Road to Stanleytown: Red Wings finish the job, sweep Flyers to win 1997 Stanley cup

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 25 Years Later: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”

Day 53: June 7, 1997

The backstory: The Stanley Cup started its day on display for Red Wings fans at the Renaissance Center. At that point, the Wings hadn’t won the Cup in 15,396 days — since April 14, 1955, when they beat the Canadiens, 3-1, in Game 7 at Olympia. The Wings hadn’t played for the Cup in 12,097 days — since April 25, 1964, when they lost to the Maple Leafs, 4-0, in Game 7 at Toronto. The Wings’ 42-year Cup drought was the longest in the NHL, six years longer than Chicago’s. Heck, the Wings’ last Cup was even two years before the Detroit Lions’ last NFL championship. But all that could change on what would figure to be a wild and emotional night on the Detroit riverfront.

The Wings had a three-games-to-none stranglehold on the Philadelphia Flyers, who once were favorites but slipped into a deeper state of chaos with each passing day. Red Wings fans expected victory. Their heroes were confident but expecting the Flyers’ best effort. Shortly after the opening face-off at Joe Louis Arena, the Stanley Cup traveled from the RenCen to The Joe. It would leave in the wee hours crammed into the back of a silver Porsche.

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The Stanley Cup: In front of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, with the hopes and dreams of an entire state on the line, the Wings started slowly and then played as if they had no intention of returning to Philadelphia for a Game 5. Still, they needed nearly the entire first period for their first goal, again on a long shot that should have been stopped by a Flyers goalie. They needed a once-in-a-lifetime goal for a little insurance in the second period, again scored by a player not expected to put the biscuit in the basket. They needed to survive some nervous moments down the stretch, again backstopped by a diminutive Calgarian who won more games in the playoffs than he did all season.

As thus, with a 2-1 victory, the Wings’ 42-year nightmare ended. Commissioner Gary Bettman handed the Cup to The Captain, who held it aloft with a gap-toothed smile for the ages. Here’s the Game 4 coverage from “Stanleytown 25 Years Later,” written by Jason La Canfora:

Two generations had passed since a Red Wing hoisted the Stanley Cup, kissed it, paraded it around the ice and handed it off to his teammates and coaches.

Steve Yzerman’s departure from Joe Louis Arena — at about 3:15 a.m. — brought to a close one of the wildest nights in Detroit’s history, one of the biggest parties in 42 years. It had been that long since the Wings of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Terry Sawchuk had won the Cup. Yzerman’s departure, with the big silver trophy stuffed in the back seat of his silver Porsche, capped a perfect evening.

“I don’t know how to describe the way I feel,” Yzerman said. “I’m glad the game is over, but I wish it never ended.

“Sometimes you hold your dream way out there and wonder if you can ever be as good as your dream. It was almost like I wanted to sit back and watch it all and not miss a minute of it.”

There was so much to savor. Memories were made to last a lifetime. The final score of Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, 2-1, might well be forgotten. The goal-scorers, Nicklas Lidstrom and Darren McCarty — he of the Cup clincher — could get lost in the telling of this tale to future generations.

But the images of celebration on the ice and in the dressing room would never fade. That’s why grown men, battered and weary, hurl themselves in front of speeding pucks and shrug off sticks to the face. That’s why they play the game.

This night — June 7, 1997 — belonged to the Red Wings and their fans.

The frustration was finally lifted at 10:50 on a Saturday night. The Philadelphia Flyers were defeated, the horn blew, the pounds of confetti fell to the ice, the fireworks went off — startling Wings coach Scotty Bowman, already wearing his Stanley Cup champions cap.

Helmets, gloves, sticks and pads were sent skyward and ended up scattered all over the ice. The bench emptied and a mass of humanity formed around goalie Mike Vernon — the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs — leaving the net knocked off its moorings.

Slowly, the Wings lined up to shake hands with the downtrodden Flyers. “Oh, What a Night” blared from the loudspeakers and a deafening roar continued from the 19,983 standing fans lucky enough to be there. A red carpet was rolled out at center ice and Yzerman hopped it, skated to the bench and embraced owner Mike Ilitch.

Bowman reappeared from the dressing room in his practice gear and skates. Vernon was presented the Conn Smythe, and at 11 p.m. Yzerman touched the Cup for the first time, raising it above his head and taking it to center ice, where his teammates awaited.

