How’s a “Grind Line” reunion sound?
Joe Kocur is already working on it.
Kris Draper was the last of the Wings’ infamous “Grind Line” to call it a career, during a press conference Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena.
Draper centered the original “Grind Line,” with Kirk Maltby and Kocur. Darren McCarty replaced Kocur after the 1998 season.
With “The Grind Line” consisting of three forwards, Kocur came up with a radical idea for the reunion of linemates.
“I’ll play defense,” Kocur laughed. “We’ve got to do that. That’s got to be our first big (Wings Alumni) game.
“I’ll need a good defense partner if I’m on defense,” Kocur added. “I might see if I can get (Larry) Murphy in for that game.”
The fourth line of forwards was formed by coach Scotty Bowman. They became so popular with fans they had souvenir shirts made up.
The job Draper, Maltby, McCarty and Kocur had to do each and every night was simple; wear down the opponent’s top lines and also from time to time chipping in goals.
“As players, we complemented each other well,” Maltby said. “Everyone brought a little something different to the table. We always had each other’s backs.
“Kris and I got us into some predicaments at times and Joey and Mac were always there,” Maltby added. “Didn’t matter who it was or who it was against, we always had each other’s backs. We loved playing with one another.”
McCarty and Kocur were the enforcers.
Maltby did anything he could to get under a player’s skin.
Draper made a living in the faceoff circle and was tenacious forechecker.
“I got traded the year before, Drapes got traded for a dollar and Joey came out of the beer league,” Maltby grinned. “Mac’s the only spoon-fed one. He got drafted and played one year in the minors. We all came from different ways and brought different things to the table. Somehow when we laced them up we jelled.
“We all have the same personalities for the most part, we enjoyed being around the guys, our line or the guys in general, we loved playing the game, just coming to the rink,” Maltby continued. “It was easy to play with them.”
According to Draper, former Wings trainer John Wharton came up with line’s nickname.
“It stayed together so long because of how much we liked playing together and the situations we played in,” Draper said. “In the ’97 finals, the starting line was myself, Mac and Malts. You don’t see that too often.
“For any player, when the coach has that much confidence in you and uses you in all different situations … at the end of the game your line can go out and take the key faceoff or going against another team’s top line,” Draper added. “How many times were we on the ice against (Joe) Sakic and (Peter) Forsberg in those battles? It was a huge thrill for us.
“We did a lot of stuff off the ice, hung out together, families hung out together,” Draper continued. “It was special playing with those guys. A lot of people still talk about ‘The Grind Line’ and it’s pretty cool, something the four of us are proud of.”
One of the most memorable “Grind Line” moments helped establish the rivalry between the Wings and the Colorado Avalanche.
During the ’96 Western Conference finals, Claude Lemieux hit Draper into the boards from behind. Draper suffered a broken jaw and cheekbone.
About a year later, McCarty jumped Lemieux during a regular season game in Detroit which started a brawl that featured Wings goalie Mike Vernon squaring off with Colorado netminder Patrick Roy.
The bad blood carried over into the next season, as another brawl ensued at the JLA, with Chris Osgood going toe-to-toe with Roy.
“You’d hop into a pile and there’d be pushing and shoving, I’d come in grab somebody or step in the way and the guy would say, ‘I’m going to (bleeping) kill Draper, Maltby is such a (expletive),” McCarty recalled. “I’d say, ‘I can’t agree with you more, but you’re not going to touch them now. You’ve got to deal with me. Joey was always the best because he’d come in and grab three at the same time, like little kids and say, ‘What are you guys doing?’ That made us that much tougher to play against.”
The line worked hard, played with passion and was willing to sacrifice to get the job done.
“We took so much pride in shutting down the other team’s top line and chipping in ourselves,” McCarty said. “Scotty showed tons of confidence, made us the players we are. The camaraderie and chemistry was there from Day 1, we were all really tight.
“’The Grind Line’ wasn’t just at the rink, it was away from the rink, we all hung out together,” McCarty added. “We’re all great friends to this day and it was so natural. We have some great memories.”
The Grind Line even has its own Wikipedia page.
“It was a line that could play against anybody, other team’s tough guys or top line because they were very responsible,” Murphy said. “You always felt comfortable when that line was on the ice.
“You look at any championship team, there are a lot of different elements you need to win and we had that grinding type of line that could play that type of hockey.
“Malts was a guy who was extremely effective in getting under people’s skin, Drapes was tremendous skater, tremendous forechecker, had the ability to create havoc, they always had to be aware when he was on the ice, the ability to turn pucks over, he was tough to play against. Mac and Joey brought a lot of toughness to the line.”
And because of it, Draper, Maltby and McCarty have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup four times.
“I didn’t even think about it (Monday) night that he’s the last of the Grind Line to go,” said Kocur, who won three Stanley Cups with the Wings, two as a player and another as a coach, and another as a member of the New York Rangers.
While nobody in Hockeytown will ever confuse “The Grind Line” with “The Production Line” they played a major role in helping end the Wings’ 42-year Stanley Cup drought.
And for that “The Grind Line” will be engraved in the memories of all that call Hockeytown their home.