Road to Stanleytown: Steve Yzerman, Scotty Bowman send special tanks to Red Wings fan

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 55: June 9, 1997

The backstory: After a Sunday to catch their breaths, grab some Zs, reflect on life as newly crowned Stanley Cup champions and, likely in numerous cases, turn to their favorite hangover cures, the Red Wings were called upon to be Hockeytown ambassadors. Ever the skilled marketers, the Wings created a made-for-television, primetime event to celebrate the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Fans with tickets marked Round 4, Home Game 4 — in other words, basically season-ticket holders — were invited to a rally at Joe Louis Arena, an unprecedented move in Detroit sports history. The 2½-hour show was televised by Channel 50 — and carried the time period in the ratings, a Monday night rarity for the UPN station.

LISTEN: Remembering Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup win, 25 years later

Starting with owner Mike Ilitch, players, coaches and support staff took turns addressing the fans with video clips tossed in periodically for a little visual stimuli. “At times,” beat reporter Jason La Canfora wrote in the Free Press, “the evening was highly emotional and very amusing; at others, it was slow.” About 10,000 fans rocked the arena with cheers for their heroes — some of whom, they feared, might not return for an encore, such as unrestricted free agents Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov and Scotty Bowman, whose coaching contract was expiring. Bowman, expected for months to be in his last season, was greeted with a standing ovation, including from Mayor Dennis Archer standing next to him on the stage, and chants of “one more year! one more year!” Not a bad idea, said Bowman, who ended his speech with: “We’ll come back next year and do it again.” Who knew whether he meant it or whether management and ownership wanted it? When the festivities finally ended, after a long soliloquy by Steve Yzerman, the team barely had time for a nightcap: Everyone needed to be in place in roughly 12 hours for the championship parade down Woodward.

Finale at The Joe: “The afterglow” read the big Free Press headline. How La Canfora covered the rally the night before the big parade:

Joe Louis Arena was half-full as season-ticket holders waited for the Red Wings to appear.

The scene was straight out of 1982-83, the first season Mike Ilitch owned the Red Wings, right before Steve Yzerman was drafted. Ilitch was told at the time the team had 4,000 season-ticket holders, when in reality only 1,500 existed. Yzerman was told he would lead this franchise to a Stanley Cup — a promise Ilitch made when he purchased the team that seemed impossible to keep.

Yet they both stood on a podium at center ice and thanked the fans who helped the Wings turn around the franchise and capture their first Cup in 42 years.

Everyone from the owner to the Grind Liners to the trainers was back at The Joe for a 2½-hour rally — a chance to relive one of the greatest moments in Detroit sports history, sell thousands of T-shirts and entertain a TV audience.

At times the evening was highly emotional and very amusing; at others, it was slow and almost boring, basically the Academy Awards show at its worst.

The Wings would draw only a few thousand fans for games in 1982-83 and had to lure them by giving away a car each game. Roughly 10,000 season-ticket holders yelled and cheered Monday, enticed only by the sight of their heroes 48 hours after finally winning the Stanley Cup and 15 hours before the victory parade down Woodward Avenue.

Ilitch spoke first and leapt onto the stage, paraded the Cup around above his head and sat it on a table where it would remain all night. Mike Vernon’s Conn Smythe Trophy was on a table nearby.

“These fans and this team are the world’s best,” Ilitch said. We’ve got the Canadians, we’ve got the Russians, we’ve got the Americans. We did it all together. We are world champions. … You are the greatest fans in the world! We’re very appreciative and we love you.”

Signs of the all-night party Saturday still lingered. Confetti and empty cases of beer were scattered about the stairwells. But the ice was covered. Chairs lined the floor and balloons hung from the scoreboard.

Fans still donned their Wings sweaters. Some brought life-size cutouts of Yzerman into the stands and look pictures standing beside them.

“We did this for ourselves, for Stevie, for the Ilitches, but also did this for the City of Detroit and Red Wings fans everywhere,” forward Darren McCarty said. “Now when people say 1955, they know where to shove it.”

The players made their way to the stage, dressed in their sweaters, after the coaches and trainers. Yzerman was last and was applauded the loudest: “Ste-vie! Ste-vie! Ste-vie!” Assistant general manager Ken Holland and general manager Jimmy Devellano did not attend.

The players pumped their arms over their heads several times. The fans chanted “let’s go Red Wings!” as the players clapped at the appropriate times. Third-string goalie Kevin Hodson brought a broom on stage, symbolizing their sweep in the finals, and led the fans and players in arm-pumping as “Whoop There It Is” played over the speakers.