Yzerman wasn’t sure what to do next. He asked Bowman — celebrating his seventh Cup as a coach, trailing only Toe Blake’s eight — for advice, and Bowman sent Yzerman off on his counterclockwise trip around the rink and made sure the rest of the team stayed behind.

This was the moment The Captain had waited for since he was drafted by the Wings fourth overall in June 1983. It was worth the wait.

Yzerman skated back to the bench and gave the Cup to Ilitch, who held it high. Then Yzerman returned to his teammates and passed the Cup to Slava Fetisov, who immediately called over Igor Larionov. The Russian elder statesmen who escaped their homeland for a chance to play in the NHL carried the trophy together, waving to fans.

“I was surprised,” Larionov said. “I play with Slava for many, many years and we wait for this for long time. It was an honor to carry the Cup after Steve Yzerman. It was great feeling in front of 20,000 people in Joe Louis Arena and people all over the world. We were talking about it was our last chance to win the Cup.”

They spoke to each other in their native tongue.

“I have a lot to say to him,” Fetisov said. “I say to Igor, ‘We have to get the Cup together.’ I have been through so many years and lots of hockey games, lots of minutes. I can’t describe it. I never forget this moment the rest of my life.”

Their victory lap left an indelible mark on Slava Kozlov, who idolized the stars as a child growing up in Voskresensk, the same hometown as Larionov.

“I was so happy for them,” Kozlov said. “They have great hockey career and now win Stanley Cup. Now they can retire. I am so happy for them. They deserve it. They should have it second after Stevie.”


Bowman was next with the Cup.

“They said, ‘You go next,’” he recalled. “I said I’d rather wait, and they said no. Sometimes you have to listen to the players.”

Most coaches, dressed in suit and tie, hold the Cup briefly, then pass it on. Not Bowman. Not this time.

“I always wanted to be a player in the NHL and skate with the Cup,” said Bowman, whose career was short-circuited by a stick to the head in junior hockey. “How many chances do you get to do that? I said if we win, I’ll go for it. I have always dreamt about doing that.”

Vernon was a little worried about the weight of the trophy — it’s 37 pounds — and Bowman’s age — he was 63. “I just hoped that when they gave it to him, he didn’t fall with it and dent the Cup so I couldn’t drink out of it,” Vernon said.

Bowman’s brother Jack, a scout with the Buffalo Sabres, was surprised by the scene.

“I was glad to see him on the ice with his skates on, getting around,” he said. “He enjoyed it. He was like a kid out there. That’s the first coach I’ve ever seen after the game out there with his skates on, which I thought was a nice touch.”

The Cup made its way to Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Larry Murphy and the rest of the team. The training and coaching staffs held it.

Even Al Sobotka, the Zamboni driver famous for swinging octopi above his head, got to lift the Cup.

Doug Brown had his eldest son, Patrick, on his shoulder and his daughter Anna nearby.

“That was really special,” Brown said. “That just adds to it. They’ve come home from school for three years now during the playoffs singing the song all the little kids sing, ‘We want Stanley, we want the Cup.’

“Tell me that doesn’t put pressure on you, when you’ve got a five-year-old little boy telling you, ‘We want Stanley, we want the Cup.’”

Then they skated a final victory lap as a team, Yzerman in the lead, taking two minutes to circle the ice. They plopped down at center ice for a team picture, Yzerman closest to the Cup, and at 11:15 the party shifted to the dressing room, where hundreds of family members, friends and fans awaited.


Joe Kocur, rescued from an over-30 beer league by the Wings, cracked open a Bud Light mysteriously given to him before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Someone placed the beverage in his locker before he arrived at the CoreStates Center in Philadelphia, and Kocur kept it, taping a message on the beer to ensure it would be taken back to Detroit with his equipment.

Kocur went right for the Bud Light and drank it warm with fellow Grind Liners Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper. On this night, their time alone as a team was almost nonexistent.

“There wasn’t much time to have any individual talks,” Maltby said. “We just came in here and mayhem pretty much broke out. We still have a few days here. The boys will get a chance to talk to each other and congratulate and get things into perspective.”

Kocur already had things in perspective.

“Coming up with this team and growing up with Stevie, it’s very special,” Kocur said. “Where I was in mid-December, basically out of hockey, being here right now is unbelievable.

“When we won the Cup in New York, I was injured and didn’t play that game, so I just wanted to skate to the corner where my mom and dad were and hoist it in front of them. All they went through and what they did for me when I was young, having to drive 40 or 50 miles to get to the game, those are the things you remember. That’s why it means so much.”

