said Drake, who maintains a residence in Traverse City, Michigan. “I’m back in British Columbia with my family and today I’m going to go pick it up and spend some time with my family. We have a whole day planned in (Rossland, BC) the small city that I grew up in and I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to take it around for people to see it and take pictures with it. Those are my initial plans for the next 48 hours, and after that I’ll take it day-to-day.”
A known fan of the Green Bay Packers and embroiled quarterback Brett Favre -- who announced his retirement from football last spring, but is now having second thoughts – Drake told reporters not to worry about him mounting a comeback.
“You don’t have to count me in on that,” he said. “I’m a little bit disappointed in Brett right now. If he comes back, I want him to come back and play for Green Bay, but no, you don’t have to worry about me doing that.”
During the playoffs, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, as well as some other players, often commented on their desire to win the Cup for Drake, who played in the Cup finals this spring for the first time in his career.
“Dallas was a big part in us winning the Stanley Cup,” Holland said. “With every playoff series, and the pounding that Dallas laid on the other teams’ defense, was something that we didn’t have in the last couple of years.”
Last summer, Holland said he and the coaching staff thought the team was void of a physical forward.
“Last summer, obviously we lost in the conference finals to Anaheim and we thought we were real close,” Holland said. “We thought we needed more depth. We thought we wanted to bring in some intangibles that we didn’t have, and Dallas provided both. He gave us experience up front, depth to our forward line and he gave us the physical intangibles that we felt that we could use more of.”
During two stints with the Red Wings, Drake had 31 goals and 51 assists in 184 games.
For Drake, returning to Detroit last summer provided him with the best opportunity to reach hockey’s biggest stage.
“Going into the season, you just don’t know how good you’re going to be until you begin playing,” he said. “After the first 20 games, which is a good measuring stick on how good you are, after those first 20 games, I thought we had as good a chance, or better, than anybody in the league to win it.
“There are very special people on that team. It was a dream come true season for me.”