Detroit Red Wings’ 1997, ’98 Stanley Cup celebrations heavy on nostalgia, light on Russians

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman is slated to speak, and the Stanley Cup will be in attendance, as will numerous fan favorites from that glorious time when the Detroit Red Wings slaked a thirst that had persisted for decades.

Over the coming week, the Wings will celebrate the men who brought the Cup back to Detroit and then kept it here. The 1997 team will be feted on Thursday, when the Wings play the Washington Capitals at Little Caesars Arena. The 1998 team will be celebrated on Saturday, when the Wings host a matinee against the New York Islanders.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the ’97 championship, which ended a 42-year drought. Yzerman, then The Captain, now the general manager, led his team through a six-game opening series against the St. Louis Blues, onto an overtime-crazy sweep of the Anaheim Ducks and an immensely satisfying six-game Western Conference Final against arch-rival Colorado Avalanche. The playoffs culminated with a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers that ended with a raucous, resounding and rejoiceful celebration before fans at Joe Louis Arena.

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In addition to Yzerman, several others who lifted the Cup above their heads and skated a jubilant lap that night now work for the Wings: Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, all of whom will be at the games.

Current players are looking forward to soaking up the celebrations before their games.

“Growing up you for sure know what the Detroit Red Wings mean to the hockey world,” Moritz Seider said. “I hope we can squeeze one or two stories out of them. I think they lived a different hockey life than we do now, and it will be cool to hear about.

“It’s an honor to play here. There are so many achievements the club has had in the past, that hopefully we can bring here soon.”

The Wings’ locker room at Little Caesars Arena is full of memories and murals celebrating the men who helped the franchise win a U.S.-record 11 Stanley Cups. Above each locker stall hands a framed picture of the players who made the Wings great.

“It’s inspiring every day to see them,”Lucas Raymond said. “It’s where we want to get back to.”

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Andrew Copp, a Michigan native who signed with the Wings this past summer, said seeing the likes of Yzerman and Lidstrom (a team vice president) around the arena sets a tone.

“They hold you to a high standard,” he said. “You work for a guy that’s a Hall of Famer, he obviously knows what he is talking about. He says something, you are going to listen.”

Drop the puck

On Thursday, plans call for Scotty Bowman (who celebrated his 89th birthday in September) and Mike Vernon to drop the ceremonial puck. Bowman, who is also scheduled to say a few words, was hired as head coach in 1993 because he already had won the Cup six times; he won another four with the Wings. Vernon, who likewise was brought in because he had experience leading a team to the Stanley Cup, won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1998. On Saturday, the ceremonial puck will be dropped by Yzerman — the playoff MVP that year — and Vladimir Konstantinov.

Russian 5, Russian 2

Konstantinov, whose career ended in a limousine crash six days after the Wings won the Cup in 1997, will be front and center in the celebrations, but the other only member of the Russian Five who has RSVP’ed “da” is “The Professor,” Igor Larionov. Everyone was invited, but the other three aren’t expected for reasons of work or war.

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Sergei Fedorov is busy as the head coach of CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League, and Vyacheslav Kozlov is an assistant coach with Spartak Moscow, also in the KHL. Slava Fetisov, known as Papa Bear during his time with the Wings, is a member of the state duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. Back in March, Fetisov was among the names included when the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a list of Russians who were being sanctioned over the invasion of Ukraine. Essentially, the sanctions mean that Fetisov — who once took on the Soviet Union regime to free players to come to the NHL — won’t be admitted to the U.S.

Homer’s coming

Soon after he retired in January 2013, Tomas Holmstrom packed his family, his furniture and the snowmobile teammates gifted him for his 1,000th game and returned to his native Sweden. Teammates used to joke that Holmstrom was from so far north, he was neighbors with Santa Claus. Where the Russian Five defined skill, Holmstrom defined grit. Famously told by Scotty Bowman that he wouldn’t last long, Holmstrom won four Stanley Cups with the Wings. He figured out how to play in front of the net, and was a master at redirecting Lidstrom’s shots from the point on power plays.

When Hockeytown was Shannytown

The mid-1990s brought the heady success of making it to the Stanley Cup Final and winning 62 games in one season — but those seasons still ended in heartbreak, with some other team taking the Cup home. At the start of the ’96-97 season, after days of intense negotiations with the Hartford Whalers, the Wings packaged off Keith Primeau and Paul Coffey to acquire Brendan Shanahan. He was just the power forward they turned out to need — he could score, fight and he was entertaining and witty, to boot. Now the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Shanahan will be in Detroit for the celebrations.

Joining the party

In addition to Draper and Maltby, the rest of the Grind Line will be there — Joe Kocur, who was the original third member, and Darren McCarty. Chris Osgood, who was in net for the 1998 Cup, will be on hand. Mathieu Dandenault, Kevin Hodson and Aaron Ward are expected, too, as is Barry Smith, who was an assistant under Bowman, and Dave Lewis, who went from Bowman’s assistant to coaching the Wings for two seasons.

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter

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