Drake’s long wait is over

By Scott Erskine
PA SportsTicker Hockey Editor

Like most Canadian boys, Dallas Drake always dreamed of playing for the Stanley Cup. Currently in his 15th season in the NHL, that dream finally is being realized.

A native of Trail, British Columbia, Drake was selected by Detroit in the sixth round of the 1989 draft. After 1 1/2 seasons with the club, he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets and remained with the organization when it moved to Phoenix before signing with St. Louis in July 2000.

Following six campaigns with the Blues, Drake rejoined the Red Wings last July. The decision to sign with his original team has proven to be the right one, as the 39-year-old is four victories away from having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for the first time.

“Last summer, I didn’t know if I was going to play anymore,” said Drake, whose Red Wings host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game One of the Finals on Saturday. “I was very fortunate the way things worked out with me and Detroit. I didn’t know if my career was over or not (after leaving St. Louis). I knew I still wanted to play, it was just a matter of, I wanted to play for a team that had a chance to win a Stanley Cup.

“So it’s a huge thrill for me. You think about (playing in the Finals). Sometimes you’re laying in bed at night and you can’t get it off our mind. But yeah, I’m not going to lie to you - I thought about never winning it, and it bothered me quite a bit.”

However, Drake is not resentful that it has taken him this long to compete for hockey’s biggest prize.

“It didn’t bug me,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to you - I was jealous. I tended to not watch much of the playoffs, but I’d always watch the Stanley Cup Finals and enjoy seeing guys carry the Cup around.

“If I don’t win it, I’ll be pretty upset, but I’ll move on. But I obviously want to end (my career) on the right note.”

While never having won the Stanley Cup, Drake is no stranger to victory. The right wing was a member of Northern Michigan’s national championship team in 1991.

Still, Drake admits it does not compare to hoisting the NHL’s silver trophy into the air.

“The biggest hockey moment I’ve had in my life, and I still say today, is I won the national championship in college,” he said. “And after playing (15) years in the NHL, I didn’t think that would be the highlight of my career.

“Playing in the NHL has been great, and you get treated great and you get paid a lot of money. But I really wanted to win a championship, and I’m hoping to surpass the one championship I’ve got in this series.”

While he never has been a big offensive threat, Drake has scored 15 or more goals five times in his career. He managed just three tallies and six points in 65 games with Detroit this season but understands he was brought in to serve other purposes.

“I think the game is all about making adjustments the older you get,” Drake said. “You have to realize what kind of player you are and what you can do differently to maybe contribute differently. I realized that a long time ago, that I was never going to be a big scorer.

“And as the years go by, you slowly adjust. Even after the lockout (of 2004-05), I’ve had to make adjustments, and it doesn’t bother me one bit. If I play three minutes a night or 10 minutes a night, I have to find a way to be effective in those minutes, and that’s kind of the way I approach things.”

Drake has approached his opportunity with the Red Wings with the right mindset. He was told by coach Mike Babcock that he would not be in the lineup every night during the regular season and may not play many minutes when he did dress.

But the 6-1, 195-pounder did everything he could to prove to his coach and teammates that he was worthy of donning a jersey despite his advanced age.

“You have to bite the bullet sometimes and find a way to be effective, whether it’s playing just solid defensively or playing physical, or if it comes down to just winning a couple faceoffs,” Drake said. “I kind of approach things that way.

“It’s a young man’s game now, everybody knows that. You have to swallow your pill and go out there and take your medicine and play the role that they want you to play.”

That role just may help Drake complete a solid career with an elusive Stanley Cup.

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Updated Friday, May 23, 2008