Road to Stanleytown: Ducks scary matchup for 1997 Wings, but hockey isn’t played on paper

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 16: May 1, 1997

The backstory: The Mighty Ducks looked, on paper, like an even bigger challenge for the Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals than the St. Louis Blues were in the first round. In the paper, on the airwaves and online — which was starting to become a thing for sports fans — alarm bells were going off that the Wings, although favored, needed to step up their game to reach the conference finals for the third straight season. Anaheim went 3-0-1 against Detroit during the regular season, outscoring the Wings, 7-3. Like the Blues, they utilized a neutral zone trap, but did it better. Unlike the Blues, they had the best 1-2 scoring linemates in the league with Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. Since Jan. 10, no twosome had scored more goals than Kariya (32) and Selanne (28), accounting for 46.5% of the Ducks’ goals. They averaged more than 1.4 points a game (only Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did better). Anaheim was 19-3-2, including the playoffs, when each scored a goal and 46-14-8 when they each recorded a point in the same game. “We have two game-breakers that not many teams have,” Ducks coach Ron Wilson said.

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Two cents worth: On the eve of Game 1 at Joe Louis Arena, everyone offered an opinion on the series. Keith Gave in the Free Press: “(It) will be every bit as difficult as the Blues were in the first round. Perhaps more so because Anaheim features the best 1-2 offensive punch in the game with an excellent trapping defense that drives teams like Detroit crazy. But the Ducks aren’t Dallas, a physically superior team that would have beaten the Wings up if not beaten them out.”

Jason La Canfora, Free Press: “This could be the series that all the talk about the bigger and better Wings pays off. They have rest, experience, talent and size on their side. If that’s not enough, something’s wrong. Wings in six.”

Wilson: “We’ll do the same things we did against them in the regular season. We frustrated them, we checked the heck out of ’em. If we are persistent through the neutral zone, we’ll be successful.”

Bob Rouse, Wings defenseman, on Kariya and Selanne: “You want to be physical on them, but that’s a lot easier said than done. They’re two of the faster guys in the league and sometimes it’s hard to get them in a position where you can hit them. But our objective is to try to bang them and make it as tough as we can for them.”

Sergei Fedorov, Wings forward: “They have tremendous speed out there, and I’m going to be ready to skate with them. Let’s see what they think about us first game. Let them worry about us and see who handles the pressure better.”

Off the ice: Two seasons earlier, bad blood erupted between Wilson and Wings coach Scotty Bowman after Wilson started yapping with former Wings forward Dino Ciccarelli. Irked by the exchange, Bowman snapped a towel at Wilson’s head. Frustrated, Wilson tried to throw it back at Bowman. Instead, the towel fluttered to the ground. “I was embarrassed,” Wilson told the Orange County Register. “I learned I should have thrown something hard, like the water bottle.”

Famous last words: Wilson liked to motivate his team by dissecting clips and themes from movies and mixing them with music and hockey highlights. “The Wizard of Oz” was the theme for the first round against Phoenix. Wilson wouldn’t reveal his theme for the Wings series. So, Steve Schrader in the Free Press crafted a few Disney titles to consider: “The Parent Trap: Hayley Mills, in a dual role, clogs the neutral zone. … Sleeping Beauty: The title character is awakened from a long slumber. Hurry, somebody kiss Fedorov. … 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: We love the giant octopus-like creature. … Huey, Dewey and Louie: That’s not a movie. It’s the Ducks’ No. 2 line behind Kariya, Selanne and some other guy.”

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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!) 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.”)

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.”)

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