Last night, watching game 6 with my buddy Adam, I said something along the lines of, "you know if we come back, we'll remember this the rest of our lives". I don't know if he took me seriously or not, but I wasn't exaggerating. I remember each and every Red Wings Game 7 from my lifetime, where I was and who I was with, what it meant at that point in my life. It's hard not to ponder the gravity of a game like this, given my personal history with them. In light of the impending Game 7 against the Lightning on Wednesday, a sampling of some of the Game 7's from throughout my lifetime:
May 16, 1996
I was eight years old in 1996. Watching hockey with my Dad in the living room was the biggest stage in my world -- back when we were buddies, back before we forgot how to talk to each other, in my moody teen years. Dad cancelled bed time altogether that night, bending the rules out of the slight chance that he could share one of those rare sports moments with his firstborn son, the kind of game you never forget. It was Game 7 of the 1996 Western Conference Semi-finals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Detroit had gone without winning a Stanley Cup for forty-one seasons, and the ghosts of Red Wings lore seemed to haunt the confines of Joe Louis Arena in the Dead Wings era of the eighties and early nineties, but Steve Yzerman had brought new life to the slumping organization, and the Wings seemed poised to really soar once again. The both of us were on the precipice of something more.
The rest of my family, including the two cats, were tucked inside their beds, dreaming the suburban dreams of their own individual lives, the house stilled in slumber the way suburban houses get past dusk. Outside, a warm Spring gust swept through the pines in the backwoods and rattled the shutters on the upstairs bedroom windows.
Secluded back in the woods, Millwood was a quiet neighborhood, except at the hour when Steve Yzerman brought life back to Hockeytown. My Dad and I both sprang to our feet, instinctively, ecstatically, screaming like banshees with bursts of joy -- like little kids. Steve Yzerman had blasted a sixty-foot slapshot from the blue line over the right shoulder of Blues goaltender Jon Casey with 18:46 remaining in double overtime. "Score! Steve Yzerman! Detroit wins!" the television announcer cried over our cheers; I've watched that replay so many times that I sometimes hear those words in my sleep, or in some drug-induced flashback. Whenever I see a replay of that goal now, I think about Fathers and Sons -- and about the way we were then.
May 12, 2011
It wouldn't have been a big deal if I were still in college. But I had graduated from Michigan a year ago almost to the day, and college seemed a long time ago. On the bus ride back home to Ann Arbor from Chicago, my first year of law school behind me, I stared out the window at the passing Michigan countryside and pondered the implications of another Game 7, another metaphorical chapter in my life about to be written.
I drove up to East Lansing to watch the game with my childhood best friend Steve, thinking that one symbolic Game 7 victory with my best bud would surely wash away the confusion and the regret of the previous year. We chain smoked cigarettes during intermissions on the patio at Harper's, and when the Wings lost, we tried to wash down the sour aftertaste of ashtray with whiskey and beer and whatever else we could get our hands on; this wasn't how it was supposed to end. We decided to drive four hours Up North with our buddy Adam, because we did things like that back then -- when we were young and wild and free.
But I wasn't so young anymore. Driving back the following day, a raging hangover pounding in my head, I had all the time in the world to think about where the time had run off to, about how I was losing my way. When I arrived back to my girlfriend's college house in Ann Arbor, she told me that she had cancelled our dinner plans that evening. "Your hangovers have ruined a lot of our plans," she told me -- her heart broken again -- and then wandered off to some other portion of the house, leaving me lying face down on her bed, alone with my regrets. I heard what she said, that day, but I wouldn't understand her words for at least another year or two. And by then it was too late.
*Other notable Game 7's: 1994 Red Wings-Sharks Round 1(my first ever sports memory, a rookie Chris Osgood cried in his locker stall following the game after the upset-minded San Jose Sharks derailed the heavily-favored Red Wings); 2009 Red Wings-Penguins Stanley Cup (in Chicago, I went on a personal bar crawl and got lost in the city following the Game 7 defeat, the Stanley Cup having seemed so close I could taste it). I'm covering these others in depth in the current writing project.