Kris Draper embraced Ilitch and repaid the one-dollar transaction fee the Wings paid Winnipeg for Draper in 1993.

Coach Scotty Bowman was greeted with a standing ovation, chants of “Scot-ty! Scot-ty!” and cries of “one more year! one more year!” — a chorus that returned when potential unrestricted free agent Igor Larionov took the microphone.

“Of all the teams I was with, I cannot remember a team that was a team like this,” Bowman said. “What made this so special was the reaction the fans had to winning the Stanley Cup.”

Yzerman concluded the night Ilitch began, just as he fulfilled his owner’s promise 14 years later. He raised his hands high above his head and the arena reverberated with the sounds of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” (The song includes these lyrics: “And you’ll finally see the truth/That a hero lies in you.”) The fans and players stood and cheered for him for more than two minutes before he could speak.

He thanked his wife; he thanked the city for showing class in its celebration Saturday night; he thanked his coaches; and he thanked his teammates in the next 12 minutes pouring out his soul.

“I’ve played 14 years here in Detroit and I played on almost 14 different teams, it seems,” Yzerman said. “This is the closest group of players, the most unselfish group of players, the hardest-working, most-dedicated team I’ve ever been a part of.”

He recalled the home opener in October 1996, when rumors were swirling that he would be traded by Bowman to Ottawa. The fans cheered Yzerman especially loudly that night and ripped Bowman.

“Scotty Bowman’s name was announced at that time as well,” Yzerman said. “Well, his reception was a little different than mine. Well, I think this is a good opportunity to make up for the reception that he was given that night.”

The fans atoned, screaming for Bowman as he stood up, holding back tears, as was Yzerman.

Soon after, the Wings jumped from their seats, lifted Yzerman on their shoulders and gave him the Stanley Cup. As they walked around the rink, Yzerman still was clutching it above his head.

Captainspeak: The entirety of Yzerman’s epic, 14-minute rally-ending speech:

“Thank you … thank you. Y’all better sit down. I’m going to forget what I have to say up here. Thank you.

“You better be careful. I’m going to be expecting this every time I come out on the ice here. I can get used to this certainly.

“I don’t know where to start. I really don’t know where to start.

“I guess … I know my wife’s sitting over here, down below behind the players. She’s provided me with the most significant thing in my life — our  daughter.

“My teammates provided me, helped us all attain, the second-most significant thing — winning the Stanley Cup.

“I’ve played 14 years here in Detroit and I played on almost 14 different teams, it seems. We won the Stanley Cup this year. It’s not a coincidence that this is the closest group of players, the most unselfish group of players, the hardest-working, the most-dedicated team I’ve ever been a part of.

“It’s been the most enjoyable year of my career. I look back on the season, we had a pretty good regular season, our record was pretty good, but, boy, we had a good time. And maybe that’s more important coming into the playoffs.

“Obviously, the playoffs were a totally different season for us. And it’s been an incredible two months.

“It flew by. It was the most nerve-racking two months of my life. I couldn’t wait for it to get over, much like the last game. But, boy, I wish we could start again with the first round of the playoffs and do it all over.

“One of the guys brought it up earlier that Joey Kocur had mentioned something after the second period about in our future down the road,  wherever we are, we’re going to share something, a common bond, winning a Stanley Cup in 1997. It’s so true.

“I’m so grateful to this team. Since I was five years old I dreamed about it. And I’ve always wanted it. It grows stronger every year.

“As you reach the downside of your career, as you start winding down and you see the end getting closer, winning the Stanley Cup becomes more and more important.

“These guys provided me the opportunity to experience the greatest experience a professional hockey player could ever have, playing on a championship team. Saturday night was the most memorable night in my 25 or 26 years of playing hockey.

“And like Joey said, 20, 30 years from now, I’ll never forget any one of the faces I’m looking at, staring at, right now. Wherever we go, we’re going to be together. And I’ll never forget everybody, and I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life for allowing me to play with you guys and accomplish what we accomplished.

“Mayor Archer is here with us tonight. I want to commend him, because I know it comes from him and goes all the way down, on how well organized the celebration was, the City of Detroit was.

“I’ve always been proud to be a Detroit Red Wing and proud to say that I live in Detroit. Saturday night, we won the Stanley Cup; the city showed its class, how they responded, how well the celebration went. I think everyone had a great time. And things went smoothly. I know that’s because Mayor Archer and the people from the city, all the way down, were well organized and ran a first-class celebration. I think we’re all grateful for that. We thank you, mayor, for that.

