The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/07/12 at 07:04 AM ET
A day after the Free Press posited a Mitch Albom reminisce from June 7th, 1997, and a few hours after Fox Sports Detroit posted a special section commemorating the Red Wings’ first Stanley Cup win of the modern era (links regrettably go to my blather surrounding said stories), the Detroit Free Press gave the Wayback machine another push.
This morning, they offer a photo gallery from the Wings’ 97 Cup win, “Where are they now?” player finder—and kudos to the Free Press’ Anthony Fenech for checking on on the whereabouts of so many alums—and even a downloadable Steve Yzerman paper “doll” in PDF form, and even an interactive map so that you can list your location fifteen years ago (unless you’re averse to that sort of thing)...
But while the photo gallery is breathtaking and sometimes heartbreaking, and the “doll” hearkens back to the days when the Free Press and News would post little cut-outs, including a Patrick Roy voodoo doll that a friend of mine stuffed with pins in 2002, Kirk Maltby’s discussion with the Free Press’s Helene St. James, giving voice to the magnitude of an event that some of you are too young to have lived through, resonates most vividly with someone who feels all of 34 today:
“On that day, when I drove to the Joe from the hotel,” Maltby said, “the buzz was incredible, right from the hotel to driving downtown and seeing people all over the place. There was so much electricity in the air because of what might happen that night.”
People carried brooms to the game, anticipating a sweep. Bowman, the coach and director of player personnel, tried not to get ahead of himself.
“You get anxious,” he said. “It was my fourth season, and we kept getting close, but you can only run through so many excuses.”
There were, in theory, more than a few excuses for the Wings as they ran into a gigantic Flyers team after finally vanquishing the Avalanche, with the “experts” picking the Legion of Doom line of Mikael Renberg, Eric Lindros and John LeClair, as well as a cast of players who were 6’2,” 6’3” and in some cases, up to 6’6” in a day and age where six feet flat wasn’t “small.” As St. James points out, instead of going with conventional wisdom in playing the bombastic and violently physical Vladimir Konstantinov against the Legion of Doom, it was a certain Nicklas Lidstrom and some cast-off from Toronto named Larry Murphy who neutralized the Flyers’ vaunted offense:
“Everybody thought we were going to use Konstantinov against Lindros, but we switched around because we didn’t want Vladdie getting into battles,” [former Red Wings coach Scotty] Bowman said. “We felt that Lidstrom and Murphy could move the puck, and they weren’t physical, but we were not trying to play physical against them, we wanted to just try to play creative hockey against them. And we were able shut them down most of the way.”
In addition to Yzerman’s line, Bowman had Igor Larionov with Shanahan and Martin Lapointe, Sergei Fedorov with Slava Kozlov and Doug Brown, and the original Grind Line of Kris Draper, Maltby and Joe Kocur. Veteran netminder Mike Vernon held the Flyers to six goals.
“We were strong at center,” Bowman said. “And we had different kinds of players—good checkers, good speed and guys who had experience. We went with Vernie in the playoffs because he had been there before, so that was a good plus for us. But just the fact we had the tough losses the years before, the team was getting better because we’d had those growing pains.”
Ken Holland of all people points out that the Wings kind of backed into the playoffs, and had an incredibly difficult time defeating a revenge-minded first round opponent…
“We didn’t play very good down the stretch,” he said, “and we didn’t play all that well against St. Louis in the first round. It’s amazing—we struggled early, but by the third round, we looked unbeatable.”
But the Wings continued, taking out the Ducks in the second round and the Avs in the Conference Finals, and in front of a jam-packed crowd at Joe Louis Arena, nursing a 2-1 lead, the Wings held what would become customarily cool championship form:
“The crowd was going crazy, and we were just trying to do the simple play, keep the puck out of our end, keep our nerves,” Maltby said. “We were all, ‘Don’t make any mistakes, or you will pay.’ And they scored with like 10 or 15 seconds left. When that horn finally sounded—I mean, I remember it, but it was a blur. I was fortunate enough to win three more, but that first one is the most special—it’s like the first day of school, your first kiss.”
These wonderful highlights are worth ten minutes of your time…
And like I said in the Fox Sports Detroit post, in this town, knowing that someone else is going to be lifting a Cup that will always feel like it’s “yours,” and that its “home” is where your favorite team’s captured it, four years, never mind fifteen, feel like forever, and part of your heart breaks to see anyone who’s not a Detroit Red Wing lift, kiss and drink from that Cup.
