DETROIT – It was a seven-year war that transcended a league.
Like a good suspense thriller, the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry had a bit of everything to keep fans riveted for the next breath-stopping scene. For nearly a decade, there certainly was no shortage of villains and heroes from Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy to Darren McCarty and Igor Larionov.
But the rivalry also provided fans with some of the best hockey in the world – and lots of it – including five memorable playoff battles with a bevy of Hockey Hall of Famers resulting in the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup championship in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002.
During the span of the rivalry the Wings and Avs played 55 times in the regular season and playoffs combined. Each club won 27 games with one regular-season tie. Through the 55 games the Red Wings had a plus-1 goal differential with 149 goals for and 148 goals against.
It doesn’t get much tighter than that.
What the rivalry didn’t have – until now – is an alumni game.
Former Wings and Avs players will meet Friday at Coors Field in downtown Denver. The exhibition is part of the NHL’s Stadium Series regular-season outdoor game between the Wings and Avs, which will be played Saturday at the 50,000-seat home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies.
The game is expected to consist of three 20-minute running periods, though there is talk about adding stop time for the final two minutes of each period. The Wings plan to dress 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies with Mickey Redmond, Dave Lewis and Barry Smith acting as bench coaches.
With too many centers on the alumni roster, Draper has volunteered to play defense, but only if he’s partnered with Nicklas Lidstrom.
Here are the preliminary line combinations and defensive pairings that Draper and Redmond discussed on Thursday’s flight to Denver:
Brendan Shanahan – Steve Yzerman – Martin Lapointe
Dino Ciccarelli – Igor Larionov – Doug Brown
Darren McCarty – Boyd Devereaux – Kirk Maltby
Tomas Holmstrom – Stacy Roest – Joe Kocur
Nicklas Lidstrom – Kris Draper
Chris Chelios – Jiri Fischer
Mathieu Dandenault – Larry Murphy
Organized by Kris Draper, several of the former Wings, who still live in metro Detroit, participated in informal practices for the past month at Joe Louis Arena.
What follows are question-and-answer sessions conducted this week with six Wings alums – Kirk Maltby, Dino Ciccarelli, Kris Draper, Chris Chelios, Igor Larionov and Joe Kocur – that lived the Detroit-Colorado rivalry and will play this Friday.
|Now a pro scout wth the Red Wings, Kirk Maltby is excited for Friday's reunion in Denver. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
How were players’ anticipation of games vs. Colorado back then?
“It wasn’t like you marked your calendar for the game or anything like that, but especially looking back on it in retirement and knowing our team and their team you looked forward to those games, especially after the incident. They were fun games, you never knew what was going to happen. Obviously, even the brawl here was the fourth (and final) game of the season playing them, and the two culprits that started it were Forsberg and Larionov, so with them winning the Cup and knocking us out to get to the final and the type of expectations we had and they had, there were a lot of fun games. We knew that whether it was here or in Colorado that when it came time to playing them it was going to be a good hockey game.”
Were you much of a talker on the ice during those games against the Avalanche?
“I always chirped. I wouldn’t say it was more, it just depended on how the game was going. If it was a little chippier or rougher than it does with anybody. Every game obviously wasn’t like the one here in March but it was good, we knew there was a high possibility we were going to have to go through them to get to the Stanley Cup. It was fun hockey.”
Did you have a feeling something would happen on March 26? Did McCarty hinted at it?
“People have asked me ‘Did you guys plan this?’ No, it was never talked about, at least I was never involved with it and I never heard anyone talk about it. If Mac truly thought something might go off I don’t think he knew how or when. But in general, maybe because that was the last game and we knew come playoff time we would have to go through them that this was going to be our last opportunity to play them. So we were like ‘Let’s send a message’ in the sense that we can beat you guys, we can play with you guys. And that we were a good team, we just couldn’t win the big one against those guys. What happened, definitely no one could have envisioned that. It did and we got the win. You could say after that, mentally, we felt we could beat them, but I remember Game 1 of the conference finals, we couldn’t have played a much better game and we still lost. But I think that game allowed us to bounce back and play a really good second game.”
Is it still fun getting together with the guys at the rink?
