Hop On, There’s Still Room

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Welcome to a weekly column by Kyle Bauer on various happenings in national and local sports.  Agree or disagree with the author? Please comment below or let him know your thoughts by email,[email protected] or twitter, @kyle_bauer

 

Ten wins.

The Detroit Red Wings–THIS Red Wings team–only need ten more wins to earn their twelfth Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Sure, I guess ten wins are a lot. The Wings aren’t even half way through to their far-fetched goal, yet ten games seems so freaking close, likely because I have to put an emphasis on this and claim winning the Cup is far-fetched. But these are just pro-nouns and adjectives I’ve placed with this team I refused to believe in all regular-season long.

I expected them to miss the playoffs.

I expected them to get obliterated by Chicago Blackhawks in a short series.

Yet here we are in a position where the Hawks are seemingly on the ropes, down 2-1 in this series with the pressure of the entire hockey world and Chicago’s bandwagon expectations breaking their backs. The Blackhawks will need to draw this series to at least six games to advance–what level-headed hockey fan could say they expected this out of the (now) plucky Red Wings?

We as Wings fans are currently living in bizzaro-world. Our all-great-and-starchy Red Wings are now this likable and energetic underdog; prone to baffling mistakes and relative no-shows some evenings but mostly awe-inspiring and downright motivational performances since mid-April. All consistency is gone. Me, you and your co-worker have no idea what is going to happen in game 4 tonight and beyond and that’s brilliant.

When was the last time you’ve felt so blissfully uncertain about a Red Wings team?

That’s why I’ve come to like this whole underdog thing a lot. As Red Wings fans, I’ll argue we have one of the more privileged fan bases in hockey history. Other than the “Dead Wing” era of the mid-70’s to early-80’s, we’ve had the luck of getting to watch legends skate beneath the Winged-Wheel to be a perennial Cup contender. Not only have we seen four Cups since 1997, but we’ve seen the best in the game play for our city so frequently it became routine.

That routine bred complacency for me. The Wings appeared rudderless and stubborn in the salary cap structure. For me, signing and trading for –what devolved to be– second-tier veterans while stunting youth became incredibly frustrating not a supplement of pride as it formerly was.

As I wrote about last week, the culture has changed, though that change was forced through attrition. Now that the culture of the roster is–at least for the remainder of this playoff run–different, I’ve felt rejuvenated as a fan watching the Wings put the exclamation mark at the end of change against Anaheim and Chicago.

This little playoff run is the most fun I’ve had watching the Red Wings in my 20 years of coherently following this team, likely because it’s been the biggest surprise from where I was in March.

My brain keeps telling me, there’s no way any team other than the Penguins or um maybe the Kings could win four out of seven games against the Blackhawks. They’re just that good. They’re DYNASTY good. Yet my heart points to all six wins this Wings team has had and you can argue they’ve improved in each victory. There’s just this brewing strength–the momentum of a train that has every single part in harmony. It’s only been six wins, but each win–even the game 6 victory they almost blew in the third period–has brought a sharper, increasingly more refined look while their opponent seems increasingly frustrated. Babcock, Zetterberg and Datsyuk just seem to have that look so far. My heart seems to be overpowering my brain, these Grand Rapids kids seem to be overpowering my objectivity. It now seems that ten more victories is conceivable despite how rough they’ve looked in four playoff losses.

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I’ve fallen in unabashed love with this team in a little over a month. Have you?

I’m not just talking to you slappies clinging to your Maltby jerseys, I’m asking the city. We’ve heard the phrase “house money” thrown around a lot by the local sports media, well what’s not to love about a team with nothing to lose.

We glowingly reminisce about the Tigers 2006 run to the World Series. It’s fueled the front-running love-affair that has had the area buzzing more over an early-May game against the Astros than a playoff game against the Ducks. “Hockeytown” needs to be reignited like the Wings roster. The suddenly raucous playoff crowds need to remain, but the buzz needs to overtake us all. I am calling for casual fans to hop on the bandwagon now, there’s plenty of room from your hop off in 2010, you don’t want to miss what is potentially boiling here.

I want to see the infamous relic car-flags reappear. I want the Red Wings trending on Twitter in Detroit. I want almost every Facebook post I see to be regarding the Wings, no matter how ignorant or simple. I want the giant Wings jersey back on the Spirit Of Detroit. I want to over hear car-horns honking from the expressway every time Datsyuk snipes another one that make the play-by-play announcers stutter and stumble. I want people to put the Tigers in the backseat, remembering they play in a terribly weak division and it’s only May. I want every topic and every caller on Detroit sports radio to be a discussion about the Wings. I DO NOT want all the putrid Red Wing themed parody songs to return to the radio, but everything else I want. I want the passion of Maple Leaf fan just without their moronic and destructive nature.

I suppose I want it to be like 1997 all over again–not just because I’ve personally taken such a liking to this team, not simply for nostalgic purposes. I want the buzz because I believe this team has become worthy of it. Were they in late-March? HELL NO. But not every story is instant, not every compelling team begins that way in training camp. Often the best stories are slow developing, building to an epic crescendo. This Red Wings team has the potential to be one of the best Detroit sports stories of this generation, right there with the 2004 Pistons and 2006 Tigers, who both again, were endearing to this city as major underdogs.

We’re not used to our Red Wings being the underdog. Maybe that shies some people away, but that is exactly what has drawn me in. I believe this team deserves the rampant fanfare of the late-90’s because I feel this organization is in a sudden rebirth and with this rebirth we should all revisit the passion that this area once had for this franchise.

Ten wins are a lot, but I have to keep telling myself that. I wouldn’t have imagined myself actually counting down wins or looking ahead in the playoffs especially while playing the freaking Blackhawks. I have to also remind myself that the Wings are still only three losses away from their season ending. It is far more likely that those three or four losses come before the ten wins. At this point I don’t care, because who really knows? This team is fun, gritty and refreshingly unpredictable.

I’m just having a blast, along for the ride at this point. I’m hoping you’ll join me if you haven’t already.

 

Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer

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