Detroit — David Booth’s NHL career has been on the brink of extinction for a few seasons.
That Booth skates with the Red Wings at all, let alone in a starring role as he did Saturday, is an accomplishment so rare his captain says he has scarcely seen the likes of him.
And when the giant screen above center ice at Little Caesars Arena suddenly filled with his face, the throng gathered in his hometown sought to pay him homage. At the mere sight of him, they bellowed his name.
The Wings lost again in overtime, bested by a Devils team that seems to have abruptly hopped over them as both clubs rebuild.
But, oh, what a night.
In a game with the meager trappings of just another late November around the league, Booth’s performance transcended sport.
For anyone who ever has weighed the price of persistence, struggled against confounding odds or rallied to draw the last draughts from life’s younger barrel, Booth provided solace.
His was a performance capable of sustaining dreams.
Scoring two goals, a big one 34 seconds in and a huge one to cap a two-goal comeback in the third period, has its place, even in a game lost. Personal accomplishment may thrill.
But banishing doubt is the stuff of gods. The laurels belonged to Booth.
“Yeah, it’s pretty special,” he said, standing in the dressing room after seasons of struggle and minutes of glory.
“I mean, it’s been a long career and lots of ups and downs. I think lots of people have kind of given up on me, and at times I’ve given up on myself, you know?
“But my family and my wife and, I know, God’s never given up on me.”
It took tons of hard work.
“There’s been a bible verse that’s been really close to me,” Booth said. “It just says: Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart. It’s working for the Lord and not for men.
“And it’s always stuck with me. You’ve just got to do it when no one’s watching. And so, that’s been my motivation to get back here.”
Born in Detroit and raised in Washington Township, Booth played minor hockey with the Fraser Falcons and Detroit HoneyBaked and juniors with Compuware. Then, on to the National Team Development Program of USA Hockey, before four seasons with the Michigan State Spartans.
He overcame a knee injury and broken rib in separate seasons in East Lansing.
Drafted by the Panthers, he eventually starred in the NHL, packing seasons of 31, 23 and 22 goals around one in which concussions limited him to 28 games.
Traded to the Canucks, a severe knee injury sustained in a knee-on-knee check from former Michigan player Kevin Porter, and coaches’ decisions limited Booth’s role.
Bought out by Vancouver, he signed with the Maple Leafs in 2014 and broke his foot.
Released after securing an invitation to the Panthers’ camp in 2015, Booth pursued his professional career with two teams in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League.
“The two years in Russia were very tough years, but very good for realizing how good we have it here in America,” he said. “There is so much to be thankful for.
“That’s kind of what I’ve taken back with me here, and that’s every day to come in here and just be thankful for it.”
Appreciating Booth is someone who knows how hard work makes a good player better, and a great one persists even as the sun begins to set. Henrik Zetterberg is much about passing along one of the great lessons of hockey at the top level: Talent is vital, but a willingness to work is an entirely different quality that makes determinations of its own.
“Yeah,” Zetterberg said, when asked if he appreciated Booth’s big night. “He keeps himself busy off the ice.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. He doesn’t get a lot of games and yet he is probably the hardest working guy on the team.
“It’s great to see. It’s good for the young kids to see, the professionalism that he has.”
Due to injuries to Martin Frk and Trevor Daley and Luke Witkowski’s suspension, Booth’s fortitude suddenly landed him on the top line with Gustav Nyquist and Zetterberg.
“Awesome to see him get two goals here,” Zetterberg said. “It was fun to play with him. Maybe we’ll see him again on my line.”
After Russia, before this season, Booth wrote the Red Wings a letter asserting that he still had NHL hockey in him and how he would help the team.
Offered a tryout, his coach did not think Booth would make it. Jeff Blashill said Booth changed his mind.
Once on the roster, Blashill said he thought Booth would not get much playing time. Now, the coach says, the player is changing his mind, again.
“He’s got to be one of the hardest working guys I’ve been around,” Blashill said. “You know, one thing it is: It’s a lesson to lots of people. When you’re out lots, it’s easy to get down and feel sorry for yourself and do those types of things. All he did was make sure that he was ready when he got the chance.
“I thought he was good against Calgary. He didn’t get rewarded. I thought he was excellent (Saturday). He’ll get rewarded.”
Asked if he was referring to a head coach’s ultimate recompense for a player, more time on ice, Blashill said, “Correct.”
After he wrote the letter and the Wings said yes, Booth said the task of making the team seemed daunting.
“I honestly didn’t think I stood a chance,” he said. “A lot of people said, ‘Oh, you’re 33 and that’s old, and we’ve got to go with the youth.’
“Again, I think it’s a God thing that I’m here, and just having this opportunity.”
Booth’s dad and uncle were at the game, and his brother, in from San Francisco, also attended. He said his mom watches TV and records, playing back his shifts.
And the hometown fans he knows so well greeted him on the big screen.
“It’s very cool to see the enthusiasm,” Booth said.