“Oh yeah, it’s always fun. The aches and pains are a lot different now than when you were playing. If this is anything like the Toronto one, got to see a lot of the old guys you played with at one time or another and then also playing Toronto was fun playing some of those guys. Me, being from Ontario, I liked seeing (Mike) Palmateer and (Darryl) Sittler and guys like that. I watched those guys growing up. It’s a little different age range in this one but it’s going to be fun to play these guys, guys that we battled against year after year to get to the Cup.”
Even before Lemieux’s hit on Draper in Game 6, who physical nature was the 1996 series with Colorado?
“We had a pretty strong team as well and both teams were kind of built the same way. Both teams had a lot of skill, great goaltending. Defensively, we were as good as anybody and we had toughness. We were well-balanced, they were well-balanced. Going into the series, I guess we were the favorites but at the end of the day it sucked that we lost but we can’t say that we lost to a bad team or that it was an upset. We knew it was going to be a grind, a battle and it was. They just happened to get the better of us.”
Did you have an idea of the kind of player Lemieux was before the hit on Draper?
“I don’t know. Trust me, I did my little things on the ice. At the end of the day, anything I may have done, crossing the line, I never truly intended to hurt someone. Yeah, you slash a guy in the back of the leg it hurts, but it’s not putting a guy out for a month. At that time, in the heat of the moment, it didn’t seem like he had much remorse, if any at all, didn’t feel bad about it at all. Looking back at it, it was a crappy play but I don’t truly believe he set out to hurt Kris. But it is what it is and the things that followed are directly because of that. But, we’re older, we’re slower, a lot more out of shape than we were then, what happened in the past happened in the past.”
You mentioned that you were chirper, were you a creative chirper?
“Sometimes. It just depended. Sometime guys would give you stuff, whether it was something they did or happened to them, maybe something that happened in a game that wasn’t even involving us but you go ‘I got to remember that next time I see them.’ It doesn’t make me witty but you keep track of things.”
Were you jawing a lot at guys?
“Sometimes but trust me, a lot of it is just curse words. That’s why when they started doing miking of the players – I do talk a lot – but I’m like ‘You’re not going to be able to use that because it’s F-this and F-that, so you’re just going to be bleeping it or editing it.’ At the end of the day if the team stayed over or you stayed over you’d have a beer with the guy, so it’s not a big deal. You try to be witty but at the same time it’s not rocket science, a lot of it is go here, go there, F-you.”
|Dino Ciccarelli will be playing in his second outdoor alumni game in a week. He played in last Saturday's Chicago-Minnesota game. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
You played in last Saturday’s Minnesota-Chicago alumni game, what was that like?
“It was fun. I ended up going in a couple days earlier. I haven’t seen some of these guys in 20 years and you know, the whole state and Minneapolis and St. Paul were pretty excited about the whole event. We heard it was close to a sell out so we had a little practice the day before. For me it was kind of special because that’s where I had my first NHL game and got my first opportunity so playing with some of the guys that I got to play with for 8-9 years – Brad Maxwell and Bobby Smith and Neal Broten, Tom McCarthy, Gilles Meloche in net and Donny Beaupre. You spend 8-9 years with these guys and you’re gone for 20 and now you come back and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t even know if I recognize these guys. But it was a lot of fun. They did a great job and it was great putting the green and gold jersey back on. We ended up winning the game and the fans had a good time. Temperature was perfect. It was like 35 degrees, sunshine and you couldn’t have asked for better weather.”
The Game 6 of the 1996 playoffs, what was your reaction to hit on Draper?
“My famous quote … I kind of laugh because everybody thinks it’s a big deal. I forget the score. We were down a goal or two in the third period (actually it was the first period) and it was Game 6, so we obviously needed to win bring Game 7 back here. … So when Kris got hurt I think a lot of the guys knew it was a cheap shot at the time but we didn’t know the extent of the injury. Now we finish the third, we lose, we shake hands, we got into the dressing room and now we all go up to see Kris on the table. He was almost unrecognizable that’s how bad the injury was. That’s really where the hatred started for the whole rivalry. I tell people it would be like cutting the side of your face with a knife and pulling the skin back. That’s how bad Drapes’ face looked and for me personally, you’re out of the playoffs, you lost and that happens. Of course I said, “I can’t believe I shook his frickin’ hand’ after seeing the extent of the injury. But for the rest of the guys that’s where the whole rivalry started right there and then. It was payback the next season.”
