The Surreal Life
As one of about 7,000
hockey-mad Michiganders who packed Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor
last week for a charity exhibition match featuring the U.S. Under-18
Team against a collection of locked-out NHLers, many of them Detroit
Red Wings, I saw a lot of crazy stuff.
sprinting up State Street to the rink in order to get a ticket
to the hastily organized game (it was put together in about two
weeks). Lloyd Carr could’ve run down the sidewalk pantsless
and no one would’ve noticed. Chris Chelios played the role
of cherry-picking forward, and would have drawn the ire of Don
Cherry had the star of CBC's 'Coaches Corner' seen the long-time
defenseman and chili magnate circle the neutral zone like a buzzard
over a zebra carcass. The highlight, however, was seeing rock
star and patron saint of trailer parks, Kid Rock, pace the same
bench as venerable Wolverines head coach Red Berenson.
Under-18 defenseman Jack Johnson (left) wards off Chris Chelios
(photo courtesy USA Hockey).
I’ve never seen Berenson wear a porkpie hat, as Kid did,
during a game. Nor have I seen him proceed to center ice for a
ceremonial puck drop wearing a floor-length fur coat with the
word ‘Cowboy’ emblazoned on the back in sequins. I
haven’t seen the Red Baron constantly sip a mystery beverage
that he neatly tucked away in one corner of the bench. And I’m
pretty sure Red never walked off the home ice with a can of Labatt
Blue in one of his pants pockets and a tin of chewing tobacco
in the other.
around and said, ‘What am I doing here? I don’t think
I belong here,’” diminuative U.S. forward Nathan Gerbe,
a Boston College recruit, remarked of the surreal scene at Yost.
Certainly, this was
no ordinary night for a team that usually plays in front of 200
fans at Ann Arbor’s Ice Cube. Maybe it was Kid Rock’s
presence. Or that of actress and noted carouser Tara Reid, barely
recognizable without Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, the cast of
‘That ’70s Show’ and a mobile wet bar in tow.
But Gerbe was likely
referring to the guys making up the ‘pro’ portion
of this pro-am challenge – future Hall-of-Famers Steve Yzerman
and Chelios, for example, or Nicklas Lidstrom, arguably the best
defenseman on the planet. Also in attendance was a Hart Trophy
recipient (Sergei Fedorov) and a Selke Award winner (Kris Draper).
expect a group of 21 kids between the ages of 16 and 18 to be
glossy-eyed in the presence of such greatness. Heck, Chelios and
Yzerman were in the NHL before most of the U.S. team was born.
The same goes for Steve Duchesne, one of the pro defensemen whose
age is determined through carbon dating.
“It was pretty
incredible out there,” said U.S. goaltender Jeff Frazee,
who’ll attend Minnesota next season. “You look at
all these guys you looked up to when you were younger, and there
they are shooting the puck at you.”
Despite the opposition’s
star power, Frazee was the show stopper (Gopher fans – you’re
going to love this guy). He stoned Draper on a breakaway by getting
his leg pads down in a textbook butterfly position. Shortly thereafter,
he robbed hulking defenseman Derian Hatcher with a glove save
on a shot from the high slot. In the third period, he stifled
Chelios on a breakaway.
“Right when I
stopped Draper on the breakaway in the first period, I settled
down and kicked it in gear,” Frazee said. “I was really
As nervous as Frazee
may have been, he could at least concentrate solely on stopping
the puck. The U.S. defensemen had to contend with oncoming forwards
like Fedorov and Boston Bruin Sergei Samsanov, guys with more
speed than the VIP room at an Amsterdam dance club.
“It took pretty
much the first period for me to figure out if it was real or just
a dream,” said Michigan-bound rearguard Jack Johnson. “I
was out there one time following Sergei Fedorov like a deer in
The task of
slowing down Fedorov and Co. was even more daunting considering
physical play was, for all intents and purposes, verboten.
didn’t finish checks or anything. We’d kind of stick
check and if we missed the puck it was like, Oh well,” Johnson
said. “And scrums in front of the net, you’re about
to hit ‘em and you stop. You’re like, Wait a minute.
It’s Kris Draper. Don’t touch him.”
Said Gerbe, “The
great player I am, I was afraid I might accidentally get my stick
up or get my knee out.”
All of the
Under-18 team’s players left Yost with a personal scrapbook
moment. Phil Kessel, the most coveted college recruit since God-knows-when
– and no, he hasn’t made a decision yet – scored
his team’s first goal in the second period, blowing past
Hatcher as if the 13-year NHL vet was sitting in a beanbag chair.
you’re out there, you don’t really think about it,”
said Kessel, who was flattened after he shot and didn’t
see the puck go into the net. “But when you get to the bench,
you think, ‘I just walked so-and-so.’”
Of course, not everyone’s
prime memory of the evening was as visceral as Kessel’s.
was definitely a highlight,” said Johnson, “to see