Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby fondly remember Mike Ilitch

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Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby were integral members of Detroit’s famous “Grind Line,” and both have their name on the Stanley Cup four times each.

Mike Ilitch passed away Friday at the age of 87, and both former Red Wings forwards reminisced about the man they worked for, with nothing but cherished memories to share. Draper especially remembers the unforgettable night in 1997 when Detroit broke their 42-year championship drought.

“You saw that smile on Mr. Ilitch,” Draper recalled. “When he bought the team, they had very limited success and they built it into a powerhouse organization and you’re winning the Stanley Cup in your rink in front of 20,000 fans.”

“You could see how excited and proud and thrilled he was that his Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. Those are the moments you never forget.”

Maltby echoed Draper’s sentiments.

“Everyone was excited beyond belief after that first Cup, but you really got a sense that as happy as he was for himself and all of us, he was so happy the City of Detroit was able to have a championship (after more than four decades),” Maltby said.

It was Ilitch’s commitment to winning that was unparalleled in sports, and what was the driving force to the Red Wings transformation from the “Dead Wings.”

“Such a passionate owner,” Draper said. “We needed to make a trade and we go out and get Brendan Shanahan (in 1996). We go out and trade for Dominik Hasek and sign Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull (in 2001). Amazing, his commitment to always putting the best teams on the ice or on the field.”

“He cared about his players,” Maltby said. “I remember times when someone would get hurt and looking in the medical room and Mr. Ilitch is in there, or one of the trainers would be on the phone with Mr. Ilitch. He didn’t look at his players as just athletes and commodities, he looked at them as people, he cared for them.”

Just about every player who has ever played for the Red Wings since Ilitch bought the team in 1982 is going to look back with fond memories at what he brought not only to the team but to the city as a whole.

H/T to MLive for the quotes used in this piece.