Sunday, July 25, 2010
July by the Numbers returns to Michigan once again for jersey #25.
When one thinks of the minor leagues, the mental image is generally that of a young hopeful hoping to make it to the NHL for the first time. There are however, other reasons for players to find themselves on minor league rosters. Such was the case of then three time Stanley Cup champion Darren McCarty.
McCarty began his NHL career in 1993 with the Detroit Red Wings and was a vital part of the powerful Red Wings lineup for the next 11 seasons, which included Stanley Cup championships in 1997, 1998 and 2002. While not a flashy goal scorer, his contributions were his toughness, tenacity and team first approach, best recalled by his attack on Claude Lemeiux in retribution for Lemieux's savage hit on teammate Kris Draper.
McCarty did not play in the 2004-05 season of the NHL lockout when many players found jobs in European leagues or North American minor leagues. Following the lockout, a new salary cap system was instituted in the NHL and the Red Wings chose to buy out McCarty's contract as a result of the new financial structure in the post-lockout NHL.
McCarty then signed with the Calgary Flames as a free agent for 2005-06 and played in 67 games, scoring 13 points and registering 117 penalty minutes. McCarty went through some personal issues at the time and in 2006-07 he appeared in just 32 games for the Flames without registering a single point.
At the start of the 2007-08 season, he was without a team. A meeting with Draper in November started his return to hockey when Draper encouraged him to get back in shape and arranged for him to get a tryout with the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League, a team in which Draper is a part owner.
To clarify, this version of the IHL is not the one that existed from 1495 to 2001, but a new league founded in 1991 as the Colonial Hockey League with teams in Michigan and Ontario. As the league expanded eastward, it was renamed the United Hockey League in 1997 before resurrecting the International Hockey League name in 2007, as the original IHL had a strong presence in the Great Lakes area.
This league however was not at the same level as being one step below the NHL, and is considered the fourth rung on the ladder below the NHL, AHL and ECHL.
Nor was this version of the Flint Generals the same franchise which existed from 1969 to 1985 in the original IHL and won the Turner Cup in 1984. That club relocated to Saginaw, Michigan in 1985 and changed their name to the Saginaw Hawks in 1987 before folding in 1989.
McCarty then joined the Generals by signing a contract on December 31, 2007 and played in 11 games, scoring six points and adding 30 penalty minutes.
A little over a month later McCarty was signed by the Red Wings top minor league affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL, and immediately impressed with a hat trick plus an assist in his first game for the Griffins.
After 13 games with Grand Rapids, McCarty was signed by the Detroit Red Wings and was called up by Detroit on March 7, 2008 in time to play three regular season games prior to the playoffs. The top-seeded Red Wings defeated the Nashville Predators 4 games to 2, swept the Colorado Avalanche in 4 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals by eliminating the Dallas Stars 4-2. They then captured the fourth Stanley Cup of McCarty's career by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games to complete McCarty's comeback from being out of hockey six months earlier.
McCarty played one more season, splitting time between the Red Wings and the Griffins (while recovering from an injury and subsequent surgery) before ending his season and career back with Detroit to finish the season following the Griffins elimination from the playoffs.
The new version of the Flint Generals that McCarty began his comeback with came into being in 1993 and took the name of the previous club based on a vote of the fans. The team won the Colonial Cup in 1996 and again in 2000 before folding in 2010.
Even the IHL has ceased to exist, as the remaining five teams are set to join the Central Hockey League for the 2010-11 season as part of a merger between the leagues which will be known as the CHL.
Today's featured jersey is a 2007-08 Flint Generals Darren McCarty jersey worn during the start of McCarty's comeback attempt after starting the season without a job. The Generals wore an attractive jersey in the original Generals blue and gold colors in keeping with the dignity associated with the Generals name, unlike many minor league teams who have gaudy jerseys to go with their cartoonish logos and often ridiculous names, especially in the lower minors.
Today's video section begins with a look at McCarty's first game with the Generals and the postgame press conference.
Here is McCarty's comeback story as told by the CBC.