10/23/2009 10:44 AM -
Story and photos by Mark Newman
When Andy Delmore thought about where he wanted to play hockey this fall, he knew there was only one call he had to make.
Four years ago, Delmore signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings, looking forward to the chance to get to play with the NHL team for whom he had rooted as a kid growing up in the Windsor, Ontario, area.
His dream was dashed, however, when he was claimed off waivers by Columbus before the start of the regular season.
That surprise didn’t end too badly for Delmore, who played seven games for Columbus before spending most of the 2005-06 season with the Blue Jackets’ affiliate in Syracuse, where he won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's top defenseman.
Delmore, 32, spent the past two seasons with the Hamburg Freezers of the German League. He wanted to return to North America and, after playing for 12 different teams in the past 12 seasons, he knew there was only one place he wanted to be.
“The decision process was easy,” Delmore said. “I called (Griffins general manager) Bob McNamara and he made a phone call to (Red Wings general manager) Ken Holland and everything got worked out.”
Delmore, who had left the Red Wings organization with a good impression, knew he wasn’t getting any younger and if he was ever going to have a chance to play for the Wings, this was it.
“Being here at training camp four years ago - just learning about the organization and getting to know coaches, players and general managers – it seemed like everything had lined up for me,” he said.
“Being from Windsor, only a couple of hours away, was obviously a factor as well. I have a wife and a kid now. I just wanted to come here and get settled in.”
Delmore let his enthusiasm show in an interview with his hometown paper, The Windsor Star. “I was always a fan of Detroit and I know they’re a great organization,” he said. “I’ll go to Grand Rapids and be part of a first-class organization and whatever happens is going to happen. I don’t think I’ll make the team out of training camp, but if something happens and they need me, I’m not far.”
Looking at the depth chart, Delmore knew that it was likely he would spend most, if not all, of the 2009-10 season in Grand Rapids.
“I put it at 98 percent that I was coming here,” he said. “You always have to give yourself a couple percent to motivate yourself that there is a slight chance (to make the NHL club). You have to give yourself a small window to look through because you just never know what could happen.
“You’ve just got to be ready.”
There’s never been any question of Delmore’s offensive tools. A very skilled presence on the blueline, he owns one of the hardest shots in pro hockey and is highly regarded for his ability to quarterback the power play.
“Shooting the puck has always been something I’ve been able to do, even at a young age,” said Delmore, who remembers being one of the first kids to be able to hit the glass with his shot.
“Offensively, I think you just work on things. You practice stickhandling, shooting pucks. I think that ’s the easy part. Defense is the hard part.”
Not surprisingly, eagerness to jump into the offensive play means you’re opening yourself to criticism, and Delmore hasn’t been immune to negative assessments during his career.
“I hope my defense has gotten better after 12 years (in the pros),” he said. “It better have gotten better and I hope it has, but I think it could get better still.”
For his part, Delmore is looking forward to the insights of Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, a former NHL defenseman who shares his knowledge and experience with the team’s blueliners.
“It’s amazing the stuff that I’ve already learned from the Red Wings and the coaches here,” Delmore said. “They’re very involved in the game, so you’re always learning something new.”
Delmore admits that he might even pick up a thing or two from the younger players for whom he will be a mentor, although he insists that he will let the action on the ice do his talking.
“I’m just going to go out there and play hockey,” he said. “Look, they’re young kids and I can remember the guys I looked up to and watched. You pick up little things wherever you can.”
Delmore will be focused on getting himself and the Griffins ready for the playoffs, a time of year in which he excelled early in his career with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He became the first rookie defenseman in NHL history to net a playoff hat trick, a feat he accomplished on May 7, 2000, against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored five goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs that season, including a memorable overtime game-winner in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“It’s still so fresh in my brain,” said Delmore, who owns a Calder Cup ring from his efforts with the 1998 Philadelphia Phantoms. “It’s amazing how those moments stay with you, not only for a long time, but forever.”
Looking back more than a decade later, Delmore now realizes how special that time was.
“You can’t take anything for granted, that’s for sure, especially with playoff hockey,” he said. “Having a chance to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs doesn’t come along very often. I wish I could do it again. I wish everybody could experience it once because it’s such a special moment.”
Playoffs aside, Delmore’s best NHL years statistically came in Nashville. He played for the Predators in 2001-02 (16 goals, 38 points) and 2002-03 (18 goals, 34 points).
“My numbers might have been better in Nashville, but stats don’t always leave the longest impression,” he said. “You might say, 'I just got two goals but we lost 7-2 and we’re 25 points out of eighth place.' It just doesn’t add up to me.
“But say I was plus-2, blocked two shots and we moved into second place. That, to me, means a little bit more. Pushing for the Stanley Cup is always going to be a little more memorable.”
Delmore is intent on staying focused on the future, not the past, so he is eager to prove that the Red Wings made the right decision by giving him a second chance.
Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill is pleased that he has Delmore waiting in the wings.
"We found out in the playoffs that you need lots of depth," Nill told The Star, noting that “Andy's got a few more years left in him.
“He’s got skill, and he gives us depth,” Holland concurred. “He’s a guy who could help us.”
After two years in Germany, Delmore had an offer to return to Europe this fall, but decided he’d rather play in North America.
“I like that the game here seem s faster because the ice is smaller. Your decision-making has to be a little quicker and, personally, I don’t like that much time to think out there. The more you think instead of react, the more you’re going to get yourself in trouble.”
Delmore had originally played in Germany during the 2004-05 lockout when he was a member of the Mannheim Eagles. It was there that he met his wife, Heike. The couple have a 15-month daughter named Ava.
“I have a different outlook on working now – it’s not all about me anymore. It’s for the family, which is great,” he said. “Just waking up in the morning and grabbing our daughter out of the crib and seeing that smile or hearing a goofy laugh or ‘dada’ is pretty amazing.”
Heike is a web designer who has also begun dabbling in photography.
“The best part of it is every gift I get her, whether it’s for birthdays or Christmas, is camera gear. It’s absolutely beautiful – a lens here, a lens there, a tripod, a speedlight, whatever.”
Delmore is happy to have hammered out a deal that puts him closer to home. “A lot of my family is in Windsor and she has family in Toronto where her father, who’s German, met her mother, who is Jamaican-Chinese, when they were in their early 20s.
Living in Germany was an eye-opening experience. “Culturally, Europe and North America are two different sides of a coin. It’s just a different lifestyle – it’s hard to explain when you haven’t lived there.
“Some of the things they do there are so much better, and some of the things they do are, well, different.”
Ever the diplomat, Delmore wouldn’t rule out returning to Germany someday. “I enjoyed my time there,” he said. “I might go back again – you just never know.”
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