DETROIT – For his entire National Hockey League career, Joe Kocur was known for primarily one thing: being able to pummel an opponent into oblivion. Now, as president of the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association, Kocur’s role is much more civilized as he spends time organizing charity events.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still get excited about hockey.
On the contrary, when he found out Wednesday that there will be not one, but two Alumni Showdown games during the outdoor Hockeytown Winter Festival that will take place in December at Comerica Park, Kocur was ecstatic.
He will, along with many other Red Wings legends, take on teams comprised of Toronto Maple Leafs alums in what will stand in stark contrast to 2009, when the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks participated in the Winter Classic. That event did not feature an alumni game.
For Kocur, being able to lace up the skates alongside some of the greats is a mind-boggling proposition. He never could have imagined that his life in hockey would continue to amaze. He called his selection to the game a “special moment” in his career.
“I mean, everything we’ve got to do in our NHL career, from the first day you got drafted, to the first day you play a game, to your first goal, you don’t know that it can keep getting better,” Kocur said.
The Red Wings Alumni Association typically plays between 20 and 25 games each winter, Kocur said. All of those will, of course, be dwarfed by the thousands of fans expected to pack Comerica Park in December.
Standing in Wednesday’s blazing midday sun in the Comerica Park infield, and outfitted in a Red Wings jersey, Kocur was nostalgic about his life in hockey. He seemed in disbelief that he will be around some of the Red Wings legends during such a momentous occasion.
His actions also backed up his words; Kocur waited for Ted Lindsay to finish with the media before asking Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio for their autographs.
Active alumni are part, he believes, of what makes an event like the Winter Festival so gratifying for both the fans and former players.
“We’ve got them right here with Ted (Lindsay), Alex (Delvecchio), with Nick Libett, with Gordie (Howe), and they live in the area,” Kocur explained. “We’re lucky enough to be with these people a lot so we’re kind of spoiled. It’s just amazing, the guys we grew up watching are going to be there. You know how many Hall of Famers are going to be in this game? I just can’t wait to get out there, be a fan, and be a kid again and get autographs. As you can see, I’m waiting to get Ted’s right now.”
Kocur said there are a few former players in particular that he is looking forward to reuniting with on the Comerica Park ice. Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, who combined to form the “Grind Line” also are committed to playing in the alumni event.
But what about all of those Maple Leafs he so famously battled through the years? Kocur hasn’t forgotten about them either.
“I think that’s going to be very exciting,” Kocur said. “Playing against Wendal (Clark) again. We had some good battles back in the day. I haven’t heard (Toronto’s) whole roster, but they have a lot of guys that we had a lot of good battles with. I think it will be kind of funny to line up next to those guys and kind of laugh about the old times when we used to hate each other.”
Fans should not expect, however, to see Kocur and Clark drop the gloves. Asked if there was any chance he might duke it out, Kocur let out a hearty laugh.
“If (the gloves) fall off, it’s to pick something up,” Kocur said.
If there is a downside to such an incredible event, it is the fact that the demand from alumni who would like to participate in the game far outweighs the number of positions available.
Kocur is the alumni president, but it is Red Wings general manager Ken Holland that is in charge of actually extending invites.
“For something this exciting, every player that ever played for the Red Wings or the Leafs would like to be here,” Kocur said. “That’s the only hard thing about it, is that that can’t happen.”
While Lindsay, Delvecchio, Chris Chelios, Mark Howe, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, John Ogrodnick, Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon, Mickey Redmond and Luc Robitaille are slated to be part of the team, there were two names – Nick Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman – that were notably absent.
Naturally, the media asked Kocur if either could be convinced to participate in the game.
“I would hope so,” Kocur said.
“I can’t see why Nick wouldn’t play. We could sure use him on defense. I don’t know that Stevie has put skates on since he retired. From what I understand he’s never put the skates on. He had a lot of tough injuries with his knees and stuff like that but, I can guarantee there’s a lot of calls going in to him and a lot of lobbying going on. He’s with a different organization, too, which makes it a little more difficult for him. Everyone who’s playing here would make a personal plea to him to show up.”
There is still about five months until the Winter Festival will take place, as a lead up to the Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto at The Big House in Ann Arbor on January 1, 2013.
That should leave plenty of time for Kocur and his fellow alums to bombard Lidstrom and Yzerman with voicemails.