The dressing room was packed with journalists and well-wishers, including Kocur’s parents. The pungent aroma of cigars, sweat and champagne was so intense it made nostrils burn and eyes water. Compact discs by Pearl Jam and U2 played endlessly throughout the night.

Families took turns taking pictures with the Cup in the weight room. Fans with their bodies painted somehow managed to get past security and thanked their heroes profusely for bringing home the trophy they so dearly coveted.

“You see all the people around here, they give us so much support,” said Fedorov, the Wings’ leading playoff scorer with 12 assists and 20 points, who played despite a severe rib injury. “I never thought we have so many friends and so many fans that can support us. It’s great.

“I’m telling you, I’ve been drinking champagne all night long, that’s how I feel right now. It’s great. Do we have any more champagne around here? No more champagne?”

Yes, so many people were in the dressing room celebrating that the Wings ran out.

The Wings gulped anything from the Cup. Some rushed to the sinks to shave their playoff beards. Someone screamed “I can’t believe it!” from the showers.

Messages tacked to bulletin boards and written on dressing room blackboards conveyed the spirit of the team.

“Most Look Up and Admire the Stars. A Champion Climbs a Mountain and Grabs One.”

A photo of a championship ring with the caption “if it ain’t on your mind, it’ll never be on your finger” was attached to a bulletin board.

Next to it, someone put up a long message on Red Wings stationery urging the team to “Win the Battles.”

It read in part: “We are here once again. We are here to win the battle. This battle requires character. Your reputation will be judged. This battle requires commitment. You will be challenged to go deeper into your soul than you have ever gone before.

“This battle requires unyielding confidence, and it will be tested. This battle is what we all dream for. It is the greatest experience of your life. You will never forget the reward. This battle begins today, enjoy the ride.”


Game 4 was the event the Wings had been planning for almost all their lives. They opened their eyes Saturday morning knowing this could be the day to deliver a city from a 42-year curse and make their hockey dreams come true.

“I woke up this morning, and I was a bag of nerves,” said Murphy, who already had two Cups from his time with the Penguins. “I’m so excited it ended. The problem is, when you’ve won the Cup before, you know how exciting it is and you try to keep it quiet and low-key and it was tough. I had to keep it under wraps.

“I don’t think anyone realized what this was going to be like. And I’ve seen it before and I didn’t want to tell anybody because I think it would have been a distraction. It was a test. The last few days were a test.”

The Wings’ concentration and demeanor were challenged by everything around them. For two days, Detroit had been proclaiming them champions, from song parodies on the radio to signs all over the city. When players arrived at The Joe around 5 p.m., the streets and parking lots already were lined with fans.

“It was great just driving into the game today, to see the fans,” Lidstrom said. “They were out there on the streets cheering you on. It’s unbelievable for the city.”

Maltby said: “It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’ve never seen that kind of traffic and people in the streets. I’ve never seen so many jerseys. It’s just awesome. This city deserves this, we deserve this and it’s just a great feeling all around.”

In the moments leading up to the opening face-off, Yzerman spoke up, as he did after a crushing loss in the fourth game of the first-round series against St. Louis, as he did in Game 3 of the finals.

“He said, ‘Let’s make sure we come out hard and we do our job,’” Martin Lapointe said. “‘We’re professionals. It doesn’t matter what we did in the past; it only matters what we do tonight. We’ve got to play the game of our lives.’”

But The Captain didn’t want his team uptight. Just before the players took the ice, he began a game of movie trivia with Shanahan, a fellow film buff, testing the left wing’s knowledge of cinema and changing the mood in the room.

“You don’t have to get up for a game like this; you have to stay loose,” Shanahan said. “So all of a sudden, before the game he started throwing some movie names out there, and the whole team kind of looked at him. We needed to relax.

“He threw ‘Tootsie’ at me. Come on, ‘Tootsie’? It was on TV this afternoon. I caught the last 10 minutes of it before I came to the rink. I told him, ‘Tootsie,’ come on, don’t waste my time.”

They were loose, but lucky to have a one-goal lead at the end of the first period. The Flyers were outplaying Detroit for one of the few times in the series, although Lidstrom’s goal with 32.8 seconds left made it 1-0. Lidstrom connected from the blue line, marking the fourth straight game the Wings had beaten Ron Hextall or Garth Snow with a long shot.

Kocur asked the coaches to leave the dressing room between periods, and he addressed his teammates. It was time to get serious and realize what was at stake.

