WASHINGTON – U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed the Detroit Red Wings to the White House Tuesday, celebrating a Stanley Cup championship team that overcame odds and age and even had one player who scored a goal with his teeth.
With the Stanley Cup on display near the podium, Bush paid tribute to forward Darren McCarty, a popular player who came back from alcohol problems and injuries to help the Red Wings’ playoff run.
Bush said McCarty “had a problem – he drank too much. And it brought his career to an early end. But Darren McCarty did not give up. Darren McCarty decided to do something about it.”
Bush recounted McCarty’s decision to clean up his life, return to the minors and work his way back to the NHL. “This guy got his life back together, seized the moment, and scored the opening goal in Game 2 of the series against Nashville. That is a stout story.”
Bush noted that 46-year-old defenceman Chris Chelios became the oldest player to win a Stanley Cup and the second-oldest player to play in the NHL. “That guy is going to play a lot more.”
And Bush saluted Kris Draper, who “set an unofficial record of sorts,” a playoff goal off his teeth. Draper deflected the puck off his face and into the net in a playoff win against Dallas, costing him three teeth.
“Those are beauties,” Bush joked to Draper, who smiled broadly.
Detroit won its 11th Stanley Cup last June, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. The Red Wings have won four Cups during the past 12 seasons.
Team captain Nicklas Lidstrom gave the president two red Detroit jerseys – No. 43 for the current president and No. 41 for his father, former president George H.W. Bush. Chelios also presented Bush with a miniature Stanley Cup.
McCarty said he bonded with the president, who has discussed his own battles with alcohol. McCarty said Bush told him before the ceremony that “he’s been clean since ’86 and he wouldn’t be standing there today if it wasn’t for that . it reassures me that I’m doing the right thing.”
McCarty had played for the Red Wings from 1993-04, helping the team win Stanley Cup titles in 1997 – when he scored the winning goal against Philadelphia – 1998 and 2002.
Bush said the Red Wings offered a sporting bookend of sorts for his presidency. Detroit was the first Stanley Cup championship team that he welcomed during his presidency in 2002, and they will be his last.
“You guys may be back next year, but not me,” Bush said.