You were gone in 1997, but what were your thoughts on the payback?
“I knew it was about to happen even thought I got traded to Tampa I was a big fan and watching it on TV. Everything I saw was everything I expected, because I was pretty much with the guys that whole summer and I remember going up to the hospital a few times seeing Drapes. We knew the payback was gonna happen and then it continued for I don’t know how many years. But that’s what created the whole thing and probably had a lot to do with a couple of those Cups.”
Could anyone have predicted the goalie fights?
“No you couldn’t but it was a little bit of revenge and then from their perspective kind of like they were defending themselves too, and it was gonna happen and it was gonna get ugly and everyone was gonna get into it, and I think everybody knew that. I think the referees knew that, the fans knew that, the players knew that and then it had to happen.”
What happens this Friday if Roy gives you a little chop to the back of the legs like he used to?
“Well, I wouldn’t think he would do that but if he does it, I’ll tell you what, I’m not gonna take very kindly too it, put it that way.”
How much fun is it that your generation of alumni gets to experience these outdoor games?
“It’s fun cause when it first started – I think the first one was in Buffalo or wherever – I think guys … I remember watching ‘Oh, God, we missed out. That would have been great’ because we all reflect back to when we were a kid. That’s how you started. You were outdoors and we were out there all night under the lights and or in the sunshine. So back then I was hoping I got an opportunity and with Detroit or one of the old teams I would get that opportunity, so I’ve been pretty lucky. Played the one at Comerica Park a couple of years ago and now the one in Minnesota and now the Colorado one. And I hear next year it sounds like the Winter Classic game will be in Toronto against Detroit again, so I’ve been pretty fortunate. I know there are other guys who haven’t had the opportunity and would love to but it’s the best. The game in Minnesota started around 5, 5:30 or whatever it was, so it was 35 degrees, the sun’s out and by the time the third period the lights were on, it was dark and the moon was out. So that’s one game. Is that crazy? That’s what you remember as a kid growing up and you get to be part of it.”
Did anticipation build up for those Detroit-Colorado games each year?
“Absolutely. This was Game 6 and all the games were pretty close. I think it was the conference finals, both very good teams and teams got better. I know the Wings won three Cups after that. I don’t know what Colorado did. But they were two of the top teams in the NHL going at it from a talent level and a physical level too, which you don’t see too much these days.”
Was the 1996 series already heated before the Draper incident?
“I know it was chippy but every playoff series is chippy. Roy was always trying to give me the business all of the time. I remember the referees letting that go and then me retaliating and getting penalties and he wouldn’t get anything, and then the whole thing with Kozlov. But maybe it was brewing but ultimately capped off with the cheap shot. I think it still doesn’t sit well, from what I understand, they really haven’t apologized to Drapes or Lemieux really hasn’t apologized. That’s why it kind of leaves a bad taste in a lot of guys’ mouths.”
With that said, how does Friday’s game get played without incidents?
“Well, I’m sure it will be fun. I’m sure all the guys are probably a little bit slower, but on the other hand we’re probably still very competitive and I think they kept the players playing this game between ’96 and 2002, which means the guys are still relatively young and we’ve been skating. So I’m sure it will be a little more competitive than the Minnesota game that I just played in.”
Hopefully the linesmen and refs can keep up?
“You wouldn’t think that’s gonna happen, but then again boys will be boys and we’re a little older and a little slower but again it’s still in our blood.”
You never wanted to lose to Colorado, did you?
“No we didn’t and we still feel the same way. Again, you play at a high level and are very competitive. You just can’t quit doing it no matter how old you are and you’re still competitive and you still want to, especially with this rivalry. They might think it’s in Colorado with their fans and maybe we should just let them win. But I don’t think any of our guys are feeling that way.”
Even though this is more than an exhibition, you’re playing to win aren’t you?
“We are. We’re all retired but we’ve been skating prior and the thing we always enjoy before is making it competitive, make it fun and get a good workout out of it. I think this is no different and I think Colorado is taking the same approach. Guys don’t want to get embarrassed. I hear all of the Colorado guys have been skating as well. We’ve been staking off and on for the two-three weeks too, so we want to make it fun, we don’t want to get embarrassed and I’m sure both teams want to win bad.”
Do you anticipate any issues with the altitude?
“It always is when you’re a current player and it probably will be the same for us.”