“I want to congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, their entire family. I know their family’s here. They’ve owned the hockey team for 15 years; I’ve been here for 14 years. I’ve gotten to know them very well. I’ve seen their family grow and grow, more grandchildren, more members of their family. They’ve seen myself grow up, my wife, my daughter born here. I want to congratulate them. I don’t know if everybody realizes, but I know how important it is to them, how much they wanted to win the Stanley Cup, how grateful they are for the support of their hockey club. I am playing in one of the greatest franchises in professional sports. I congratulate the Ilitch family for winning the Stanley Cup and reaching their dream in hockey.

“If you can remember last season, at the beginning of last season, I’m sure a lot of you were here for our home opener. And it was kind of a rocky time, I guess. There was some talk of possible trades, of myself being traded. I received a great ovation when I was announced and I came out on the ice. It was an exciting time. The whole team was announced. Scotty Bowman’s name was announced at that time as well. Well, his reception was a little different than mine. Well, I think this is a good opportunity to make up for the reception that he was given that night.”

(At that point, Yzerman clapped for Bowman, who stood up and received a loud, extended ovation.)

“I can speak for all the players. We will be forever grateful. He has changed our lives. He has allowed us a memory that we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives. I know every player is grateful to Scotty Bowman for what he’s done to our team.

“The motley-looking crew to his left, our assistant coaches, we’ve had a lot of fun, everybody agree, we’ve had a lot of fun this year. I think we have a tremendous relationship with our assistant coaches. They are coaches, but they’re really just one of the guys with us, I think. The players, I know, feel very comfortable talking to them like they would one of their teammates. They’re not afraid to say what they feel. They should have jerseys on, because it’s like they’re players as well. They’ve done a tremendous job with our team. Like I said, we feel so comfortable with them. They’ve done a terrific job. They kinda do all the work behind the scenes, don’t necessarily get a lot of the credit they deserve. But there’s no way we would have won the Stanley Cup without the input of our three assistant coaches.

“Our unheralded training staff as well. They do a lot of work. Myself, I can be particularly difficult to work with at times and very demanding. But I’m always grateful to these players. Like Harry Neale said on TV, they won’t be forgotten when the tips roll out.

“Now, I can remember playing my first game in Joe Louis Arena back in October 1983 against the New Jersey Devils. I think the score of the game was about 7-2 or 7-3. We lost. I played on a line with Paul Woods, who’s now our radio color man, and Eddie Johnstone. I remember coming out on the ice, playing the game. The first thing that struck my mind when I came out at the beginning of the game was the electricity in the building and the atmosphere in the building. And I was 18 years old, and I was scared to death. I remember coming out, playing the game, and I thought, ‘God, is it exciting to play in this building.’ And it was a real thrill the first time I stepped on the ice. And every time I’ve stepped on the ice ever since, that feeling has never gone away.

“It’s a special building. The reason it’s special is the people sitting in the seats when you come out to play a hockey game. To play in front of 20,000 people every game, the support that we get, the electricity in the building. Like I said, after 14 seasons, you step out on the ice for your first shift and it’s still exhilarating, it’s still exciting.

“I thank everybody here. I recognize a lot of faces in the building. You skate around during warm-up, in the games. Some of the faces I see, a couple behind the net down here, a couple in the corner. A lot of the faces are the same ones I saw my very first year, my second year in the league. And they’re still here.

“We’ve really been through a lot together, and we’ve seen it all happen here. We talk about some of the disappointments that we’ve had, and I think we’d all agree that there’s been a lot more exciting games, a lot more good things happen in this building than disappointments. Obviously, it’s been culminated by what happened here Saturday night.

“Like I said earlier, I consider the Detroit Red Wings one of the greatest franchises in professional sports, in any sports, amateur or whatnot. One of the greatest franchises. Detroit Red Wings fans, I’ve been here 14 years, they go back to the ’50s, ’40s, you know, way back. I don’t even know when the franchise first came into the league.

“But there’s such a tradition here. For a player to come in and play, it’s so special to wear the jersey.

“My team, myself, we’re grateful forever and it’s so special to be a Detroit Red Wing.

“I’ll never play in another uniform. I’ll retire, I’ll be a Detroit Red Wing.

