In the spring of 1997—a quarter-century ago—the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.
The Free Press has commemorated that historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”
Day 29: May 14, 1997
The backstory: On the eve of Game 1 in the Western Conference finals, the Red Wings and Avalanche practiced in Denver and then dished out compliments for their opponents. All except Avs goalie Patrick Roy, who directed a brickbat at Wings coach Scotty Bowman. Meanwhile, the NHL directed each team’s management and coaches to be on their best behavior – on and off the ice.
Roy speaks his mind: A winner of three Stanley Cups and owner of a 2.07 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .933 save percentage in the 1997 playoffs, Roy received praise from Bowman. “I know what kind of goalie he is, what kind of player he is,” Bowman said. “He’s a great player.” Roy, meanwhile, questioned the merits of Bowman’s six Stanley Cups – five with the Canadiens and one with the Penguins. “He’s coached a lot of good teams,” Roy said, “and it’s a lot easier when you coach all those good teams. I mean, all those years in Montreal, they were unreal teams with a lot of talent. In Pittsburgh, he was with Mario Lemieux and all those guys. And in Detroit, he still has a very good team. But it’s a little different — in Detroit he has to coach and maybe that’s why he didn’t have that much success.”
Bettman speaks his mind: In only two years, the rivalry between the Wings and Avs included Fight Night at The Joe, Colorado coach Marc Crawford’s elbowing Aaron Ward, Colorado general manger Pierre Lacroix’s verbally accosting Martin Lapointe, Claude Lemieux’s cheap shot on Kris Draper and Bowman’s profane parking lot tirade at Lemieux, who was carrying a baby, for punching Slava Kozlov. Crawford provided the most classless quote: “Scotty is a great thinker, but he thinks so much that the plate in his head causes interference in our headsets during the game.” Bowman suffered a head injury playing junior hockey that effectively ended his career. Keith Gave wrote in the Free Press about a preemptive strike from the league. “To its credit,” Gave wrote, “the NHL has addressed management and coaches on both teams about cleaning up their act in this series. Commissioner Gary Bettman, through Brian Burke, the NHL’s vice president of hockey operations, warned both teams in a conference call that the league will be monitoring this series closely — and not only for on-ice problems that demean the game. ‘He made it clear to both clubs, in a very nice way, to let the sideshow nonsense end,’ Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said. ‘They said this is 1997, not 1996, and this is a league event, not a team event. … And this is a chance to improve our game, to improve our image.’”
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The Free Press speaks its mind: After analyzing the matchup, beat reporter Jason La Canfora made this prediction: “This should be the series of the playoffs. Special teams will be vital. The Wings absolutely cannot retaliate when Claude Lemieux or anyone else instigates. The Avalanche is hard enough to stop five-on-five. Colorado is the NHL’s deepest team, and contributions from Wings like Doug Brown and Kris Draper will be especially important. Wings captain Steve Yzerman has just three goals, two of them flukes, and might need to play more of an offensive role. After two or three games, watch the hatred boil over, not in stupid penalties but in heavy hitting with the occasional melee. How does an overtime Game 7 sound? Colorado in seven.” Also for the Free Press, Gave and Helene St. James picked the Wings in seven. Mitch Albom wrote: “Last year, I picked the Red Wings because they were the prohibitive favorites. This year, I pick the Wings because they’re the underdogs. Sooner or later, I have to be right.”
off the ice: Just for the fun of it, the Free Press subjected two of its reporters to hours of abuse, sending reporter Tim Doran to Denver with instructions to wear Brendan Shanahan’s No. 14 jersey around town. Meanwhile, reporter Dan Shine donned Lemieux’s No. 22 and paraded it around metro Detroit. The reporters managed to survive, barely, what Shine called “an assignment not for the faint of heart.” Doran wrote: “At the Sports Column in Denver, patron Brad Hive declared, ‘You can’t drink here!’ when he saw my Shanahan jersey. His pal Scott warned me to bring my own bouncers if I return (for Game 1). ‘Everybody in this town thinks there’s no way in hell Detroit is going to beat the Avalanche,’ said Scott, who didn’t want his last name to appear in print fearing retribution from someone who reads it in Detroit. ‘Detroit’s got a bunch of meatheads that beat people up.’” Shine wrote: “I was booed outside a bookstore in Northville Township, hissed at on Main Street in Royal Oak, booed and hissed at outside Cobo Hall. The clerk at the Livonia post office wouldn’t give me my stamps until I took off the jersey. He was joking. The driver of a Windsor tunnel bus chided me along Washington Boulevard, saying I needed to lose the jersey ‘before you get some blood on it.’ He didn’t look like he was joking. I let him complete his left turn before crossing the street. My sanity and bravery were questioned several times, and I frequently heard people shout ‘Lemieux!’ followed by a verb that best describes the performance characteristic of a vacuum that rhymes with ‘ducks.’”
Famous last words: From Crawford: “I really like their team. Their entire management group, Mr. Devellano, Scotty Bowman and Ken Holland, they all got together in terms of addressing their needs after last year’s playoffs. And you can’t argue with their success in the playoffs so far.”
Relive the glory: The Free Press has crafted a 208-page, full-color, hardcover collector’s book with fresh insights and dynamic storytelling about the 1996-97 Wings. It’s called “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City after 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at RedWings.PictorialBook.com. (It’ll make a great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Personalized copies available via [email protected]
More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith Gave, a longtime hockey writer for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad The Impaler: More Epic Tales from Detroit’s ’97 Stanley Cup Conquest.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers and a portion of the proceeds is earmarked for the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Plenty of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)
Even more to read: Red Wings beat reporter Helene St. James, who helped cover the 1997 Stanley Cup run, recently wrote “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Detroit Red Wings.” Featuring numerous tales about the key figures from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (Plenty of St. James’ prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Red Wings-Avalanche 1997: Patrick Roy pokes Scotty Bowman before Game 1