“What he said was true, and I think he’d been waiting to say it for a long time,” McCarty said. “He said everybody in this room will end up in different places over the course of their life. The one thing that will keep

us together will be this. You’re fired up as it is, but definitely, it really puts things into perspective. It was phenomenal.”

Kocur was speaking from experience, calling on the Cup he won with the Rangers three years earlier.

“We’ll always have each other,” Kocur said. “We’ll always have tonight. This is the moment that the city, this team and everyone in this organization has always wanted to be a part of, and no one can ever take it away.

“We’re all from different places in the world and we’re all going to different places in the world, but from what we just did here tonight, we’re all going to be together in our hearts forever. This is something nobody in this room, as long as they live, will ever forget.”

McCarty scored a beautiful goal to give the Wings a 2-0 lead in the second period. In the defensive zone, Yzerman won a battle along the boards, where Tomas Sandstrom collected the puck. McCarty took a pass from Sandstrom near the red line, skated alone across the blue line, dropped rookie defenseman Janne Niinimaa to the ice with an outside-inside move, drove to the net with the puck on his backhand, coaxed Hextall out of the crease, pulled the puck to his forehand and deposited it into the empty side of the net.

Broadcasters immediately called it a once-in-a-lifetime goal. McCarty agreed after the game and in the decades since.

As he enjoyed a cigar and the champagne in the dressing room, McCarty laughed about suddenly impersonating Fedorov or Yzerman. He also declared: “For everybody who’s ridiculed this team since ’55, shove it! Forget 42 years. Now it’s ’97, baby, ’97.”

McCarty’s goal exemplified the entire spring. Another player came forward, an unexpected hero, and contributed in the clutch. No one player had to shoulder the burden of victory. It was everyone’s responsibility.

“Probably in the final run, the Draper-Maltby-Kocur line gave us the final ingredient,” Bowman said. “They let the star players know they could count on anybody.”

Usually, they were counting on the Grind Line.

“I think the biggest reason we were successful is because the guy next to you, you didn’t want to let him down,” Draper said. “If you go around the dressing room, that’s why. Nobody wanted to let this team down. I can’t even talk right now.”

After McCarty’s goal, everyone in the building thought they knew what would take place that night. Late in the third period, the Black Aces, the six players regularly scratched from the playoff games, descended from the press box to the dressing room.

They were going to greet their teammates on the ice in full equipment and participate in the skating of the Cup. Even third-string goalie Kevin Hodson joined in, throwing on his blocker pads to join the fun.

“I said, ‘I’m not playing, but I’m not going out there in a suit. I’m putting my stuff on,’” said Tim Taylor, veteran leader of the Aces. “So that’s what we did. We all decided it. I made my own decision. These guys did what they wanted to do, and they followed.

“All of the guys were happy to see us when we got out there. They thought it was pretty cool. It was nerve-racking. It was five minutes left when we got dressed, and we had a penalty and our hearts sank, but here we are.”


Draper committed a slashing penalty with 5:21 left in the game. The Cup hadn’t been clinched quite yet. Vernon and the Wings killed it off with Yzerman, naturally, diving to block shots.

The fans stood and roared for the closing minutes.

Fedorov barely missed a long shot at an empty net with 83 seconds left. Moments later, another Wings shot was deflected and another slid past the goal. The roars grew louder. It was nearly impossible to hear the last minute announcement.

The Flyers finally gathered the puck in the Detroit zone with 47 seconds left. It was out nine seconds later. The clock stopped at 26.9 seconds when the puck went into the Wings’ bench.

Off the face-off in the neutral zone, the Flyers dumped it into a corner. Lidstrom’s clearing attempt off the boards was knocked down by Eric Desjardins at the point. His shot found its way through five bodies and struck the inside of the near post. The ricochet skipped behind Vernon to a wide-open Eric Lindros, who tapped it in for his first goal of the series, after a drought of 239 minutes, 45 seconds.

His shutout gone with 14.8 seconds left, Vernon slammed his stick against the post.

For the face-off at center ice, Bowman sent out Yzerman flanked by Shanahan and McCarty, backstopped by Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov. The Flyers were turned back at the blue line, they were called for offsides and another face-off ensued outside the zone with 6.6 seconds left.

Yzerman vs. Lindros. It was a stalemate. In a scramble, the puck dribbled harmlessly toward the side of the Wings’ goal, Yzerman hooked an off-balance Lindros to the ice, Vernon tapped the puck lightly behind the goal and Konstantinov touched it against the boards as the horn sounded.

