One minute to go.A booming voice in Mellon Arena announces this, and the delirious crowd roars.Really, can a March night get any better? The fans arrived buzzing with thenews that their beloved Penguins had been saved when a last-minute deal for anew arena locked the NHL franchise into Pittsburgh for the next 30 years. ThenPenguins great, team co-owner and now savior Mario Lemieux walked onto the iceand declared how proud he was that the Pens "will remain right here inPittsburgh where they belong!" And then the game: swift and furious, scoreafter score, months of tension dissolving in the din. Now the inspired team andits dazzling star, Sidney Crosby, hold a 4--3 lead over the EasternConference--leading Buffalo Sabres; now the old building shakes with civic loveand joy and the adrenaline rush that comes from fans knowing they'll be able tosay, decades on, that they were there for that historic scene. A bannerdeclares, IT'S A GREAT DAY FOR HOCKEY!
What opponentcould withstand such an emotional landslide? Truth be told, the Sabres' jobthis evening is to roll over, give Pittsburgh its well-deserved funfest andgracefully take the loss--Oh, we ran into a buzz saw tonight.
Yet there's aproblem. Buffalo is stuck in a season-high three-game losing streak. That needsto stop. Then there's the matter of Sabres center Chris Drury: pure poison fora moment like this. He's a soft-spoken, camera-shy, shortish guy who time andagain has proved impervious to the pressures that make others want to hide;once, when his coach at Boston University, the legendary Jack Parker, askedafter a particularly harrowing game whether he had been nervous, Drury, ajunior, looked up and said quietly, "Oh, I never get nervous."
"I don't knowanybody like him," says Sabres general manager Darcy Regier. Mike Eruzione,the 1980 Olympic hockey star who as an assistant at BU coached Drury, says,"He's not superskilled. He just wins."
Drury is, infact, one of the greatest clutch players in sports. Ever. At 13 he ledTrumbull, Conn., to its shocking win over mighty Taiwan in the 1989 LittleLeague World Series, five months after helping his Greater Bridgeport Pee Weehockey team win the '89 amateur national championship. Ever since, the wins andthe honors have rolled in like boxcars: a state hockey title in high school, anNCAA title his freshman year at BU, the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's besthockey player, the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Hardly a prolificscorer, Drury knocked in four playoff game-winning goals that first year forColorado, and two seasons later, stepping out of the shadows of Joe Sakic andPeter Forsberg, he scored 11 goals in the Avalanche's 23-game playoff run tothe 2001 Stanley Cup title. He has tallied 12 playoff game-winners--one morethan the great Lemieux--and his four overtime goals in the postseason are tiedfor second most among active players. And Drury is only 30.
"You want agoal, you're in overtime--you want him," says the 37-year-old Sakic, whoholds the record for OT playoff goals, with seven. "He loves that time. Hislevel of play rises." Drury isn't the only one in the NHL whose heart rateslows at such crucial moments, of course; he ranked second this season ingame-winners, with nine. "But if you do a poll [of players, asking] whoyou'd want in that situation," Sakic says, "his would be the first nameto come up. He's done it so often."
So those whoknow, wait. That game in Pittsburgh is nationally televised, so when theannouncer on TV echoes the man in Mellon Arena and says, "Final minute ofplay here," the long-suffering natives lining bars along Buffalo's Elmwoodstrip pay attention. Hockey fans in Trumbull, Boston and Denver don't changethe channel. And in a condominium not far from Fenway Park, a 31-year-old mannamed Travis Roy, pecking at his computer keyboard with a 14-inch stick held inhis teeth, stops. He is paralyzed from the neck down, but there's a patch oflife in his right biceps, just enough for Roy to move his right hand atop thejoystick on his electric wheelchair. The weight of his hand depresses thestick. Roy jerks his arm back. He backs the chair up, then angles it slightlyto the right, giving him a full view of the TV screen.
Let's see. That'show the thought drops into Roy's head this time. Let's see if Chris is going todo it again.
What makes awinner? Considering that this is sport's central question, the one agonizedover by coaches, general managers, owners, parents and fans, considering howwinners such as Yogi Berra and Michael Jordan are still revered, it'sremarkable that even those who wear the label find the question difficult toanswer. After an initial stab at familiar terms--luck, confidence, hardwork--there comes the flutter of ums, a pause and then surrender: "I can'texplain it," Sakic says of Drury. "I can't explain what hedoes."
