Detroit — There’s no crying in hockey, although when Vladimir Konstantinov stood up to be recognized Tuesday during the Alumni Showdown between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Comerica Park, there probably were a few tears.
Konstantinov suffered career-ending head injuries in a car accident six days after the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997. Tuesday, he was reunited with his old linemates, the Russian Five, ahead of the second alumni game. He gripped a stick in his hands while being helped up and looked every bit the eager hockey player ready to take to the ice once again.
It was one of the most poignant and nostalgic moments at the alumni game, part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival. The festival culminates with current Wings and Leafs players battling it out on an outdoor rink in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.
Unsurprisingly, many of the fans I interviewed said they were far more excited to see the alumni game than the Winter Classic. The lineup was like something you’d arrange on a video game: Throw together all the greats, all the favorites and send them out on the ice.
It was as close to a “dream team” as it would be possible to create. But it was real and happening in front of fans in an outdoor rink in bone-chilling temperatures.
It also made for an unusual moment when the fans started chanting, “Let’s go Red Wings” before the second alumni game — at Comerica Park, home of the Tigers.
Another highlight was seeing defenseman Chris Chelios score a goal, throw himself through the air, flip over on his back and slide down the ice in celebration.
And watching the legendary Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe take a ceremonial faceoff before the game at center ice in what normally is an outfield ... well, that certainly won’t be happen again any time soon.
The fans kept repeating the same two words to me: “It’s historic.”
And the players recognized that as well.
After the game, while talking to reporters in the locker room (er…Tigers clubhouse), former Wings captain and clear fan favorite Steve Yzerman spoke of how important it was for all of the players to be able to come back.
“Sergei came all the way from Russia; he was a big part of our franchise, a huge part of our sport,” Yzerman said. “Then having Ozzie, Slava, Vlady, it was important that they were here.”
The clubhouse had the feel of a reunion. Most of the guys who played in the second alumni game actually spent time playing together for the Wings in their careers. The jokes (and beer) flowed, resulting in good-natured ribbing from all directions.
For me, it was surreal. When I was a young girl, when people asked me what my dream job would be, I always had this image in my head of myself as a reporter interviewing my favorite player, Brendan Shanahan, in the locker room after a game in which he scored a goal.
Once Shanny retired, it was clear the dream would never become a reality.
But on New Year’s Eve 2013, I lived my dream. And on top of that, Shanny even scored a goal.
It doesn’t get much more nostalgic than that.