The Big Hurt: The Red Wings Lose the 2011 Stanley Cup

I wrote a piece on this site a little over a week ago … in which I said that “If you’re a Red Wings fan, and by that I mean a REAL Red Wings fan … if you’re one of us who practically lives and dies with the team at this time each year, not one who can shrug — win or lose — and get on with your life …”

Well, it’s been a few days since our guys fell out of the most recent edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I have to admit … looking back over the introductory piece up above … that I am having one hell of a time getting on with my life. We lost. And I can no more shrug that off, or ignore the result … than I can ignore bad health, or shrug off recent publicized efforts to portray Kwame Kilpatrick as a “political prisoner” who is suffering “cruel and unusual punishment” by having to spend his days sitting on his big fat butt in a Michigan jail.

And before you leap to conclusions or eager “gotchas” in responding to that last statement, let me point out — much to your chagrin if you think you caught me in a logical mis-leap — that no, I’m not equating sports with politics, although there are a lot of comparisons to be drawn in these times. And I am in no way saying that the public good could in any way be damaged by the outcome of a sporting contest as weighed against the breakdowns of leadership and responsibility and trust and integrity that we’ve seen around here in recent years. So slow down.

I’m making a subjective statement about my own state of mind, and how something surely as trivial as a bunch of guys I don’t know from Sweden and Canada, guys who never heard of me, losing the seventh game of a hockey series against more guys I don’t know … has left me in a funk and depression that I as yet can’t shake.

Yeah, I take it seriously. And I think I’m entitled to do so.

At the risk of feeling, and looking, foolish in a few more days time when I DO recover from my Red Wings depression, I think it’s worth examining this letdown over something as essentially meaningless, and silly long-term, as a sports result.

For one, I’m finding that this loss has especially bothered me BECAUSE I’m getting older, rather than the opposite, meaning that age ought to bring a calming sense of perspective and reality to such matters. I mean, what the hey, we lose the Stanley Cup every YEAR around here — except for the years when we don’t. I got over, as I recall, the bitter losses of 2010, 2009 — that one really stung — and 2007 and ’’06 and on and on … you get the drift.

So advancing age ought to make these recoveries easier, faster, simpler … yes? Well, not this year. Not after this Red Wings–Sharks series. There seem to be extenuating circumstances this time, issues that keep defying my grasp, and my alleged maturity.

For one, the seven-game series went so quickly from abject depression to a four-game adrenalin rush … that the drop-off back to the real world came with one hell of a letdown. Where did all the excitement go?

One thing that age has now inflicted upon me is the dark sense that the rush of a hot Red Wings Stanley Cup campaign may not again be within our reach in springtimes to come. With NHL parity and the league’s spending cap — basically one and the same thing — the years of nearly automatic Red Wings success are over … or at least beginning to wind down. And they may be rapidly winding down. Is the sense of that what’s really bugging me?

As an old guy, I recall the “Dead Wings” era. I recall, with terrific pain, the youthful disappointment of what General Manager Jack Adams — talk about a guy who engineered a Detroit disaster whilst perched on a big fat butt — did to the champion Red Wings teams of the 1950s in pretty much assuring that they would never again win the Cup in my prime years. There WAS a 42-year gap between 1955 and 1997, remember? Anybody remember it ALL … like I do?

And Mike Babcock. I think I really like the guy (like everything connected to hockey, I THINK a lot of things and KNOW just about nothing, even after more than 50 years of living and dying, even playing, the game) but he confuses the hell out of me sometimes. Why is it that he never seems discouraged, or hurt, or let down … nowhere near the level we fans do …when the Red Wings hit their Stanley wall? We assume you hurt. Let us SEE it, eh coach? The fans deserve so much more. We’re crushed, and the only pain we get to share is that which shows in Mickey Redmond’s face in the post-game wrap-up.

And this time the coach REALLY got to me … when he intimated after the agonizing Game 7 loss that he was pretty confident that we were going to win … and that he had thought all along that the Wings had an excellent chance to win the Cup. Why didn’t he let me know? I would have felt a lot less anxiety over the past two weeks if I’d known the old coach was secretly rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation. Dammit!

But I can’t blame him. I can’t blame anybody. A bounce here, a goalpost there, a goalie up, a Mule down … these things are often decided by the most vague and ethereal turns and accidents and twists of fate. Pavel Datsyuk played that series like a damn hockey god. How can he be sitting home these days while Jovial Joe Thornton — who stopped cheap-shotting us in the handshake line — blunders on?

It’s all useless. It’s over. Yet I AM still hurt, and annoyed, really POed. Despite my age and alleged maturity. We may never have a team that good again, or a series that electric. Our top guys — Howard, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall, Filppula — played the BEST hockey of their season that last week, and were improving almost by the minute.

But they, we, had to go home. I couldn’t stand it. I still can’t. I thought I had prepared myself — after we saved face in Games 4 … 5 … 6 — for a crashing disappointment at the end. I thought the miracle of those last games would make any outcome, even ultimate defeat, almost … well, almost secondary, almost less important … than the magic and rush and relief of those memorable comeback efforts.

Almost less important. Almost. Almost. Almost.

I think that’s what keeps on hurting.