It’s like somebody took the best part of you, and believe me, having been close to that trophy for an extended period of time, if there ever has been a piece of sports memorabilia that’s as loved as the Cup, I don’t know what that might be, so not welcoming Stanley home is hard.
With Nick having retired and four years having passed since the Wings last lifted it, and three since the Wings last had a sniff of the final round, well, there’s a sense of loss and grief in this town that, even in light of the loss of Bryan Rufenach, is entirely appropriate and understandable. Close isn’t enough, and the first round is a world away, so as the Wings reexamine whether to build their team upon a foundation of puck-moving defensemen, here’s hoping that the Wings’ players feel as empty as we fans do when whoever skates around with the Cup—probably the Kings—does so, and that the front office imports the necessary personnel to ensure that the standards of excellence for this franchise does not slip a single iota despite this past half-decade’s captain’s departure.
In news regarding one of the members of that 1997 team, Igor Larionov is probably flying to Moscow as I write this because, as he told Sports Day by Day’s Tatyana Chernova, he’s lost a dear friend in Vladimir “Volodnya” Krutov, but when he’s here in Metro Detroit, especially when he’s taking in a hockey game…
This is an oft-repeated statement, the kind I hope Ryan Suter and Zach Parise might listen to when the Wings tell them as much: despite the fact that Detroit has indeed earned its Ilitch-stylized “Hockeytown” moniker, we’re not New York, Toronto or even Chicago—we live in a spread-out Metropolitan Area of about 4.5 million people, and in addition to providing the kinds of neighborhoods, schools and communities players can both feel like they belong to and sometimes disappear into, we’re a sports-obsessed town that gives its athletes something of a politely Midwestern berth.
Off the ice, Larionov happens to be just as stealthy as he was on it, seemingly appearing from nowhere at Plymouth Whalers games, Wings games, or, as I found out last summer,
the Wings’ July prospect camp to check in on his clients (Artem Sergeev tried out for the Wings at the development camp and prospect tournament), and when people do recognize him, maybe it’s because of his quiet demeanor, but man, you’d think that people would form an autograph line when Larionov’s in the stands, and instead, a few brave souls will venture to get a signature, handshake or hello, but the vast majority leave him alone, sometimes staring in disbelief the whole time.
Larionov spent some of his post-playing career in Los Angeles (for both his wine business and, mostly, to further his daughters’ attempts to become professional singers/actresses) and some going back and forth to Russia when he was involved in the KHL (SKA St. Petersburg and the KHL brought him in as an advisor, but he grew tired of the same politicking present in a kinda-sorta-for-profit league that resembles the Soviet-style edifice he chose to break away from some twenty years ago), but he’s back in Detroit and has built a house in the suburbs. These days, he’s mentioned much more regularly because he’s become a player agent who steers Russian-born clients to the OHL or QMJHL, and in anticipation of witnessing Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk drafted first overall and somewhere in the top ten, respectively, at this year’s draft, he spoke to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about his role as a mentor:
“I’m actually kind of looking forward to it,” said Larionov, who retired from the NHL in 2006 after playing for the Canucks, Sharks, Red Wings, Panthers and Devils. “It’s exciting, but I’m more excited for the players; it’s the next step in their careers. They’re going to good organizations and you want them to succeed. In my position, I want to help them whatever way I can, support them. Help them not just as a hockey player, but as a whole individual.”
Larionov has two clients expected to go in the top 10 — winger Nail Yakupov, who could go No. 1 overall to the Oilers; and center Alex Galchenyuk. Larionov, 51, always was more than a hockey player. His interests were varied, he was always worldly, and able to talk comfortably on subjects past the left wing-lock.
“When I first met him, you got the feeling he was different,” said winger Sergei Samsonov, who began his career with the minor league Detroit Vipers and is currently an unrestricted free agent. “He was genuine. He has so much to offer the young guys. Not just hockey, but lifestyle-wise. He’s a unique guy who doesn’t mind to share his wisdom, and that’s huge for the kids coming in.”
“At this stage of my life, it has worked out real well,” Larionov said. “You see these young players, you see a little of yourself in them. I want to show them what you have to do to get to the next level.”
The client list has grown gradually over the years. Larionov estimates he’s representing 25 players, at various stages in their careers, in North America and Europe.
“The way Igor was a player, he’s the same way in this business,” [business partner and player agent Ian] Pulver said. “Igor is hard-working, motivated, careful, he thinks things out. Nothing was ever given to him as a player, he earned everything he got, and he’s the same way now.”
