Pavel Datsyuk enjoys his off-season, getting maybe a touch careless with a high stick while playing for Russia. Pic: Gettys/Detroit Free Press.
There’s a fundamental difference between supporting the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League and barracking for the Richmond Tigers in the Australian Football League. And it goes way beyond the teams’ dramatically different (but both way cool) colour schemes.
Detroit is all about winning, where any year that doesn’t bring a Stanley Cup is met with blinks of disbelief and then the disgruntled shaking of collective heads, by management, players and fans.
Richmond used to be like that, in the 1960s and 70s, but over the past 30 years has sunk so that expectations are much, much lower. Put it this way, Richmond has made the finals twice since 1982, while Detroit has made the play-offs in 26 out of the last 28 seasons, including a ridiculous 21 years in a row, including the season just completed.
Right now, all is quiet in Detroit, as a result of the Wings being uncharacteristically bundled out of the first round of those 21st-straight play-offs by the uppity Predators; Nashville out-winging the Wings by being hard and tough and skilful and uncompromising and just frickin’ wanting it more. My guys looked slow and flat and out-psyched and out-muscled. Yes, I am still steaming about Weber’s Ultimate Fighting head-slam of Hank Zetterberg but – deep breath – it’s now history.
Talk has turned to whether the Wings can snare a big name Unrestricted Free Agent in June, and whether any of our very promising draft picks can make the next one, two or three steps to move out of the minors, into the Wings roster and then into serious Stanley Cup-contending form?
In my opinion, we need to pay attention to hair. Last summer, the Wings drafted a big-bodied defenceman with a ranga-afro, Mike Commodore. Wings fans tried to love him, even after he refused to wear the number 64 in honour of the old video console, but then he was in and out of the Wings line-up and eventually traded for not much more than a couple of free beers and maybe a book shop voucher and is now plying his trade with Tampa Bay. (Big Cat Place remains as filthy about this as I am about the Weber hit on Zee. We’ve had a lot to seethe about lately.)
The Tigers also badly needed a big body after the 2011 season and got one in Ivan Maric, a ruckman with the best mullet hairstyle going around in football and maybe in sport.
Big Ivan Maric: bringing mullety goodness to the Tigers. Pic: The Age.
In fact, after Ivan dominated (46 hit outs in the ruck, 20 possessions) yesterday’s game against Port, which the Tigers won, the Richmond coach, Damien Hardwick, was moved to say: “He (Ivan) still has some areas he can work on, mainly his hair, but other than that we move on. He seems to be getting better the longer the mullet.”
Of the Wings stars, an early start to summer has meant a chance to compete in the IIHF World Hockey Championships, Division 1. This is the main stage of the world titles that Australia recently competed in. Zetterberg, Franzen, Ericsson, Filppula, and even prospect Tomas Tatar are all among those playing. The Wings’ goalie, Jimmy Howard, made 40-odd saves as the USA beat Canada, so at least he’s hit top form a month too late.
Pavel Datsyuk is playing for Russia, and seems to be enjoying not being in official NHL competition and therefore not having to worry about trying to win the Lady Byng, the NHL sportsmanship award. At least if the picture above is any indication. He scored Russia’s first goal and they won …
All I care about is that Datsyuk, Zee and the rest have months to gear up for the 2012-2013 NHL season. Hopefully he’s joined in September’s training camp by a few of our better prospects who surprise everybody by being fitter, stronger, bigger and hungry, ready to be genuine NHL stars. Plus a big name or two from free agency, to add extra two-way grunt up forward. And ideally even Nik Lidstrom, fit and eager for at least one more brilliant season in D.
They Wings gather in September for training camp. By then, I will have spent an Australian winter belting up and down the ice at the Icehouse and Oakleigh, getting ready to join the Rookies, my very first actual team, in summer league competition. Plus I hopefully will have watched big Ivan and the Tigers continue to build into something resembling a genuine finals prospect over the next couple of years.
Is that too much to ask?*
* Don’t answer, re Richmond. I know the answer is almost certainly yes.
UPDATE: Ivan Maric wallpaper now available. Respect the Mullet! … click here.