So you don't live in Detroit and you don't live in, uh, Glendale, Arizona, but you're fixin' to pay some mind to tonight's Game 7 showdown between the Red Wings and Coyotes. And you're asking yourself: "Who am I rooting for?"
Really, this should be easy.
The Coyotes are the improbable underdogs, the darling of the NHL's Sweet 16. You know the story. The Yotes are orphans, abandoned by their owner and left penniless to be raised by peers. The team was coachless as the season dawned, and it is starless still. Phoenix hasn't played a postseason game since the pre-lockout era -- eons ago! We didn't even have Twitter then, kids.
Then you have the Red Wings, the mighty, swaggering Red Wings. Four Stanley Cups in the last 12 seasons. Twenty-four playoff series wins in that time. Since the Coyotes were born -- alone and in the desert in the fall of 1996 -- Detroit has won almost twice as many games in Stanley Cup finals (19) as Phoenix has won in the entire playoffs (10). Stars? Detroit's roster of recent years could fill a small galaxy.
So it's easy. Grab your popcorn and your inch-thick Twizzlers and settle in to pull for the Coyotes, who are a story out of Hollywood. Furry, hardworking mammals on ice! The Mighty Ducks meets Most Valuable Primate. The way their injured captain Shane Doan (he may return tonight) has been delivering inspirational lockerroom speeches, you've got a little Knute Rockne: All American and a little Hoosiers in there, too.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, are a story out of the Bronx or Durham. No team wins the way Detroit has been winning, save for maybe the Yankees or Duke. And those teams get more hate mail than Captain Hook.
Except . . . except. It sure is hard to hate the Red Wings, however successful they've been. It's not like they went and wildly outspent their competition (a method commonly known as the pinstripe philosophy) in building their team lately. Can't do that in today's NHL. The Red Wings do things the old fashioned way: find good players through savvy scouting, nurture them, put them in good situations and keep them in the fold.
We know how it goes there in Detroit, how players keep taking less money than they might have gotten elsewhere just to stay with the Red Wings. That cap-friendly model was set by captain Nicklas Lidstrom, 20 years a Wing, who just might be the classiest NHL player ever -- not to mention the best defenseman since Bobby Orr. You see Lidstrom skating out there, age 40, at last showing signs of vulnerability, no longer what he was even a few years ago, but still proud and still very able. Well, it's hard to root against a guy like that. This is a man who goes to Ikea to buy his Christmas hams, and then he delivers them to his teammates' doorsteps.
And anyway, you're going to root against Detroit, a city that, we certainly know, could use some good news, a city that has endured much, much more than any city should have to endure? The Red Wings' winning a few more games won't cure any of the Motor City's ills, but if they bring a little happiness into some Detroiters' lives, well, at least that's something. How do you root against that?
Detroit is Hockeytown. Glendale is home to The Bead Museum. And yet that's part of the Coyotes' charm. While we were still tallying up all the empty seats from the first half of the season at Jobing.com arena, the Coyotes suddenly started packing them. The team's sold out seven straight games, and Game 7 will make it eight. That's part of the feel-good story too.
Phoenix is coached by Dave Tippett, whose name is invariably followed by the phrase "good hockey man." He ran a pretty good ship in Dallas for years. He's an easy guy to root for, too. Of course, the Red Wings are coached by Mike Babcock, who may be turning into the finest coach of the post-Bowman NHL. You want to pull against a guy who two months ago coached Canada to Olympic gold on home ice? If you're reading this North of the border, Babcock is, like, a god to you.
So it's not so simple here, is it? A classic David, but not your ordinary Goliath. Can't decide who to pull for? No matter. This is Game 7 in the NHL playoffs.
Truly, sports fan, you can't lose.