It was during the mid-1990s when the Detroit Red Wings transformed the Motor City into "Hockeytown."
Between 1991 and 1996, the Red Wings finished in first place in four out of five seasons, including a franchise-best 62-13-7 record in 1995-96. The only problem was the Wings were unable to hit that high note. That '95-'96 team lost in the Western Conference Final to the Colorado Avalanche, one year getting swept in four games by the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.
Although the Red Wings were devoid of a Stanley Cup since 1955, hockey nevertheless exploded onto the Detroit scene. The Red Wings weren't a one-year wonder that faded away, and finally hit pay dirt in 1996-97 when they plowed through the Western Conference and swept the Philadelphia Flyers to win their elusive Cup.
Hockeytown was born. It was prosperous and it was spectacular, thanks to the product the Red Wings were putting on the ice. Kris Draper lived it, winning four Cups during that glorious run, and to him there was no better place to play.
"Now you look at it with the consecutive playoff years, us getting into the postseason, I think it correlates with a great product, a winning tradition and a very proud past of all the great players that have played within the Detroit Red Wings organization and all the great players that continue to come through the Red Wings organization," Draper said.
It was alive and well with the Red Wings being perennial Stanley Cup contenders, Hockeytown is set to showcase a special event that will glorify what once was and still is. On Dec. 31 at Detroit's Comerica Park (home of the Detroit Tigers), Draper and former Toronto Maple Leafs great Wendel Clark will join more than 50 Red Wings and Maple Leafs from the past to participate in the 2013 Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings Alumni Showdown. Tickets for this alumni game doubleheader (1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.) are currently on sale (www.DetroitRedWings.com/2014WinterClassic), and the showdown will mark the finale of the 2013 SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival running from Dec. 27 to Dec. 31.
In addition to the doubleheader, fans in attendance will receive free access to the Coke Zero Fan Zone in the parking lots just outside Comerica Park.
"It's an event. It's not just one 60-minute sporting game," Clark said. "You're actually participating in an event in a great city with rich hockey history. That doesn't always happen, so when you get a chance to be a part of maybe a one-time thing to do with our great game, I think it's a lot of fun.
"I think it's great to have two teams with their history and rivalry and to be a part of it. It's going to be great for the fans. And probably seeing some familiar faces between the two teams, there will be a lot of reminiscing going on for sure."
Leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on New Year's Day, the alumni showdown will be a celebration of the players' storied histories with the two clubs. The Original Six rivalry between Detroit and Toronto is one of the fiercest and evenly-matched in League history. In 644 regular-season meetings, Detroit is 275-274-95-3 all-time against Toronto. The two have also clashed 23 times in the postseason, with the Leafs holding a 12-11 edge.
"You're going back to watch a little bit of history and learning the game," Clark said. "The whole package is an event with the big game being played at the Big House. These games and the festivities that are going on at Comerica Park starting Dec. 27 and our alumni games, you're really seeing a lot of the history of the game and the way it was right from the Hall of Famers who will be there."
Detroit’s roster has 12 players and coaches who have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and 29 who won a Stanley Cup championship. This includes the core of a team that was able to, for the most part, remain intact to win four Stanley Cups in 11 years. Given the large followings of both clubs, the restoration of a historic rivalry and the allure of outdoor hockey, the alumni game and the memories it will revive will practically sell itself.
"I think over the last couple of years, the alumni game has gotten a little bit bigger," Draper said. "I think that the players are really excited about competing and the opportunity to go play outdoors. Talking to a lot of people throughout the city, everyone is excited certainly about the game at the Big House in Ann Arbor, but I think people are pretty excited about seeing some of the former Red Wings to get on the ice and play together as well."
It's a recipe for a great week in Detroit.
"I think Detroit is taking it to a whole new level with the way they're doing it," Draper said. "I know everybody is really excited about the opportunities here and I know I can't wait to get back to the ice, skate outdoors, skate at Comerica and put the Red Wings jersey on again, and play with some of my great friends and teammates. Just to do it one more time is going to be awesome."
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL
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