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Rivalry still burns bright for alumni

by Bradley Holland / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT -- I can remember just when things on the ice began to get heated. It was when the second goal went in.

Before that, things were fun and the game was light. After that, things were more fun, but no longer so light.

When the second goal went in, things changed a little. Like I said, it got heated. Call it what you will – heck, look down on it if you will – but when you put on your skates, when you’re all wearing the Catholic Central Royal Blue and White or the Crankbrook-Kingswood Blue and Green, nothing changes, even from so long ago. The feeling grips you.

Everyone wants to win. Both teams, each of some 40-odd skaters get that old familiar feeling.
Ours was the third of four games pitting Novi Detroit Catholic Central against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood. Four games between rivals who had competed as Michigan High School hockey rivals since their first meeting during the 1935 season. They have since clashed 75 times, including that first meeting.

First there was the junior varsity game, then an ‘old alum’ game, our ‘young alum’ game and finally, the reason we had all showed up, the varsity game, the featured attraction of the 2010 Outdoor Classic at Clark Park in southwest Detroit.

CC had won each of the first two games, and there was not a skater in that third game who hadn’t heard. We had all watched the finale of that game, had seen with our own eyes. We were 2-0 on the day.

So when that second goal went in, and we were suddenly behind 2-1 with only half a game to play, we realized just how badly we wanted to win. You can imagine the relief then, the celebration, when we scored to knot things at 2-2. As far as any of us knew, no time existed for any overtime. Things needed to be settled in regulation. Any photo taken in the moments following that goal would have 20 CC skaters, each with the same look in his eyes.

It’s been a long time since I had seen something like that in my CC teammates. Over 10 years to be exact. Some of those teammates I hadn’t seen in years. Others I’d never met; players I’d heard of, ex-players who had scored this goal or made that big save. But we’d all had moments in this jersey, scenes we captured and have kept, and which we couldn’t help but recall as the same feelings overcame us.

There were guys I was too old or too young to play with during the two-plus years I skated as a member of the varsity team. But my brother Greg, I’d never shared a game with, a jersey with.

In the middle of our second period -- the second of three running time, 15-minute frames -- he made a save, a side-to-side stop to keep things tied. I can remember, not which one, but clearly that it happened; I kicked the boards and slapped my sick against the dasher and shouted “Nice save Holland,” and then, “Big one boys!” to the rest of my teammates. We were up, and in to it. Holly was kicking.

Watching him battle, watching him make saves and keep it tied, I felt I owed him an extra backcheck; an extra step when my legs no longer worked right. He had entered our net with about half the game remaining, and the score tied 1-1, and there was no way we weren’t going to play for him here, not with the score tied again.

My old linemate, Keith Rowe, was in the game and killed a big penalty late in the game. We spent two years as teammates, but by the winter of 1999, over a decade prior, we all had gone our separate ways, and our days as teammates were forever relegated to this, future alumni games. All told, three ex-teammates, players I had not skated with since we won a Division I state championship together in 1999, competed in the game.

Everyone that day skated with a friend, an ex-teammate, a brother or an uncle, and performed for a crowd packed with the same. Old teachers, old coaches, friends and relatives cheered not for anyone individually, but for the jersey and the tradition that sweater has built.

Each team saw its entire program come in numbers in support of their team. Former-NHL stars Tony McKegney and Doug Brown showed up in support of Detroit hockey, and Brown showed up to support of his son Patrick, the Cranbrook captain, and a possible NHL draft choice this summer at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

Anika Lidstrom came in support of her son, Kevin, who skates as a sophomore defender on the CC junior varsity, as did the mothers of dozens of the skaters who took to the ice on this day. And such was the crowd; friends of CC and CK hockey, hockey fans all, from Detroit and  surrounding suburbs. They huddled for warmth around the open-air rink, nearly sitting in the shadow of the scenic Ambassador Bridge, which links the United States with Canada.

Such was the scene, at the inaugural Outdoor Classic on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010.

When I lined up for the post-game handshake of the third game that day, our side, minutes removed from a 3-2 loss, there were no long faces. Only satisfaction remained in the 40-some skaters who had thoroughly enjoyed the past hour.

And just like that, it was over. Back to the locker room we went, removed our sweaters and put on street clothes to watch the big game. The reason for the entire event. And you could see the lingering, the way people hung around during and after the game, that something special had taken place. Everyone could feel it, feel it when they looked from the cloudy winter sky to the soft earth of the surrounding field.

Everyone could feel it too, when a gaff delayed the singing of the National Anthem, and not a fan moved a muscle. Nor was anyone surprised when the song started up again, without support from the audio devices but buoyed now by the voices of the singers, now 2000 strong, all there to support the teams and the game and the people that make them both great.

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