Road to Stanleytown: Steve Yzerman delivers stern message to Detroit Red Wings

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.”

PREVIOUSLY:  DAY 7 — Wings miss ‘great opportunity’ vs. Blues, massive brawl erupts

Day 8: April 23, 1997

The backstory: With two days before Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings and St. Louis Blues spent the first off day in their respective cities, conserving energy, receiving treatment and trying to make as little news as possible with the first-round series deadlocked at two games apiece. Wings coach Scotty Bowman, naturally, would not commit to Mike Vernon or Chris Osgood for Game 5. Only four Blues skated during an optional practice. But captain Steve Yzerman decided he had something to get off his chest at Joe Louis Arena. He pointed the finger at himself — and his best-known teammates. In retrospect, Yzerman’s comments become part of team lore, leading to perhaps the most important turning point in the 1997 playoff run.

Game 4 aftermath: Following the embarrassing 4-0 loss at St. Louis, Yzerman decided to speak up in the locker room. Jason La Canfora wrote for the Free Press: “Yzerman usually leads by example, but not when he’s upset with his production. He was moved to speak, to vow to do better, to demand more from his fellow star teammates. The message was delivered calmly — yet sternly — for 10 minutes. The Wings listened intently with the sweat of Game 4 still dripping from their brows. Their captain didn’t want them to forget the hollow feeling of not taking command of their first-round series and of not giving a full effort.” After the next day’s practice, Yzerman told reporters: “We’ve just got to play harder. Our top players have got to play harder. We’ve got to produce and lead the team.” At the time, Yzerman had one point in four games. Brendan Shanahan had two. Sergei Fedorov, Slava Kozlov, Darren McCarty, Tomas Sandstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov were scoreless. The Wings had five goals; the lowest scoring team in a six-game series was the 1951 Boston Bruins with five goals. So if Grant Fuhr posted two more shutouts …

Echoing The Captain: “Our top guys have to step up,” Shanahan said. “Chances are great, but it’s time that we produce. Chances aren’t good enough. … We have to put more pressure on ourselves as go-to guys to step up.” … Martin Lapointe said: “Steve said the top guys have got to do more and pick up their level of the game. Everyone has respect for what he was saying. They’ll get going.” … Bowman’s advice was simple: “Put ’em in.”

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Off the ice: Nobody was arrested, but eight fans were ejected for throwing beverages and coins at the Wings during the late melee in Game 4.

Famous last words: With one goal and six assists, Blues sniper Brett Hull had received plenty of praise for his play — but also faced an unexpected accusation. Dave Luecking wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Hull, who had been the captain until Mike Keenan stripped away his C: “Hull once again has become a topic of conversation in the Blues locker room. He’s had meetings with coach Joel Quenneville. He’s been ‘vocal’ in the locker room before games and between periods. He’s being accused by some of his teammates of being … a leader. Of all things.”

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

DAY 1:  Wings begin quest to end 42-year Cup drought

DAY 2:  Bowman finally makes the Fedorov switch Wings need

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

DAY 4:  Wings, Shanahan try to break St. Louis hearts

DAY 5:  Yzerman, Wings take high road — and Game 3 vs. Blues

DAY 6:  Wings ready for fateful Game 4 vs. Blues

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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