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DETROIT FREE PRESS

A Finals Debate: Motor City Vs. Tobacco Road

By Mitch Albom

We tried. We truly did. As is tradition at this newspaper, before certain championship series, we host a friendly debate with a journalist from the competing city.

So, for these Stanley Cup finals between the Red Wings and the Hurricanes, we wanted to joust with a writer from Raleigh, N.C.

Alas, we could not find one. Not a single columnist. Not a single beat writer. No one was available in the entire state of North Carolina. Perhaps they were too busy studying the Tar Heels' practice schedule.

The debate must go on. So I will therefore, as a last resort, argue against my long-lost cousin from North Carolina, "Moonshine" Albom. Any similarity in debating style is, I'm sure, mere family coincidence.

Let's rumble.ME: Moonshine, you old rascal. How's business? MOONSHINE: Hey, Cuz. Can't complain. Say. You think you can get these cuffs off me? ME: Let's stay on the subject. Do you really think your team from North Carolina can beat our team from Detroit? MOONSHINE: In what? ME: Hockey. MOONSHINE: Oh, heck. Why not? I been playin' it since grade school. Used to skip class every Friday to catch snakes down by the river-- ME: Not hookey. Hockey. MOONSHINE: The ice thing? ME: Yeah. The ice thing. MOONSHINE: We got a team in that? ME: Yes, you do. The Hurricanes. They play in Raleigh. Or so I'm told. MOONSHINE: Well, Cuz, you gotta admit, they're a heck of a club.ME: What makes you say that? MOONSHINE: I dunno. Ain't that what I'm supposed to say? ME: I see it differently. I see a team coached by 68-year-old Scotty Bowman versus a team coached by Doogie Howser. I see a team that has Dominik Hasek, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner, versus a team that has Arturs Irbe, who has already been benched several games during these playoffs. I see a tradition, on one side, that gave us Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, the Octopus, and Steve Yzerman, and a tradition, on the other side, that gave us Jesse Helms. MOONSHINE: Y'all got a point. Guess you win. ME: COUSIN! MOONSHINE: What? I may be cuffed, but I ain't stupid. ME: It's supposed to be a debate. MOONSHINE: So was Kennedy-Nixon.

A lack of tradition

ME: OK. Let's talk fans. MOONSHINE: Good. It's hot as blazes down here. ME: I mean the kind who buy tickets. Detroit hockey fans have a decades-long tradition of knowing their sport. Your team, on the other hand, has a 5-year-long tradition. Five years is not a long time. MOONSHINE: It is in the penitentiary. ME: Detroit fans have a tradition of throwing eight-legged octopi, due to the eight games it used to take to win a Stanley Cup. You, on the other hand, have a tradition of . . . cheerleaders. MOONSHINE: We do? Can I get a ticket? ME: How can you have cheerleaders at a hockey game? MOONSHINE: How can you not? ME: Let's talk talent. MOONSHINE: OK. I like the blonde. ME: What?MOONSHINE: I thought we were talking cheerleaders. ME: I'm talking about the players. MOONSHINE: Those are the best kind. ME: The hockey players. Can you name any members of your team? MOONSHINE: Let's see. There's Coach K. There's Williams. There's Dunleavy. There's Boozer. ME: Those are the Duke Blue Devils. MOONSHINE: Damn straight!ME: They don't play hockey. MOONSHINE: Details. Details. You're just like one of them NCAA investigators. ME: Can you stay on the subject? MOONSHINE: What is it? ME: The Stanley Cup. MOONSHINE: Depends. What's in it?

Remember back in '83

ME: Look, all I'm saying is this Red Wings team didn't come this far to lose.MOONSHINE: I thought you're in Detroit.ME: I am.MOONSHINE: That ain't far for them. They live there.ME: ARRRGH! I meant they didn't go through this whole long season, all the personnel changes, everyone checking his ego, pulling together, enduring injuries -- they didn't go through all that just to lose to a team that has never, in the history of the franchise, gone this far.MOONSHINE: Maybe not, Cuz. But lemme tell you a little story. Back in 1983, there was another little team down here that no one believed in. And come the end of the road, championship game, they were takin' on the biggest, baddest team in the land. Nobody said they had a chance.

But funny thing. They believed in themselves. They never stopped. And they played that game and they played it hard and when the game was over, their coach was runnin' across the floor, looking for someone to hug, and his team had won the national championship.

That coach was Jimmy Valvano. That team was the North Carolina State Wolfpack. And they sure sound a lot like these Hurricanes.ME: Gee, cousin . . . I . . . I don't know what to say. That's a really good point.MOONSHINE: Surprised you, didn't I?ME: Maybe I was wrong.MOONSHINE: Maybe you were.ME: Maybe it's going to be a tough series after all.MOONSHINE: Maybe it is.ME: So I'll see you at the game?MOONSHINE: Me? Heck no! Hockey's cold. And I ain't got nothing long-sleeved.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch "Albom in the Afternoon" 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).