|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2008||[Print without images]|
|Chris Osgood, who returned to Detroit after the lockout, now has three Cup wins with the Red Wings.|
"Here I am at the pinnacle of hockey," he said in disbelief.As soon as he took the Stanley Cup from Drake, Cleary sought out his family in the stands and raised the Cup to them. "Oh my gosh, it's so surreal," said Cleary's wife Jelena, holding 22-month-old daughter Elle in her arms. "I'm just so happy for him." Not far away on the ice was another player who came home to the Red Wings family this season. Darren McCarty played in only one game in the finals, but that did little to diminish the moment for him. At the start of the season, McCarty was out of hockey, his life a train wreck of financial woes and substance-abuse issues. Former teammate Kris Draper went to bat for him, and Holland -- who drafted McCarty back in 1992 and has likened the rugged winger to a son -- told McCarty he'd give him a chance if he was ready to get his life back together. It paid off for both sides, but especially McCarty, who has reconnected with his ex-wife and four children. Two of them were at his side on the Mellon Arena ice as he talked about thinking of a montage of all the steps that led to this moment. McCarty was in Detroit for three championships in 1997, 1998 and 2002, but this one represents something greater, a victory in life. "I've cried many tears already," McCarty's sister Melissa said as she watched her brother talk to reporters. "Just knowing how hard he's worked. Hockey's just the icing on the cake. We're so grateful to the Red Wing organization." A few feet away from the McCarty family, former defenseman Jiri Fischer was embracing teammates and friends. He nearly died on the ice two years ago, but remains a part of the team. Hasek came back to this team, too. He won a Cup here in 2002 and managed to put a lot of bad blood behind him to become the ultimate team player as Osgood took the Red Wings home. Chris Chelios came here as a veteran expected to play out his career and yet has defied Father Time to win his second championship with the Red Wings. This might be it for him, since he was a healthy scratch for the finals. Despite his years in Chicago and Montreal, it's hard to think of Chelios as anything but a Red Wing.
In all, five Red Wings won their fourth Stanley Cup on this night. Those ties to the past tell almost as much of a story as the Wings' Euro-centrism. Six of the Red Wings' top nine scorers in the playoffs are from Sweden and another, Pavel Datsyuk, is from Russia.And the presence of those talented Europeans proves there is not just one stylistic blueprint for success. Yet there is always one constant, regardless of whether your players are from Newfoundland or Stockholm -- it's the willingness to commit to one another without question. Lidstrom, of course, is the measured heart of this team, the tone-setter. And he proved he is a worthy successor to The Captain, Steve Yzerman, not just with his play, but his understanding of his dressing room. Lidstrom said he started thinking about to whom he would hand the Cup back in the first round. Drake seemed a natural, he said. "Looking at all the players on our team, Dallas is one of the first ones I played with," Lidstrom said. "He came in the year after I did. He's been in the league for 16 years. He had a long, good career. And he had never been to the finals before. So it felt natural to me to give it to him for all the effort and hours and everything he's put into the game, and not having a chance to hoist a Cup yet." As for being the first European captain, Lidstrom has tried to downplay such talk, but he acknowledged Wednesday it was something special, too. "It's something I'm very proud of. I've been over here for a long time," he said. "And I watched Steve Yzerman hoist it for three times in the past, and I'm very proud of being the first European. I'm very proud of being a captain of the Red Wings. So much history with the team and great tradition, and we see some of the older players coming through. So I'm very proud to be the captain." One of those experiencing this for the first time was the coach, Mike Babcock. He has a unique view of the team that has become his family and what it means to have won a championship with them. "Well, you know, I probably haven't come to grips with that," he said. "But to be able to share this journey with the guys and to be able to share it with the city of Detroit and obviously my family, that's very emotional. And I'm sure I'm going to have some emotional moments in the next week just thinking about it." Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.