Or in the wordsof Scotty Bowman, who won the Stanley Cup nine times as a head coach and, withthe Red Wings, fell victim to Drury's overtime game-winner in Game 2 of the '02Western Conference finals, "It's hard to describe. We had one in Detroitwith [Steve] Yzerman; they're not big guys. You look at them game in, gameout--and you still don't know how they can do it."
In July 2003 thehard-luck Buffalo franchise--still wincing over Brett Hull'sskate-in-the-crease goal for Dallas that yanked the Cup away from the Sabres in1999--had just emerged from bankruptcy. Revitalized by new owner Tom Golisano,Regier and Sabres managing general partner Larry Quinn made their firstofficial move to upend the club's losing culture: They traded for Drury. Thatseason the Sabres won 10 more games than the year before. Last season, despitea late plague of injuries, they came within 20 minutes of making the StanleyCup finals. This season they set a franchise mark of 53 wins and finished withthe best record in the NHL.
Many factorsaccount for Buffalo's transformation from joke to juggernaut: Ryan Miller'semergence as one of the league's top goalies; center Daniel Briere's rise as anoffensive force; management's fortuitous decision, two years before the NHL'snew scoring-friendly rules kicked in, to build a team around speed and skill.The Sabres and coach Lindy Ruff produced four 30-goal scorers this season withan attack that's as tough as it is prolific. But at the center of it all isDrury, the team's co-captain and unquestioned leader, the player who sets thetone every night against opponents' top lines, the man whose résumé lifts thispostseason to the level of high drama. Can one of sport's great winners do whatno one else could? Will Drury deliver the first championship to the losingestcity in America?
"If anybodycan do it," says Blaise MacDonald, who helped coach Drury at BU, "Chriscan."
But why? When thequestion is put to Drury, he can barely get the term out of the back of histhroat: "Why I'm a ... a ... winner?" he says. He mentions the greatprograms he's been a part of, the players who've won with him. He speaks abouthis competitiveness. The topic makes Drury uneasy, as if examining such a thingwill rob it of its power. "I'm thrilled that it happens," he says."I'm thrilled that where I've been I've had success. I haven't won anythingas a Sabre. I guess I don't know."
So let's put thepieces together, one by one. Let's start with the most underrated component ofwinners: love. A look at any Little League team will tell you that love in itspurest athletic form--of the ball, of the action--is surprisingly rare. Kidsplay because their friends play or the uniforms are cool or Mom wants themoutside. But in each group there's maybe one who has no choice, who must alwaysbe pounding his mitt or throwing a ball against a wall, who must simply move.Drury was that kid. His older brother Ted, who played eight years in the NHLand just finished his career in Germany, wasn't. Ted could actually sitstill.
"Chriscouldn't get through a meal," says Marcia Drury, his mom. "He'd taketwo or three bites--and then he was gone. He'd be out shooting pucks or hoopsor something."
Aside from histurbocharged makeup, Drury had other advantages. His mom and his dad, John,lived in a typical middle-class neighborhood, a little more than a mile fromTrumbull's Unity Park and its ball field and only two miles from the ice rink.John's career as a financial adviser at UBS, and Marcia's as a customer-servicerep for a retail company, provided enough money so that the four Drury kids hadequipment and time to run free, but not enough to be overindulged; when Chriswas off in Chicago winning that Pee Wee hockey title, his parents stayed hometo work. Still, there was a big net in the backyard to catch slap-shot pucks orbaseballs hit off a tee. There was aluminum siding on the house, pocked withsports dents. Street hockey in the driveway, Wiffle ball out back, bruises andfights: One day Chris and his best friend, Ken Martin, tussled over a foul balland each ended up with a broken nose. And always, there was Ted, five yearsChris's senior, setting the example and taking Chris along. At 10 Ted wouldbring his little brother to take part in his hockey games and baseball clinics,and when the adults would try to step in, Ted would say, "No, no, he can doit."
Ted went first toFairfield Prep, where he attended class wearing ankle weights under his pants.He'd practice slap shots for hours every day, Rollerblade and lift weights in apro-style regimen none of his peers were following. Connecticut is hardlytop-flight hockey territory, and Ted knew it; Chris picked up that underdogethos too. The brother between them, Jim, also played everything and later wasa center on the hockey team at Division III Lake Forest College, but there'ssomething about that oldest brother: Follow his lead, take him down. "Chrislikes to win, and that part is Ted," Marcia says. "He wanted to betterTed. He was the role model, and the thing to beat."
