March 26th marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most historic nights in Red Wings history- the brawl between Detroit and the Colorado Avalanche. A night that forged a rivalry that still burns bright to this day, March 26th is an unforgettable day for Red Wings fans- even the ones who were not yet alive to see the brawl happen in 1997. So, how does one hockey fight live on in infamy and shape the history of the team and fans around it?
Tensions began in 1996 when Claude Lemieux landed a nasty hit on Kris Draper- sending him face first into the boards then out of the game with a broken jaw and other facial injuries. One hit sparked a fire between the two teams that would peak on March 26, 1997 when the Red Wings hosted the Avalanche at Joe Louis Arena in what would go down in the books as the largest fight in Detroit hockey history.
There were nine scrums within the game with the most infamous being between Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux which was sparked by a hit on Igor Larinov by Peter Forsberg. McCarty landed hit after hit on Lemieux as he fell to the ice and kneed him in the head- setting off a string of more fights down the length of the ice. Another highlight was the goalie fight between Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon as their gloves and blockers were dropped around center ice. Brendan Shanahan matched up with Adam Foote as Igor Larinov took on Peter Forsberg and the Joe was on fire with excitement.
Upon conclusion of the brawl, there was blood scattered around the ice like confetti and some even made it onto the boards. As that was all in the 1st period of the game, plenty more fights broke out throughout the remainder of the game which would end up going into overtime. The Red Wings triumphed over the Avalanche 6-5 as Sergei Federov scored the overtime game winning goal for Detroit.
After the brawl of 1997, Red Wings fans and perhaps even some players have carried a grudge against the Avalanche. The Detroit Red Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup consecutively in 1997 and 1998 after Colorado had won it in 1996, a very triumphant stretch for the Red Wings as a franchise. Darren McCarty is known as one of the biggest and best enforcers in Red Wings history after his pummeling of Lemieux- a scene which is now preserved in photos, t-shirts, and other forms of memorabilia.
This game is thought about every time the Red Wings face off against the Avalanche as the rivalry still lives on 25 years later. Although there has not been a similar scrum between the two teams ever since, the original brawl is still keeping blood boiling in Detroit as it has become a part of Hockeytown culture. Fans who were in attendance at that game or even watched it from home have never forgotten a second of it in the 25 years since the final horn sounded.
Personally, I was not alive for the 1997 brawl but I have known about it for my entire life as a Red Wings fan. For 20 years I have just been conditioned to dislike the Avalanche after March 26th made these two teams bitter rivals. Having a cornerstone event such as the brawl is part of what makes following an Original Six team so much more enjoyable- just knowing how rich the history is and being able to share that with your fellow fans is so special. I find myself wishing I could’ve witnessed the rough and tumble glory of the 1996-1998 Red Wings quite often, but being able to learn about the storied past of this organization is enough to be excited about.
Being a Red Wings fan is something special- events such as the 1997 brawl at the Joe to get excited about over and over again with every Wings vs. Avalanche game or every passing anniversary not only means a lot to the fans who were there for it but also the ones who grew up hearing about it. Younger generations of Red Wings fans see just how deep the roots and triumphs of this organization run through videos and stories about the “glory days” of the Wings in the 1997 season when they may not have seen the Red Wings win a Stanley Cup in their lifetime. The 25th anniversary of the brawl is this Saturday March 26th and the Red Wings face the Tampa Bay Lightning at home and there is no doubt that there will be a homage paid to that 1997 night in some way.