19 July 2011

Calling it Quits: All hail the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz!

If you've watched any Red Wing hockey over the last decade, you can relate. There have been few events as utterly awesome as being at a live playoff game, watching the opposing team on an odd-man rush (very likely Brett Lebda's fault), holding your breath as they wind up and fire a shot at the net...

And then being part of 20,000 rabid hockey fans to collectively, instantaneously, without any prompting to erupt:

  • OZ-ZIE! OZ-ZIE! OZ-ZIE!
Over the PA: "Do not arouse the wrath of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz!"

Chills. Every time.

Today, Chris Osgood officially announced his retirement. Interestingly enough, at the exact same moment it became instantly unacceptable for anyone calling themselves a Wings fan to continue motherfucking the guy like it was going out of style. There is absolutely no question about it: today Hockeytown lost one of the best goaltenders to ever don the winged wheel to retirement. 

Of course, when a guy who has taken so much shit from his own fanbase decides to retire, a debate will be sparked about whether  the Hall of Fame is the proper destination for the 10th winningest goaltender of all time, one of the best playoff netminders in history, a dude with 3 cups who is EASILY the most mentally tough goaltender to ever play the position. Today isn't the day to jump into that debate. Suffice it to say - fucking right he deserves it.

There have been some damn impressive moments over Ozzie's career. Take a minute with me for a nice stroll down memory lane. 
  • The Fight
Oh yes. 01 April 1998. In the middle of the absolute blood lust of a rivalry between the Wings and the Avs, everyone on the ice grabbed a sweater of opposite color and started throwing punches. No surprise. This was a common occurrence between these teams, as it was the best rivalry in sports. However, it wasn't that often that the goalies got into it. The previous season, during The Brawl, Vernon cleaned Roy's clock in the second coolest thing to happen that night. Almost exactly a year later?
Roy was clearly embarrassed that his huge gaping vagina was plastered all over national television the year before, and was hoping to show the world his new testicular implants. When he saw the inevitable line brawl, he started making his move to the blue line, removing his mask and challenging The Wizard on the other end of the ice. Osgood, a Red Wing through and through, answered the bell.

The two met at center ice and exchanged blows. Now, Roy didn't receive the public Vaginoplasty that he did the year before, but as far as I'm concerned, Ozzie won that fight. Might have been close to a draw, but from where I'm sitting, most of Roy's flailing swings didn't land, and Ozzie stayed in it, eventually taking that little overrated piece of shit we chased out of Montreal down.
  • The Goal
06 March 1996 - The Hartford Whalers had pulled their netminder, and Ozzie thought - eh, what the fuck. Why not? He fired a puck down the ice and it found it's way straight to the cage. Chris Osgood became the second goalie in NHL history to score a goal off his own shot. Not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination, but our guy pulled it off.
  • The Cup
The summer of 1997 was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions for Wings fans. We had just won our first cup since 1955 - elation. The tragic accident that took Vladdy's career - depression. Trading away the Conn Smythe winning goaltender, Mike Vernon, for draft picks - confusion?

It was that summer that the fate of the team had been put purely and squarely in Osgood's hands. He had a hefty workload in front of him, and a task as daunting as any other: Repeat. 

Repeat for those who think this is just a one-and-done type performance. Repeat for those rabid fans who haven't quite been satiated by just one cup full of victory after a 42 year drought. Repeat for Vladdy.

That spring, the Wings found themselves in the playoffs again. This wasn't Ozzie's first go-round in post-season action. A few years earlier, he played 15 games in the disappointing 95 playoffs. This time, however, he was tougher - stronger. He posted a 2.12 GAA and a .918 SV%, winning 16 games - allowing Stevie to place Lord Stanley's chalice in Vladdy's lap that June. 
  • The Replacement
During the 2007-08 season, the Wings had themselves a full blown goalie controversy. Well, kinda. Dom Hasek, that coke-head, was playing pretty solidly. Osgood, slightly better. When it came time for April in the D, Babcock chose to go with the big name, and put Hasek in the cage.

Where he promptly shit the bed.

After a couple of terrible performances in games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Predators, Babcock did the right thing and yanked Hasek in favor of The Wizard. And hot damn did he deliver.

1.55 GAA. .930 SV%., 14 wins. 

If it weren't for Zetterberg's absolute lights out performance in the finals against the Pens, there is no doubt in my mind the Wizard would have had a Conn Smythe to his name. The same rings true for the following post-season run. Had the offense just not stayed at home for Game 7, Ozzie was the clear choice for MVP. The man solidified himself as the best playoff goaltender to take the ice in the last couple of decades. Make no mistake - it's not an easy thing to be given the reins only a few games into a Cup run in Detroit. It certainly doesn't make it any easier that you're replacing one of the best goalies of all time, who just happens to be a lunatic. It takes focus and drive to perform even decently under those kinds of circumstances. But Ozzie? He was lights out. 
  • The Passing of the Torch
Now, we've got young Jimmy Howard in net. He's played amazingly solid over the last two seasons. But lets not forget his overall capability when he first took the ice in Detroit. 

He was shit.

That's no knock on Super-Jimmah. It's just facts. He had quite the rough start, and who could blame him? Detroit is an intimidating place to play and he was but a rookie. But he figured it out. He got his mental faculties together and started to continue the tradition of mental toughness in goaltenders?

Coincidence?

Fuck no. Everyone, everyone, from Bedard to Babcock, to Super Jimmah himself have credited Chris Osgood with being an amazing mentor. When we rely on Howard down the stretch, we've got The Wizard to at least partially thank for passing on his best quality to the next guy. A few years from now, when Hockeytown turns on Jimmah, and spends all their time bitching about how he's just not good enough, we'll have Ozzie to thank for his ability to block it all out, and just focus on stopping pucks.

Now, Ozzie's riding off into the wild blue yonder, but he isn't going far. He'll be working with Bedard, helping to mentor the young prospects. Considering some of Bedard's recent comments about McCollum - how his struggles seem to be all in his head - that's exciting.

Ozzie - thank you. Thank you for persevering through tough times year after year. Thank you for putting up with the bullshit, from the fans who somehow found ways to bitch about everything, including somehow the desire to push through injury (fucking bizarre),  all the way to the coach who treated you like garbage throughout 09/10. Thank you for stopping more shots than any other Red Wings goaltender, ever. Thank you for being The Wizard.

Join me. One last time:
  • OZ-ZIE! OZ-ZIE! OZ-ZIE!

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