Road to Stanleytown: Why the Ducks complained about 1997 Detroit Red Wings ahead of Game 3

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.”

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Day 20: May 5, 1997

The backstory: After the five-hour-plus, three-overtime Game 2, the Red Wings and Mighty Ducks took to the skies for cross-country flights then rested before Game 3. The Ducks would make their stand at the Pond, where they had lost only once in their last 18 games (Game 5 to Phoenix in the first round). The teams didn’t do much on their off day in Anaheim, although the Ducks continued to gripe about the officiating. The other hot topics were how would Anaheim handle its worsening injury woes — goalie Guy Hebert was out at least two games — and whether the Wings with a 2-0 lead finally were peaking — because their scorers and non-scorers were scoring. Ducks coach Ron Wilson did provide a bit a humor about the 2 hours, 42 minutes and 30 seconds of hockey at Joe Louis Arena.

“I’d like to protest to the league because we’ve already played three games in Detroit,” he said. “That’s not fair; it should be only two. We shouldn’t open with three games in Detroit.” Wilson also lamented: “There’s one thing missing from the series, and that’s the voice of John Facenda. That’s NFL Films. ‘On the frozen tundra of Joe Louis Arena. It’s an epic, an epic.’” How epic? According to the Ducks’ charts, Nicklas Lidstrom played 54 of the 101 minutes in Game 2.

Not so mighty: Hebert left in the third period of Game 2 with a groin injury, and Wilson ruled him out for Games 3 and 4. His replacement, Mikhail Shtalenkov, was just as brilliant, with 38 saves. His prior playoff experience lasted 26 seconds. Defenseman Dave Karpa was declared out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Ducks, though, expected forward Ted Drury to return from a stretched nerve in his neck and shoulders, and Teemu Selanne to play despite a bad leg bruise from a two-handed slash from Kirk Maltby.

Peak performance: Under a headline of SITTING PRETTY, Jason La Canfora wrote in the Free Press: “Everyone from Doug Brown to Slava Kozlov to Kris Draper is scoring goals. Goalie Mike Vernon is playing some of the best hockey of his career. The Grind Line and hard-hitting defensemen are wearing down the opposition. The Red Wings might be playing their best hockey of the season. They might be playing their best hockey in two seasons, even though they didn’t win 62 regular-season games or a Presidents’ Trophy. … They have displayed a killer instinct and physical presence absent from last spring’s playoff club. ‘This is definitely our best so far,’ said Kirk Maltby. ‘We’ve had everybody going, playing good defense.’”

DAY 19: Red Wings’ Slava Kozlov ends classic marathon Game 2 vs. Ducks

DAY 18: Sergei Fedorov finds stride, 1997 Detroit Red Wings set for Game 2

DAY 17: Surprise hero lifts Red Wings over Ducks in Game 1 OT

Blame the zebras: The Ducks were most upset that Maltby wasn’t penalized for his slash of Selanne in the first overtime. Wilson even charged that Maltby broke a hockey code by slashing him from behind. “I mean, here’s a guy who never dropped the gloves in his life,” checker Warren Rychel said. “Hey, if you want the rough stuff, drop your gloves and take it.” A day later, Maltby wouldn’t take the bait. “They were yelling at me all game, trying to get me to retaliate and say things back,” he said. “It’s just part of the game. I heard comments and stuff. I just shrug it off. I look at our guys, and we got our share of bumps and bruises over here. There’s nothing really to discuss about it.”

Rychel again railed that Brendan Shanahan wasn’t penalized in overtime when his stick struck Rychel’s face. “He didn’t get called because he’s a superstar and I’m just a checker,” Rychel said. “If I’d done the same thing, I’d be crucified.” Lastly, the Ducks were miffed about the hooking penalty on J.J. Daigneault as Brown charged the net early in the third overtime. Kozlov scored the game-winner 28 seconds later. Wilson went as far as to characterize it as a “marginal call” on a “marginal player.”

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Off the ice: Fans in Anaheim clearly had caught Stanley Cup fever during the Ducks’ first playoff appearance in their four-year history. The team boasted the Sea of White — fans donning white attire — and handed out pompons and Fowl Towels — which fans waved fanatically. Besides the pregame laser show, the mascot Wild Wing descended from the rafters to the ice.

Famous last words: In the Free Press’ Octometer, Steve Schrader gave one octopus to the signature special effect in Fox’s hockey coverage. “When Fox unveiled the glow puck, we hated it and said we’d never get used to it. After Game 2, we have to admit … we were right.”

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

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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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