Still, nothingmarked Chris as extraordinary until the '89 Little League World Series. For aboy to hit .527 and go 8--0 in the preliminaries and at Williamsport, to toss acrafty complete-game five-hitter in the final, to drive in two runs in that5--2 shocker over Kaohsiung, Taiwan, seemed the perfect foundation for alifetime of winning. Taiwan had won three straight titles, outscoring the U.S.by 43--1. Drury still remembers hearing people chanting "U-S-A!" hoursbefore game time, the feel and noise of 40,000 people surrounding him andwatching every move. Mostly, though, he still sees the cocky Taiwanese players,just before the teams paraded onto the field. "I remember how casual andloose they were, like they already had it won," Drury says. "And Iremember thinking, That's not right. This is not how it's going to be."
There's a momentin the third inning. Drury, leading off first base, dives back on a throw fromthe catcher; Taiwan's first baseman, a full head taller, steps on Drury's lefthand while laying down the tag and leaves his foot there. Drury screeches"Get off me," scrambles to his feet and shoves another Taiwan player inthe chest. The fact that, as the team's star, Drury was both pudgy and toughlent the Trumbull squad an irresistible Everyman quality, and the resultingwhirlwind of fame would be enough to make even the most grounded kid lose hismind. Drury found himself pitching to his idol, Don Mattingly, at YankeeStadium, shaking hands with President George H. W. Bush, taking a limousineride into Manhattan for his appearance on Good Morning America, throwing thefirst pitch of Game 2 at the '89 World Series. When, a few weeks after the win,Drury toured Fairfield Prep, an older boy asked for his autograph. It was alltoo weird for a 13-year-old, and as his longtime friend Matt Sather, now Prep'shockey coach, puts it, "You're going to go one of two ways: become the starand embrace that kind of attention, or go into a shell and say, 'This isn'twhat I'm all about.'"
It helped thatthe family barely celebrated his feat; who had the time? All the kids wereheading off to new schools that fall: Ted to Harvard, Jim to boarding schooland Katie, the youngest, to junior high. Still, those close to Chris couldsense his discomfort with the attention; having a national sportsmagazine--Guilty!--photograph his bedroom left him mortified. When, four yearslater, MacDonald recruited Chris to BU, little had changed: Instead of sellinghimself with his baseball exploits, Drury was almost embarrassed by them. Whenhe got to BU a year later and filled out a questionnaire for the sportsinformation department, he didn't mention Little League.
"I wouldn'tchange a thing," Drury says. "But as fun as it was, a lot of peoplewere unhappy with our minicelebrity. There was some jealousy. Years later, Ihad parents say to me, 'That was the worst thing to happen in this town. Nowevery team thinks they have to win [the Little League World Series], and everyparent is nuts.' For five, six, seven years after, I think everyone viewed itas a failure if they didn't win it. Which is absurd." In a sense, though,no one could understand better; Drury's ambition knew no limits. When his PeeWee coach was quoted as saying that Chris had the talent to play in highschool, "probably" in college and "then, we'll see," Drury usedit as fuel: This is what he thinks? All right. After he helped Fairfield winthe state title as a third-line freshman, he told Sather that they should gunto win four straight. Sather, a year older, tried to say it'd be O.K. to winjust one or two more. "That always stuck in my mind as perhaps thedifference between him and me," Sather says.
That, and thefact that Drury simply couldn't get enough hockey, especially after a brokenright wrist derailed his baseball career in high school. The boys skatedeverywhere: rink, pond, even an iced-over drainage ditch near Unity Park. Afterhours and hours, Sather would try to beg off. But Chris would insist, "Onemore game, one more."
In the summerbefore his freshman year at BU, Chris joined Ted at the school, where hisbrother was taking part in a training camp for the 1994 U.S. Olympic hockeyteam. In one of the team's first four-mile runs, he chased Ted the entire way.Chris was hardly in shape, and when they hit the final hill, he startedvomiting. Chris never broke stride. "He's throwing up as he's running, buthe keeps running and keeps running," says Mike Boyle, BU's longtimestrength and conditioning coach. "He runs right through the door where wealways finish." Boyle asked if he was all right. Chris said yes, took adrink of water and walked off.
