Road to Stanleytown: Detroit Red Wings, Shanahan try to break St. Louis hearts

Detroit Free Press
Gene Myers |  Special to 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 1: Red Wings begin quest to end 42-year Cup drought

DAY 2: Scotty Bowman finally makes the Sergei Fedorov switch Red Wings need

DAY 3: How the Red Wings finally solved Grant Fuhr to take Game 2

Day 4: April 19, 1997

The backstory: The Western Conference first-round series between the third-seeded Red Wings and the sixth-seeded Blues shifted to St. Louis knotted up at one game apiece. On the travel and practice day, the Blues played second fiddle to the Rams, who took mountainous Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace with the first selection in the NFL draft. It was the first time St. Louis had the 1-1 pick in any sport. Pace eventually won a Super Bowl and earned a bust in Canton, Ohio. (With the fifth pick, the Lions selected Texas cornerback Bryant Westbrook, considered by many long-suffering fans to be simply a bust.)

The storylines: Heading into Game 3 — a Sunday matinee on Fox — the Detroit and St. Louis media focused on three main topics. Could Sergei Fedorov, back primarily at center, be the difference-maker in the series? “Yes, I think so,” he told Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News. How would fans treat Brendan Shanahan, a longtime favorite in St. Louis? “When they beat us, 4-1, (on Feb. 1) and he scored two goals, the cheers he got were almost as loud as the ones we got,” said first-year Blues coach Joel Quenneville. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it. … That’s a real tribute to what he did in the community.” Would the parade to the penalty box ever end and would a team ever capitalize on its opportunities?

In Game 1, the Blues went 1-for-10 and the Wings 0-for-7 on the power play. In Game 2, the Blues went 0-for-8 and the Wings 0-for-7. “It’s all the stupid penalties guys have been taking,” said Blues sniper Brett Hull.

Off the ice: Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an intriguing piece with the headline “‘Bad’ Vlad,” starting with the notorious brawl between Canada and Russia at the world junior championships, in which Shanahan and Vladimir Konstantinov played featured roles. Gordon told his readers: “Before departing for Chicago, Bob Probert loomed as the hated Red Wings villain. Now that title belongs to Konstantinov, a gifted and savvy defenseman better known for his monstrous hits and felonious stickwork.” In the piece, Shanahan called Vladdie “a warrior” and enforcer Darren McCarty said “there is no on and off switch for him.”

Famous last words: Dave Luecking of the Post-Dispatch on Shanahan’s enduring popularity: “From his community service, to his annual softball tournament to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, to his radio show, to his general good nature and affability. But he wears a Detroit Red Wings sweater now, and as he once pointed out, it probably was a lot easier for Blues fans to root for him as a non-threatening Hartford Whaler than as an arch-rival Red Wing.”

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!) Personalized copies available via

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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