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GOING HOME AGAIN
Brian Cazeneuve
June 13, 2008
CHRIS OSGOOD'S LONG ROAD BACK TO DETROIT PAVED THE WAY TO ANOTHER STANLEY CUP WIN
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June 13, 2008

Going Home Again

CHRIS OSGOOD'S LONG ROAD BACK TO DETROIT PAVED THE WAY TO ANOTHER STANLEY CUP WIN

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Still, with every swing of a nine-iron, Osgood hoped Holland would suggest returning to Detroit as a goalie, but Osgood resisted the growing urge to propose it. Holland talked around the issue one day by suggesting Osgood seek out Stan Matwijiw, then a goalie coach at the University of Michigan who Holland believed taught the butterfly style well. Osgood agreed and contacted Matwijiw immediately. Two weeks after that, Osgood began the process of reinventing his style. Holland kept his distance but got reports from Matwijiw. "When they first started working together, Chris was three steps behind the kids technically," Holland recalls, "but it didn't take long for him to start beating the odds. Tough odds. Realistically, his career had definitely been on a downward path."

The coach spoke highly of Osgood's willingness to learn, and in August '05 Osgood signed with Detroit to be Manny Legace's backup for less than a million. (Hasek had signed a one-year deal with the Senators.) With a revamped technique, a newfound confidence and an impressive 20-6-5 record, Osgood was contorting and comporting himself differently. Before a game the old Osgood would recoil into an impenetrable world of mental imagery, a reclusive and grumpy man trying not to give up bad goals in the locker room. Now he took a new approach. "I learned how to relax," Osgood says. "I didn't want to be a guy teammates couldn't talk to. Once in a while I'd start telling jokes, just trying to save my intensity for the actual game."

TEAMMATES JOKINGLY CALL HIM THE MAYOR of Plymouth, the sleepy Michigan town of 9,000 where his backyard has a hockey oval that freezes over during the winter. The nondescript landscape fits the demeanor of a guy who has always eschewed points of style. His mask is a plain red model, already dented and worn. Ask him his fantasy non-hockey job, and he volunteers an alternate life as a bullpen catcher for the neighboring Tigers. Not an ace or a closer? "I'm O.K. without the attention," he says.

Ask him if personal records matter to him, and the man with 279 victories in a Detroit uniform will give you an unusually frank response that also speaks to his respect for Red Wings history. "I'd love to break [Terry] Sawchuk's record for career wins [352]," he says. "People around this locker room associate his name with excellence."

Sawchuk's shadow had long loomed over the Wings' crease like a thick cloud. Fans chewed up goalies such as Tim Cheveldae and Bob Essensa like wads of Bazooka, and Osgood's peach fuzz came off like thin skin a little too much for the octopus-tossing balcony denizens. It is testament to his persistence and adaptability that his career numbers are now Hall of Fame-worthy. His 363 career regular-season wins are 15th on the alltime list, his career winning percentage of .631 ranks highest of any goalie with at least 300 wins, and he has had a winning record in every one of his 14 NHL seasons. "It's amazing," says Wings captain Nick Lidstrom, "that somebody could approach the Hall of Fame so quietly without too many people really noticing."

Maybe they are. In the stands at Joe Louis Arena these days, signs now read IN OZ WE TRUST and THE WIZARD OF OZ. The Tigers' bullpen catcher can exhale.

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