Road to Stanleytown: 1997 Detroit Red Wings bask in glow of Cup with Hollywood stars

Detroit Free Press
Gene Myers |  Special to Detroit Free Press

In the spring of 1997 — a quarter-century ago — the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.

The Free Press has commemorated that historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”

Day 57: June 11, 1997

The backstory: A Stanley Cup that ended a 42-year drought? Check! A rally for season-ticket holders that drew great TV ratings? Check! A victory parade that attracted one million fans? Check! A team meal, team photo and locker cleanout at Joe Louis Arena? Check!

Within three days of completing their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Red Wings had completed all their official duties. Now it was time for a little fun before the players scattered throughout the world to await their turn with the Stanley Cup. Tostart the offseason of celebration, a dozen team members went to Tiger Stadium, where Darren McCarty threw a strike for the ceremonial first pitch; Brendan Shanahan hoisted the Stanley Cup on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” which surprised the host; and Mike Vernon brought the Conn Smythe Trophy to “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” whose host wondered whether the goalie would terrorize a sorority while wearing his mask.

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At the ballpark: McCarty also played baseball growing up in Leamington, Ontario, so he treated throwing out the first pitch as serious business. Wearing cleats, he toed the rubber, wiped it clean and used a full windup. He delivered a strike. “I’ve got to come with the heat,” McCarty said. “This whole week has been overwhelming. The Cup is theirs as much as it is ours. What can I say? It’s a lot of fun.” Nine other Wings, coach Scotty Bowman, the training staff and Zamboni driver Al Sobotka were introduced and ran out to the third-base line before a modest matinee crowd of 11,534 fans. Manager Buddy Bell used this lineup: CF Brian Hunter, 2B Damion Easley, 3B Travis Fryman, 1B Tony Clark, DH Bob Hamelin, RF Melvin Nieves, LF Curtis Pride, C Brian Johnson, SS Orlando Miller, RHP Felipe Lira. The Tigers won, 4-2, on a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single by Pride in the eighth inning, raising their record to 29-32. Watching from owner Mike Ilitch’s box with McCarty were Swedes Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Sandstrom and Canadians Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Joe Kocur, Bob Rouse, Aaron Ward, Mathieu Dandenault and Kevin Hodson. “We used to come down to games and just walk in, have a beer and walk out, no bother,” Kocur said. “It’s a little bit different right now, but it’s well worth it. We’re not anonymous at all anymore. Everywhere you go, you’re so recognized out there. There’s no hiding. No matter where you go right now, you’re going to sign an autograph or there’s going to be looking and saying is that so-and-so. The fans have been unbelievable.”

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In New York: Vernon and O’Brien traded quips on the set. The goalie revealed what he did with time to kill, such as during the long spells when the Flyers didn’t attempt a shot on goal. “You look for pretty girls in the audience who catch your eye,” he said. O’Brien called Vernon “the king of Detroit” and asked whether he easily was recognized in the city. “The other day,” Vernon replied, “a woman on a talk show told me I look sexy with my mask on. So, I might try going out with it on.” To which O’Brien quipped: “Oh, and terrorize a sorority?” Vernon said he would take the Cup to his summer cottage.

In Burbank, California: When Shanahan took the Cup to “The Tonight Show,” Leno reacted in surprise. “That’ll get you some women in a bar,” Leno said. To which Shanahan replied: “It’s pretty popular.” Later, Shanahan said: “I love the Cup. It’s not about rings or money. I get to take it home and parade around with it.” Leno referenced the “Keeper of the Cup,” the Hall of Fame official who accompanied Shanahan. “He never lets it out of his sight, does he?” Leno asked. “He’s got the best job in hockey,” Shanahan replied. “He’s always the Stanley Cup champion.”

Off the ice: At the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, the Free Press’ Jason La Canfora decided to tell the tale of the seldom-used player who had started a Motown fad. The player was a 25-year-old undrafted goaltender from Winnipeg, Hodson. He spent the entire season with the Wings but only played in six games. He played extremely well in those six games, going 2-2-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and a shutout. Still, he was best known as the funniest player on the team and by his nickname, Ticker, bestowed because of a rapid heartbeat that required surgeries. In juniors, he won the Memorial Cup with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, which led to this comparison when the Wings won the Stanley Cup: “I drank out of the Memorial Cup one time, but this is three times better. You can’t compare anything to this.” La Canfora’s story:

Kevin Hodson hadn’t taken one step into the stands at Tiger Stadium when a fan rushed to greet him.