Yzerman jumped in Vernon’s arms. There was no stopping the bedlam.

Hockeytown was now Stanleytown!

“I’m more than stunned,” Lindros said afterward. “This is the biggest disappointment I’ve had in my life. Can we learn from this? It’s hard to look at the Big Picture right now while the hurt is still fresh.”

Lindros finished with a team-worst minus-five rating for the finals, tied with John LeClair, Paul Coffey and Niinimaa. The Flyers managed six goals, just one of which came during five-on-five hockey. Hextall and Snow combined for an .861 save percentage.

“Nobody in this locker room is pointing the finger at our goaltending,” Lindros said. “There’s enough blame to completely go around this locker room.”

After so many heartbreaking playoff series, yes, finally, the Wings were champions in a city that was so desperate for one.

“It’s a great city, and all the players love playing here,” defenseman Bob Rouse said. “If you’re stuck in some city that doesn’t have that history, it’s just not the same. Ted Lindsay is around the dressing room all the time. You can feel the history on an everyday basis. It was brought up quite a few times, how long it’s been.”

It would be brought up no longer. The Red Wings would report for training camp as defending champions. They would get their rings and watch a banner raised to the rafters. They would be cheered, deified, immortalized.

At 3:15 Sunday morning, carrying the one thing he had waited all his life to earn, Yzerman emerged from Joe Louis Arena. The captain for 11 seasons, Yzerman strutted out with the Stanley Cup held above his head, walked to his Porsche, put the Cup in the back seat, jumped in the driver’s side and drove off as a handful of fans roared outside.

Over the summer, the Cup would travel the globe with the rest of the team. For 48 hours, each player would get to celebrate with Lord Stanley’s chalice however and wherever they desired. Forever, the Wings could bask in the glow of their accomplishments.

The Red Wings played like a team of destiny with a sole purpose and unwavering commitment.

The Stanley Cup was theirs. Forget 1955, as McCarty said. Forget 1995, too. After all, it was 1997, baby!

“What a story,” Murphy had said while nursing a beer still in full uniform and equipment at 2 a.m., three hours after the game. “This team got better as we went along.

“By the end, no one could touch us.

“No one.”

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The Conn Smythe Trophy: Even though the NHL didn’t decide to select an MVP of its playoffs until the 1964-65 season and Detroit hadn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1955, a Red Wing actually had captured the bulky trouble with a replica of Maple Leafs Gardens on top and engraved maple leafs around its three tiers. That was goaltender Roger Crozier in 1966, when the Wings upset Chicago in the semifinals, 4-2, and won Games 1 and 2 at the Montreal Forum in the finals before losing in six games. Crozier posted a 6-5 record with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. Heading into Game 4 against the Flyers, four Wings figured to be contenders for the trophy named after Toronto’s longtime owner, general manager and coach: goalie Mike Vernon, captain Steve Yzerman, forward Sergei Fedorov and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

Vernon went 16-4 with a 1.76 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. Yzerman’s offensive numbers were a bit modest — seven goals among 13 points, including two game-winners — but he was a demon on the defensive end, blocking shots, killing penalties and winning face-offs, and he provided inspirational leadership. Starting out as a defenseman, Fedorov didn’t record a point for four games, but then he posted 20 in the final 16 games, including eight goals, four of them game-winners, while playing stellar two-way hockey despite a severe rib injury. Long overshadowed by Vladimir Konstantinov, Lidstrom routinely logged 30 minutes a game, almost always against the opponents’ top line, posted a plus-12 rating (topped only by his partner, Larry Murphy), contributed eight points and shut down offensive stars such as Brett Hull, Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic and Eric Lindros.

In the end, a panel from the Professional Hockey Writers Association selected Vernon for the trophy. Oddly, Vernon’s season was so pedestrian because of inconsistency, trade rumors and injuries that he became the fourth goalie since the NHL adopted a best-of-seven playoff format in 1939 to win more games in the postseason than during the regular season. He went 13-11-8 from October to April but 16-4 in the playoffs. The first to do so was Montreal’s Ken Dryden, who as a rookie in 1971 was 6-0 during the season but 12-8 en route to the Stanley Cup. In 1984, Montreal’s Steve Penney was 0-4 during the season but 9-6 in the playoffs. In 1991, Edmonton’s Grant Fuhr was 6-4-3 during the season but 9-6 in the playoffs. Here’s the Game 4 coverage of Vernon from “Stanleytown 25 Years Later,” written by Helene St. James:

Surrounded by his teammates, Mike Vernon heard his name announced as the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, the most valuable player in the playoffs.