His big brotherstarred at Harvard, made first-team All-America, and when the Terriers playedthere during Chris's freshman year, the Crimson crowd chanted, "You're noTed!" each time he touched the puck. Chris had been picked by the QuebecNordiques in the third round of the 1994 entry draft, but no one thought of himas a sure thing. Seeing mostly fourth-line action during BU's 1994--95 NCAAtitle run, he made practice his proving ground. He threw himself into Boyle'shands, into the weight room; barely able to do one chin-up and back-squattingjust 200 pounds as a freshman, Drury could regularly do 20 chin-ups andback-squat 400 by the time he graduated. His sophomore season, Drury all buttripled his production: 35 goals, 33 assists in 37 games.
"I had noidea he was going to get so much better so quickly, that his competitivenesswould make him so special," says Parker, who has coached 19 Olympians and54 future NHL players. "He's not the guy who wows you with speed orstickhandling or the hardest shot. But I don't think I've ever coached anybodyas competitive. If you were to wake Chris up at three o'clock in the morningand tell him, 'We've got a pickup game,' when he'd get on the ice he'd have tobeat you to that puck."
To this day Druryarrives at the rink two hours before practice. But what sticks with him mostvividly about that sophomore season is what happened when Roy, a freshman just11 seconds into his first shift at Walter Brown Arena, hurtled headfirst intothe boards. Drury was three strides away when he heard the crack. Wow, Drurythought, someone just got drilled. He was the first to make it to Roy's side,to see his friend's head turned, as Roy says, "more than it should havebeen." The two had gotten to know each other at high school tournaments andall-star games; Roy had stayed with Drury on his recruiting visit. "We'dconnected," Drury says. He thought Roy had only been knocked out. It wasonly after the game, when Drury watched doctors, a sports psychologist and aweeping Parker trudge into the locker room, that he thought the worst: Holys---, Travis is dead.
No, Roy hadsuffered cracked fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae; he would never walkagain. For a decade Drury hosted a golf tournament in Connecticut, raising morethan $250,000 for Roy and his foundation for spinal cord survivors. They speakoften; no former teammate, Roy says, keeps in closer touch. Drury says Roy isthe one player in history he'd like to have played with. "There's not a daythat goes by that I don't think of him," Drury says. "In good times andbad. If I have a rough game or the flight's delayed or I get a bad meal--youknow, little things that would drive anyone crazy? In my head I say, What do Ihave to complain about? This guy's been in a chair for 11 years."
It's his paradox:No player approaches the game more seriously, yet few better understand itsrelative unimportance. With Drury there's always the sense of a career, a life,held in delicate balance between intensity and calm, between the demands offame and an almost aggressive humility. He has all his trophies, rings andawards, of course--but he keeps them in storage.
One night duringDrury's junior year, his friend John Ferguson drove up from Connecticut to takehim home for Christmas vacation. BU had just beaten archrival Boston College6--4, but Drury didn't talk about the game. The next morning Ferguson read inThe Boston Globe that Drury had scored four goals.
Still, Druryfought with teammates who wouldn't match his fire in practice. He called outanyone he thought was dogging it. Once, as the players were doing sprints onstationary bikes, Drury sat next to a freshman who was just going through themotions. When the drill ended, Drury said, "If that's the way you're goingto do it, why don't you get out of here right now?"
His need to keepcelebrity at a distance remained just as extreme. Drury was a junior when hemet his future wife, Rory, at T's Pub in Boston. It was after a 4--4 tie at BC;she was there with family. Drury, BU's star, approached her. He told Rory hehad seen her at the game, neglecting to mention he had been playing. "Shedidn't want anything to do with me," Drury says. He followed her around thebar all night. Rory told him she was a freshman at Fairfield University, on thesame campus as his old high school, and he jumped at the connection, throwingeverything he knew at her. He tried charm. He tried to impress. But he nevertold her he played hockey.
When Drury wentto get a napkin to take her number, Rory bolted. He caught her at the cab,begged her to give him her last name. "Manning," she said.
"Oh, likePeyton," he said.
"I'll callyou!" Drury said, slamming the cab door.
He called thenext day, drove down to Fairfield the next weekend. With Ferguson and anotherfriend he took Rory to dinner. They spent a few hours together, Drury talkingabout how he hoped to teach U.S. history, maybe coach baseball, after hegraduated. No one mentioned hockey. During dinner he asked her to go with himto The Beanpot, Boston's storied annual four-college tournament. Two nightslater she rode up in a van to Boston with Ferguson and three others. They gotto their seats inside the Fleet Center, Rory figuring she'd meet up with herdate then. "Where's Chris?" she said to Ferguson.
