Road to Stanleytown: Why Steve Yzerman admitted 1997 Red Wings were ‘different’

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 25: May 10, 1997

The backstory: The Red Wings enjoyed the midpoint of their three days’ shore leave granted by coach Scotty Bowman. Detroit had that luxury because the Mighty Ducks were in the rearview mirror and the Western Conference finals were at least five days away. Meanwhile, the Avalanche and Oilers traveled to Denver for Game 5, where a Colorado victory would ensure a rematch of 1996’s Wings-Avs conference finals. Hopes for a Game 6 weren’t sky high in Alberta.

Cam Cole wrote in the Edmonton Journal: “What are the chances? To say ‘slim’ would be to overstate the case. Slim would have to go on a diet. … The Oilers were 0-2 in Denver in the regular season, with two goals for, nine against. The Oilers are 0-2 in Denver in the playoffs, with two goals for, nine against. Is there a pattern here? The Avalanche are 25-3 in goals-for and goals-against in five home playoff dates versus Chicago and Edmonton. …. As meaningless statistics go, 9-2 and 25-3 are pretty impressive.”

In the Free Press: Keith Gave discussed a topic Steve Yzerman did not want to touch — but with the Wings halfway to possibly their first Stanley Cup since 1955, Yzerman finally had to, kinda sorta. Gave wrote: “A few hours into his 32nd birthday, but only moments after another memorable Stanley Cup playoff victory, captain Steve Yzerman stickhandled his way around a question he cannot avoid, even in his own mind. This team is different, isn’t it, from all the rest?

“He takes a seat in front of his dressing room stall at the Pond. Shirtless, wearing dark slacks, he leans over to tie his shoes and smiles. ‘I don’t really want to talk about it,’ he said. ‘But, yeah, it’s different. Real different.’ … If tough lessons in the postseason matter, these Wings are Rhodes scholars. ‘Only time will tell,’ Yzerman said, trying not to answer the question again. ‘We’ve had two opportunities to get rid of opponents, and we’ve done it both times. That’s a good characteristic to have.’ … A different team? You could say that. No wonder Yzerman is smiling. Happy birthday, Captain. Your present arrives with eight more wins.”

DAY 24: Red Wings’ rest for West final cut short by (who else?) Avs

DAY 23: Brendan Shanahan goal while you slept gives Wings sweep of Ducks

DAY 22: Wings’ Russian Five disproving playoffs myth with 1997 run

Off the ice: Before the finale of the Ducks series, Vladimir Konstantinov learned that he was a first-time finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defensemen. But he said he didn’t deserve the honor.

“This was not my best season,” he said. “Last year was better than this year. This year was up and down. Last year, I play a stronger game. Last year, I play with the Russian Five and I get more goals. I give the Red Wings my best season last year. This year, I was not one of the best three defensemen in the league. After last year, but not this year.” The other finalists were Brian Leetch of the Rangers and Sandis Ozolinsh of the Avalanche. In 1995-96, Konstantinov scored a career-high 14 goals and led the NHL with a plus-60 rating. In 1996-97, he posted a career-high 38 points and finished third in the NHL with a plus-38.

“They give trophy to Brian Leech,” Konstantinov said. No other Wing was a finalist for an award.

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Famous last words: From Avalanche coach Marc Crawford: “We’ve been successful when we can focus on a particular goal: The one that’s ahead of us. We prefer to win this game and not look forward to a possible Game 6 or 7.”

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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