Detroit – Igor Larionov is a head coach in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and his team had games scheduled this week.
But Larionov told his team he had to leave.
The chance to celebrate the Red Wings’ back-to-back 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup championships was important to attend.
“This is a special event,” said Larionov, just before the team was honored Thursday with an on-ice celebration. “When you celebrate Stanley Cups, a special team and coach, the players and town, even though I missed the game back home, I told the boys in the locker room Tuesday, ‘I have to go’.
“This is nice to see the guys in the locker room and hotel and looking forward to (the celebration).”
Many of the Red Wings from the 1997 and 1998 teams are working in the organization, or closely affiliated in a broadcasting roles. But there are many players who live out of town, aren’t in hockey, and it’s those players that many wanted to see.
“The turnout looks like it’ll be incredible,” said Kris Draper, who is the Wings’ director of amateur scouting. “Just to see all of our teammates, and going down memory lane, that’s something very special to be able to do that with this group.”
Many Wings were thrilled to see Vladimir Konstantinov, whose car accident days after the Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup, dampened the happiness but also emotionally helped surge the Wings to the 1998 Stanley Cup.
“We saw Vlade when we came in and for me, I’ve said all along, throughout my career and now, being part of the Red Wings is one of the biggest things in my life,” Draper said. “To be able to see all these guys, I’m fortunate.”
Coach Scotty Bowman drew several hearty laughs talking about players on those Wings teams, particularly the Grind Line of Draper, McCarty and Kirk Maltby.
For McCarty, seeing teammates he hasn’t seen in a long time is special, but there’s another factor that is different these days.
“Some 25 years later, it’s all of our kids,” McCarty said. “A lot of us being younger (on those teams), my son Griffin is 26. Still, it’s the guys like Bob Rouse, who we don’t get to see, and we appreciate, and you never know. There’s always new ways to make fun of Homer (Tomas Holmstrom).”
Nicklas Lidstrom, a vice-president in the Wings’ organization currently, said the experiences the 1997 team went through shapes the types of players the Wings are now searching for.
“Thinking about what we went through to go all the way and win a Stanley Cup, we can learn a lot from what we went through as players when you’re part of management,” Lidstrom said. “What it takes to win and put a team together. We have a great boss in Steve (Yzerman, general manager), being our leader back then and being our leader right now as well.
“It helps a lot that you’ve been through it as a player knowing what it takes to build something up again and reach that same goal.”
Many players off that Wings team are now in the front office or coaching throughout the hockey world, which doesn’t necessarily surprise Bowman.
“When you get that many Hall of Fame players, you know they can give input and I’m happy to see them in the league,” Bowman said. “When player are able to play at the level these guys did, it’s surprising when they stay in hockey. I’ve always wondered if some of these players when they do so well, if they want to keep doing it.
“But it’s in their blood.”
Bowman met current Wings coach Derek Lalonde when Lalonde was an assistant on Jon Cooper’s coaching staff in Tampa Bay. Bowman feels the Wings are on the right path in their rebuild, but there’s plenty of work to do because of the competition within the Atlantic Division.
“I’ve watched the Red Wings play, they have a lot of new players on the team and people always think it’s easy to get a new group of players and probably a half dozen of them, and all of a sudden they’ll take off,” Bowman said. “But they’re just feeling their way through, and they should have pretty good goaltending and that’s an important position in the NHL, you need two goalies.
“It’s a tough rebuild because Ottawa and Buffalo, when you look at all those teams, all of them are in a rebuild right now (along with four powerful teams). It’s an awfully tough division.”