Ever notice the different from playing in Denver versus other cities?
“Yeah, the air is a little thinner for sure. You notice it for sure but I know teams would go out there a little early and try to get adapted to it. But I think after your first few shifts it kind of goes away and it really doesn’t have that much of an effect.”
Does that mean letting Lidstrom play 25 minutes?
“I talked to him actually today. Nick doesn’t have to skate a lot (beforehand) knowing how Nick played he was smooth as ever. Nick could probably still play 20-25 minutes for the current Red Wings and you wouldn’t even notice the difference.”
|Kris Draper was a central figure in what sparked the Red Wings-Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
Were the players as excited about the Detroit-Colorado rivalry as the fans were?
“I would say you could probably go one step further – when the schedule came out you kind of took a look and you knew when you were gonna play Colorado. Those games were … obviously you talk about the brawl and the rivalry and the hatred and everything that goes along with that. But the bottom line is it was two organizations that put a lot of guys in the Hockey Hall of Fame. There was some unbelievable hockey as well and both teams could play any style that you want. You wanna run and gun? They could do it. We could do it. Obviosuly if you want to play a physical style of hockey that could be done too, so I think that’s what made this rivalry exactly what it was. For me, obviously from the end of ’96 and the ’96-97 season through 2002, in professional sports I don’t think there was anything like it.”
How much did this team need March 26, 1997 to happen to bond everyone together and win championships?
“The way that happened you know we hadn’t beat them, we were 0-3 against them coming into this game here. They were the defending Stanley Cup champions. We were about three weeks away from the playoffs and we had yet to beat them and we kind of knew if we were gonna be Stanley Cup champs or get through to the Stanley Cup you realized that you had to go through Colorado. And then just the way everything kind of played out here on March 26 with the brawl and Lemieux turtling and Shanny and Roy kind of meeting each other at center ice in midair and then Vernie and Roy fighting and Shanny and Foote fight. I mean, it was just unbelievable how it happened, and then from there we found a way to tie the game up and force it into overtime and how scores the overtime goal? It’s Mac with everything he just went through. So it was electric in this building. You could feel it from the fans and then certainly when we came into the dressing room you could feel that that was something that we needed. It was a statement to us in our dressing room and we felt it was statement to obviously the Avalanche as well that we were gonna do whatever it takes to get our team to the next level.”
What feelings do you have about Claude Lemieux and will there be a fight?
“(Laughs) Well, it is an alumni game but honestly I don’t know. I would like to think you’re gonna go out and play. I thought the Toronto game (Dec. 31, 2013), I thought the last 10 minutes was a heck of a pace for alumni guys getting up and down the ice. I gotta figure that this is gonna be a competitive hockey game. I watched some of the Minnesota-Chicago one. I don’t think our game is gonna be played like that. There’s gonna be more to it. Obviously you know that Patrick Roy has been doing pre-game skates with his team. Roy and Sakic skated here. We’ve been skating at the Joe for four weeks now, and I think it’s gonna be a good game. I think there’s gonna be some good pace and how I feel about Lemieux, honestly, I don’t know him. We never talked about that and I don’t feel about him, I guess. I don’t know him. It was 20 years ago. I think it defined me as a person and as a hockey player and created a heck of a rivalry with two high-end organizations and a lot of people embraced it. In the end that Colorado-Detroit series defined a lot of us as hockey players through ’96-97 and through ’02. You just kind of knew just walking into their rink whether it was McNichols or the Pepsi Center you just didn’t like them. You hated them and I gotta figure when they walked through here they had the same feeling that they didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. That’s what made those games so special.”
Did it bother you that Lemieux didn’t show remorse immediately after the hit?
“I don’t know him, but I don’t think that ever came into play. I can’t speak for him and what he was thinking or whatever. But the bottom line is that’s the way it happened and that’s the way everything played out. To be honest with you I wouldn’t change anything for a second with the way that it went. I had some injuries; they heeled. You saw that my beautiful looks are all good, so that was the thing. It defined a lot of us on how everything played out that year and on March 26th and moving forward.”
Wasn’t the 1996 series heated before Lemieux’s hit on you?