"Rightthere," he pointed.
Drury was out onice, number 18. He didn't wave. He never even looked up.
In the lobby ofBuffalo's grand old City Hall, on a lone easel near the elevators leading up tothe mayor's office, a large and dramatic sign has been sending out a messagefor the last eight years. Greater Buffalo, it says proudly, has been declaredan "All-America City." But the bulk of the poster is taken up by twomore elusive symbols. First a picture of the Super Bowl trophy, and beneath ittwo words: need it. Then the Stanley Cup and the same plea: need it.
That suchdesperation is shouted from the official heart of Buffalo, and not the wall ofsome sports bar, says plenty about the place of sports--and the resurgentSabres--in the life of the city. "We think, and many people think, that thetown needs to win a major sports championship," says Mayor Byron Brown."To correct the inferiority complex in the psyche in thecommunity."
The body blowssuffered by Buffalo over the last five decades are a staple of Rust Belt lore:shuttered steel mills and empty grain silos shadowing the shores of Lake Erie;an exodus of young people in search of work; half the city's citizens drainedaway, taking Buffalo's status as an urban power with them. The Sabres lost theStanley Cup finals in 1975 and '99, and in between the Bills lost four straightSuper Bowls. Scott Norwood's wide-right kick in the 1991 Super Bowl and Hull'sillegal goal became emblematic of Buffalo's fate: to fail or to get jobbed, tolose ignominiously, again and again. "Loss of jobs, loss of opportunity,loss of population, loss of four Super Bowls in a row, losing the Stanley Cuplike we did?" Brown says. "It was a combined feeling of, We'resinking."
"This townhas a lot to offer," Quinn says. "I can't stand it: Every time someonecomes in, they write about how dirty it is, or how the buildings are empty.We're all working hard to fix it. But there's a sense of embarrassment and alack of confidence. Are we as good as everybody else?"
That's why, whenyou visit Buffalo, you almost never bump into anyone who says he doesn't careabout sports. That's why Buffalo running back Willis McGahee, recently tradedto Baltimore, was a goner the moment in January that he suggested the NFL movethe Bills to Toronto. That's why the official message boards at the airportscream go sabres! in midseason, why Buffalo jerseys dominate the NHL top tenlist, why two groups of fans tried to pay Ruff's $10,000 NHL fine forretaliating for the savage hit Ottawa forward Chris Neil laid on Drury on Feb.22. "What's Lindy make--$650,000?" says Deputy Mayor Steven Casey."Here are guys making $25,000 a year showing up to give him money."
Because there isan urgency now. It has been a long time since a Buffalo team has been thisgood, and fans know that Drury and Briere, the team points leader, are freeagents at the end of this season. The Sabres may not be able to keep both.Losing early in the playoffs--let's face it, losing at all--could send the towninto a tailspin. "The Sabres and the Bills are the city," says TimRussert, Buffalo native and host of NBC's Meet the Press. "They give itlife."
Russert, MayorBrown, most anyone in town will say that Drury is the perfect Buffalo player,an embodiment of the city's self-image: hardworking, self-sacrificing, down toearth. But Buffalonians, as MacDonald, who coached at nearby NiagaraUniversity, says, "can also feel sorry for themselves. Woe is me, ScottNorwood, Brett Hull, why does this always happen to us? Chris is the anti ofthat mentality. He never feels sorry for himself and his team. He doesn't lookin the past, no pity parties. Nope. Next play."
That, of course,is what Buffalo is counting on. "This is it! Brother Drury is bringing usto the mountaintop!" Russert shouts. "There's a sense of mission. Hehas proved he knows how to win championships and he is the leader." Then hepauses.
"Let'shope," Russert says, his voice dropping almost to a whisper. "Onetime."
Blood on the ice:Neil bulled into Drury's left shoulder. The Sabres led the Senators 3--2 in thesecond period of that February game, but suddenly the score didn't matter. Theforce of the collision popped Drury's helmet off like the shell of a crackingwalnut. Drury flew into the air, three feet above the rink surface, and nearlyflipped, his skates rising for an instant above his head. His face crashed intothe ice, opening a two-inch gash in his right eyebrow. He lay still a moment,concussed, tried to take a knee and fell. Blood dribbled down. The home crowdhowled, Buffalo's Drew Stafford attacked Neil, the head coaches screamed ateach other. After the ensuing face-off every player, including the goalies,paired up and started to swing.
No matter whichSabres player had been hit, punches would've been thrown; in hockey it's allabout defending the sweater. But there's no doubt that the Buffalo response"was amplified," says then Sabres goalie Martin Biron (since traded toPhiladelphia), "because it was Chris Drury lying on the ice."
It's telling thatin the weeks after, when everyone in Buffalo was calling Neil a cheap-shotartist and the NHL took the usual heat for its thuggery, the low-key voice onthe issue was Drury's. He refused to say whether he thought the hit was dirty.He talked about being more careful. Pulling a Braveheart would've been the easyway to fire up his team for the stretch run. But that's not Drury's way."He's never going 100 miles an hour, then 50, then 100," Regier says,moving his hand in a steady slow line. "He's always at 60. He does notquit, but that doesn't mean, I WILL NOT QUIT! It's, I do not quit. It's allquiet. There is no flash. There's just the constant movement. So you look atthat and say, I wonder if he can teach that?"
Before Druryjoined the Sabres--acquired from the Flames--the locker room music stayed onloud and long before games, and no one hit the weight room after. Drury walkedin his first day and turned off the stereo. "I thought, What's wrong withthis guy?" says Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell. Late during anexhibition game in 2003, one rookie teammate fired off a sloppy pass that ledto a scoring chance for the opponents. They didn't score. The Sabres led byfour goals. Drury still chewed the rookie out, and when the player retortedthat it was only preseason, Drury said, "I don't care. Don't ever do thatagain." He made a point of sidling up to Miller, then a rookie unsure ofhow to challenge Biron, and said, "You going to take this job orwhat?"
"It made mefeel like it was O.K. to do what I needed to do," Miller says.
The players knewDrury's history. Everyone began watching how he prepared, stretched, made sureto eat the blandest food to guard against stomach upset. One by one aftergames, they began hitting the weights. They saw how he still loved the action,how he has to score during practice drills, how, even after Miller blocks hisshot, Drury will hover around the net waiting for the puck: just one more shot.And they began to know that the player with the most remarkable résumé refusedto consider himself remarkable at all. "I'm not extraordinary," Drurysays. "I have to work extremely hard because that's how I'm going tosucceed. If I coasted or put on weight or didn't work on my game in the summeror didn't lift, I'd take a step back. I would never say, 'I'm good enough.'There's not time enough in the day for me to work on stuff I need to workon."
Quietly, and inperfect concert with Briere, Drury took hold of the locker room. As the teamstarted to win last season, Drury gradually let the music play later and later.He asked that the club put a picture of the Stanley Cup on the wall, to remindeveryone what they're playing for. He protected the team from distractions,shutting down an in-game conversation this season between a local TVpersonality and a trainer, even barring Quinn from entering the locker room onemorning because the team was about to meet. "I don't know any formercaptains who would've said that to me," Quinn says. "But I loved that.It's his room."
Drury racked up acareer-high 37 goals and 69 points this season, but while he has improved hisoffensive production, he hasn't slacked off in the categories--face-offs, powerplays, blocked shots, penalty-killing--that win games but never awards.
Nobody, perhaps,has benefited more from Drury's presence than Briere, acquired from Phoenixlate in the 2002--03 season. The 29-year-old Quebecois grew up in a hockeybreeding ground but--despite a 60-point season with the Coyotes in2001--02--could barely convince himself he belonged in the NHL. But he begancopying Drury's game-day routine, picked his brain, imitated his calm duringtight moments. He learned what it takes to win.
"He's taughteverybody around the room a lot about it--when the game's on the line, how tostep up," says Briere, the 2007 All-Star Game MVP who scored two overtimegame-winners in last spring's playoffs. "Believing that you're the playerwho's going to make a difference is the beginning of everything."
That ability--towin and to know how to make it contagious--is rare, of course, and the irony inDrury's case is that his gift grew out of the most average conditions. Hiscareer is a triumph of the normal. He and Rory have two children. He does nocommercials or photo shoots, has no signature goal celebration, speakssparingly to the media. He absorbed early the values of hard work, excellenceand loyalty and never deviated. Why? Because they worked. They paid off early.Chris Drury won, and then kept winning.
"I do thinkwhen it happens once, you draw on it," Ted Drury says. "And it happensagain, you have two things to draw on, and it keeps happening, and you havemore to draw on. Then you come to this random game against Pittsburgh in themiddle of March and there's seven seconds left--and now he's got so much todraw on that he's feeling pretty good."