So he politely skated over, picked up the trophy from commissioner Gary Bettman — and held it for all of about 10 seconds. He couldn’t set it down fast enough.

“I wanted to get rid of it,” a champagne-soaked Vernon said. “I wanted to get Lord Stanley out there, because that’s what we’re all here for.

“The Conn Smythe is a nice little gesture, but it takes a team effort, and everybody is deserving of it.

“The Stanley Cup was what we all wanted to hold up. That was truly a great feeling.”

For two years, one thought had festered in the veteran goaltender’s mind: Redemption.

He had to find a way to get the Red Wings back to the Stanley Cup Finals before his time in Detroit ran out. And this time, win the Cup.

Vernon accomplished all that when the Wings swept Philadelphia in the finals and erased memories of 1995, when they were swept by New Jersey.

As Vernon, 34 at the time, skated around the Joe Louis Arena ice with the Cup, fans who once booed him serenaded him with chants of “Ver-nie! Ver-nie!”

“That was a great feeling,” he said.

Vernon was the Wings’ first major acquisition after Scotty Bowman became player personnel director. He was obtained for defenseman Steve Chiasson in June 1994 from Calgary, his hometown, where he had won a Cup in 1989.

Vernon’s mission was to bring stability and experience to the Detroit goaltending job, while Chris Osgood developed. The performance of Wings goalies in recent years had been widely criticized.

In his first year, shortened by labor strife, Vernon played in 30 of the 48 regular-season games. He went 19-6-4 with an .893 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average. He then went 12-6 with an .889 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against in the playoffs, although a disastrous .854 and 4.07 against the Devils.

In 1995-96, Vernon and Osgood combined to win the Jennings Trophy for the lowest team goals-against average (2.17). Osgood played the most during the season, 50 games to 32, and in the playoffs, 15 games to four.

In 1996-97, Vernon, again in a lesser role, struggling with injuries and the topic of trade rumors, played in 33 games and finished with a 2.43 goals-against average. As the playoffs loomed, though, Bowman turned more to Vernon, who started six of the last 10 games. And when the playoffs began, Vernon was his man.

Twenty games later, he was 16-4 with a .927 save percentage, a 1.76 goals-against average and his second Stanley Cup. He faced down some impressive netminders, including Patrick Roy and Grant Fuhr.

“I can honestly say that this one has a lot more emotion to it,” Vernon said. “The first time winning a Cup is truly an amazing feat, and I don’t think I really sat back and enjoyed it. It was just craziness.

“I think this one here, with what I’ve gone through in the last couple years — the disappointment against Jersey and not playing that much last year — having the opportunity to capitalize on this season is truly amazing.”

While Vernon refused to gloat over his Conn Smythe effort, his teammates were quite willing to do it for him.

“Nobody could be happier for Vernie,” Kris Draper said. “He deserves it all the way.”

“Vernie’s played great for us,” Darren McCarty said. “He truly deserves it.”

It was surprising that Vernon stayed in Detroit long enough to have a chance at redemption. In the summer of 1995, the Wings won an arbitration case against him and he was declared a free agent. But just when it seemed they would part, the Wings signed him again.

In 1996-97, with Osgood’s star on the rise, Vernon seemed expendable, perhaps as trade fodder for help on defense the Wings said they needed.

But Vernon was not traded. And he earned a one-year contract extension for $2.077 million by fulfilling a bonus clause in his contract: The Wings won the Cup and he had at least three victories in the finals.

Two months later, though, in another contract dispute, the Wings dealt Vernon and a fifth-round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks for a pair of second-round picks. When the Wings refused to give Vernon more money and a multiyear extension, he asked to be moved and threatened to skip training camp. He received a raise — to $2.75 million — and a longer deal — for three years — from the Sharks.

Vernon was slightly bitter but significantly richer. “I am a little disappointed about leaving,” he said, “but I have to look at my future.”

The ending might not have been perfect off the ice. But it couldn’t have been more storybook on it.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to prove myself,” Vernon said in the celebratory locker room. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to sip from the Cup again.”

The Captain: Free Press deputy sports editor Owen Davis chronicled Yzerman’s comments as the celebration unfolded:

“I was glad when the game was over, but then I didn’t want the game to end.

