Road to Stanleytown: Scotty Bowman finally makes the Sergei Fedorov switch Red Wings need

Detroit Free Press

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 2: April 17, 1997

The backstory: After opening the 1997 playoffs with disillusioning 2-0 loss to the sixth-seeded St. Louis Blues, the Red Wings spent their off-day practice searching for their mojo and coach Scotty Bowman tinkering his lineup. Every fan in Michigan knew if the Wings — immediately — didn’t find their game, solve the Blues’ trapping defense and dent the armor of future Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr, then Detroit would be staring down its fourth first-round playoff exit in seven seasons.

Plan B: When Sergei Fedorov arrived at his locker, he found a red jersey, not a white one. That meant he was a forward again and not a defenseman. His spirits soared. “I went to get my jersey and go on the ice and kind of rechanged my thoughts and was thinking, ‘Here we go,’” Fedorov said. Bowman, in typical fashion, said Fedorov would play both positions — and then kept him at forward during the entire practice, sometimes with Steve Yzerman and Darren McCarty, sometimes with Brendan Shanahan and Martin Lapointe. Despite a 30-goal season, Fedorov had none in six games against the Blues and only two goals in his previous 20 playoff games.

Worth noting: Rookie defensemen Jamie Pushor and Aaron Ward were told to be ready for Game 2. … In 14 games against St. Louis, Anaheim, Florida and New Jersey — among the league’s top trapping teams — the Wings scored only 18 goals and posted a 2-8-4 record. “Our offensive guys can’t worry about scoring goals,” Shanahan said. “We just have to worry about winning games.” … Blues sniper Brett Hull, as outspoken as ever, declared: “I just think we’re a better team because we are a team.”

Off the ice: A cold and dreary afternoon kept Fuhr from the golf course, his favorite pastime, leaving him to wander the hallways of Joe Louis Arena with his hands in his pockets and thinking of something to do.

Famous last words: Ward, a former Wolverine from Windsor who emerged as the Wings’ most devastating open-ice hitter, bluntly described his goal on the ice: “I’d like to make guys pick their heads up out there.”

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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 (It’ll make a great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!)

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.”)

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