“Oh yeah, you could feel that. Right from the get go that was a heck of a series. You kind of had that sense that whoever got out of the Western Conference was gonna win the Stanley Cup. Obviously there’s no guarantees but the fact is we kind of felt that the West was that strong. So with that said it was an intense series right off the hop and there was a lot that went on. It was physical, so the tone was already set in what was going on in that series. You can even go back to the Montreal game with us against Patrick Roy in Montreal and him saying ‘I’ll never play a game for the Montreal Canadiens again’ and sure enough he gets traded to the Colorado Avalanche and here we go. So he probably didn’t like us before he become a Colorado Avalanche with everything that went on in that last game that he played for Montreal. So I’m sure there are little stories within stories that kind of turned this into the rivalry that it was going to be. Then it went to the next level with the hit.”
Will you say anything to Lemieux?
“No. I don’t think I’m gonna talk to too many of those guys. I don’t know them. I know a couple of them. Thursday night we’re supposed to have a reception or a dinner at Coors Field. … I’m gonna have fun with all of my alumni team and all my former teammates.
“I’ve talked to Lemieux once and it was at the draft last year and we drafted one of his clients. He’s an agent now and he represents (Joren) Van Pottelberghe, the goalie that we drafted. And that was the extent of the conversation that I’ve had with him in 20 years away from the rink. I’m looking forward to being with my teammates. I’m looking forward to playing. Every time I get on the ice I still smile. I love it. It’s a game that has been so good to me that every time I put my skates on and go onto the ice I have a smile on my face. I thought when we played at Comerica Park that might be my last game and I’m going to take this like this might be my last game and just take it all in. My wife and kids are coming and they’re excited. You’re playing at outdoor game at Coors Field and I’m playing with guys that I won four Stanley Cups with and that to me is the most important thing.”
What would it mean to play in 2017 Winter Classic alumni game in Toronto, your hometown?
“It could cost me a lot for tickets. It would be pretty cool to do that, to go back to Toronto and play in an outdoor game. They’re talking about BMO at Exhibition Stadium there. I grew up in Toronto so that would obviously be pretty cool to have a lot of family and friends go watch that. I think anytime you have an opportunity to go play in these thing, I think the NHL has done an unbelievable job, I watched the alumni game, the guys look like they’re having a blast. You watch Minnesota and Chicago, I mean, the fans, to me it’s just awesome. I’ve said this before, playing at Wrigley Field, Detroit-Chicago, that was one of the highlights of my career. I think the NHL has done a great job with those. For me, I believe the current players enjoy playing outdoors and I know for the alumni guys they certainly enjoy going out and playing in the alumni games as well.”
|Hall-of-fame defenseman Chris Chelios played 10 seasons with the Red Wings, adding two Stanley Cup rings to his collection in 2002 and 2008. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
As a player did you look forward to games with Colorado like fans were?
“For sure. I was involved with Montreal-Boston, Montreal-Quebec, I kind of got here in the middle of everything, after the first two Cups and when it had built up, but it carried over to the last three or four years Patrick played. The fans still to this day when they show it on the big screen still get riled up.”
After your trade from Chicago, how easy was it to assimilate into the rivalry?
“Like I said, I’ve been involved with them before. We played Colorado there in my first year in the playoffs, not sure if it was round one or two, there was a level of intensity and it wasn’t hard to figure out for a new player. I think Wendel Clark found the same thing.”
What do you remember about the brawls?
“The thing that separates those are when the goalies get involved, those are the ones the fans remember. Ozzie fought Patrick, Vernie fought Patrick, that in itself was a little different than rivalries I’ve been involved with in the past.”
Do you expect Friday’s game to be physical?
“There’s always that screwball that’s going to run around and take it serious, but as far as any of that, no. It seems to get more competitive as the game wears on if the game is close. That happened to us and Toronto a couple years ago. Last weekend it was a pretty laid back game which was kind of nice. Who knows, we’re all 20 years older, at least I am. I’m sure guys are looking forward to it, playing in front of 40,000, I’m sure not a lot of guys have been able to do that. That in itself was exciting for the Chicago and Minnesota guys.”
Who might the screwball be?
“Claude (Lemieux). You always have to give Claude the nod for that. He’ll do something dumb. At the end of the day over the years you’ve seen them, who knows one player thinks he got wronged, hockey players are hockey players.”
Past alumni games have involved players from different generations, this game is unique in that everyone played in the seven-year rivalry, will that make this game more competitive?