“I’ve been watching hockey since I was 5 years old. I always dreamed of the day I would get the Stanley Cup. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever get there. As the game went on, it almost was if I wanted to sit back and watch it.”

On winning the Cup:

“It was the one thing in my career I didn’t have. I wanted dearly to have my name on the Stanley Cup before I retired.

“It’s been a wonderful final. It’s been incredibly exhilarating. …

“There’s the Stanley Cup champion and everybody else. When you have a good team for two or three years and don’t win, you’re not considered a great team but an underachiever.”

On skating with the Cup after the game:

“I would have preferred to go with everybody in the beginning. I wanted to go as one big group.

“As I went about halfway around, I thought, ‘This thing is getting heavy.’ My arm about fell off. I was looking for my parents and my wife and a

friend in the corner. I wanted to make sure I saw them as I was carrying it around the rink. I just tried to take it all in. … I wasn’t aware of any noise.

“It was the greatest moment in my career, the most gratifying and the most rewarding. … Obviously, at the end when we piled behind the net was the greatest moment. Being on the ice when the game ends is awesome.”

On passing the Cup to Slava Fetisov, who held it with Igor Larionov:

“The last couple of days I thought who I wanted to give the Cup to. I thought about Slava. He and Igor, what they stand for, are good examples for younger players.

“He has been through a lot in his career. If he’s not coming back, this is the ultimate. … All five Russian players were significant players and great guys.”

On seeing Scotty Bowman in skates on the ice:

“That was great. I’ve seen it all. He doesn’t show emotion. He doesn’t let us get too close to him. For a few minutes there, he was one of us.”

On waiting for Game 4:

“The most relaxing time is getting on the ice and playing. Before the game, I was more nervous than for any other game. So much stuff goes through your mind. You want to win. The last day-and-a-half I’ve become so uptight.

“Today was unbelievable. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, and I didn’t want anybody to talk to me. I just wanted to play the game.

“Coming to the game tonight, I said, ‘Just relax, we’re going to win. If it’s Game 4, 5 or 6, we’re going to win.’ But it was nerve-racking.”

On the fans:

“I know for the city, it’s pride. You can walk around, and Detroit is the Stanley Cup champion. The fans are the Stanley Cup champions. You can hold your head up high. We broke some hearts, but they kept coming back.”

On the Wings’ playoff performance:

“When we got in the playoffs and played teams in a series, I think we wore teams down. Each team we played we were better than. We weren’t the best team in the regular season.

“The biggest difference in this series is we got goals from all four lines. It allows players to just do their jobs, and goals will come.”

On goalie Mike Vernon, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy:

“He was consistently great throughout the playoffs. I don’t know if he let in a bad goal. It boosts your confidence so much. He and Nicklas Lidstrom were our most valuable guys. I’m glad Vernie won.”

On his perspective:

“I’m glad we endured, the organization didn’t quit and I didn’t quit or move on. I really think I appreciate it more after playing a number of years.

“There were some tough losses and disappointments and injuries — and I don’t know if I’m a better skater or scorer — but I think I’m a better player by going through it all.”

On coming close before but not winning the Cup:

“The last five years there have been a couple of times you don’t want to go out, you don’t want to be recognized. You put a hat on or put sunglasses on. It was embarrassing.

“I was in Las Vegas and a couple of guys from Windsor came by. They said, ‘Hey, Steve Yzerman. I’m going to stay away from this table. There’s no luck here.’”

On what he planned to do when he got to keep the Cup for a few days during the summer:

“I ain’t going to sleep with it. I want to have a party. I might have to have two — one here and one in Ottawa. I want to do it up right.”

The legend: Gordie Howe didn’t let his elbows do the talking after the Wings ended their 42-year drought. He celebrated with everybody else when Detroit won the Cup (and a few months later raised its banner). Among his comments: “Anytime you win it’s fun. I don’t care if it’s tiddlywinks, it’s fun.” … “They’ve been striving for team play, and that’s what Scotty had them doing. They had to remove a few negatives, but I think he got what he wanted.” …

On Yzerman: “He’s a good kid. He’s come through a lot of adversity to mature in a hurry. He’s turned into a good leader and into one heck of a great hockey player.” … Howe was asked: “Did you feel that something had ended for you because there’s now a newer championship team than yours?” “Nah,” he replied, laughing. “They still have three to go to catch us.”

The vanquished: The Flyers did save their best for last, but they still became the third straight team to be swept in the Stanley Cup Finals — joining Detroit against New Jersey in 1995 and Florida against Colorado in 1996. In the postgame handshake line, Yzerman whispered to Lindros that his day soon would come. He wasn’t prepared to move on.

