DETROIT – The chants from the 33,425 fans congregated at Comerica Park Tuesday afternoon were enough to bring tears to every hockey fan’s eyes.
Before Game 2 of the Alumni Showdown doubleheader between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, two Red Wings greats – Vladimir Konstantinov and Gordie Howe – were honored at center ice. While Howe took part in the ceremonial puck drop between Detroit’s Steve Yzerman and Toronto’s Darryl Sittler, Konstantinov posed for a rare picture with the Russian Five, moments that will stay with everyone participating in and attending the historic game for years to come.
“You look at what Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay did for this franchise years ago and what’s tremendous about this city is that no one forgets,” former defenseman Larry Murphy said. “And then we talk about Vladdy, a guy I played with here in Detroit, it’s always great to see him. That was great to see but at the same time it’s always sad when you think about what happened, it’s a reminder at the same point. It’s great to see him but on the other hand it wants to make you cry when you think about it.”
It was a game that brought back fond memories to Detroit’s alumni, who laced their skates up one more time for an unforgettable and old-fashioned victory over the Maple Leafs.
“It was great, it was a lot of fun,” former forward Brendan Shanahan said. “It’s a shame we can’t do this more often.”
The Detroit alumni narrowly edged Toronto 6-5 in a shootout, but the game was about far more than the final score.
“Stepping out and just seeing everybody, it’s kind of a bit of a chance I guess for us to appreciate the fans here in Detroit and the opposite a chance for them to say you know thanks for the years here,” Murphy said. “So for both sides, for the players and for the fans it was kind of a bit of a love fest so to speak.”
After much speculation, Yzerman officially joined the alumni roster in early December, playing in his first competitive game since walking off the ice in Edmonton in 2006. It was no surprise that the former captain received a standing ovation when he was introduced, a moment he’s not likely to forget anytime soon.
"It was pretty neat,” Yzerman said. “I think we all as kids envisioned walking out at Comerica or Tiger Stadium to the roar of the crowd in a Tigers uniform, not necessarily in a Red Wings uniform. That's as close as I'll get but it was pretty cool.”
Doug Brown, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom and Shanahan scored in regulation for the Red Wings, while Tomas Holmstrom added the team’s lone shootout goal, but Chelios clearly gave onlookers the most elaborate celebration. After netting his goal, the former defenseman dove back first on the ice, curved his body into a bridge shape spanning from his head to his skates, and glided down the length of the ice toward goaltender Chris Osgood with a smile that could be seen from the highest seats at Comerica Park.
“Well I hadn’t scored in years and I didn’t really get to play in the last outdoor game so I told myself if I scored early enough and the ice was still good I was going to pull out my big move,” Chelios said. “Tiger Williams rides his stick, I ride my head.”
It was an entertaining display for many fans and players alike.
“I’ve seen him do that in practice on a clean sheet of ice,” Lidstrom said. “But, I wasn’t expecting him to do that in a game like this. It was awesome. It was great to see him do that.”
Others didn’t find the move quite as amusing.
"I'm not sure I would describe Cheli's celebration as a cool moment,” Yzerman said. “Anyway, it'll make the highlights.”
Chelios wasn’t surprised.
“Yeah, he just gives me a bad look, he doesn’t like that stuff, Yzerman,” the Hall of Fame defenseman said, a smile spreading across his face.
Another highlight-worthy moment of the historic game occurred when Joe Kocur was introduced to the crowd, stepping out of the third-base dugout wearing the name “Probert” on the back of his jersey in honor of his friend, the legendary fan-favorite in Detroit, Bob Probert.
“It was emotional,” Probert’s widow, Dani, said. “It was special. I was choked up.”
The players wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“He’s always in our hearts, always in our thoughts and our prayers, as is his family,” Darren McCarty said. “He was a big part of a lot of our lives here. It was just a subtle shout out to him. I’m sure he’s not busy riding a Harley in heaven. I’m sure he pulled over to watch the game.”
He would’ve liked what he saw at Comerica Park. Although Detroit had a commanding 5-1 lead early in the second half, three straight goals from Shayne Corson, Tie Domi and Steve Thomas cut the home team’s lead to one. Bryan McCabe’s goal with two seconds left in regulation sent the game to a shootout, in which Holmstrom netted Detroit’s lone goal, an accomplishment everyone on the bench was hoping for.
“Well we wanted to get Holmstrom a goal and well you know after that Nick’s retired now, let them see him again for another time,” former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman said of the shootout lineup. “And Shanny was a great goal-scorer too, but it was good for Homer because they were trying to get him a goal.”
It was one of Shanahan’s favorite moments.
“Probably Tomas Holmstrom’s game-winner in the shootout,” Shanahan said with a laugh. “He fooled the goalie into thinking he was going to lose the puck and then he regained it and put in the winner for us.”
Shanahan wasn’t the only one laughing after the game. Laughs and smiles filled the Tigers locker room after the victory as the alumni swapped stories and autographs. It was an experience many never thought would be possible, and one they don’t know if they will ever have again.
“It’s great I mean sometimes it gets to where you don’t think you’ll ever get to see some of these guys again because of European things, Sergei, Kozzy and those guys, Slava, so it’s always great to see the guys,” Chelios said. “It’s not like you’re never going to be friends but long distance relationships are tough to keep. So I’m going to enjoy the night with these guys, celebrate New Year’s upstairs with them here and have a good night.”