Road to Stanleytown: Back on home ice to face the Anaheim Ducks in the conference semifinals

Detroit Free Press
Gene Myers |  Special to the 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 15: April 30, 1997

The backstory: For the first time in 2½ weeks, when the Red Wings stepped on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, they prepared for an opponent other than the St. Louis Blues. Roughly 12 hours earlier, after the Mighty Ducks eliminated the Coyotes at 1:30 a.m. Detroit time, the matchups were set for the Western Conference semifinals: No. 1 Colorado vs. No. 7 Edmonton and No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 4 Anaheim. The Ducks, in the playoffs for the first time, flummoxed the Wings during the regular season with a stifling trapping defense, stellar goaltending from Guy Hebert and a fast-skating, goal-scoring, pretty-playmaking line of Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin. The Wings went 0-3-1 against Anaheim and were outscored, 7-3. But the Wings owned home ice, were well-rested — it would be five days between Game 6 with the Blues and Game 1 with the Ducks — and had two practices to prep for the trap to come.

At The Joe: Coach Scotty Bowman delved into his strategy against the Ducks’ big line. “You can’t just restrict it to one line of your own because they play so much,” he said. “You can’t get in a defensive posture for an entire series. That would play into their hands. You have to have some offense. I find with those kind of lines, you have to give them as much as you can. You have to give them some toughness, you have to give them some speed, you have to give them some defense and you also have to give them some offense against them. We think we have some lines that can play against them.” As for attacking the Ducks’ trap, Darren McCarty parroted the strategy that eventually wore down the Blues: “They bottle you up. You just got to put the puck on the net. … We can’t wait for the perfect shot, we’ve got to throw the puck on the net from everywhere and get some guys in front and get some traffic and some rebounds and score some goals.”

At The Pond: Anaheim coach Ron Wilson was thrilled to be playing the Wings. A long-time figure in U.S. hockey circles, Wilson was born in Windsor, across the river from where his father, Larry, and uncle Johnny played for and coached the Wings. Larry and Johnny played on the Wings’ 1950 Stanley Cup championship team; Johnny also played on Detroit’s Cup winners in 1952, ’54 and ’55. Ron learned the game, in part, hanging around the Olympia. He called Hockeytown “very special for me,” but he professed to be a bigger fans of the Maple Leafs than the Wings growing up. In his debut as an NHL coach, on Oct. 8, 1993, the Wings roasted the Ducks, 7-2. “It’s like destiny,” Wilson said. “I always wanted to beat the Red Wings to avenge my dad’s and uncle’s firing.” Then he laughed: “I’m going to straighten out our name in Detroit, one way or another.”

Off the ice: Bowman wore a bandage on his left temple, covering three stitches from an errant puck. “Could’ve been worse,” he said. “It could’ve hit me in the eye. Good reflexes, you know?”

Famous last words: With the coaching contracts of Bowman and Wilson expiring after the season, some pundits wondered whether could Wilson be a candidate for the Detroit job. “You say, geez, that would be so neat to go back there because of where you grew up,” Wilson said, “but rarely do you get a choice to be in the right place at the right time to get your dream job.”

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.

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.”) Access our most exclusive sports content by becoming a Free Press subscriber for $1. Stay informed on what’s happening across Michigan: Subscribe to our news alert emails.

Contact Andrew Hammond at Follow him on Twitter @ahammFreePress. Check out some of the tremendous offers from the Detroit Free Press and subscribe today!

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