Road to Stanleytown: 1997 Detroit Red Wings try to quell emotions in run-up to Avs rematch

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 27: May 12, 1997

The backstory: After three days off, the Red Wings returned to the ice at Joe Louis Arena with three practices to prepare for their rematch the Western Conference finals vs. the Colorado Avalanche. In Denver, Free Press beat reporter Jason La Canfora wrote a lengthy piece on archvillain Claude Lemieux. In Detroit, the Wings repeated a mantra that they would be disciplined, physical and never, ever take a retaliatory penalty. And in a case of Scotty Being Scotty, Wings coach Scotty Bowman, the master of distractions, suggested the NHL take a close look at the headgear of Colorado’s Mike Ricci.

In Denver: The large headline simply read PUBLIC ENEMY. La Canfora wrote: “He’s one part the Riddler, two parts Darth Vader and a whole lot like Reggie Jackson. Claude Lemieux is a villain for sure. Wouldn’t want it any other way. You can hate him for his tactics and for hiding behind his visor, but you must respect him and sometimes fear him, especially when the game is on the line. Lemieux makes no apologies for the way the plays, not even his check from behind that fractured Kris Draper’s face in the conference finals last season.

Lemieux won’t change. ‘I play a physical game; that’s the way I’ve always played,’ he said. ‘There’s always a lot of emotion during the playoffs, and pushing and shoving after the whistle and things like that. That’s all part of the excitement and emotion of the playoffs. It fits my game and the style I play.’ Why should he change? His 67 playoff goals trail Wings legend Gordie Howe by one for 11th place on the all-time list. He brings a seven-game goal-scoring streak into the conference finals, just two shy of Reggie Leach’s 1976 record of goals in nine straight playoff games. Lemieux lead the NHL with 10 goals this spring and is tied with teammate Joe Sakic for the league lead with 19 points, a career high. Three of his goals were game-winners. ‘He’s done this year after year,’ teammate Jon Klemm said. ‘Claude’s an intense individual, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win.’ Lemieux, 31, is one of four players to win Stanley Cups with three teams and is bidding for his third straight Cup, second in a row with Colorado.”

In Detroit: After a spirited practice that lasted nearly two hours, Helene St. James wrote in the Free Press: “No matter how aggrieved, how frustrated, how irritated the Wings get, there will be no replay of the epic March 26 game, after which the Avalanche left Detroit bloodied, bullied and with a 6-5 overtime loss.” Down the line, the Wings vowed to behave themselves on the ice. From Nicklas Lidstrom: “We have to be disciplined. We can’t take any stupid penalties just to get back at a guy.” From Martin Lapointe: “I know the fans would like a bloodbath again, but you can’t afford to be stupid like that by taking penalties and jeopardizing your team.”

From Bowman: “We have to play the way we did against Anaheim. You can play a good, aggressive game and not get penalties if you don’t retaliate. It’s difficult to play emotionally intense and disciplined. That’s not an easy formula, but that’s what we have to do. We can’t retaliate. You can’t take it into your own hands.” Bowman also boasted that the Wings had won over the league’s referees. “We showed in the Anaheim games that we don’t complain as much about the refereeing. The diving isn’t there anymore. We have a better perspective for the officials. Some of them even said, in the last two or three games, that it was a pleasure to referee our team because we didn’t complain, we played hard and we didn’t retaliate.”

DAY 26: 1997 Detroit Red Wings confident ahead of semifinal rematch with Avs

DAY 25: Road to Stanleytown: Why Steve Yzerman admitted 1997 Red Wings were ‘different’

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

Off the ice: Before the first round, Colorado coach Marc Crawford gave a bit of advice about facing Bowman to Joel Quenneville, the first-year coach with St. Louis: Expect distractions. True to form, Bowman complained that Ricci’s helmet came off way too easily, exaggerating the slightest bump and prompting referees to get suckered into calling infractions.

“He’s got a lot of Dino (Ciccarelli) in him,” Bowman said.

Famous last words: The Wings also vowed that they wouldn’t be distracted by Lemieux. Especially Draper. “I’ve put it aside because it’s done,” he said. “The closure’s been brought up, and there’s nothing more. It’s a dead issue.”

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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

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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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