The Detroit Red Wings may be more famous for their Swedish (in recent years) and Russian (during the “Russian Five” era) connections, but the July 4 holiday is a perfect time to consider how American-born players have helped the team over the years.
Currently, the team has more of a U.S. flavor than at any time in recent memory, with Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff all hailing from the land of the free, home of the brave. But after some post-fireworks pondering last night, I came to the realization that most Wings rosters over the last 20 years or so have had an American connection of some sort.
By no means is this supposed to be an exhaustive list (sorry Ty Conklin), but here’s a look at some of the most famous and infamous American Red Wings:
Brian Rafalski (2007-08 through 2010-11)
Here’s a fun story: during Team USA’s thrilling run to the gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics, I went to a local sporting goods store trying to get a Rafalski national team jersey. They just kind of laughed at me, and since I wanted one with a name on the back, I left with a Patrick Kane sweater instead. Ahem.
As penance, I’m putting Rafalski in the top spot on this list. He was awesome during the Olympics, and an argument could be made that the Red Wings have never really replaced him. I disliked him a lot when he was with the Devils, but he immediately set a career high in goals in his first season in Detroit, so all was forgiven.
DeKeyser can really skate, so maybe he’ll develop into something like Rafalski over time. Until then, we miss you Brian.
Mike Modano (2010-11)
Modano was another player I always admired but was forced to root against since he did his thing for a divisional or conference rival. There’s no doubt he was one of the greatest American players in NHL history.
When he signed with the Red Wings in 2010, it seemed like one of those smart veteran pickups that the team usually does so well. But Modano was just a fraction of his former self, and he played only 40 games while sitting out a lot.
That made me sad. You know what, let’s just move on…
Brett Lebda (2005-06 through 2009-10)
A favorite of my family because he played his college hockey for Notre Dame, Lebda was a favorite of exactly zero other Red Wings fans. If anyone bought a Lebda jersey while he was in town, I’d like to hear from you.
Lebda bounced to Toronto and Columbus and spent all of last season playing in the AHL. You’ve got to admire his persistence anyway.
Mathieu Schneider (2002-03 through 2006-07)
Because of his first name and the fact that he broke in with the Montreal Canadiens, I was sure Schneider was French-Canadian. As it turned out, he was 100 percent American, born in New York City.
Schneider was a good Wing, but he had the misfortune of joining the team one year after a Stanley Cup and departing right before the next one. That’s some unfortunate timing.
Brett Hull (2001-02 through 2003-04)
I know, I know: Hull was born in Canada. But he had dual citizenship and played international hockey for Team USA, so I’m claiming him, darn it.
Despite nearing the end of his career, Hull averaged 31 goals during his three seasons in Detroit and helped win a Stanley Cup. That made up for all of his time playing for the Blues and Stars, at least for me.
Chris Chelios (1998-99 through 2008-09)
Hey, I’m sensing a theme here. I absolutely despised Chelios when he was on the Blackhawks (and I’m sure I’m not alone there), but became a big fan once he joined the Wings. We all know how important he was to the team, playing until his body absolutely couldn’t do it any longer.
Plus he stuck around and became a part of the Detroit organization. So take that Hawks, unless you’re still too busy passing the Cup around.
I’m including these two gentlemen together because I didn’t get to see that many Red Wings games in the early to mid-90s living in central Pennsylvania, so I got to know the less famous players mostly through EA Sports video games. I totally forgot Miller came back to the team for four games (chipping in two assists!) over a decade later.
I scored a lot more goals in the video games than these two scored in real life, so I’d like to thank them for winning me some money in my freshman dorm and helping me maintain bragging rights over my brothers. Thanks guys!
So there you have it folks. While you’re celebrating the birth of the U.S., don’t forget to have a hot dog and light a sparkler in honor of the Americans who gave us some memories, good and bad, at The Joe. I certainly will.