I’m not going to quote the whole article—it’s too long and too in-depth—but Kulfan really offers the first detailed glimpse into Larionov’s day job of any real Detroit-area mainstream media outlet.
All I can tell you is that, based upon my limited experiences with him and reading countless interviews in garbled, translated Russian, he picks his clients incredibly carefully, mentors them on and off the ice, encouraging the same kind of skill development and off-ice fitness regimens that he cultivated as a player while, for lack of a better word to use despite repeating it in a sentence, cultivating the young men entrusted to him so that they grow up into the kinds of self-motivated, hard-working players that can hope to help dispel the recurrence of the “Russian problem” mythology.
And he left me slack-jawed, too. When you see Igor Larionov, you know you’re in the presence of greatness, and while he’s as glib as Nicklas Lidstrom if you really engage him, Larionov speaks like a man whose words were once used to all but literally handcuff him to the Soviet hockey machine. There’s a careful, measured and slightly detached vibe from him, and it gives you pause. In that sense, Lidstrom really is much more of an approachable man and “people person” despite his would-be near-perfectness and supposedly vanilla personality.
Talking to Lidstrom is like talking to someone who grew up thinking that he’d fall back on engineering, someone who may not have all the naturally outgoing bubbliness of a Maltby, but someone who is happy to speak and be spoken to, and Larionov…Is a product of a very different world.
Speaking of Red Wings alums making the news, Darren McCarty’s decision to take out personal protection orders (a.k.a. restraining orders) against former acquaintances made news all over the world, to the point that Ilta Sanomat in Finland picked it up, and while McCarty simply wants to be left alone, you can imagine how the tabloid nature of his life story since 2002 attracted the kind of media attention that the McCartys of the world tend to receive, even here in Detroit.
WWJ posted a report about him, WXYZ and WDIV’s online videos chronicle what was probably a regrettable amount of accessibility and the fact that, as the Detroit News’s Mike Martindale and the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell note, the people against whom McCarty filed PPO’s were all too willing to have their lawyers speak on camera or to reporters to defend their actions.
You and I both know that McCarty is no saint, and that his battle with sobriety is an ongoing one, so the news that he relapsed into some alcohol abuse, drug use and heavy partying after he retired is not earth-shattering, and yes, the details of the hearing pending on June 20th are indeed on the public record in Oakland County, so if you wish to take a gander at the PDF WDIV uploaded of some of the paperwork McCarty filed, that’s up to you.
The Detroit News posted a McCarty photo gallery which captures both the good and the bad times.
He’s got a battle to fight, and I don’t want to deal in the kinds of rumors and innuendo that are being passed around, however, so I’d prefer to suggest that this matter ought to play out in the legal system before we judge anyone involved, and I’ll leave the last words to McCarty himself:
I want you all to know that we appreciate your love & support. I’ve read all the comments on ESPN, Detroit News, on D News fb & I thank you.
Any questions about the validity of our concerns feel free to get the PPOs from the Oakland Court it’s public record - evidence is attached.
Thank you for you support. My fans are amazing. I love Detroit bcuz of you and I’m proud to be a part of your lives. “This too shall pass”
Advised to be under a media blackout via our attorney - thanks for your support everyone we will be back when this is all over.
While we’re dealing with sensitive subjects, yes, as it turns out, the Red Wings website’s story about Bryan Rufenach’s passing revealed that a German-language article from 20 Minuten Online in Switzerland offered the details of a tragic passing due to some awful risk-taking. Here’s the content of Nathalie Jufer’s article in English:
The Canadian hockey player Bryan Rufenach, 23, was on a European trip. In the Berner Oberland through a little carelessness he came to an abrupt death. In his homeland, there’s sadness.
The 23-year-old, Bryan Rufenach, was with a friend from Kindergarten on a backpacking trip through Euorpe. One of the last stops was Grindewald, where the two checked in at the Mountain Hostel. At the end of the week they were to return home. This would not happen for Rufenach: In the night on Tuesday, the young Canadian was killed in Grindelwald by an electric shock.
He had climbed on a stationary train car with his buddy at the Grindelwald-Grund train station, and there he touched an overhead power line. His companion fought at the accident site to save Rufenach’s life—in vain. The athlete died of his injuries.
“The Whole team is distraught”
In Canada and the United States, Bryan Rufenach was no stranger: the 23-year-old from Eastern Canada began his first professional season with the U.S. team Toledo Walleye and was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. The shock about the Walleye-defender’s sudden death is great in the Walleye’s home town: “The entire team is distraught,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci yesterday.