“That’s not true, I went after Lanny McDonald my first year we played in the (1986 Stanley Cup) finals so age doesn’t mean a thing. The fact that this group I think compared to our team in Chicago is a lot younger. Younger yes, guys may be a little more intense and may take it more serious, some of the guys in Chicago hadn’t skated in years. I don’t think that will be the case. Look at Draper. He’s nuts. We’ll see.”
Will the thin air in Denver be a concern for some players?
“They say sometimes it takes a day, I don’t think anyone’s going to acclimate to that until the game’s over.”
How serious is Kris Draper about this game?
“There’s no question he’s going to be in the best shape amongst anybody or one of the best guys in shape. You have to look at (Brian) Rolston who was in the best shape and he might have over did it (in Minnesota-Chicago alumni game). Maybe his anxiety, he psyched himself out. Drapes wants to score, but at the end of the day it’s just skating around in circles and doing nothing. He wants to do well, everyone wants to do well and don’t want to get embarrassed.”
Do you think Draper still holds a grudge against Lemieux?
“I don’t know. If I compare him to someone like Dale Hunter, he hurt me and I hurt him, when I saw him at the bar at the All-Star Game I still had a beer with him. Times have changed. I don’t know if he’s talked to Claude over the years. I’m not sure.”
How special would that have been if you could have played in three alumni games with Original Six teams this year?
“It would have been great, it kind of bothers me, but the World Juniors was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m glad I did it. It was a great experience. I wish I would have been there, Original Six teams, Montreal and Boston, I’ve only had a chance to play in one alumni game with Montreal in the Forum and it was great.”
|Igor Larionov helped the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup titles, collecting 12 goals and 36 points in those playoff runs. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
Did you look forward to facing the Avalanche during the rivalry years?
"We're not looking back, we're looking forward so we're looking for Friday. It should be a good night for everybody. Most important to promote the game and give the people a little sense of what happened 20 years ago and just have fun and enjoy the evening."
What do you remember about your fight with Peter Forsberg?
"There's nothing to talk about. It's all on the video on ESPN Classics. Competitive game. Well, I guess everybody from kind of different direction, everybody kind of in different shape so we'll see. It's Friday night so we'll see what's the level of urgency in the locker room."
How badly do you guys want to win?
"If you got a lot of people watching the game, you want to entertain them. So that's the main thing, to play games like that. You can't pretend. It's got to be cautious hockey, you don't want to get hurt or get crazy, but it's going to be a good hockey game."
Do you think Friday’s game could result in some payback?
"You know what, I don't think you can expect that. Once again, it's a game of alumni so it's all about to promote the hockey game. You don't want to see the kids around the country watching old men doing some fights. It's stupid. I don't think we're going to be doing that."
Where do you see the skill level at for some of these guys?
"It all depends. It's all in your mind. So if your mind is fresh, there's going to be skill level. If your mind is tired, haven't touched the puck or haven't touched the ice, it's going to be hard, you're going to be rusty."
What does it mean to you to get back together with old teammates?
"It's always nice to have everybody back. I'm looking forward to playing with everybody, Shanny, Stevie and Mac and Nick and Homer and Joey Kocur and Drapes. I think it's going to be great feeling to be back together again. It should be a nice atmosphere in the locker room and the game."
Where does Lidstrom rank on that list of names?
"He's one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. To have him in the lineup, it gives you so much confidence because you know he's going to be taking care of defense and at the same time, he can be helpful to create the offense as well."
Are you personally looking forward to Friday’s game?
"Of course, that's why I'm here, getting on the ice and getting ready for Friday's game."
Where does the Detroit-Colorado rivalry rank for you in your Hall-of-Fame career?
"I would say it's one of the best rivalries maybe, I can't really say about ourselves, but I think when you look around at the teams playing hockey now, to have this kind of magnitude of Detroit-Colorado games back in the day, it was crazy. All the media, all the fans and the style of the game, too, there's no limits. Referees kind of forgot the whistles sometimes. They let us go to the war, plus we create some great hockey, in terms of spectacular goals and great chances, so that was one of the best rivalries between us and them."
How much did the brawl bring you together and propel you to Stanley Cup championships?
