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DETROIT - His heart pounding and knees quaking, Dallas Drake stepped on the ice for the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in his career Saturday night.
The Red Wings forward has played more than a 1,000 NHL games in his 16-year career but until now hadn't even gotten close to hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.
The closest he had come was the conference finals with the St. Louis Blues in 2001 before bowing out in five games to the Colorado Avalanche.
None of that matters anymore. Drake can finally erase his name from the list of players that never got their shot at having their name etched on the Holy Grail of hockey.
"My heart was in my throat at the beginning of the game, I'll tell you that much, before the puck dropped," Drake said after Detroit's 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1.
"With all the stuff going on, the activities and the crowd, I was nervous. I'm not going to lie to you, very nervous. But as the game went on, I felt a lot more comfortable getting that first period under our belts, especially for me."
The 39-year-old Drake should feel a little more at ease for Game 2 when the puck drops at 8 tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
Until this moment, the biggest stage Drake had played on was the 1991 NCAA national championship game during his junior season at Northern Michigan, with the Wildcats unseating heavy-favorite Boston University 8-7 in triple overtime.
"After playing 16 years in the NHL, I didn't think that would be the highlight of my career," Drake said. "Playing in the NHL has been great and you get treated great and you get paid a lot of money, but I really wanted to win a championship, and I'm hoping to surpass the one championship I've got in this series."
After he was placed on waivers by the Blues in the offseason, many, including Drake, believed his career was over.
If that had been the case, Drake admits there would have been a very empty feeling in his stomach.
"It wouldn't have been complete, and if I don't win it, I'll be pretty upset but I'll move on, obviously," Drake said. "But I obviously want to end it on the right note."
Detroit general manager Ken Holland has been very familiar with Drake since the Red Wings selected him in the sixth round of the 1989 entry draft. Holland was part of the scouting team that scrutinized Drake's game and recommended him as a player with "grit and tenacity and determination."
"All the ingredients that you want out of a player, especially this time of the year," Holland said.
Although Drake played just 65 games in the regular season, he has been in the lineup for all 17 of the Red Wings' playoff games.
So far, Drake has notched four points in the postseason, including a goal in the decisive Game 6 win over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals.
"With Dallas having a home in Traverse City [Mich.] and knowing the Red Wing organization, it turned out to be a great signing," Holland said. "He's everything we could have hoped for. He's gritty, tough, and he's played his best hockey for us the last six weeks."
Although Drake has been noncommittal on his plans when his contract expires after this season, he's relishing his opportunity.
Red Wings forward Kris Draper said winning the Cup for Drake in his first - and possibly last - trip to the finals has been a rallying cry for the team.
"Dally has been unbelievable," Draper said. "First of all, he's a great guy, and anytime you can add a high character guy like that to your team, it's certainly going to help.
"Those are the guys when you're put in this situation in the Stanley Cup finals that you want to go out and play hard for because you know exactly what Dally is going to do for your hockey club."
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