“We send our thoughts to Bryan’s family.”
On Twitter friends and teammates of the professional athlete expressed their grief: “He was a great guy. I’m still shocked,” said teammate Riley Emerson on Tuesday.
Bill Roose offered Wings assistant GM Jim Nill’s thoughts about the 23-year-old prospect…
“He was a very personable young man,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “Everybody loved him, he was full of energy and just starting his pro career. He had a great college career and he was hoping to really get his feet wet in pro hockey this year.”
The 23-year-old defenseman played in 54 games last season for the Toledo Walleye, the Wings’ minor-league affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League. Rufenach, who played four seasons at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., also played in 13 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season.
“Each year he got better and better and he really became one of the top defensemen in college hockey and then last year was his first year as a pro.”
In his last three college seasons, Rufenach led or tied for the lead in defensive scoring for the Golden Knights. A finance major, he was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic team following his sophomore season. Last year, Rufenach told the Toledo Blade newspaper that had wanted to travel the world, and once his hockey career ended he wanted to become a stock broker.
“He knew what he wanted to do, a very smart young man and very focused,” Nill said. “He had great hockey sense and very smart on the ice. He was a very big man, but he sure played hard, he was tough for his size.”
And as Rufenach spent most of the 2011-2012 season with the Toledo Walleye, the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe spoke to two of Rufenach’s defensive partners in Kyle Page and Phil Rauch about their friend and teammate’s untimely pasing:
“I’m still at a loss for words,” Rauch said. “I can’t believe what happened. It’s so tragic.”
“There’s no way to prepare for something like this,” Page said. “It’s not like he was sick and had time to prepare for it. The way it happened and where it happened is kind of surreal. It’s like a movie almost. It’s just so sad.”
A native of Barrie, Ont., Rufenach was a rising prospect in the Detroit Red Wings’ system. He played in 54 games last season for the Walleye and was the team’s third-leading scorer. Rufenach, 6-foot and 192 pounds, scored 13 goals last season. He was the team’s top scoring defenseman and was ranked third among all ECHL defensemen in goals scored.
“We were partners for half the year,” Rauch said. “He was an awesome player to play with. I always told him you can skate it up and I will stay back for you. He scored all the goals. I just stayed back.”
Rufenach tallied four goals in one game against the Chicago Express on Nov. 4.
“He was my D partner for parts of two seasons,” Page said. “He had a really good year and was looking to build off that. All of the sudden he’s gone.”
Page said Rufenach was called up to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League right after the Walleye’s season ended.
“I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye,” Page said. “You always assume you can start fresh next year and see the same faces here in Toledo. I was used to seeing him in the locker room. Now he won’t be there. It will be tough.”
Other than saying, “How tragic” or, “Too soon,” I don’t see how passing stiff judgment on someone who’s gone does anything productive. It’s just tragic, plain and simple.
In player news of a purely speculative variety that’s more or less harmless, as Pro Hockey Talk’s Ryan Dadoun notes, and Paul first pointed out, the Twitterverse erupted in a groundswell of “Mike Knuble to Detroit!” support after the ex-Washington Capitals forward made the following statement to Comcast Sportsnet Washington’s Chuck Gormley, all while confirming that the Capitals won’t bring him back:
Knuble will become a free agent on July 1, three days before his 40th birthday. He plans on moving his family back to their home in East Grand Rapids, Mich., and waiting to see if there is any interest in him when free agency opens. His preference would be to finish his NHL career where it started, as a Detroit Red Wing back in 1997.
“I definitely want to play,” he said. “I’ve been pretty adamant about that the last little bit. The biggest thing is how you feel physically and I feel great. Mentally, I can definitely go through another season. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the focus of it. As for the team, I guess you kind of have to wait and see what happens. The money won’t be significant, relatively speaking, nor will the term. So you can decide what will be best for you and your family going forward.
“Detroit would be a neat story since I was drafted there,” Knuble said. “I’ll make no secret about that. That would be a nice way to come back around.”
That all sounds fantastic on the surface, but while Knuble’s a healthy 6’3” and 229 pounds, he’s also going to be 40 on July 4th, and yes, Cory Emmerton earned the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association’s “Rookie of the Year” award by default, but he, the fleet-footed Jan Mursak, a healthy Patrick Eaves and a more regular role for Gustav Nyquist sound like more palatable options for the Wings—who will still have 13 forwards on their roster, the youngsters included, if Jiri Hudler leaves to test the market and Tomas Holmstrom retires.
