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October 13, 2002 - Wings find it easy to make new 'Friends,' even in Tinseltown
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Wings find it easy to make new 'Friends,' even in Tinseltown

By Bob Wojnowski / The Detroit News

LOS ANGELES -- No one's kidding anyone. Detroit doesn't exactly conjure images of glamor. Detroit conjures images of grit and tires and rack-and-pinion steering, of Eminem and Kid Rock.
That's why the Red Wings stand out, for reasons beyond the occasional Stanley Cup championship. They stand out because, for all their humble Canadian roots, for all their blue-collar discipline, they fit in out here. The Wings are more Hollywood than any Detroit team in memory, able to move cleanly from the rink to the red rug.

Like Kris Draper was saying the other day to his good friend Jennifer Aniston ... OK, it's not quite like that. But when 18 Wings showed up at a taping of the TV show "Friends" Friday afternoon, courtesy of a Mathieu Dandenault connection, Draper and friends had no problem chatting with Aniston and "Friends."

"Matthew Perry congratulated us on the Stanley Cup and everything," Draper said Saturday, as the Wings prepared to face Los Angeles. "He wanted a picture with us. It was awesome. Here we were in their studio, and they knew all about us."

It still staggers the Wings that their national popularity keeps growing. At the Los Angeles Kings practice facility, the Wings emerged from their locker room Friday afternoon and blinked into the glare of the California sun -- and about 50 giddy fans.

In the Staples Center on Saturday night, the usual throng of red filled large pockets of seats. It's that way many places the Wings play, helped by the number of former Michigan residents seeking warmth. It's especially heavy out here, as the Wings keep collecting Hollywood connections.

These days, it begins with Chris Chelios, who owns a home in Malibu and trains there every summer. He's a friend of actor John Cusack, among others.

"Chelly knows everybody. He's the King of Malibu," said Luc Robitaille, who played in L.A. for 11 seasons, but moved his family to Detroit. "Ever since we won, I'm finding there are more Wings fans out here than I realized."

As he unlaced his skates, Robitaille talked of heading to a sound studio to watch his wife, singer Stacia Robitaille, rehearse. Glamor? How about Brendan Shanahan's film affinity. He had a cameo in the Jim Carrey movie "Me, Myself and Irene." He also knows producers of the TV show "West Wing," and they dropped his name into an episode.

Sergei Fedorov gave the Wings the transatlantic celebrity angle when he dated Anna Kournikova. Even Coach Dave Lewis spent three seasons as an L.A. King before coming to Detroit 15 years ago.

Darren McCarty is the personification of Motown grit. He has the tattoos and battered hands and jagged teeth. He also sings in his own band, Grinder, and is pals with the creators of "South Park," the delightfully raunchy TV cartoon.

So how did this happen? How did the Red Wings become Detroit's chief glamor export?

It's mostly about winning. It's partly about personality and Hall of Fame names. It's also about the Original Six tradition, the unique red sweaters and winged wheel.

That helps explain the huge road crowds and hefty souvenir sales. It also explains the photo, snapped in a TV-set coffee shop, of old "Friends" happily making 18 new friends.