Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Doug Miller on 08/02/11 at 01:53 PM ET
Alright, I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this, for multiple reasons, but mostly because it goes outside my blog’s rage of coverage which is listed as “everything but the NHL”. In my defense though, this isn’t news; it’s just a retrospective look at some hockey history. Plus, ever since the recent retirement of Chris Osgood, I’ve been thinking about writing about this, and providing my personal perspective on what I feel is one of the most historic games in Detroit Red Wings franchise history, at least among the games that have been played in my lifetime (1987 to present).
As a young kid growing up in Metro-Detroit, I started casually watching hockey in 1991 - mostly the Red Wings; although I soon developed a love for the Boston Bruins as well, for some unknown reason. Once I watched my first hockey game, I instantly became a fan of the sport, as I found it to be far more entertaining and exciting than football, baseball, and basketball. I quickly learned how to skate and then starting playing hockey, but I still wouldn’t consider my young self much more than a moderate fan of hockey… until May 16, 1996… when St. Louis played Detroit in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Most people (even non-Detroit fans) remember this particular game for “the goal” that Steve Yzerman scored on a slap-shot from just inside the St. Louis blueline to finally best goaltender Jon Casey, just one minute and fifteen seconds into the second overtime period, breaking the 0-0 deadlock, and advancing Detroit on to the Western Conference Finals. Just about everyone credits this historic “moment” as the moment that gave birth to “Hockeytown”. Which indeed it did, as with the start of the following 1996-1997 season, the iconic “Hockeytown” logo made its debut at center ice inside Joe Louis Arena. It was eventually officially copyrighted as a registered trademark - as “Hockeytown, USA” around the same time that Wing’s owner Mike Ilitch formed “Ilitch Holdings. Inc.”, in 1999 - which still currently holds the rights to the name, obviously.
However, I’ve always felt that Yzerman’s historic goal has always overshadowed the entire game itself, which I personally consider to be true hockey classic. In my few short years of watching and playing hockey, I had yet to see (or play in) a game that felt so intense. It’s Game 7, both team’s seasons are on the line… and for the first three periods of regulation, no one could manage to score a single goal on either Osgood or Casey, who both played exceptionally well. As the buzzer sounded to end the 3rd period… my level of excitement and nervous energy only grew, as I was about to witness what I still consider to be the most epic form of hockey that only playoff season can produce… an overtime period in a Game 7 (in a scoreless game no less!).
I then proceeded to do my best to not blink, as every shot taken, and every save made, was now amplified ten-fold, as this epic goaltending duel continued. Neither Osgood or Casey wavered though, and as the first overtime came to a close, it felt like this amazingly epic game could go on forever. Soon into the second overtime period, Casey made yet another brilliant save on a Sergei Fedorov shot that nearly ended the game. Then, on Detroit’s next possession in their own zone, Vladimir Konstantinov attempted to make a pass up the boards to clear the zone. A pass which was nearly picked off by the great one himself, Wayne Gretzky. However, Vladdy’s errant pass hit the back of Gretzky’s stick and bounced right onto the stick of Yzerman, who was headed up-ice. Yzerman then drove his way to the opposing blue line, and ripped a monster of a slap-shot… and the rest, as they say, is playoff history, as he beat Jon Casey high stick-side, just barely nicking the bottom of the crossbar, deflecting the puck down and into the back of the net.
That goal, and the ensuing team celebration, forever became a part of not only Red Wing’s history, but both hockey and sports history in general. This past season, NHL.com held a very interesting contest during the playoffs, known as “History vs History”, in which they took the top 64 playoff moments of all time, and had hockey fans from all around the world vote on them in a massive bracket-style system, which had different sections of it open up for voting as the playoffs rolled on over the next two months. The “Stevie Y in Double OT” moment made it into the final four, which was certainly quite the honor for the former long-time Red Wing Captain, considering some of the other historic playoff moments up for consideration. Although, by the time they had gotten down to the final four voting, Boston had reached the Stanley Cup Final, and Yzerman had to contend with historic moments from two former Bruin legends, Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque. Personally, I think that if the Red Wings had been in the Finals, then Yzerman likely would have won. Either way, this moment is now, without question, one of the greatest playoff moments in NHL history.
Although, my whole point of this blog post, was to talk about what an amazing game this was in general, and not just for that historic moment at its conclusion. One other moment in particular, that I know I’ll never forget, and have remembered the details of just as clearly as I remember Yzerman’s goal… was an absolutely unreal save that Chris Osgood made in the second period. After receiving nice neutral zone breakout pass, Brett Hull crossed the Detroit blueline and slid a perfect backhand pass to a wide-open Peter Zezel, who then fired a wicked one-timer from dead-center above the top of the circles. The lighting-fast puck hit the outer edge of the side of Osgood’s blocker. The massive amount of momentum from the shot, in combination with the odd angle of impact, caused the puck to bounce up in the air and get behind Ozzie. As the puck started to fall out of the air and down towards the net, Osgood made a desperate turn-around-dive, gloving the puck out of mid-air in a downward motion, smothering it on the ice… mere inches from the goal line.
This game changed my life, as it turned me from moderate hockey fan, into a life-long hardcore hockey addict. I also credit this particular game as the one that sparked my interest in becoming a goalie, largely due to the amazing efforts I witnessed from both Chris Osgood and Jon Casey that night. Osgood was one of the many goalies I idolized growing up, as I always loved his light-hearted attitude and great sense of humor, which wasn’t typical of most goalies, both throughout history, and up to the present day, with Tim Thomas being one of the other few exceptions that comes to mind.
My first set of ice hockey goalie equipment was identical to whatever Vaughn-series (the exact name of which escapes me at the moment) that Ozzie wore during the 1997-1998 season, except mine were black and white as opposed to red and white. I also used his signature series Hespeler HMP stick, which I had taped up the exact same way, and it still currently hangs up on my wall. The only difference was my mask, which was the more traditional style, but plain white, as I never had it painted… my little nod to Patrick Roy’s impressive rookie season.
Anyway, sorry about the personal tangent, but this post is very much in tribute to Osgood’s retirement. Because when I think back on his career, my mind immediately returns to this historic game which gave birth to Hockeytown, my love of hockey as a sport, and my love of goaltending. It’s hard to appreciate just how amazing this truly epic and historic Game 7 was… unless you’ve seen it. Thankfully, I’ve had a rather nice highlight video of said game saved on my YouTube favorites list for quite some time, and this post wouldn’t quite feel complete without it. This highlight reel does a pretty good job of capturing all of the key moments, the general atmosphere, and the intensity of this historic game… so, let’s take a trip back in time to May 16, 1996.
Note: The Osgood save I was raving about earlier can be found at the 2:45 mark.
Also, if you’d like to check out the box-score from this game - it can be found at this link. I’d recommend checking it out, simply for the sake of seeing who all the great players were that were involved in that classic match-up.
Finally, I’d like to say this: The game itself will forever be remembered for Yzerman’s historic goal, but all the exciting plays and brilliant saves that happened leading up to that goal, is the reason why it became such an iconic moment in hockey history. Which is why I’ll always consider it “The Game” that gave birth to Hockeytown, as the title of this post suggests. It’ll forever remain a classic in my mind, as it forever changed how I looked at, and appreciated the great sport of hockey.
Oh, and for those of you who might be wondering where all the minor league, major junior, and college hockey coverage that I promised when first introducing “Cluster Pucks” is at… I put up my first installment of “Around The Leagues” late Sunday night incase you might have missed it. That will be a weekly feature of this blog on Sundays… but next week, and all the weeks after that, I’ll have it up much earlier in the day, I promise.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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