“Thanks a lot, Ticker, you just started a great sports tradition here,” the fan said. “Man, thanks a lot. Raise the roof.”

In the last three days, Hodson, the Red Wings’ third-string goalie, has become a cult hero. The team’s designated jokester has adopted the newest craze in sports celebrations, Raise the Roof, and spread it to teammates and fans. Everyone from toddlers to the elderly can do it, and it’s easier than the Macarena or Electric Slide.

All you do is lift your arms skyward as if doing a pushup. Start with your hands even with your shoulders — pretend you’re holding a tray of food in each hand — then elevate them until they’re even with the top of your head. Repeat the move over and over.

For the full effect, blare the gimmicky rap song “Whoop There It Is” in the background.

The Wings revealed their Raise the Roof routine on the ice Saturday night when they won the Stanley Cup at Joe Louis Arena.

“When Stevie (Yzerman) won the Cup, he did a little Raise the Roof to the guys,” Hodson said. “It was a personal thing. Everybody knew what it meant.

“It was an exciting event. The fans got caught up in it. It’s the Stanley Cup. It’s Raise the Roof, raise the Cup.”

Hodson led the players and fans in a rousing session during Monday’s rally at Joe Louis Arena and again Tuesday during the team’s parade downtown. By then, many of the one million fans in attendance had caught on, and Hodson was becoming almost as recognizable as Yzerman.

“This is something that’s just fun, and the fans like it,” Hodson said. “And you’re playing for the fans.

“It’s great when you see the fans catch on to something because that’s what the Cup is all about, that’s what playing is all about. The Cup is for fans, plain and simple.”

Raising the roof has been around a couple of years. Many trace its origins to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd and Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith. Latrell Sprewell is recognized as the first NBA player to do it, and the move caught on big-tine in college basketball after Duke guard Nate James did it in a high school all-star game.

But Hodson is firmly acknowledged as the hockey player who perfected the art. He attempted it in one of the soccer games the Red Wings play in the dressing room. After he scored a big goal on trainer John Wharton, Hodson instinctively raised the roof.

“I never knew what it meant until somebody said it meant ‘raising the roof,’” Hodson said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I might be the first hockey player to do it.’ So I tried it.

“When you have guys like Steve Yzerman and (Brendan) Shanahan — the guys that are very serious — start laughing, I know I got something, so I just kept doing it.”

The trend might be spreading to a T-shirt. Kenny Glenn’s Phoenix-based company, Raise the Roof, sells shirts to such teams as the Chicago Bulls bearing the phrase: “Nobody can raise the roof like Chicago Bulls can.” Glenn has watched the Wings closely and intends to approach the team about a merchandising deal.

“The Buffalo Sabres were the first hockey team to raise the roof in the early rounds of the playoffs, but it was only a minor thing,” Glenn said. “Not all the guys were doing it.

“Detroit has taken it to a whole new level. They’re the first hockey team to really embrace it.”

Joe Kocur, who joined the team in January, saw the phenomenon spread among the Wings until the winners of the dressing-room soccer games were raising the roof to savor each meaningless victory. But they waited to share the gesture with fans until the Stanley Cup celebration.

“That was the first time we were happy enough to do it in public,” Kocur said. “Guys probably wanted to do it other times, but didn’t have the gumption to do it. Now it’s no holding back.”

Hodson couldn’t let his trip to Tiger Stadium end without one last roof-raiser. With the park empty after the Tigers beat Oakland, a few Wings hit the field for a lighthearted game.

As Hodson rounded third base, his teammates could sense it coming. He crossed home plate and raised the roof. Of course.

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Famous last words: From McCarty: “As my good friend Joe Kocur said, in the winter this may be Hockeytown, but in the summer it’s Partytown.”

Relive the glory: The Free Press has crafted a 208-page, full-color, hardcover collector’s book with fresh insights and dynamic storytelling about the 1996-97 Wings. It’s called “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City after 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at (It’ll make a great Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!)

More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith Gave, a longtime hockey writer for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad The Impaler: More Epic Tales from Detroit’s ’97 Stanley Cup Conquest.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers and a portion of the proceeds is earmarked for the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Plenty of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)

Even more to read: Red Wings beat reporter Helene St. James, who helped cover the 1997 Stanley Cup run, recently wrote “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Detroit Red Wings.” Featuring numerous tales about the key figures from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (Plenty of St. James’ prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)

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