“I know a lot of you were here for my first year. I’ll play a couple more years, maybe one, maybe two, maybe three. I’m not really sure.

“But I thank you all for the memories to this point. We’ve won the Stanley Cup. We’ve got a summer to enjoy it and start all over again. Let’s make this the greatest summer of our lives. Let’s have fun. And I thank you and we’ll do it again next year.

“Thank you.”

They said it: A smattering of other comments during the rally:

From Bowman: “Maltby, Draper and Kocur were the first or second line in a lot of the playoff games.”

From Fetisov: “I thank Scotty Bowman for bringing me here.”

From Nicklas Lidstrom: “I hope we can keep this team together for next year.”

From Larionov: “I hope I will be back next year.”

From Brendan Shanahan: “When I asked to be traded at the start of the year, I said I was looking for a home. And I found one. Thank you.”

From Vladimir Konstantinov: “You’re the greatest, and you deserve it.”

From Martin Lapointe: “We did it.”

From Mike Knuble: “As a kid growing up in the state of Michigan, I know the pain you suffered.”

From Vernon: “I’d like to thank my wife for putting up with me the last two months — actually the last three years.”

From Chris Osgood: “I hope to be here forever and do this many times over.”

From Hodson: “I know I was a big part of this team — I played six games this year. When I put on this jersey, I knew this was an institution. This is Hockeytown, USA. … There ain’t no party like a Detroit party because a Detroit party don’t stop. … I only played six games, so I had season tickets in Section 217.”

From Sergei Fedorov: “I’d like to thank my coaches. We worked together. It’s not easy, but we got through.”

Off the ice: The championship parade was slated to roll at 11:30 a.m., traveling south on Woodward from the Fox Theatre to Hart Plaza for another rally. “We’re very excited,” said Susie Gross of the Parade Co., the Detroit-based organization that produced the annual Thanksgiving parade. “We have a 10-foot Stanley Cup made out of Styrofoam and silver fabric. We started yesterday at 2 p.m. and will be working around the clock.” Detroit Police declined to predict how many fans would flood downtown. In 1984, when the Tigers won the World Series, police estimated 600,000 fans attended the victory parade. Besides the actual Stanley Cup and the team, the attractions were to include the Fred Hill briefcase team performing with a hockey theme, six high school bands and the giant Al the Octopus that hung from The Joe’s rafters. The Metro Detroit Ford Dealers rounded up 40 new Mustangs — 37 red, three white — to showcase the team. In the Free Press, Steve Schrader listed other things that fans would like to see in the parade:

• Claude Lemieux, walking behind the horses with a broom (the Wings are done sweeping; they can lend him one).

• The Captain cruising in his Porsche with a “Cup on board” sign in the rear window.

• The Grind Line in the back of an old red pickup.

• The Larionov float, moving to the front of the line (it just keeps passing).

• Lidstrom, Sandstrom, Holmstrom and the Swedish bikini team.

• Mike Ilitch, promising not to raise ticket prices.

• Marc Crawford and Terry Murray driving the bandwagon.

• A giant Jimmy Devellano balloon.

• Scotty Bowman, Rollerblading down Woodward with the Cup.

Famous last words: From Keith Gave’s column after the rally: “Steve Yzerman presumes, against heavy speculation to the contrary, that Scotty Bowman will return for a fifth season as coach. And if he wants to, who’s going to tell him he can’t? Certainly not the thousands of fans who showed up for Monday’s lovefest at The Joe, chanting “one more year!” when Bowman was introduced. Sources say team management has been evaluating candidates to replace Bowman, but it might take a crane to pry him out of his office at Joe Louis Arena as he rides a sudden wave of public support. Even owner Mike Ilitch knows that, especially after Bowman concluded his remarks by saying: ‘We’ll come back and do it again next year.’ Yet in the days leading up to this wonderful championship, rumors persisted that the Wings already had made a deal with Butch Goring to replace Bowman.”

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.”)

To access our most exclusive sports content, become a Free Press subscriber

Follow the Free Press on Facebook and Twitter for more news.

Your subscription makes work like this possible. Get exclusive subscriber content and more here.

Articles You May Like

NHL Rumors: Maple Leafs, Flames, Red Wings, Senators
Red Wings LIVE 9.30.23: Lucas Raymond
3 Takeaways From Red Wings’ Win Over Blackhawks
Ranking the Detroit Red Wings’ Last 20 Draft Classes
Detroit Red Wings: Can Nate Danielson & Marco Kasper push each other?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *