10 years ago was a night that saw the Dertoit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche become one of the most intest rivalries in the NHL. It started as the Red Wings looking to get even with Claude Lemieux for a cheap shot the year before on Kris Draper.
It has been 10 years since Darren McCarty pummeled Claude Lemieux, Brendan Shanahan flew through the air to get after Patrick Roy, and, of course, Mike Vernon fought Roy, punches thrown wildly, with coaches screaming and fans going berserk.
Kris Draper had been on the receiving end of an ugly hit by Lemieux the season before in the playoffs, and that touched off the bad blood between the teams.
Nearly a year had passed and, in the minds of the Wings, payback came due on March 26, 1997. The game, won by the Wings, 6-5 in overtime on a goal by McCarty, was a unifying force for that team, which would go on to win the next two Stanley Cups.
Yes a fight brought the team together, not just becuase it was fight it was because they drew a line to which no one would be allowed to cross when it came to their teammates.
The Draper-Lemieux incident was on the mind of every player, coach and fan that evening. Lemieux never showed remorse for the injuries he inflicted on Draper after drilling Draper’s face into the boards.
The fact that Detroit lost to Colorado in that 1996 playoff series increased the Red Wings’ sense of urgency.
“Everyone expected (the brawl) to happen, and how we got there wasn’t good, but it was an accumulation of a lot of games,” Chris Osgood said. “It was probably more fun for the fans (than players). But it was kind of necessary. It was probably one of the last steps for us to take, to come together as a team and the fact we stood up for each other, going into the playoffs.”
The buildup heading into the game, and the war of words between the teams, led everyone to believe something memorable was going to happen.
“There was hatred between the teams,” Osgood said.
“They were a great hockey team, and we were a great hockey team, and they had the one thing that we wanted, the Stanley Cup,” Draper said.
“They had beaten us the year before, and New Jersey had beaten us in the Finals in 1995, and we had to find a way to get over that hurdle.
“That night really helped us and excited us, especially because it was so close to the playoffs.”
It was old time hockey at its best and were some of the most intense and hard fought games I have ever seen (Even more intense than when Mattias Norstrom check Peter Forsberg so hard so may times it burst his spleen).
You can find a video summary of the rivalry here.
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