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 The amazing rebirth of Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood 
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Post The amazing rebirth of Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood
Albom wrote:
May 8, 2008
The amazing rebirth of Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood

BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

When Chris Osgood was a kid in Edmonton, Alberta, his dad was principal of his grade school. One day, the class was asked to write about their fathers. Young Chris turned in his paper, which surprised the teacher.

"My father," Osgood wrote, "is a fireman."

A fireman?

"I didn't want the other kids to know," he says now. "I thought it was embarrassing that he worked in the school."

It's a long way from hiding your first-grade identity to being the most scrutinized player in the march to a Stanley Cup. But you can't duck the spotlight in Osgood's current classroom -- the Red Wings' net -- although if he could, he might. Years ago, when he still was painfully shy, Osgood would scurry to shed his goalie equipment before the media entered the locker room, but there was always so much stuff -- gloves, mask, leg pads, skates -- that it took too long.

So he kept his head down and he mumbled short answers and at times it was almost agonizing, as if the words were yanked by pliers. Today, there is still a shyness to Osgood, even at 35, even after winning the Cup, even after starting the All-Star Game, even after sitting behind Dominik Hasek despite better numbers, even after winning his last six playoff games and entering tonight's Western Conference finals as secure in his job as the CEO of a family business.

His words are still, at times, halting. He is easy to embarrass. But what you may not know about Chris Osgood is that his shyness is matched only by his doggedness. He is tough and stubborn about the important things. And for every sentence he doesn't speak, there may be a thought that howls inside his brain.

This, after all, is a guy who never developed a backup plan to hockey -- even though his father was an educator. Chris told his folks from grade school on that he was going to the NHL. He said it so often, that instead of warning him, "You need something to fall back on," they eventually said, "You better make it in hockey."

This is a guy who, during the lockout, began to reinvent himself, because he saw younger goalies with more efficient styles. So he worked and reworked and he taught his old dog new tricks, and he is arguably now at the highest level in his career.

This is a guy, who, even when they told him they didn't want him in Detroit anymore, refused to accept a departure. Instead, he kept a home here, never sold it, and viewed his time in New York and St. Louis as an exile. Eventually, Detroit signed him on as a free agent for less than a million bucks, and he now has the longest-term deal (three more years, $4.5 million) of any of the Red Wings' goalies.

"I always knew I'd be back," he says.

Even if he was the only one.

Life as an Islander and a Blue

I will never forget an interview I did with Osgood shortly after his life was upended by the Wings in 2001. The team had acquired Hasek, making it obvious that Osgood, who had been drafted by the Wings and had never played anywhere else, was out.

It was a perfect time to trash the franchise. Call it ungrateful. After all, hadn't he done all the Wings had asked? Hadn't he led them to a Cup just three years earlier?

Instead, Osgood spoke glowingly about the team and the city and how he would one day return here, maybe as a free agent, maybe even waiting it out if Hasek only wanted to play one season.

"Right now, he's a little better than me," Osgood said (the kind of thing no athlete ever says about another), "... but things happen in sports."

They sure do. Osgood was eventually acquired in the waiver draft by the Islanders. He played for them nearly two seasons, was traded late in the 2003 campaign to St. Louis and played a year there. When the lockout came in 2004-05, he was a man without a team.

You know that if you're a hockey fan. What you don't know is that all during that time (his "exile" from Detroit) Osgood would play golf with general manager Ken Holland in the summers in western Canada. They'd hang out on a lake. They'd have meals. And the voice in Ozzie's head was screaming, "Ask if he wants you back!"

But he never said a word.

"I didn't want to put him in an awkward situation and ruin our relationship," Osgood says. "I wanted to think, if I came back, it was meant to be. That he'd ask me."

So he waited. He waited like that lovesick kid in "Cinema Paradiso," standing in the rain outside his sweetheart's apartment. He waited with that doggedness that belies his boyish demeanor. He waited until finally, in August 2005, he signed an offer that Holland authorized.

And Ozzie was a Wing again.

As he always knew he would be.

Changing with the times

The thing is, all during that time, Osgood wasn't resting on his laurels. Quietly (and let's face it, what doesn't he do quietly?), he began to rework his fundamentals. The truth is, he says, when he was growing up, they made you goaltender because you were a good defenseman or you fit the net. They didn't really teach you a lot.

"In those days, they just said, 'Stop the puck. We don't care how you do it.' You were expected to stand up. 'Stand up. Stay in front of your net!' they'd yell. If you went down, it wasn't good.

"Nowadays, your first instinct is to go down. I spend most of my time on my knees.

"But we never had goalie coaches back then. My first real goalie coach was when I was 21 or 22. Today, they start with goalie gurus when they're 10 years old.

"So a few years ago, I kinda had to change my game, reinvent myself a little bit. I learned that from Mike Vernon because he did it at the same age I am now. Older goalies tend to reach a lot. Younger goalies now use their whole bodies in front of the puck. They can really move around on their knees.

