Nice on ice
MacLean smiled and called out gruffly, "Sammy. Could you come over here?"
The Red Wings had just beaten the Minnesota Wild, 4-1, with the only goal scored on them being an own-goal. The players were happy. They collectively exhaled knowing that they were soon to board the team plane home, then get their first three-day break in the past four months.
Mikael Samuelsson -- known to everyone on the team as Sammy -- was still on the clock. He excused himself from his conversation with reporters and did what his coach asked.
One moment after Samuelson followed MacLean around the corner to the area in which the players changed clothes; laughter could be heard coming from several players.
Then Samuelsson came back around the corner. Every spot on his face was covered deep in saving cream from hairline to chin.
"I knew this was going to happen," said Samuelsson.
The next person to walk around the corner was Kris Draper, who sported a wide grin. Five minutes earlier, Draper had gotten Johan Franzen with the same trick of placing a shaving-cream laden towel in the face.
"Two in one day," said Draper. "That's impressive.
Draper is the Red Wings' resident birthday celebrator. And birthdays are always celebrated with shaving cream in the face.
Samuelsson and Franzen share a Dec. 23 birthday, but Draper had to get them one day early because the team wouldn't be together that day.
Now here's the importance of shaving cream in hockey … The Red Wings get along.
That's no small thing. We've all worked in environments in which people get along and those in which people do not. Everyone is more productive in a happy workplace.
Admittedly, this is a chicken-egg notion. Are the Red Wings a good team because they get along? Or are the Red Wings getting along because they are doing so well?
Spending time in the locker room, I'll tell you that it's the former. These are good people.
You'll read about some hockey teams having fights in practice and how that's good for their spirit. It's not. A person battles much harder for someone he likes than someone he dislikes. You won't see fights happening with these Red Wings.
On other teams, you might see someone of Pavel Datsyuk's stature rumble or balk at playing wing rather than center.
On other teams, you might see someone as accomplished as Chris Chelios upset at playing a defense-only role. Or see someone who's as gifted of a leader as Chelios -- the man is putting the NHLPA back in order -- wondering aloud why he's not wearing a 'C' or 'A' on his jersey.
On other teams, you might see someone who has performed as well as Chris Osgood -- leading the league in goals-against average, 15 wins in his 18 starts -- complain when he's sitting the bench three games in a row.
On other teams, you might see a promising young scorer like Jiri Hudler discouraged by spending so much time on the fourth line.
Instead, you see shaving cream covered faces, team bowling parties and jokes.
This isn't to say that there aren't disagreements, pettiness and indifference in the Detroit locker room.
This is to say that niceness isn't akin to softness. This is to say that Leo Durocher had it all wrong. Nice guys can finish first. Just look at the NHL standings the past three years.