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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

4/25/2006 - Edmonton 4-3 Detroit (2OT) - Edmonton leads 2-1

First perhaps I must explain something, having received a request or two to turn my attention Wings-ward during the collegiate-sports-free zone we have now entered: I hate the Red Wings. This came as a bit of a surprise when it first happened. I had never disassociated myself from a team solely because I found them distasteful, but after a long series of futile deadline deals and outlandish contracts for elderly stars I found that I could stands quite a lot but I could stands no more. The acquisition of Chris Chelios, who was a dirty hateful hack in Chicago and still is, was the powerful last straw that severed my last tie to the Winged Wheel.

Why? One theory is the baseball theory. I have long harbored no interest whatsoever for baseball except a violent hatred for the Yankees and everything they stand for. By the time I had divorced the Wings I had taken to calling them the New York Hockey Yankees. I know, it's weird, and you can probably defend a lot of things short of spending sixteen million dollars -- half Edmonton's entire payroll -- for Dominik Hasek and Curtis Joseph as wise moves that weren't out of whack with NHL pay scales, but then you'd have to ignore that $80 million total and stick your fingers in your ears and go "la la la can't hear you" whenever someone tried to explain basic concepts of economics to you. And you don't want to do that, do you?

However, I think that was probably just a cover. Fans, like extremely political people, can justify just about anything if they have a mind to. Rationality and balance have no place in sports fandom, so there must have been something emotional at the root. You can find that root in the fans. Consider, for a moment, the two arenas: the two games at the Joe were tepid affairs with a lower bowl just as half-empty as it is during the regular season. Lawyers chat on the phone with trophy wives. Real estate agents look bored, holding daiquiris. The biggest reaction from the crowd comes when an obese man named "Mo Cheese" pretends he's in a paint shaker for 30 seconds. Rexall Place is full to the brim with howling banshees attempting to scream the opponent to death.

Never ever would have happened without the lockout.
All hail the lockout. Long live the lockout.
One place -- the one with the half-empty lower bowl -- has the audacity to call itself Hockeytown and then studiously ignore all in-state hockey that is not the Wings despite having two of the top programs in college hockey. Meanwhile, in Minnesota they sell out the XCel center for high school games. One place is the northernmost city with a professional sports team in North America, a place that scrapped year after year to keep a team and the memory of Gretzky. The Oilers are owned by thirty-four Edmonton businessmen. Before the lockout, every year they were called up and asked to put in tens of thousands of dollars to keep the club going. Without that lockout there would be no hockey in Edmonton today, and no one would ever again wear a jersey that looked like Gretzky's. The profligate spending of the Red Wings and other teams of their ilk contributed greatly to that.

No other team, however, was as successful, as profligate, and as local to me as Detroit. So you'll forgive me if I find Red Wing fandom fundamentally shallow, false, and destructive. It obviously isn't. But it's hard to see that when Doug Weight gets traded for bits and pieces. The thing begins to grate on you after a while.
OMG I love the Wings!!! An' an' an' daquiris an' an' my lawyer husband. We go to nearly a third of the home games... well, we go to about half of a third of the home games.
Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to eat this Dennis Dodd.

My hate waxes and wanes based on the current lineup on the ice -- I feel downright heelish about it when Yzerman is out there, but whenever Chelios or the ghost of Darien Hatcher is present my hate grows strong like bull -- but hate it is. And it just so happens that stripped of my NHL fandom, the wheel spun and landed in a strange place that happens to be the home of the team the Wings are currently down two games to one to: Edmonton, a place I have never been. At the time I had never been within 500 miles of it.

No doubt the primary reason for this affection was the presence of Mike Comrie, who was Michigan's star for my first two years at Yost Ice Arena. Comrie was an impossible whirling dervish of a collegiate player who, despite being small and slow, was an audacious stickhandler, passer, and shooter who almost won the Hobey Baker as a sophomore. The Mike Comrie experience was an overwhelming one for someone who had never seen hockey in person before, especially not seven rows from the ice. When Comrie bolted for the OHL for bargaining leverage, I was mildly upset, but knew that he would be in the NHL sooner rather than later.

By the time I had finally kicked the Wings to the curb, Comrie was the Oilers' second-line center mere months after signing a pro contract. College guys like Comrie, Weight, Poti, Horcoff, Grier, and Marchant littered the roster. The trap is still a dirty, controversial word in the city to this day. In the playoffs they faced Dallas, and easy target for transitional hatred as an ex-Wing fan. It was all lined up, and when the CBC announcers had to strain to make themselves heard over the crowd, well, I was sold. At the start I watched to see Comrie, but it mattered little that a couple years later he would hold out for buckets of money Edmonton didn't have and get traded. I was rooting for the jersey by then, because I felt it stood for something other than "we can pay these guys a buttload of money."

So. When Jarrett Stoll shoveled a rebound past Legace in the second overtime last night I had a series of involuntary spasms reminiscent of Elaine Benes attempting to dance. I know it's totally weird, but:


We now return to blogging not designed to infuriate most readers.