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Alumni game to rekindle rivalry for Sakic, Draper

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog joked that he was a little nervous while sitting between Joe Sakic and Kris Draper on Monday during a news conference at Coors Field.

Sakic and Draper now hold executive positions with the Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings, respectively, but they were part of the teams' often bitter rivalry between 1996 and 2002.

"I felt I was right in the shooting lane between them," Landeskog said with a laugh.

The harsh feelings that once existed have long subsided, but the competitive juices are sure to flow again when the Avalanche and Red Wings alumni play at Coors Field on Feb. 26 as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

"I was talking to Joe and he was talking about having fun, and I said in the Detroit-Toronto alumni game (at Comerica Park in 2014) we were having fun until about the last 10 minutes," said Draper, who is special assistant to Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. "You can't help it, you want to win. I think it really picked up a notch after that. That's what we know, that's who we are.

"I think it's going to be the same with this game. You'll have fun and the bottom line is you want to represent yourself well. It's going to be a great time, but we want to win the game and I'm sure Colorado wants to do the same thing."

Though acknowledging that plenty of blood was spilled during the height of the rivalry, Draper prefers to remember it for the extraordinary hockey the teams played.

"As heated as the rivalry was -- you could use the word hatred if you want, we didn't like them and they didn't like us -- the bottom line is there was unbelievable hockey that was being played," he said. "It wasn't just a bunch of goons going at each other. It was some of the greatest players that played in our game, and I think that's what took the rivalry to the next level.

"The bottom line is you're looking at great hockey players and great teams. You come in this time between '96 and '02, you almost felt like Detroit and Colorado were going to meet up and represent the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup Final. That's how good both organizations were at the time."

Many of the top players from both teams are expected to play: Draper, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Paul Coffey, Chris Osgood, Dino Ciccarelli, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty for Detroit. Draper said he's also wooing goalies Dominik Hasek and Mike Vernon.

"I know when I played in the alumni game at Comerica Park it was awesome," Draper said. "We had so much fun. We had Scotty Bowman coaching us and we're really hopeful he's going to coach us again in this game. You sit in the locker room and you're with guys you basically grew up with and you're having some fun with it, and then you go out and you get to play in a hockey game.

"You're thinking it might be the last time that happens and a couple years later this opportunity comes. It is special. We spent so much time with each other and we were able to accomplish so much, winning Stanley Cups together, and now to be able to do it again and come out here, I think the kids have the most fun when they get to see their dads back on the ice. It's a first-class event and over the top is how they treat the families."

Sakic, who is Colorado's senior vice president and general manager, will play for the Avalanche, along with Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Ray Bourque and Adam Foote.

"It was heated, but it was because both teams were two of the best," Sakic said. "Every year, just trying to compete and who can be better. It got bitter, but the level of play was outstanding. That more so made what it was, the type of hockey it was. The players, the names, just the intensity of really wanting to beat each other bad."

The Avalanche and Red Wings played five times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1996-2002, with Colorado winning the Stanley Cup twice and Detroit three times.

"I think all the guys on both teams, they're excited," Sakic said. "I don't know if it's necessarily playing, but excited to get together. Everybody on both sides, when you make the call and they want to play in this alumni game, right away on both sides, everyone was excited. It's more to see everybody, kind of for that one game, get together and appreciate what you had once."

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