🔒Dear Red Wings: First thing that comes to mind ...

8 Jan 1997: Rightwinger Ray Sheppard of the Florida Panthers moves down the ice during a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. The Ducks won the game, 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Cratty /Allsport (Glenn Cratty, Getty)

I have a little game to play today.


Simple game

The point of this game is to name and discuss the first thing that comes to mind on a given topic -- today that topic is NHL teams, naturally. I’ll work my way through each team in the league, alphabetically by division. So we’ll start with the Atlantic Division.

Boston Bruins ...

... Hatred. When I hear “Boston” or “Bruins,” or God forbid both words together, a feeling of pure detest overcomes me. I don’t know why, exactly. I guess I’ve never liked Boston fans. I’ve never respected the Bruins franchise as much as one should (should we?). I know they had the one-and-only Bobby Orr, but that was before my time, and for many years they were just a bunch of cheap-shots who couldn’t win a Cup without Mr. Orr. I did appreciate Ray Bourque, but even he left to win his Cup elsewhere.

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 1990 file photo, Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque (77) reaches over the back of Hartford Whaler Dean Evason (12) trying to get to the puck behind Boston's goal during first period action in the Boston. The NHL hasn't had best-of-five playoff series since 1986. That's changing for this year with the league expanding to 24 playoff teams as part of its restart. The qualifying round will feature 16 teams facing off in best-of-five series to determine who moves on. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Buffalo Sabres ...

... Dominik Hasek. He was unlike anything I had ever seen. Sometimes I find myself forgetting he even played for the Red Wings. His years with the Sabres were so ridiculous that it does become difficult to think of anything after that. As a kid growing up playing the game in the 90s, I remember coaches telling young goalies “do not watch Hasek and think you can play like him.” Coaches were afraid of seeing young goalies try to emulate Hasek’s unorthodox style. Only he could flop around like that, come 20 feet out of the net, dive back in, make a save with the back of his head and then flip around to kick out a rebound or seven. We’ll never see anything like this again, will we? The goaltender position is so boring these days. Everyone is robotically trained to play superb positional goaltending. There is no more room for creativity. Hasek is a legend.

Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek makes the save. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) (2000 Robert Laberge/BBS)

Detroit Red Wings ...

... Steve Yzerman. What else can I say? I grew up a Red Wings fan in the 80s and 90s. Yzerman was THE guy. And wouldn’t you know he still is today. Now he’s running this team. He’s somehow the face of the franchise again. It’s amazing. Let’s hope his legacy as a GM can match his legacy as a player. That is a very tall order.

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 09: Former Detroit Red Wing Steve Yzerman #19 enters a ceremony honoring Joe Louis Arena on April 9, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Red Wings beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in the last NHL game at the arena. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Florida Panthers ...

... 1996. I have vivid memories of when the Panthers (here’s that 95-96 roster of mostly no-namers) went all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 1996 where they lost to the Colorado Avalanche, who had just ousted my 62-win Red Wings (ugh, still hurts). Former Red Wings forward Ray Sheppard (pictured above) had 16 points in the playoffs for the Panthers that year. Of course, goalie John Vanbiesbrouck was the story of the year -- beside the rats. He became a brick wall for the Panthers as they rode him all the way to the final -- he actually had a better season in 1996-97 but there was no Cup final run that time. That was also the year I nearly lost my eye playing street hockey. Honestly, street hockey was the most dangerous sport I ever played. Caution was thrown the wind out there in the streets. So if you say Florida Panthers, that all comes rushing back to me -- the trip to urgent care where they had to glue the skin near my eye back together and the week of blurred vision due to the amount of blood that had gotten into my eye socket. What a time!

John Vanbiesbrouck stops a shot while playing for the Florida Panthers. (Pinterest)

Montreal Canadiens ...

... Patrick Roy in general, but specifically Roy being chased by the Red Wings. Not just chased out of the net, but chased out of Montreal. On Dec. 2, 1995, the Red Wings put nine goals past Roy when he was in net for the Canadiens in Montreal. When he was finally pulled out of the net, the broadcast shows he clearly had some choice words for the Montreal GM. Roy was granted his trade which sent him to the brand new Avalanche, playing their first season since moving from Quebec (Nordiques), and subsequently winning the Stanley Cup (in Colorado’s first year, not fair!), but not before giving birth to one of the best sports rivalries of the modern era.

Ottawa Senators ...

... Daniel Alfredsson’s hit from behind on Darcy Tucker in the 2002 playoffs. I don’t know why that’s the first thing that comes to mind -- that’s the fun of this game. In general, the late 90s and early 2000s Senators vs. Leafs games come to mind. That was the last time that “rivalry” mattered -- the Battle of Ontario. There were some really fun hockey games then -- tough, fast, and heartbreaking for the losers. That Alfredsson hit, and the goal he scored right after it, is etched onto my brain.

Tampa Bay Lightning ...

... Martin St. Louis and his small stature but huge game. This guy was something I had never seen before. I was used to watching the big power forwards of the 90s. Then, St. Louis at 5-foot-8, 170 pounds (if that!) comes bursting into the league in the late 90s and starts scoring goals like crazy. I always thought he was going to get crushed in the corners, but no one could catch him and if they did they were surprised at how strong he was. He was an inspiration for other players of small stature. And today, more guys like him can make it in this league with interference and holding actually being called (in the regular season, at least). But St. Louis didn’t even need the refs, he just skated around everyone, used his strong legs to power through everything and was as tough as they come. I never saw him shy away from a hit. That’s why he remains the first thing to come to my mind when you mention the Lightning. The second thing that comes to mind is a Tampa Bay Lightning sweatshirt that my great aunt sent me from Florida when they were an expansion team in the early 90s. I rocked that to school often, thinking I was the coolest kid.

2003 Season: Player Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. ((Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images))

Toronto Maple Leafs ...

... The curse. I believe the Maple Leafs franchise is cursed, I do. They remind me of the Detroit Lions in a lot of ways. Right now, the Leafs are as good as I can ever remember them being -- even way better than that 1993 team with Dougie Gilmour and Wendel Clark. But you know they’ll find a way to blow this. Something insane will happen -- perhaps they’ll blow a 3-0 series lead in the final minutes of Game 7. What a mindset to have. I know it’s crazy, but I have to believe they are cursed -- the “Curse of 67″ as many call it.

Terry Sawchuk of the Toronto Maple Leafs kicks the puck away from the net during a game against the Montreal Canadiens Circa 1966 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

I will follow up with the other divisions -- but you have to sign up for the Dear Red Wings newsletter:


About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.