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Waking Up Is Hard to Do in Stunned Hockey Town

April 20, 2001|DIANE PUCIN

Hockey Town has turned into Shockey Town.

Jamie Samuelson, early-morning radio host for a Detroit sports talk station, went to bed in the third period of Wednesday night's King-Red Wing game.

Samuelson stayed up through the power play the Wings had to start the final period. He wanted to see if the Wings went ahead, 4-0. They didn't. But it was pushing 1 a.m. Thursday in Detroit. His alarm would go off in three hours.

And, c'mon! This was the Kings. Detroit has feasted on the Kings and Ducks in the playoffs, sweeping the teams right out of the NHL playoffs in the last few years. So the rest of the third period would be pretty actionless, Samuelson figured. The Red Wings would skate defensively and protect the lead. The Kings would flail around hopelessly, dangerously, futilely.

Then Samuelson got up. He had his breakfast. He was half-asleep still. He was thinking about how the Pistons were going to fire another coach on Thursday. He got in the car, turned on the radio. News talk radio so Samuelson could get the weather and traffic report.

"And then," Samuelson says, "a teaser for the sports report comes on. I heard someone say, 'Stay tuned for the Red Wings shocker in Los Angeles.' "

Samuelson was wondering if somebody got hurt or sick or what. "I never thought," he said, "that the Red Wings had lost."

But they did and on Samuelson's show the phone calls kept coming. People were waking up to their clock radio alarms, wiping the sleep from their eyes and hearing the horror of it all. Kings 4, Red Wings 3 in overtime.

RS Dog 500 on a Red Wing message board writes: "I fell asleep, it was 3-0. Tell me I just didn't read '4/3ot Kings.' What . . . happened?"

Bill Fee on the same message board: "Same here."

Tiamat40 continued: "Fell asleep with a smile when the Wings were up 3-0. I turn on ESPN early this morning and I had trouble coming to terms with the final score."

Stop gloating, King fans. You would have fallen asleep too if the game had ended at 2 a.m. your time. You would have thought a 3-0 third-period lead was safe. And you're not even rooting for a team that actually wins the Stanley Cup and is in a place that has adopted the name "Hockey Town," and no one argues that the name is pretentious or hokey or inappropriate or some marketing tool. OK, maybe it is a marketing tool.

Jennifer, who answers the phone in the Red Wings' public relations department, confesses that she fell asleep before the game ended and didn't know the ugly truth until she arrived at work. "But don't tell anybody that," Jennifer asks. "I'm supposed to know the score." And Jennifer isn't going to give up her last name.

If only Jennifer lived in Los Angeles, where it's fine to fall asleep in the third period, even when the games are in Detroit and the third period is 6 p.m. for us.

But Jennifer lives in Hockey Town.

And while a whole lot of callers to Samuelson's show were lighting up the switchboards and asking the producer if what they had just heard on some other station was true, that the Wings had blown a three-goal lead in less than six minutes, a whole lot of other people stayed up to the bitter end.

Joe Hopkins, a cook at Cobo Joe's, a bar and grill across the street from Joe Louis Arena, home of the Wings, watched until it was over. "Then," Hopkins says, "I yelled at the TV for another 45 minutes." Then Hopkins slept for about four hours, got up and went back to work.

Cobo Joe's had shown the game on eight TV screens and Hopkins reports 80 people were still on hand to see the Kings win. "But our bartender," Hopkins said, "he fell asleep. He called me at quarter to 8 this morning and asked if it was true. Did the Wings lose? I just started laughing."

There is something special about being part of a community that is so passionate about a sports team. It makes the losing easier and the winning more fun.

It allows Art Regner, who hosts a post-match Wings radio show to stay on the air until 1 a.m. at Staples Center, which is 4 a.m. in Detroit, taking calls. "I think a lot of people were too stunned to fall asleep," Regner says. "This team has been so good for so long that they never felt it would ever blow a three-goal lead with less than six minutes to play."

By the afternoon, callers were looking for people to blame. Coach Scotty Bowman for not calling timeout. Winger Martin Lapointe for taking two penalties, giving the Kings two power plays when the Kings scored two goals. Goalie Chris Osgood, just because Wings fans always criticize the goalie. The officials, who absolutely positively messed up on Jozef Stumpel's goal--the Kings' second--calling it good when it absolutely did not cross the goal line. It didn't. That is something Detroit fan is sure of.

Curt Blessing, a lawyer from the Detroit suburb of Pleasant Ridge, fell asleep on his couch when it was 3-0. Blessing woke up, he said, "because of all the hubbub when the Kings scored their second goal. And it didn't look like a goal to me."

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