DETROIT – It was a whirlwind finish for goalie Eddie Mio in Game 1 of the Alumni Showdown doubleheader at Comerica Park Tuesday afternoon.
The former Red Wings goalie made a series of saves as time expired to preserve a 5-4 win over a team of ex-Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was a flurry,” Mio said. “They seemed to have a lot of blue going around the ice and it kind of flashed back to the 90s when we played Toronto (alumni) and (Tim Cheveldae) was in net. It was kind of the same thing. We were up by three goals with three minutes left to go and they kept fighting, but this time they scored in the last minutes. All that was going through my mind was ‘No way!’ We got lucky at the end.”
The Red Wings old-timers took a one-goal lead into the intermission on goals by defenseman Jiri Fischer, center Kevin Miller and right wing Petr Klima. Detroit grabbed an early 2-0 lead when Fischer and Miller scored a minute a part on Leafs goalies Doug Favell and Peter Ing, respectively.
“It was awesome and I really didn’t know what to do, celebrate or play it cool,” said Fischer, who also assisted on Aaron Ward’s game-winner. “Now looking back, it was awesome. In the moment I didn’t know what to do when it went in. Then the snow started coming down halfway through the first and then halfway through the second and the hockey picked up as Toronto really tried to get back into it.”
Miller gave the Wings a 2-0 lead on an assist by Ward before the Leafs got goals from Stew Gavin and Todd Warriner to tie the game at 2-2. Klima than gave the Wings a one-goal lead when he scored from the slot on a pass from Martin Lapointe with 4:04 left in the first period.
Pat Verbeek’s goal from Miller and Mathieu Schneider gave the Wings a 4-2 lead with 15:40 in the second. Ward scored his eventual game-winner from Fischer and Jimmy Carson with 11:50 left before the Maple Leafs mounted a comeback on goals by Brad May and Tom Fergus, who connected on a laser from the point that beat Mio with 2:31 left in regulation.
Fergus’s goal cut the Leafs’ deficit to one, but the shot by the 51-year-old center didn’t surprise former Red Wings forward Dallas Drake.
“I remember watching him as a kid and he always had an unbelievable shot and can still fire it,” Drake said. “But most of the time your shots not going to get as bad as your legs.”
The Leafs came close to sending the first game into a shootout, but the 59-year-old Mio – playing on a bad hip and all – managed to kept the puck out of the net in the waning seconds.
“Yeah, he really wanted to win that game. He was great,” said legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who was behind the Wings’ bench for both alumni games.
But the thing that the 80-year-old Bowman said he’ll remember most about Game 1 was the remarkable performance of 74-year-old Red Berenson, whom he coached in St. Louis from 1967-71.
“It was unbelievable for some of them, really, like Red Berenson,” Bowman said. “And he was winning face-offs. That was amazing.”
For Berenson, the highlight of the day was playing alongside two players he coached at the University of Michigan – Ward and right wing Mike Knuble.
“What a bonus to be able to play with two former players who played for me at Michigan and we’re still good friends,” said Berenson, who began his NHL career playing for Montreal coach Toe Blake in 1962. “So that was fun, though it was a little scary when I thought, ‘Geez, we’re playing with guys this young, I better keep up.’ But it was fun.”
Berenson was one of two guys who played in the Alumni Showdown who actually started his NHL career in the Original Six era. The other was 68-year-old center Mike Walton, who began his career with the Leafs in 1965.
Berenson, who beat Leafs center Dave McLlwain on critical defensive zone face-off late in the game, was the talk of the Wings’ dressing room after the game.
As for Berenson’s stamina against players, in some cases 40-years young, Knuble isn’t surprised.
“To be in shape and to be as healthy as he is, even when I was there, his physical fitness was a priority to him,” said Knuble, who played at Michigan from 1991-95. “He was always the skinniest guy, but he always took the attitude of ‘How can I tell my players to be in shape when I’m not in shape?’ He was absolutely leading by example when we were playing there and it’s great that he hasn’t changed a bit.”
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