Twenty seconds togo. The Sabres have pulled Miller, and Drury has the puck in his own end,bringing it up ice. The crowd is screaming, the seconds are flying, but Drurybetrays no urgency. Earlier, with 1:43 left in the second period, he set up aneasy goal to tie things 2--2, when he faked a shot, then waited, waited, waiteduntil the last moment to feed Dmitri Kalinin at the top of the crease. Whenevery instinct says, Rush! Force it! he doesn't. Now Drury flicks the puck towinger Jochen Hecht, who dumps it into the Pittsburgh end for the finalpush.
Nine seconds. Inhis condo Travis Roy doesn't take his eyes off the screen. Watching Drury playstirs in Roy a feeling almost nothing else can. One reason, of course, is thatDrury has made Roy a part of his career; after Colorado won in 2001, Drury hada party on Boston's South Shore and made a point of placing the Stanley Cup inRoy's lap. But Roy also sees some of what he might have been in Drury: not thetalent, not his career or life, but the refusal to take any of it for granted.After his accident Roy spent a lot of time around the BU program. "And I'dbe watching these blue-chip recruits come in," he says. "So many gotsatisfied. It pissed me off. They have this opportunity at a top college. Mywhole goal in life was to see how good I could be. I just wanted to put myselfin a position: Could I compete? I can't imagine I would ever have gottensatisfied."
Roy, of course,has his days. "I have a good quality of life, but the highs and lows? I'mnot the happiest kid," he says. "I've got things I look forward to, butthey're not nearly as prominent as they were before my accident. But when Iwatch Chris and see him score a big goal? I have a smile on my face."
The seconds aredwindling: 8.9 seconds ... 8.6.... When Drury sees Briere jabbing at the puckbehind the net, he glides, almost lackadaisically, across the Pittsburghcrease: 8.5 ... 8.4 ... 8.3.... Briere knows without seeing that Drury will bethere. "He's always in the right spot," he says. "It's amazing. Youcan always count on Chris when the game's on the line." Drury, meanwhile,is barely thinking: no hope, no fear, no worry about whether he'll score ornot.
"In some waysit's already been decided," Drury says. "Mentally and physically, ifyou're prepared and you make your move, you make what you think is a good shot.If it doesn't go in, it wasn't meant to be. There's not much sense in fearingthat."
Briere digs thepuck loose and finds a seam, drills it to his man in front of the goal. Withseven seconds left in regulation, Drury snaps it under the lunging leg ofgoalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Red light: Shock ripples through the building. The4--4 tie will force overtime, Buffalo will lose in a shootout, but it doesn'tmatter. The Sabres will escape the cauldron with a point, Drury will score thewinning goal two nights later in Florida, Buffalo will win four of its nextfive games. His team's small skid ends here.
The Sabres knowit. Briere grabs Drury in a crushing hug and spins him around--"Two littlegirls dancing in a corner," Briere says after, laughing--their momentumslamming Drury against the boards. His eyes widen in surprise, and for thefirst time all night his intensity dissolves; his mouth forms a big U. Indeed,Drury is wearing the same expression he had on his face 18 years ago, when thatlast ball was caught on a field in Pennsylvania and all his friends piled ontop of him. Winners don't change. When he does what he does, it puts a smile onChris Drury's face too.
Richard Deitsch explores the culture of tortured Buffalo fans and their questto finally win a major sports championship.
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THE TROPHY CASE
Chris Drury has been winning sports hardware since hewas 12 years old. He keeps it all in storage
Helps Greater Bridgeport win Pee Wee hockey nationals (Chris at topcenter).
Pitches Trumbull, Conn., to victory in the Little League World Seriesfinal.
His Fairfield Prep team wins the Connecticut state hockey championship.
His standout play as a freshman helps BU win the NCAA title.
Receives the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey.
Named the NHL rookie of the year after a 20-goal season with Colorado.
Scores 11 playoff goals to help lead the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup.
2007 NHL Playoff Preview
Sidney Crosby should pass his first postseason test inthe East's tightest series
1 Sabres vs. 8 Islanders
Nobody wants to face fast, talented Buffalo,especially the Islanders. Although the Isles played with great pride andintensity during the late-season surge that carried them into the playoffs, theSabres are the best team in the East. New York doesn't have the depth or skillto match Buffalo's frontline attack of Thomas Vanek, Daniel Bri√®re, Chris Druryand Jason Pominville.
