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October 3rd, 2017

Curtain rises on a new NHL season, but

our hearts ache as ‘Voice’ is silenced

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

We were rookies together in 1985, covering a very bad hockey team – and having the time of our lives.

 

Dave Strader was in the broadcast booth, calling Red Wings games with Mickey Redmond. I was down the way in the press box, trying to make a good read out of awful performances for readers of the Free Press. A basketball guy at heart, Dave was the consummate pro – and we’d wind up spending a lot of time in the booth together over much of the 11 years ‘The Voice’ spent in Detroit before moving on to bigger and better things. All the way to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

 

We were friends for more than 30 years, until Sunday, when we lost Dave to a particularly rare and awful kind of bile duct cancer. He was 62.

 

Dave went national, as they say in the broadcast business, just before the Wings ended their 42-year Stanley Cup drought in 1997. But among the highlights he held in the highest regard during his time in Detroit came on Oct. 27, 1995. A few days earlier, the Red Wings had traded for Igor Larionov, completing a group that would become known throughout the hockey world as the “Russian Five.”

 

To say this new five-man unit dominated that night in Calgary is a colossal understatement. And they did it with typical Soviet-style flair and elegance. On the game’s first goal, the Russian Five transitioned from defense into offense so quickly that some Calgary players were still on the attack when the red light was flashing behind their goaltender.

 

Just seconds before, the Flames were moving the puck forward in the neutral zone beyond the center red line when Konstantinov pounced on a turnover in the Detroit zone and instinctively flipped a backhand pass to Fedorov at center ice. In one fluid motion and without the slightest hesitation, Fedorov dished a no-look backhand pass to Kozlov, who had already done an about face, turning toward the Calgary net at the far blue line. Fedorov’s pass hit Kozlov in stride, landing on the blade of his stick.

 

There was nothing but enemy ice for 60 feet between him and helpless Flames goaltender Trevor Kidd. Kozlov sprinted in unmolested, and when his initial shot rebounded off Kidd’s pads he backhanded the puck into a yawning net for what stood as the game-winning goal. With that single play, in barely three seconds when the Wings looked like hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters against a team of pylons, the National Hockey League was forever changed.

 

Led by the Russian Five in their “Soviet Re-Union” that night in Calgary, the Wings won, 3-0. Larionov also scored a goal, Fedorov earning his second assist. Bowman’s Russian unit recorded an astounding 15 of Detroit’s 25 shots on goal, while Calgary spent the night chasing the puck around the ice. The Flames managed just eight shots on goal in the game, a record low in the franchise’s history. Then again, it’s impossible to shoot the puck when the other team controlled it all night. That became the hallmark of Detroit Red Wings hockey for the next two-plus decades.

 

The day after the Russian Five debut, Strader tracked down each of the Russians and asked them to sign both copies of the game summary from the night before. This wasn’t a 12-year-old autograph-seeker but a seasoned pro who, like most members of the professional media, wouldn’t dream of asking a player for his signature. What Strader did that day underscored, and helped to preserve, what has become a significant moment in hockey history.

 

Strader gave one of the sheets to Red Wings Public Relations Director Bill Jamieson for the team’s archives. The other? When we interviewed Dave several months ago for the documentary on the Russian Five, he held it up in front of the camera. It was one of his most cherished mementos of a distinguished career.

 

To the end, Dave Strader was a beacon of courage and optimism and profound strength. More often than not, he’d wind up consoling those of us who called or emailed or contacted him through social media to check in on him and let him know he was in our minds and hearts.

 

When I last spoke with him in early August, when he was between what he called “setbacks” that were increasing in frequency and ferocity, he was still talking about getting ready for the start of what would have been his 33rd NHL season as the play-by-play man for the Dallas Stars.

 

Instead, it begins tonight without him. The Voice has gone silent, but it echoes in our hearts.

 

Please keep his wife, Colleen, and the beautiful family he left behind, in your thoughts and prayers.

 

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