- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Defenseman Chris Chelios uses his body like a battering ram and has the scars to prove it. There are times when he has all the finesse of an angry hippo. He plays for the Detroit Red Wings, and at age 40, he is enjoying a resurgence at a time when most NHL players are well into retirement.
And he is not even the oldest member of his team, which is coached by a 68-year-old man, Scotty Bowman, who shows no sign he is ready for a rocking chair.
The Red Wings are proving to be what the Carolina Hurricanes claim to be, resilient. They are George Allen's Over the Hill Gang with skates, looking for that one last trip to Valhalla.
It appears there is no stopping them. The Wings are steamrolling their way to their 10th Stanley Cup title and need just one more win to achieve it. It could come as early as tomorrow night in Joe Louis Arena. They lead the Hurricanes by 3-1 in games and by light years in experience. And that is the difference.
Deep into the third overtime the other night, Igor Larionov, who will be 42 in December, skated into the slot area with the puck and could have pulled the trigger. But he didn't, not right away. He went past a teammate, waited for a defender to go down in an attempt to block the shot, waited for goalie Arturs Irbe to commit, then lifted a backhander into the roof of the net.
That is experience, not age. Larionov has been doing that for 25 years, first as a star in the Soviet Union who was considered so valuable to his country's international hockey program that there was a price on his head when he joined the NHL.
As a group, the Wings average 30.8 years of age. Seven Detroit players are older than Carolina coach Paul Maurice, who is 35 going on 50 the way the finals have been going. The Hurricanes average 28.5 years.
The contrasts don't stop there. The Wings' payroll is $64.4 million; it was a team built to do one thing: win the Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes' payroll is $33 million; it was a team built to compete, make the playoffs and earn creditability in an area of the country where hockey has no established base.
What the extra 30 or so million has bought is steadiness in Larionov; stardom in Brett Hull; and desire in goalie Dominik Hasek, who is missing a large pewter bowl from his collection after years in Buffalo.
Bowman, not entirely trusting youngsters who are prone to mistakes, shrugs off talk about his "aging" team. He maintains his older players are his better-conditioned athletes, the ones who take care of themselves in proper fashion 12 months a year (a few days ago Larionov gave a detailed rundown of his training methods and diet before an audience of 100 or so reporters, who would not have paid more attention had Madonna been delivering the lecture).
"Age in today's game has zero to do with anything," Hull said. "You'd almost rather have a team with a solid mixture of veterans because it's the way teams play now; they don't have to be swift afoot or super-skilled anymore. All you have to be is knowledgeable. I think we proved that.
"We got people who do the right things with the puck. We go to the right places. We get into positions where you score goals or you sacrifice your other abilities for the good of the whole. That's the game today. It's not a great big skilled game."
But having people around like Hull and Luc Robitaille and Larionov has "taken the pressure off" some of the younger guys, said wing Brendan Shanahan, who hasn't had a banner finals, a luxury he can enjoy because others are there to pick up the slack. It is also like going to school every night for the younger players, watching eight or nine teammates who are bound for the Hall of Fame.
These are the things, also, that the Hurricanes are learning. They are paying a horrible price at the moment but gaining a measure of experience that will benefit them for years down the road. They are learning, for instance, how to pace themselves even during a game that lasts more than five hours and come back less than 48 hours later fresh and ready to compete again.
The Red Wings are winning not because they are older; they are winning because they are more experienced. And there is a difference.


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