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Excitement building for Stadium Series

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Joey Kocur is among several former Red Wings who have been practicing up to three times a week recently to prepare for the outdoor alumni game in Denver on Feb. 26. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- With the Colorado Avalanche in town, it is getting people's appetites whetted for the Stadium Series outdoor game in Colorado in two weeks.

Drawing perhaps even more attention than the Stadium Series game is the Alumni Game, which will be held the day before, on Friday, Feb. 26.

"It seems the closer it gets to the date, it's definitely exciting," said Kirk Maltby, a member of the Grind Line and a current pro scout for the Wings. "It's going to be fun to reminisce. I'm sure the pace of the game will be a little different and the physicality, but I expect it will get a little competitive as the game goes on, especially if it's close because at the end of the day, I don't think either team wants to lose."

The Wings' alumni have been practicing at Joe Louis Arena.

On Friday, with the Avalanche holding an optional skate because of their game Thursday night in Ottawa, current Avalanche coach and Patrick Roy and general manager Joe Sakic were on the ice in Detroit.

The Wings are scheduled to practice at Coors Field a few hours before the Alumni Game.

Some might stick around to watch.

"That will be a lot of fun," Danny DeKeyser said. "It’s good to see, you know, some of the names that are coming in to play in that game. I’m sure it will be a fun game to watch for anybody who is going to it."

Kris Draper was one of the central figures in the rivalry after Claude Lemieux smashed his face into the boards during their playoff series in 1996.

Both Draper and Lemieux are scheduled to play in the outdoor Alumni Game.

"No hard feelings, no," Draper said. "It was a long time ago and I think a lot of what we went through as a team together kind of defined a lot of us. It certainly defined the rivalry that we had. It made for, every time you walked in the rink and it was a Colorado-Detroit game, people were excited to do it. I think from ‘97 to 2002 it was the most heated and most hated rivalry in all of professional sports and it made for some unbelievable hockey. Very unpredictable. You didn’t know what was going to happen. You knew something was going to happen. You didn’t know when it was going to happen. The bottom line is you look at those teams and there are guys that continue to go into the Hall of Fame. It was unbelievable hockey at an elite level."

Darren McCarty, who infamously fought Lemieux on March 26, 1997, is playing, of course.

Also scheduled to play for the Wings are Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Joe Kocur, Dino Ciccarelli, Larry Murphy, Igor Larionov, Martin Lapointe, Doug Brown, Chris Chelios, Ty Conklin, Mathieu Dandenault, Steve Duchesne, Jiri Fischer, Mike Knuble and Manny Legace.

Many of the Michigan-born Wings grew up with that rivalry, including coach Jeff Blashill.

"I was certainly a Red Wings fan back then and I think it had to be one of the greatest rivalries of its time," Blashill said. "Obviously it was heated. I think it'll be interesting to watch the Alumni Game to see if there's any carryover effect even years later. I thought it was great. It was incredible. It was something that as a fan base you got excited about."

Justin Abdelkader certainly remembers the brawls and the animosity between the two teams.

"I think Claude Lemieux was the evil villain, as you’d call it, for them," Abdelkader said. "As a Detroit fan you didn’t like him, but I know as a Colorado fan you probably loved him. So those are players that you’d love to have on your team and hate to play against."

Even Mike Green, who is from Calgary, paid attention when the Wings and Avalanche played.

"Absolutely, just because of rivalry and the history there," Green said. "At the time it was the biggest rivals in the league, so obviously as a kid I watched it."

All of the Wings are looking forward to playing outdoors in Colorado.

"I think it’s going to be great," Alexey Marchenko said. "A lot of my friends (from Detroit) are going to come. Always great to play outdoor game. Great atmosphere, lots of people, should be fun."

Abdelkader's only other outdoor game in front of fans was the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

"Just brings you back to the roots of hockey," Abdelkader said. "I played lots when I was young outdoors and just the elements of being cold. The last one I played in, the only one I played in, was in Ann Arbor and it was snowing and it was cold. Just fun to be a part of, it’s a great event and it’s special to be a part of it."

Like Abdelkader, DeKeyser is looking forward to the event.

"Anytime you get to play in a game like that it’s pretty special to be a part of something like that," DeKeyser said. "Not a lot of guys get an opportunity to play in a lot of those games. So when you get the chance it’s always fun."

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