Drew Sharp wrote in the Free Press: “The personal shock was so great that Lindros lived the first hour of his premature off-season in a daze.” He called the sweep the biggest disappointment of his life but promised he was “not going to jump off the Walt Whitman,” a busy bridge across the Delaware River joining Philadelphia with New Jersey. Lindros entered the finals with 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 15 games. He didn’t score in the series until its final minute, finishing with two assists, three points, eight penalty minutes, a minus-5 rating and only 12 shots. Sharp also wrote: “When the Wings were blanked by the New Jersey two years ago, many of them remained on the ice to watch the trophy presentation and the celebratory skate. They wanted to use that as motivation for the future. The Flyers wanted none of that. After they shook hands, they left.”

“Why watch them?” asked Rod Brind’Amour, the former Spartan who scored half of the Flyers’ six goals in the finals. “It’s their party, not ours. Besides, why would we need any extra incentive after the way we played in this series? If being swept up four straight doesn’t make you hungry enough to get back here, then nothing will.” On the bright side, the Flyers’ core was young enough that they figured to contend for years, if they could plug a few holes on the blue line and find a better No. 1 goalie than Hextall or Garth Snow. “Nobody in this locker room is pointing the finger at our goaltending,” Lindros said. “We didn’t give our goalies the help they needed. Our defense gave (the Wings) too many odd-man rushes and our offense couldn’t give them a lead with any key goals. There’s enough blame to completely go around this locker room.”

To which, Sharp wrote: “And that includes coach Terry Murray, who conceded he erred in benching Hextall after Game 1. He also might have blundered in implying before Game 4 that his players were chokers. It was evident 24 hours later that his comments still smoldered inside some players.” To which Murray said: “My first time here, there were mistakes that were made. We’ve got to learn from these games, me and them.” He met with some of his players before the game about what he had called a “choking situation,” but not with Lindros. Murray admitted he irked players but stood by his comment. To which Lindros said: “It’s a little tough to swallow when it’s coming from your coach.”

They said it: From Lidstrom: “It’s an unbelievable feeling. With everything we’ve been through, it makes tonight that much sweeter. Every year we heard it was over 40 years since this team won the Cup.” From Hextall: “I gave everything I had and I came up real short. As a team, we did a lot of the same.”

From swingman Mathieu Dandenault, a Black Ace: “No way do I want to wait another 42 years. I want it every year, if possible.” From Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins: “I hope we have nightmares all summer long.” From Fedorov: “This is the biggest highlight of my life, really, because it is the most toughest trophy to get. It takes a lot out of you and out of team. It’s very incredible, really. It’s the most desirable trophy in the world, but I was surprised how heavy it was.” From Flyers owner Ed Snider: “Detroit changed the way we played. They changed the way Colorado played. They were on a roll. … We’ve got to learn to do what they did.” From Kris Draper: “This year was meant to be, and you can’t be happier for a better bunch of guys.”

What’s next: The Wings won their eighth Stanley Cup on a Saturday night. Sunday’s agenda called for finally taking a breath. But come Monday, the Wings planned a team celebration for season-ticket holders at Joe Louis Arena, to be televised around the state. On Tuesday, the championship parade would start at the Fox Theatre and head down Woodward to Hart Plaza, also to be televised around the state.

Off the ice: Two seasons into retirement as radio voice of the Wings, Bruce Martyn joined his successor, Ken Kal, and former partner, Paul Woods, for the second period and postgame celebration the night Detroit won the Stanley Cup. Martyn, the play-by-play announcer for 31 years but never for a champion, appeared at Kal’s request. “I surely appreciate it,” Martyn said on the air. “Now I only hope I can do it.” He did wonderfully. He didn’t quite do that soprano “He S-C-O-O-O-R-E-S!” thing in the second period, but cracked in a lower octave.

When the Cup-carrying began, Martyn returned to the airwaves. When Woods said it all was “absolutely worth the wait,” Martyn responded: “Oh, I’m not sure of that.” “Bruce, you know what I’m most happy about?” Kal said. “The fact that you called the game-winning goal by Darren McCarty. What a fitting tribute.”  Martyn, who thanked Kal something like a half-dozen times, called it “the climax of what I’ve considered a fun career.”

Famous last words: From Wings owner Mike Ilitch: “This is the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. Sometimes I wondered if we’d see it through to the end.”

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 Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!)

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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