Usually the only thing I like on ice is a nice, stiff drink (two limes, please). Unless the Ice Capades are in town… But even I have to appreciate the perfection of what is going on up I-75 in Detroit.
When I look to That Team Up North with envy, it’s not the team that most would imagine (never!), rather, it is the sister-franchise of my beloved Detroit Tigers, the Red Wings. I was dancing in the aisles last September when the Tigs made the playoffs for only the second time in my life, but the Wings are what every Tiger fan aspires our team to be – playoff-contestants almost every year I’ve been alive; 21 straight seasons – the longest streak in professional sports.
How do you top that?
In 2012, the Wings made their mark in history in a game that dates back to 1897. Last season, Detroit lost over a third of its home games, and when the Calgary Flames beat them on November 3rd last year, they had already lost at Joe Louis Arena for the second time in 3 games.
And then it was over.
20 wins in a row at home matched two other NHL teams for the all-time record for one season.
22 wins in a row at home tied the 1929-30 Boston Bruins for the all-time NHL record.
And when Detroit defeated the San Jose Sharks 3 to 2 for their 23rd home game in a row, they accomplished a feat no other team can claim in the history of hockey.
True to fashion, the previous record-holders started making their comparisons, justifying the situation. The Great Depression-Era Bruins won 22 in regulation, while the Great Recession-Era Wings had the benefit of overtime and four shootouts in their 23, instead of five ties (the former scoring method).
Boston’s was in the “Original 6” period when the league’s six teams stretched from Bean Town to Chicago and the longest road trip was 1,000 miles by train. Detroit, in the Western Conference, flies as far as 3,000 miles west and back. The old-time Bruins took on the best players in Canada and the Eastern US; the Wings take on the greatest players from around the world.
The record also came with a Toledo-area Cinderella Story.
Seventeen games into the winning streak, starting goalie and NHL all-star Jimmy Howard, broke his finger and went on the disabled list. The Red Wings then called up Joey MacDonald from Grand Rapids as backup to their new goalie, Ty Conklin. MacDonald is a former goaltender for the late, great Toledo Storm and one of only a handful of alumni to make it to the Big Leagues.
In Conklin’s first game, he gave up a bunch of goals super early and Coach Babcock pulled him and replaced him with MacDonald, who was solid the rest of the way earning him the starting position next game. MacDonald got the win, Babcock gave him another shot and MacDonald produced another win…
As any good coach would do, Babcock stuck with MacDonald straight through the Red Wings six game home stand that concluded with the 3 to 2 victory over San Jose and Record Win #23. MacDonald’s ultimate reward occurred the next day when Howard came off the disabled list and Detroit released Conklin, keeping MacDonald as the backup for the remainder of the season.
Recognize: we can’t lose at home, and with 4-out-of-7 at our place each series, the math looks good for Detroit to hoist Lord Stanley for the fifth time in 15 years. Anyway, the Wings currently have the best record in the NHL. If they lead the league in points during the regular season, they get home ice throughout the playoffs.
I wish I still had my Red Wings Starter jacket…