"We're talking now, it's a chapter in the book. I guess at some point, when you're going to the playoffs and when you're losing three games in the season against them and the last game before the playoffs, we lost to them in the conference finals a year ago, that was a crucial game for us to kind of overcome that hump and just to go over and to kind of send them a message, we're not like soft, we're ready to face any challenge that's going to be ahead of us. That was kind of the way we approached that game, from that point."
Do you remember how the fight with Forsberg started?
"It's a lot of whys, a lot of questions. But I can't really tell you why. Privately I can. But it was good. I think it helped us to, like you said, to get together as a team right before the playoffs and get us going."
How many times have you seen the fight?
"My children have watched those games so they're laughing because it's four and a half hours of the thriller, watching that game, longest game in the regular season. It's not like triple overtime or when you're playing three periods extra. So that was because of a lot of fights, a lot of scrums, a lot of penalties. That game took a while. Plus 11 goals and all of the goals were spectacular."
|Drafted by the Red Wings in the fifth-round of the 1983 draft, Joe Kocur eventually was part of three Stanley Cup teams, including two with Detroit in 1997 and '98. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
What are your memories of the Detroit-Colorado rivalry?
“Just the opportunities that we had in ’97 and ’98, the team we had and having to go through Colorado and the rivalry that was created and being there. Above all won those games and were lucky enough to win the Stanley Cup those two years.”
Does it really seem like 20 year ago?
“No, it’s gone fast. Personally it’s been 17 years since I retired. It’s gone fast but coming back, seeing Nick today, knowing we’ll see Stevie and the boys it’s exciting.”
Do you expect a competitive game this Friday?
“Well I think after the first period it’ll probably be a little more competitive. I know playing against Toronto a few years ago we really didn’t have a playoff rivalry so it wasn’t that competitive. But I got a feeling with some of the guys, Cheli, Draper, Fischer, McCarty, it’ll be a little more competitive and we don’t want to lose. We’re going to Colorado and they definitely want to win, but we want to go in there and try to play hard.”
Do you anticipate a fight?
“I highly doubt it.”
With the Detroit-Toronto game a few years ago there were several different generations of players, with this game it’s essentially one year of guys who know each other quite well. Will that make this game more competitive?
“No doubt, it’s ’96 to 2002. The good thing is we’re all pretty close to the same age, between 40 and 50, so it shouldn’t be a big discrepancy in speed and talent out there.”
Does that make this alumni game different than others we’ve seen put on by the NHL?
“Yeah, they’ve done a great job of organization this, to bring in the past Stanley Cup champions to be playing in this game. We had some heartaches playing them and they had some heartaches playing us, that’s why it’s going to be so special.”
Is there still some bad blood after all these years?
“I can’t answer that, I haven’t seen any of those Avalanche in 15-16-17 years. Who knows what can get sparked in the game. I highly doubt it because none of us do this for a living anymore and we just want to get through the game. It’ll be a competitive game for sure.”
Did players anticipate those Detroit-Colorado games as much as fans did back then?
“After what happened to Kris Draper, every follow-up game we were just as excited in the locker room as the fans were. We knew something was going to happen, we expected stuff to happen and we were prepared it.”
Could anyone have expected the goalies to get into it that game and that it would escalate?
“No, I just know McCarty was going to do what he had to do because he had to protect his friend and all the other stuff that happened was just a buildup of animosity between two teams that really didn’t like each other.”
Was McCarty pummeling Lemieux perhaps the proudest moment for Detroit fans?
“As a team that was the most important thing that the team ever accomplished together, winning the Stanley Cup was the most important for us and the fans but when that night happened, there was just a different team in that locker room, a team that felt they had grown together and could win the Stanley Cup. We were on a good roll after that and we were lucky enough to win.”
Did Scotty Bowman say anything to you guys after the March 26 game?
“No. there was a lot of emotions running high.”
Where does Lidstrom rank for you among the game’s greatest players?
“One of the greatest, absolutely. Him and Stevie are playing, Igor’s playing. They got some fantastic players. Nick didn’t retire that long ago, and he looks in pretty good shape still. I’m expecting a lot from him.”
Will Lidstrom carry the banner for you guys?
“I sure hope so.”
Does this game mean more considering he’s organizing it?
“It would, I’m sure. He’s putting the team together. But as a hockey player we all feel the same way. We want to go out there and play hard and play well and not embarrass ourselves.”
DetroitRedWings.com editor Dana Wakiji contributed to this report.