By: Will Burchfield
When people say hockey players are tough, Kris Draper stands as living proof.
This has been understood for a long time, of course. But Draper’s story on the Players Tribune – ‘There Will Be Blood‘ – brought it further into focus.
Draper begins by recalling the nasty hit he took from Colorado’s Claude Lemieux in the 1996 Western Conference Finals.
“I was drifting backwards right by our bench. The next thing I knew, I got hit from behind. I felt my face hit the top of the boards. Everything went black for a second. I was on all fours, trying to get up, but I couldn’t.”
“I looked up at our trainer and he was blurry, but I could see this look of horror on his face. I’ll never forget that look. He put a towel over my head to hide my injuries. The last thing I remember is him and Keith Primeau helping me to my feet and escorting me off the ice to the dressing room.”
That’s where things really get crazy.
Draper, who blacked out on his way off the ice, regained consciousness in the locker room and felt the excruciating pain for the first time. Then he blacked out again.
“The next time I came to, I sat up and the pain was gone. I didn’t know it, but I was on some serious painkillers. So I started trying to put on my shoulder pads so I could get back on the ice.”
That’s right. Draper, despite a crushed-in face, wanted to re-enter the fray. Or maybe it was because of his crushed-in face. This was Wings-Avs, after all, and there were scores to be settled.
“Our team doc said, ‘Kris, what the hell are you doing?
(Side note: completely reasonable reaction.)
“I said, “What period is it? Am I stitched up?”
“He said, ‘Uh … Kris, you better take a look at this.’
“And he walked me over to the mirror.
“The right side of my face was caved in.
“He told me the damage: Broken orbital bone. Broken cheekbone. Broken nose. Broken jaw.”
Minor flesh wounds. He’d survive. So his mind flashed to his teammates, who were trying to stave off elimination against their fiercest rivals.
I asked, ‘What’s the score?’
“’It’s 4–1. Colorado.’
Then I asked, ‘Who hit me?’
The Wings, without Draper, would go on to lose that night and the Avs, with Lemieux, would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Payback came the next year.
First on Lemieux, in the infamous brawl at Joe Louis Arena.
And then on the Avs, in the 1997 Western Conference Finals. It was this dose of revenge that mattered most to Draper.
“We beat them in six games, and I got what I really wanted — what I had burned for since I was in the hospital. I got the handshake line. I got to look every one of them dead in the eyes, and I got to shake their hands knowing that I was going to the Stanley Cup finals, and they weren’t.”
The Wings and Avs will renew hostilities on Wednesday night in Denver and on Saturday afternoon in Detroit. Suffice to say emotions won’t run quite as hot as they once did. Allow Draper to explain.
“To say ‘there was no love lost’ between us would be an understatement. I rarely ever use the word ‘hate,’ but I’ll use it here. We hated them. They hated us. That’s just the way it was.”