The Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings squads of 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008 were known for embodying the working class spirit of the Motor City. Perhaps no other lime combination that donned the Winged Wheel exemplified the blue collar attitude of Detroit than the group known as “The Grind Line”.
Originally modeled after the infamous “Crash Line” of the New Jersey Devils, legendary head coach Scotty Bowman put together center Kris Draper with wingers Kirk Maltby and Joey Kocur/Darren McCarty. Known for “grinding” and wearing down opponents, they were instrumental in the raising of four new championship banners at Joe Louis Arena.
Maltby began his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers after playing with the Owen Sound Platers of the OHL, with whom he enjoyed a 50 goal season (1991-92). He spent three years with the Oilers before being traded to the Red Wings in 1997 for defenseman Dan McGillis, where he’d spend the next 14 years of his career. He even landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated during the 1997 Stanley Cup run!
Q: When you first came to the Red Wings in 1996, what would you have said if someone told you you’d end your career 14 years later as a four-time Stanley Cup winner?
A: I mean, coming here I didn’t have any expectation other than trying to fit in, knowing we had a team to have a chance to win but my first year we lost to Colorado in the conference final, and then the following year I was in and out of the lineup and didn’t know where I’d fit in. Then, they threw me, Joey (Kocur) and Drapes on a line after Christmas, and everything snowballed from there. Obviously the team had a great season and were able to win the Cup there, back to back. But if you told me any of that would happen, I’d have taken it but I’d say you’re crazy!
2. What was the mood in the dressing room like after the infamous “Fight Night at the Joe”?
A: I think the adrenaline was flowing and everyone was fired up. Everyone was still in shock at what happened because, I mean I can’t speak for them but we didn’t discuss it happening beforehand. We tried to take our shots at (Claude) Lemieux to finish a check but then how it started with (Peter) Forsberg and (Igor) Larionov and to have the goalies fight on top if it, we were all like “we’ve come this far and let’s go win now.” We had a big 3rd period comeback with (Brendan) Shanahan tying the game and then Darren (McCarty) scored in OT. It was a great game all around and it was completely unscripted, and that’s why it made for such a great game.
Q: During the “Grind Line” era, did you feel there was more pressure on you to be effective with such a reputation throughout the NHL?
A: I don’t know if it was more pressure; once we won back to back Cups, you gain a lot of experience in so many situations and areas of a game in the course of an 82 games schedule and playoffs. There’s always expectations after success, but that’s what you would want as a pro. I’d want to go out there and be on the ice in the last minute to preserve a one goal lead or kill a penalty. I don’t know if you’d call that expectations, but these things as a player and pro, you want the coach to look down the bench and see you and be a guy he’d throw over the boards. Kris and I played and with Joey, we played a lot of penalty kill. I don’t know if I’d call it pressure, but we expected it from ourselves, so we went out and had fun. We enjoyed and loved it, and thrived on the challenge of it when we were asked to do something.
Q: You were known for your play on the penalty kill, and I still remember during the 2002 playoff series against St. Louis you blocking several shots without a stick, including from Al MacInnis who had one of the hardest shots in hockey. How difficult was it for you to continuously sacrifice the body like that?
It’s never fun getting hit by the puck, especially from a guy like MacInnis because his shot always had eyes and usually hits you in an area without padding. Whether it’s 5 on 5 or on the PK and you’re in the defensive zone, you need to prevent a goal, even more on the PK. MacInnis also shattered my toe cap of the skate with his shot during another game and that left a mark. Today, you see Luke Glendening taking a lot of heavy shots and he does it because that’s his role, and that’s how it was with me as well. If you don’t block shots, you’re not going to be on the PK long. It was a big chunk of my ice, Kris and I were a solid tandem, and blocking shots and sacrificing the body was part of it. It hurts but when you win and raise the Cup it makes it worthwhile.
Q: What was it like playing with legendary captain Steve Yzerman for so many years, and what did you know of him before you came to Detroit?
That’s the thing, I didn’t play when he was first here but it was how he turned himself into a complete all around player, he was effective at it. He could create or score the goal or defend a one goal lead or win a face-off in the defensive end. Whether it was in 2002 where you saw him playing the way he was so effectively on one leg, as a teammate and player you felt more maybe obligated but do everything you could.
Even the years leading into Yzerman’s body was breaking down, you just learned how he carried himself on and off the ice and in the gym – thats why I think some of these young guys in the NHL are having trouble in their career – if they’re on a team that doesn’t have leaders, it’s going to be tough. That’s why (Niklas) Kronwall, especially since Z’s (Henrik Zetterberg) retirement and Jimmy Howard in net leading the way is big. Everyone wants the young guys to develop but you need to have leadership; not just wearing the C but to show the guys how to carry themselves on and off the ice. The games you just go out and play, but the stuff you absorb off the ice, and left your skill set come out. Good leadership translates into the team game an the young guys in particular.
Q: The aura of winning the Stanley Cup in 1997 was shattered by the tragic accident involving Vladimir Konstantinov just a week later; what was it like being able to repeat as Cup winners the following year with the entire season being dedicated to Vladdy?
The two parts of winning the cup I’ll never forget was first during the game in Washington when they announced Vladdy on the PA system and on the video board. Us and the Capitals were giving them an ovation along with their crowd; there was nobody sitting and I think everyone regardless of team were very respectful for the situation.
We won the Cup in that game and Stevie put it on Vladdy’s lap, and it was Igor and Slava (Fetisov) pushing him around in his wheelchair with the Cup on his lap. We joked when Vladdy got to drink out of the Cup, we had to pry it away from him! It was unfortunate to get to that point with the accident but it was special to have him there and seeing him.…he couldn’t lift it by himself, but he was able to drink out of it. Those are the kinds of things that bond you, regardless of nationality. We’re all hockey players and human beings at that point.