Add in that mythical top-six forward and you’ve got fourteen players vying for ice time, not including the waiver-exempt Tomas Tatar, so it would be great to add Knuble for depth, but I’m not sure that he’s going to be willing to, for example, take a two-way contract to end his playing career in his home state, and I get the feeling that another team might pick him up if he’s waived.
• In slightly more realistic—maybe—free agent discussion, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun’s been pretty busy covering the Stanley Cup Final, but he tossed off a bit of speculation while appearing on TSN:
LeBrun: Ryan Suter, obviously a big name possibly headed to free agency. His representatives had a meeting last week with Nashville. I believe that Suter is likely headed to July 1, while keeping the Predators in mind, circling back to Nashville like Kovalchuk did with New Jersey two years ago. But I do think he is going to July 1.
• The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted in his “NHL Insider” column, however, that the Predators plan on doing everything in their power to retain Suter’s services:
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said he’d be willing to make a trade to acquire the negotiating rights to an unrestricted free agent he’d like to sign.
Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey forward Zach Parise are two players everyone would like to snag, and using a trade proposal before they hit the market July 1 could be an option.
But Nashville general manager David Poile , who has traded assets before (defenseman Dan Hamhuis ) rather than losing them for nothing, doesn’t see that happening with Suter.
“I don’t want to speak for Ryan, but there’s nothing that indicates that there’s anything that’s negative with him re-signing with Nashville,” Poile told ESPN.com. “The conversations are always pro-Nashville, our city, our team, his role.”
In lighter subject matter, yes, I’ll Have Another’s owner, Paul Reddam, spoke to the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell about his status as a dedicated Wings fan;
• Perhaps looking down the line a bit, the Niagara Falls Review’s Cory Smith took note of Wings prospect Trevor Parkes’ up-and-down rookie professional season:
With the hockey season winding down, most players are into their off-season training. That includes Fort Erie native Trevor Parkes, who is looking ahead to 2012-13.
The 20-year-old recently finished his first professional season in the American Hockey League, with four games in the East Coast Hockey League. Parkes, who signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings in 2010, scored two goals and added six assists in 44 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The six-foot-one, 180-pound forward struggled early in the season with Grand Rapids and was sent to Toledo in the ECHL in late November. After scoring four goals in four games with the Walleye, Parkes scored his first AHL goal in his first game after being called back up to the Griffins Dec. 10.
“Going down there actually helped me a lot,” he told the Grand Rapids Press earlier in the season. “It helped me get my confidence back. I had a little more fun playing the game and coming back here now is kind of a rejuvenating start. I think I needed it.”
Parkes played his best when utilizing his offensive skills, something he’ll try to do more consistently next season.
“I think before I kind of shied away from doing things that I should try to do,” he said. “Down there, I kind of freewheeled a little bit. I feel like I can bring that more to this team, still play smart hockey, but bring a little more offence.”
• In the completely “harmless fluff” department, Jimmy Howard answered a 10-year-old’s question as to why he took up goaltending for the Red Wings’ Kids Club:
• In the PG-13 version of “harmless fluff,” my search engine monkeys informed me that the slightly adult-oriented website Radar Online named Darren Helm one of its “hottest hockey players” gallery, though I’m not sure that their caption for Helm’s SFW picture (they’re all safe for work. I can’t say the same for the rest of the celebrity news website’s content) involves gals swooning over the lanky Helm:
Darren Helm played his first NHL game for the Detroit Red Wings in March of 2008. Helm went on that season to help the Red Wings win their 11th Stanley Cup. The Red Wings center is very popular in Brazil where the team has a huge cult following.
And on that somewhat awkward note, I must state that I’m heading out today around 12:30 to ferry the mom to a doctor’s appointment, and while I shouldn’t go into too much detail, we’re going to her orthopedist about a chronic issue that isn’t responding to PT, and she’s very worried, so I’m very worried. I have absolutely no idea whether the appointment will take one hour or three. I may be out for most of the afternoon.
So with that, and a fruitless glance at the international press (Marian Hossa told CAS.sk that he’s feeling better as he recovers from post-concussion issues, but that’s about it), here comes the button. If I could pay my way to Traverse City for the summer prospect camp and main camp, I would, but I can’t, so if you can lend a hand, I would appreciate it, and if not, that’s cool, too.
You’ll have to use my personal email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, to donate, and if you want to aid the cause by some other manner or means, and I don’t mind sharing the mailing address of my secret blogging lair via my other email address, georgemalik at kuklaskorner dot com.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.