"So I started working more on that. Making sure I have my chest and shoulders in front of the puck, instead of maybe my glove and my stick. Little things. Not flailing around so much."

Outsiders have noticed the improvement. Osgood seems steadier now. Less flappable. His numbers reflect it. This season, he had the lowest goals-against mark of his career (2.09) and has mirrored that with a career best in the playoffs (1.52).

"He's a position goaltender who plays his position," said Don Cherry of "Hockey Night in Canada" fame. "He doesn't run around. He looks unexciting. He just stops pucks. ... He's the calmest guy I think I've ever seen. I mean, nothing rattles him."

Well, he was born in a place called Peace River, Alberta. And he has been stopping pucks -- even the tape-ball kind -- since he played in the basement with his younger brother between periods of TV games.

But the calm exterior can hide a fiery heart, and his fiery face is hidden behind a mask. Teammates will tell you there is nothing sweet or boyish about Osgood in the net. He will yell. He will curse. He will anger. He admits that, earlier in his career, he was angry much of the time when he was a backup.

"I remember times when Vernie was playing or Manny (Legace) was playing and I was ticked off that I wasn't," he says. "I was mad. I was pouting in practice. And when you're mad, you forget to use that time to get ready. And there were times when I probably wasn't ready because of that.

"Today, I've taken all the negative things out of my head. I want to play. I want to play all the time. But I'm not going to be angry if I don't.

"I know I've got to play well. If I don't, there is no reason for Babs (Mike Babcock) not to go back to Dom. Dom's played some great games. And he's a great goalie. So I just have to be ready to play every night.

"Ever since I've been back, I never thought of this as being about me."

He sighs.

"I'm kind of over myself. I just want to win."

Living the good life

Osgood cannot help the fact that he looks, at 35, like he's still in high school. His cherubic features and full blond hair have always shaded him more Ricky Schroder than Gump Worsley. For this interview, he arrives with sunglasses on, but even the shades look too mature, as if he were a kid borrowing his dad's sunglasses to play grown-up.

Osgood lives in Plymouth, a family town, in a family house on a family street with his family; wife Jenna and daughters Mackenzie and Sydney. His backyard contains a hockey oval that in the winter is frozen over with ice. He even has a small dressing cabin with lockers and a TV set.

And to the casual observer, watching him carouse with his two young daughters or the neighborhood kids who regularly stop by to play, this 5-foot-10, 175-pound blond kid might be the camp counselor, not the millionaire homeowner and 14-year NHL veteran.

I ask Osgood if he's paid a price for looking like the eternal teenager.

"I think so. I think when I was younger, they thought I was just passive and just happy to be here. But I take the game really seriously. I have nights, if we don't win or I don't play well, that I don't sleep until five in the morning. I get mad. I think about the game all the time. I'm an intense player. If I wouldn't have been intense and competitive, I wouldn't be playing still."

Nor would he be playing this well. He may not have wrinkles to show for it, but he's got everything else. The stats. The trades. The injuries. The ups and downs. And through it all, while everyone has tried to make Osgood fit the profile of his profile, he has been stubbornly consistent:

1) He wants to play for Detroit. 2) He wants to play goalie. 3) He wants to win. 4) He wants to play for Detroit.

"I've had like three stages of my career," he says. "I was here, then I went away, then I was back. I've had the best of both worlds. The first time I was here, I didn't even know other guys in the league. Then you get out and you see how other organizations work, you meet different players, different people. Then you think, 'I had it pretty damn good before.' "

And so he is back to his pretty damn good -- back to where he belongs, Detroit, where he says he will live for the rest of his life.

When they yell players' names at hockey games, it can be a fad, a spontaneous eruption. When they yell "Ozzie" at Joe Louis Arena, it's more like a career cheer, a hometown familiarity, the thing he has wanted more than anything else: to be a key part of this franchise, to hopefully retire in this jersey.

Seven years ago, when the Wings let him go, this is what he told me, before hanging up the phone:

"Make sure nobody takes my number."

Eight more playoff victories and the kid from Peace River -- who, yes, still wears No. 30 -- will have made it all the way back to the top of his dreams. And his kids, when asked in school, can proudly brag that their daddy stops pucks, not fires.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch "The Mitch Albom Show" 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). www.freep.com/mitch.

http://freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article? ... 3/SPORTS05

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May 8th, 2008, 11:02 am
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I think Ozzie always gets overlooked. People always make excuses or say that he played behind great defenses. While that is true, he still won the stanley cup. You have to be a good goalie to do that. Even this year, people are still saying it's just because he plays for the Wings and has a great defense. But if that were really the case, Hasek never would've been chased from the net, because it's just great defensement, not the goalie, right?

