“It’s my passion to do in the off-season,” said Drake about fishing. “Hopefully I have another month or so to go before that happens.”
Drake, a 14-year NHL veteran who turned 39 in February 4 has reached the conference finals only once. He was with the St. Louis Blues, who lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in 2001. A lack of postseason runs makes this season even more special for the native of Trail, British Columbia.
“Very, very fortunate,” Drake said. “You don’t realize how hard it is to get here. As a young player, you think for whatever reason you’re going to get a chance year after year, and it just doesn’t come along very often. You have to cherish it; you have to go out and play like it’s possibly the last game of your career, and have fun with it. That’s how I approach things. Have as much fun as I can, enjoy it, and also I’ve learned a real valuable lesson that it doesn’t come along very often.”
Drake’s last championship run was in 1991, when he helped Northern Michigan to a national NCAA championship. He compiled 214 points in four seasons with the Wildcats, playing for current Michigan State coach Rick Comley.
Now, Drake and the Red Wings are only five wins away from hockey’s ultimate goal. The rugged right winger said that it would be impossible to not think about the possibility of hoisting Lord Stanley’s cup.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve thought about that,” he said. “That’s hard not to think about, obviously you think about playing at home or winning the Stanley Cup and raising the Stanley Cup above your head, obviously that creeps into your mind, especially when you’re lying in bed tossing and turning.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said that he and general manager Ken Holland were excited about the possibility of bringing Drake back to Hockeytown, where he started his career.
“I remember when Kenny called me,” Babcock said. “He said, ‘Dallas Drake is available, he wants to be a Red Wing.’ I said, let’s sign him.”
Drake was a sixth round draft pick of the Red Wings in 1989. After playing one season in Detroit, Drake was traded to Winnipeg during the 1993-94 season. He traveled with the Jets to Phoenix, skating with the Coyotes until 2000, when he signed with the Blues. Drake captained the Blues for two seasons before being placed on waivers before Detroit signed him to a one-year contract last July.
Drake has been a physical force in the playoffs, helping lead the Red Wings through wins over Nashville and Colorado in the first two rounds. Against the Predators and Avs combined, Drake registered 20 hits.
He also had a highlight reel-like hit on Stephane Robidas in Game 2 that sent the Stars’ defenseman flying into the boards.
Babcock said that Drake’s postseason play is exactly what the organization was hoping for.
“We didn't get Dallas to play for the regular-season,” Babcock said.
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom
believes Drake is thoroughly enjoying this time.
“I think he’s having a blast,” Lidstrom said. “Just coming from a team that didn’t make the playoffs to coming here and getting a chance to play on a good team; we’re on the top of the league, winning the Presidents’ Trophy and going deep into the playoffs. I think he’s just having a blast just getting a chance to experience this much at this stage of his career.”
Lidstrom said that Drake’s physical presence on the ice comes from his determination to help the team keep winning.
“He knows his job, he gives out a lot of hits but he takes a lot of hits too,” Lidstrom said. “I think that’s one of his strengths, he’s going to get up, he knows his role on this team, he’s not going to back down to anything.”
Coming to the Wings has its price, however. Drake’s wife, Amy, and their four children live in northern Michigan while Drake has stayed closer to Joe Louis Arena.
“I think at times this year it probably was hard for him,” Babcock said. “He has four kids, his wife living in Traverse City. I'm sure she has given it to him a few times about it. ‘What are you doing down here and I'm up here driving the kids to activities?’ ”
Drake said that since his children are still young, they don’t fully understand the significance of what their dad is hoping to achieve in the upcoming weeks.
“They understand it, but they don’t really know what it means yet,” Drake said. “They know how many more wins we have to get, but they don’t really know what that means yet.”