I really thought the folks doom and glooming about the Red Wings being unlikely to get credit for their victory were off base. Yes, there’d be some discussion of the Pens being the team of the future, and some writers are obsessed with how this series will affect the Pens in the long run, like ESPN’s Scott Burnside.
But in a world ruled by the Bettman PR machine, in all its ineffectual glory, I figured the media that are paying attention would manage to see past the hype to what a talented team the Red Wings are, what a beautiful game they play, and how deserving they will be as the 2008 Stanley Cup Champions.
And then I read a column by my buddy ESPN’s John Buccigross and I just went Red Wings red in anger. What is this evil empire crap? Comparing this Red Wings team with a mechanical joyless Soviet menace? Are you kidding me?
The Red Wings aren’t “expressionless, machinelike, and almost joyless.” Their system may be precise and they may play it with commitment and confidence. But it is not some ugly, boring defense only system. They play an offensive game with plenty of flair. And their players celebrate with the appropriate level of joy for those who expect to succeed, love doing so, and, oh yeah, have scored a few goals before.
They are clearly a team. Yes, they have a superstar or two (Lidstrom and Datsyuk are diamonds of the first water), but they play like a team. No one expecting or even striving to be “the man” on every play. They lose pieces and step in for the fallen as you’d expect a well-constructed and disciplined team to do. But there is also the sense of comraderie and commitment that we all hope our teams will evidence.
The Detroit Red Wings are the best team in the NHL by far. They haven’t accomplished this by being a gray, lifeless automaton. They are a vibrant, exciting team to watch. They give fans breathtaking offensive skill and execution. And then they get their asses back and shut down the opposition.
After the game you get the amazingly articulate English as a second language poster children of the Red Wings. The team must employ a speech therapist, because there are a number of guys on that team, Zetterberg and Datsyuk in particular, who’s mastery of English far outpaces that of most native speakers in the NHL. Articulate and personable (okay, and really really attractive, even with the playoff beards) the Red Wings are just the kind of players the NHL should be expanding its umbrella of attention to embrace. If there’s only one face of the NHL, that face, especially when screwed into a chronic grimace of annoyance, gets old fast.
I know there are those in the media who don’t follow hockey and think the only thing the NHL has going for it is Sidney Crosby. But those of us who watch and love hockey should know better. I hope most of us recognize what is before our eyes. And it sure isn’t the Russian Red Army team. Enjoy the mastery.