Ozzie is the man! Class act all the way, and a great goalie. You don't lead the league in GAA without being a great goalie.


May 8th, 2008, 6:50 pm
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Man, did Ozzie look good last night.

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May 9th, 2008, 7:23 am
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I'll admit that I was never really a huge Osgood fan, but I always thought he was solid. To me, it seemed that he didn't have what it took to take his game to the next level and the Wings won in spite of him in the late 90's. However, I've been extremely impressed with him this season and during the playoffs. While there's still nothing spectacular about him, he just gets the job done and deserves all the credit he can get.

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May 9th, 2008, 9:40 am
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Post Red Wings' Osgood ties Sawchuk for playoff wins
More on Ozzie -

MLive.com wrote:
Red Wings' Osgood ties Sawchuk for playoff wins
by Ansar Khan
Monday May 12, 2008, 10:41 PM

DALLAS -- Chris Osgood has his sights set on Terry Sawchuk's career record for regular-season victories by a Detroit Red Wings goaltender but knows it will take a while to reach that milestone.

In the meantime, another record snuck up on Osgood.

Monday's 5-2 victory against the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals enabled Osgood to tie Sawchuk for the most playoff wins in franchise history (47).

"It's a nice accomplishment. I didn't have any idea," Osgood said. "That's one (record) I would have liked to get. There's other things I want, I've always said, win the Stanley Cup (again), get 400 wins, and pass Sawchuk, those are my three individual goals I strive for. That (playoff record) is a nice thing, it's something I'll look back on and be proud of."

Osgood's nine-game playoff winning streak is the longest since Patrick Roy won 11 in a row for Montreal during its 1993 Stanley Cup run.

"He's full of confidence. He's big, he's in a zone," teammate Darren McCarty said. "You watch the way he carries himself, his positioning. He made some big saves tonight on some east-to-west one-timers. They had some chances in the slot. He made some saves through traffic."

Osgood, as usual, was not tested often. He faced 18 shots, but made timely saves and did not surrender any soft goals.

"That's the way he's been playing the whole playoffs," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He's one of the reasons we're here."

Osgood has dominated the Stars throughout his career, posting a 27-10-3 record against them in the regular season and 7-2 mark in the playoffs.

"They got a lucky bounce on the second one (Brad Richards' goal that deflected in off the leg of defenseman Brad Stuart), but they were throwing a lot of pucks to the net, getting traffic," Osgood said. "I'm not seeing a ton of shots, but I feel like they're getting some pretty good chances. It's my job to make the big save and give our team the calming influence when I can."

Hudler delivers big goal

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg dominated the game, but Jiri Hudler scored a huge breakaway goal at 11:54 of the second period which snapped a 2-2 tie and stood as the game-winner. Niklas Kronwall's terrific outlet pass resulted in his 11th point (all assists), which leads all defensemen in the playoffs.

"Kronner made a pass; and then I took a couple of steps and almost fell down," Hudler said. "When I was at hash marks I thought about what I was going to do. Instead of (shooting) on my forehand, I faked a quick shot and tried to go high (backhand)."

Said Darren McCarty, who drew the second assist: "I was able to hold (Mike Modano) off and I saw Kronner in the middle of the ice. I gave it to him, and Huds smelled an opening and he took off and Kronner found him. He did a great job finishing off. Huge timing for the goal."

Filppula impressed with Leino

Valtteri Filppula is looking forward to having a fellow Finnish-born player on the team next season, if Ville Leino earns a spot on the roster. Filppula played against the high-scoring winger in juniors and in the Finnish Elite League and helped recruit the free agent, who signed a one-year deal with the club last weekend.

"He's got really good skill, he protects the puck well, real nifty with his hands," Filppula said. "The first years in the Elite League he didn't really get a chance, played more third- or fourth-line type of game, and he's not really that type of player. The last few years he's been on the top line and has been able to do a lot of good things."

Leino (6-foot, 182 pounds), 24, had 28 goals and 49 assists in 55 games for Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League this past season.

Odds and ends

Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, suffering from headaches and post-concussion symptoms, underwent some testing in Detroit on Monday. General manager Ken Holland said after the game the club had not received the results. Franzen almost surely will not play in Game 4 on Wednesday. ... Kris Draper, on the league's decision not to suspend Mike Ribeiro for his slash on Osgood at the end of Game 2: "The first time you see it on the ice, really surprised, you don't see it too often where a guy slashes a goalie from behind the net. But the league looked at it and that's the decision they came down with, and as players, you accept it and move on." ... Top Dallas defensive forward Jere Lehtinen missed the game with a knee injury. ... Dallas coach Dave Tippett said team captain Brendan Morrow is fine after getting "a stinger" when he crashed into the boards midway through the third period. ... Tippett said Modano took a "bump on his head" when Draper crunched him into the boards late in the second period. Modano returned for the third period.

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May 13th, 2008, 11:55 am
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