Present Wings appreciate, remember skill and passion of 1997-98 Stanley Cup teams

Detroit News

Detroit — Jordan Oesterle was a preschooler in Dearborn Heights when the Red Wings won the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cups and sent Detroit hockey fans into euphoria.

The current Red Wings defenseman remembers some of the excitement, and for sure watched the videos growing up, became a Wings fan.

But there was something, specifically, that stood out to Oesterle about those two championship rosters.

“Just the whole time growing up, it felt like the team was together throughout my childhood,” said Oesterle, as the Wings prepare to celebrate those two championships beginning Thursday. “They brought in pieces here and there, but the main core guys were there for 20 years it seemed like.

“It was fun to watch.”

About 30 former players, coaches and staff are scheduled to attend the 25th anniversary celebration Thursday (7 p.m. against Washington) and Saturday (1 p.m. against New York Islanders). The 1997 team will be celebrated Thursday, and the 1998 team on Saturday. Both celebrations will begin an hour before puck drop, so fans are reminded to plan accordingly and arrive for the 6 p.m. ceremony on Thursday, and noon on Saturday.

General manager Ken Holland, coach Scotty Bowman, and former players Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Igor Larionov, Brendan Shanahan, Mike Vernon and Vladimir Konstantinov are among some of the alumni in attendance.

It was a powerful team, with a lineup that would be difficult to duplicate in this present salary cap era. Oesterle was, and is, impressed with how those two Wings teams wore down opponents.

“They had everything,” Oesterle said. “When you look at the top-six (forwards), and the bottom-six, they could it all. They could scrum it up with the best of them, and play a skill game, too.”

Those Wings rosters basically established the ‘Hockeytown’ title for Detroit and fans, young and old, couldn’t get enough of going to Joe Louis Arena.

“It was just something about going to The Joe,” Oesterle said. “It didn’t matter what day it was, there was always a sold -out crowd.”

Oesterle being a defenseman as a youngster, there was one player he gravitated to easily.

“Nicklas Lidstrom,” Oesterle said. “As I got a little older, Lidstrom was the guy, the guy I would watch how he would play. There were so many players to choose from. But Lidstrom was perfect on the ice.”

Andrew Copp was more of a toddler in Ann Arbor at that time. But just what that era of Red Wings hockey brought left an imprint with Copp.

“Just how good they were,” Copp said. “They pretty much started a 25-year playoff run and four Cups in that span. Pretty much a dynasty. Then, the Russian Five, Yzerman and Shanahan, the Colorado rivalry.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there. I remember some of it, but obviously being three or four years old, not a whole lot (at the time).”

Coach Derek Lalonde is excited about mingling with all former players. But for Lalonde, getting a chance to talk with Bowman is something Lalonde is looking forward to.

“I have Scotty Bowman’s book personally signed in my office,” Lalonde said. “Scotty is going to go down as maybe the greatest coach of all time. I got to know Scotty a little bit over the Covid era (both were living in the Tampa area). We had a coach’s Zoom call that had some 40 or 50 (coaches) on some nights and it was really impressive, the way Scotty was ahead of his (time) with how he managed people. Just to hear his stories and how he got Player A or Player B to buy in, it was a completely different game back then in terms of x’s and o’s, and he was on top if it too or he wouldn’t have had the success he did. But he was way ahead of the curve managing people and personalities.

“I got to know him a little bit, but I’ll be very excited about seeing him.”

What stands out about those two Wings’ championship teams, for Lalonde, is something similar to the back-to-back Tampa teams that Lalonde was an assistant for Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

Both championship teams had stars galore. But it was the ‘glue’ guys that many fans will remember.

“To me, the depth guys were kind of neat, too,” Lalonde said. “They’re still around here, and it’s how you build a winning team.

“Everyone will remember all those Detroit teams with the superstars, no different than Tampa. In Tampa, everyone will remember (Steven) Stamkos and (Nikita) Kucherov, but it was really the (Antony) Cirelli’s, the (Alex) Killorn’s, Pat Maroon, those types of guys, and you have it here too with the Grind Line (Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby). “That’s pretty cool, special stuff.”

Lalonde is appreciative and understands how difficult it is to win consecutive Stanley Cups.

“There has to be a will to it,” said Lalonde, who was especially proud of Tampa’s 11 consecutive playoff series victories over the last three seasons. “That felt real special. You talk to guys on these Detroit teams, and it’s amazing the things they’d remember and they’ll remember the process and how they won, which is pretty cool.”

With Yzerman the Wings’ general manager, and so many other players off that roster still in the Wings’ front office, or broadcast teams, or simply living around the area, Lalonde enjoys seeing the alumni around the locker room.

“I love it, I absolutely love it,” Lalonde said. “I love those guys being around. There’s a swagger to it and a confidence, even the way those guys talk. I know they scoff at poor (Dan) Cleary for only winning one. It’s so hard getting to the top of this league, and the way they did it and the way they stayed there, they had to go through some adversity, too.

“You have to start somewhere, and it’s a great reference (for the current roster). We’re somewhere in that process that they were, and they were where we are, and even worse.”

Capitals at Red Wings

▶ Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.

▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1

▶ Outlook: The Capitals (5-4-2) and Wings meet for the first time this season…The Wings will celebrate the 1997 Stanley Cup team beginning at 6 p.m. (fans are encouraged to arrive early)….The Capitals are 1-1-2 over their last four games and are dealing with mounting injury problems…LW Alex Ovechkin (five goals, nine points) continues on his march toward breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals-scored record, and RW Anthony Mantha (three goals) plays his first game at LCA since the April 2021 trade for Jakub Vrana.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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