Before the 2001-02 season began, Kris Draper, much like any other professional athlete, had his own personal list of expectations. But for all of the individual benchmarks he hoped to reach, each and every one took second billing. He had a simple focus: winning hockey's biggest prize.
And although he would go on to record a career-best 15 goals on the campaign, it would have meant nothing, he asserts, if Detroit hadn't won the Stanley Cup, the team's third crown in the past six years.
"We all have personal goals before the season begins, but the bottom line is wanting to win a Cup," said Draper, whose energetic and enthusiastic play was integral in earning the Original Six club another championship. "It would be a pretty hollow feeling to have a good year individually speaking and not win a Stanley Cup."
That unselfish attitude is indicative of Draper's on-ice play. Preventing a goal rather than scoring one, in his estimation, is equally as rewarding. Ask the Toronto native about the past season and the conversation begins and ends with the word 'Stanley.'
Detroit may boast one of the game's true all-star lineups, an imposing mixture of future Hall of Famers and up-and-coming superstars. And while players such as Draper may sometimes be overlooked, it's certainly not the case when it comes to those he plays with.
"Kris is the type of player every team would love to have," said Steve Yzerman, team captain and hockey icon in the state of Michigan and beyond. "He's the type of guy who never seems to stop working every shift he takes."
Draper is pro hockey's version of the animated cartoon star, tazmanian Devil. No. 33 is a whirling, twirling, spinning centreman, whose game is based on constant motion and the need for speed.
Pursuing a loose puck, breaking up an odd-man rush, digging in the corners or delivering a solid check, Draper can pretty much do it all. And while the fanfare may be lacking for a player who relies on crash and bash rather than flash and finesse, there's no denying his abilities are deserving of the utmost respect.
Fittingly, Draper, who is smaller and lighter than most of his hockey counterparts, had his biggest season, offensively speaking. But even those numbers take second billing to another one, more specifically, plus-26. That was the former Ottawa 67's final plus/minus total for 2001-02, a testament to his invaluable presence in the Detroit lineup.
Closing in on one month before the puck drops on another season, Draper, who was originally drafted by the Winnipeg Jets, is back to talking hockey. And when the subject arises, it's a simple case of same old, same old.
"It would be great to win another one," said Draper, who netted three game-winning markers last season. "It's difficult to win even one and even tougher to defend the title."
As for his own contributions, the player who once cheered for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, would love nothing more than to duplicate or surpass the 30 points he posted this past year. But only if it means adding a fourth Stanley Cup ring to his collection.
Achieving that goal, he admits, won't be easy, considering you and your teammates are the current owners of something over 600 players are focused on calling their own.
"There are so many good teams in this league that it's a pretty scary thought knowing what you'll have to do to win at all again. We definitely have the players to do it, but there are definitely other teams that can say the same. But that's what makes winning the Cup special. You have to battle every game to earn it."
Detroit's defence of Lord Stanley begins on October 10, when they take on San Jose, a new rival who will undoubtedly be eager to knock off the boys from Motown. The Red Wings will be on the visitor's bench in four of the first five games of the 2002-03 season, a tough start, but one Draper and co. are eager to undertake.
And once again, Draper will put his mathematical theories to the test. Only this time, the goal isn't 16, it's four.
Surpassing his current career high for goals, he says with a smile, just doesn't add up to what a fourth Stanley Cup offers.