McCarty expects emotional return to Detroit

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:39 PM ET

DETROIT -- There are simply too many Joe Louis Arena memories gathered over 11 seasons for Darren McCarty to count.

Yet one stands out.

"I was on the ice when we won the first Cup in '97," said the Flames forward, who returns to his longtime home today to face the Detroit Red Wings -- the team that drafted him in 1992.

"I remember there was

11 seconds left or eight seconds left. The draw was in the neutral zone, we won and Vladdy (Konstantinov) chipped it down.

"I knew the clock was gonna run down but I remember thinking I was gonna chase it down to make sure somebody can't shoot it and have it hit something and go in.

"I had the honour, when the buzzer rang, to see a panoramic view of everybody coming off the bench, everybody going crazy and I was one of the last guys to come into the pile. I could see everything happening and I could see everyone celebrating.

"That will all stay with me, the way the whole building erupted. That gives me chills."

For the first time, though, McCarty will be a visitor at the Joe.

Bought out from his contract with the Wings at the conclusion of the lockout before joining the Flames as an unrestricted free agent, he's ready for the pomp and circumstance that will come from his return.

One of the most popular Wings, McCarty will certainly be welcomed with open arms by the crowd and former teammates.

At least until the puck drops.

"It'll be a bit emotional just to be in that building," he said. "But you know how it goes, when the puck drops, it'll be hockey and I always enjoy playing at the Joe.

"I'm trying not to think about that.

I know it'll be emotional to step on that ice in a different uniform but I'm going to let it be what it is. When you think about it too much, you'll build it up. I'm just going to let it come natural.

"I'm sure I'll get some chills and that'll be cool."

The numbers alone will tell you why McCarty is loved by the Wings faithful.

He was part of three Stanley Cup champion teams and collected 119 goals and

273 points in 643 games.

But the love affair between him and the fans goes well beyond that.

McCarty grew up in nearby Windsor, Ont., and his blue-collar, heart-and-soul style of play was always greatly appreciated by the city.

His love of Detroit -- gritty and hard-edged as it is -- shows through, too.

When he was forced to leave, he penned an open letter -- published in a newspaper --

to the organization and the fans, thanking them for the 11 years of great memories.

"I always thought it was different for me because I was like a hometown kid," he said.

"I was ingrained in Detroit sports and music and everything at a young age. It's a lot of my influences. The Tigers winning in '84, I remember going, and

I saw games in the Olympia and the Silverdome, when the Pistons won in the late '80s and early '90s.

"I'm honoured to be from there.

I know a lot of people bash the city but it's because they don't understand it. Obviously, we all don't hang around downtown Detroit but we're proud to say we're from there.

"And I am, too."

McCarty also knows the love will be put on hold when the action is on, especially between himself and former Grind Liners Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper.

"That's the way we play," McCarty said. "If one of them has me lined up, he'll take me out. I'm going to do the same to him and we'll laugh about it later. You'll have that with close friends, the guys you went to war with, and that's what makes you tick.

"I know playing with Drapes and Malts, we always pushed each other and that's what makes you play your hardest. It doesn't matter what it is, cards on the plane or on the ice or golf, when you're good buddies, it's about bragging rights."


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