Wings fans jam downtown to celebrate Cup victory

Tuesday, June 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ With his Stanley Cup champion Red Wings standing close behind him, retiring coach Scotty Bowman looked out on a sea of cheering fans and said thank you.

Bowman, who led the Wings to their third NHL title in six years, thanked his team for a season where it all came together. He thanked his family for years of support.

Finally, the 68-year-old thanked the Detroit fans _ who police said turned out more than a million strong Monday _ for their role in the team's victories and his historic career.

``I can leave being a Red Wing for the rest of my life,'' Bowman told the red and white clad throng packed into downtown's Hart Plaza for a victory rally.

It was a celebration where cheers of ``one more year'' outnumbered the traditional chant of ``Let's go Red Wings.'' With handmade signs and their voices, fans implored the team's aging superstars like goalie Dominik Hasek to return for a shot at another championship.

``This is too much pressure,'' Hasek told the fans after hoisting the Cup on stage during the rally and kissing it one more time. ``Don't put so much pressure on me.''

But the loudest cheers were for Bowman, whose nine Stanley Cups _ five with Montreal, three with the Red Wings and one with Pittsburgh _ make him one of the most successful coaches in professional sports history.

``No team that I was with ever had the chemistry as this team, and it showed in how they played,'' Bowman said.

The celebration on the riverfront got under way two hours after boisterous fans lined the streets for a parade that passed down Woodward Avenue, Detroit's main north-south thoroughfare. As a rain-soaked morning turned into a sunny day just in time, fans weren't the only ones sad to say goodbye to Bowman.

``I'm certainly going to miss him,'' captain Steve Yzerman said. ``He's done so much for me as a hockey player. I'm so grateful to have played under him and learned from him.''

Bowman, who announced he was retiring after the team's 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 last Thursday, brought up the rear of the parade, holding the Cup, waving to the crowd, perched in back of a red Ford Mustang convertible.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the team faces uncertainty in the off-season. In addition to looking for a new leader, the Wings risk losing some of the veteran all-star depth from a team constructed to bring home the Cup.

``We're not sure whether Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios will come back,'' Holland said during the parade. ``It will have a big impact on what we do this summer. We hope they come back.''

Caught up in the thrill of the Cup victory and the days of celebrations, Hasek, 37, said he's still grappling with the choice.

``It's very hard for me,'' Hasek said before the rally. ``I'd like to make a decision without any emotions.''

Interrupted by the cheer of ``one more year'' while talking to the crowd at Hart Plaza, Chelios offered a quick retort. Regardless of whether it's binding, it brought roars of approval:

``I'm going to play three more years,'' he said. ``What are you talking about?''

The 40-year-old Chelios plans to play next year, but his contract with Detroit has ended and he is a free agent.