THE PICK: Sabres in five
2 Devils vs. 7 Lightning
Watch for New Jersey's defense to rule this series.Tampa Bay stars Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis won't beable to manufacture enough quality scoring chances against Devils goalie MartinBrodeur. New Jersey will physically challenge Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle,who will have to step up his game in order for Tampa Bay to have anychance.
THE PICK: Devils in six
3 Thrashers vs. 6 Rangers
If Rangers scoring machine Jaromir Jagr plays withpassion, Atlanta will have a tough time. The Thrashers need a giganticperformance from 6'6" defenseman Andy Sutton, who will be matched againstJagr. Face-off play could swing the series, and it's a strength for Atlanta(second in the NHL in face-off percentage). If the Thrashers take a quick leadin the series, the Rangers will struggle to bounce back.
THE PICK: Thrashers in seven
4 Senators vs. 5 Penguins
It will be imperative for Pittsburgh center SidneyCrosby to battle through the persistent checking of shutdown forward MikeFisher and smooth-skating defensmen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Ottawahas a quick-strike offense led by Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and DanielAlfredsson, but physical veteran Gary Roberts, acquired by the Penguins at thetrade deadline, could be the difference maker.
THE PICK: Penguins in six
A healthy Joe Thornton is ready to lead the Sharksdeep into the postseason
1 Red Wings vs. 8 Flames
Calgary will come out hard, but Detroit--with bruisingforwards Todd Bertuzzi, Kyle Calder and Johan Franzen--is built for a physicalseries. The ultimate matchup will pit Flames star right wing Jarome Iginlaagainst perhaps the slickest NHL defenseman of the last 20 years, NicklasLidstrom. If Iginla can beat Lidstrom and give Calgary some offensive spark,this could be a long series.
THE PICK: Wings in six
2 Ducks vs. 7 Wild
Anaheim is the last team Minnesota wants to play. TheDucks' Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer are the NHL's most formidabledefensemen, and stellar forechecking forward Sammy Pahlsson will stall theWild's offensive core of Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston andPierre-Marc Bouchard. Minnesota must score a lot of rebound goals, whichAnaheim goalies are prone to giving up.
THE PICK: Ducks in six
3 Canucks vs. 6 Stars
Look for low-scoring, tight-checking games that couldbe decided by special teams. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo has a huge edgeover Dallas netminder Marty Turco. The Stars need offense from veteran forwardsMike Modano and Mike Ribeiro and steady forechecking from Brenden Morrow, butif Dallas doesn't shut down the Sedin twins and win one-goal games, the Canuckswill take the series.
THE PICK: Canucks in seven
4 Predators vs. 5 Sharks
The Predators improved by adding forwards PeterForsberg and Jason Arnott but don't match up well with deep, fast, skillful SanJose. Frontliner Steve Sullivan's health problems (he's out indefinitely withback spasms) only add to Nashville's woes. San Jose center Joe Thornton shouldthrive; he's healthy and surrounded by great talent in Jonathan Cheechoo, BillGuerin and Patrick Marleau.
THE PICK: Sharks in five
"You want a goal, you're in overtime--you wanthim," Sakic says. "He loves that time. His level of play rises. He'sdone it so often."
It's his paradox: No player approaches the game moreseriously than Drury, yet few better understand its relative unimportance.
Drury is the perfect Buffalo player, an embodiment ofthe city's self-image: hardworking, self-sacrificing, down to earth.
"This is it! Brother Drury is bringing us to themountaintop!" says Russert of his city's hope for a Cup. "There's asense of mission."
Photograph By Bill Wippert
RONALD C. MODRA
Drury, here shooting during a 4--1 win over the Thrashers in December, leadsthe Sabres by voice and example.
COURTESY OF THE DRURY FAMILY
RONALD C. MODRA
COURTESY OF MATTHEW SATHER
JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES
DAVID E. KLUTHO
DAVID E. KLUTHO
JEFF VINNICK/GETTY IMAGES
JAMES GUILLORY/US PRESSWIRE
COURTESY OF THE DRURY FAMILY
Chris, sandwiched by Ted (left) and Jim, never sat for long as akid.
It was by imitating Drury (left) that Briere learned how to believe inhimself--and win.
Off the ice, Chris's life is anchored by (from left) Dylan, Rory andLuke.