Ozzie, as he has been lovingly referred to by fans the past 20 years, has been my favorite player for as long as I can remember. As I write this, I am trying to hold back the tears that have already been flowing for a day, while I try to do him some form of justice. Nothing I ever write would be enough though. I love and respect Ozzie so much mainly because throughout his career, he has faced so many obstacles and critics around the league. One of the biggest being his height- he is only 5’10”. The height of the goalies has transformed drastically since Ozzie came into the league. But, he worked with goalie coach Jim Bedard to change his playing style. He has more heart and love for the game than any other goalie, and possibly player, I have ever seen. Whether it be his pregame interview bombing with Ken Daniels, or his off ice charity work, he is the ideal definition of what a Red Wing player is all about. Character, Courage, Determination, Ethics, Loyalty, Perseverance, and Team.
Ozzie was born November 26th, 1972 in Peace River, Alberta. He was obsessed with hockey. His favorite pro team was the Edmonton Oilers. He was drafted 54th overall by the Red Wings in the 1991 NHL draft.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
1993-1994: This was Ozzie’s first season with the Red Wings. During the playoffs, he was made the starting goaltender due to Bob Essensa’s performance in the regular season. In game 7 of the quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks, Ozzie went to clear the puck and ended up giving it away. The heavily favored Wings were eliminated from the playoffs due to it.
1995-1996: On March 6th, 1996 Ozzie became one of only nine goaltenders to score a goal. He led the NHL with 39 wins and a 2.17 goals against average. He received his first Vezina trophy nomination.
1996-1997: Ozzie helped bring the Stanley Cup back to Hockeytown after a long awaited 42 years.
1997-1998: This is one of my favorite seasons for Ozzie. Besides having an epic goalie fight, he led the wings to back to back Stanley Cup championships.
2001-2002: In the summer of 2001, Ken Holland received a phone call from Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Reiger. The Wings ended up acquiring Dominik Hasek. Holland had to call Ozzie, who he considers a son, and tell him. Ozzie was picked up on waivers by the New York Islanders. Ozzie had this to say…“Things happen in sports. I’m not leaving on a sour note because too many positive things have happened to me in Detroit… Who knows? Maybe one day, when I’m a free agent, I can come back.”
2002-2003: March 11th, 2003 Ozzie was traded from New York to St. Louis.
2005-2006: On August 8th, Ozzie did the unthinkable and signed a two year contract with the Wings.
He was injury plagued for a lot of the season.
2007-2008: Ozzie battled for the starting position with Dominik Hasek for the majority of the season. Hasek ultimately won the position and was set to start the playoffs. After poor performance in game 4 of the quarter finals, Hasek was pulled and Ozzie was sent in. Ozzie then led the Wings to a Stanley Cup Championship. During the offseason, Ozzie and Captain Norris took the Cup on Jay Leno’s tonight show. I will never think of the song “sexy back” in the same way ever again.
2008-2010: Ozzie was plagued with injuries once again and struggled during the regular and post seasons.
2010-2011: December 27th, Ozzie won his 400th career game against the Colorado Avalanche. While Adam Foote was the only player left on the Av’s from the 90’s rivalry, I see it so fitting that Ozzie won this milestone against the team that was basically enemy number one of the Red Wings franchise throughout his career. January 4th, Ozzie would play and win his last game against his favorite team growing up, the Edmonton Oilers. His father was in attendance.
On Tuesday June 19th, rumors started surfacing that Ozzie would be holding a conference call to announce that he would be returning for one more year. USA Today, NHL.com, the Detroit Free Press and Yahoo sports all had reports to this effect. About ten hours later, there were completely new reports stating the exact opposite. At noon, Ozzie had officially announced his retirement and stated that he would be working to mentor the young goalies in the Red Wings organization.
Now the Hall of Fame debate truly gets underway. While every other site out there feels the need to compare him to other players and say why it is or isn’t that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, I’m just going to state the obvious. He deserves to be in there among the greats. He has over 400 wins, which is tenth in all of NHL history. That alone should be enough. On top of that, add three Stanley Cups, with him being the starter for two of them. He is sixth all time in winning percentage with .539% and two of the goalies ahead of him are still active. So, there is a very good chance that he will even move up on the list. Ozzie’s amazing stats go on and on. As far as him playing among greats, didn’t most successful goalies? (Patrick Roy, cough, cough.)
You more than likely already have your own opinion on the subject and I’m sure I cannot change that. (Especially if your name is Ryan Lambert.) But, consider the statistics and it’s obvious where he belongs.
2011-2012: Ozzie will continue what he’s been doing for the past twenty years or so, just not playing. He will continue helping mentor Howie and any other goalie that needs or asks. He will continue being a leader on and off ice. He will continue his shenanigans with Draper right by his side. He will continue to make us laugh by probably interview bombing every once in a while during pregame warm-ups. He will continue to make us so happy that we are fortunate enough to be Red Wings fans.
Have a great retirement Ozzie and you will truly be missed.
Ally and the rest of the Hockeytown Family
P.S. Drapes, don’t leave. I couldn’t stand writing two of these in the same year.