By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – The rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche, who combined to win five Stanley Cups in a seven-year span between 1997 and 2002, hit a boiling point 17 years ago Wednesday. The brawl that erupted at Joe Louis Arena on March 26, 1997, is still a defining moment for Red Wings fans.
The impetus for the fight occurred almost a year earlier, in the 1996 playoffs, when Colorado’s Claude Lemieux smashed Kris Draper into the boards, promptly breaking Draper’s jaw and shattering his cheek and orbital bones.
“I can’t believe I shook the guy’s frigging hand,” Dino Ciccarelli said after the game. “That just pisses me right off.”
Lemieux did not play in the first three meetings between the teams the following season, but when he took the ice March 26, the game got violent quickly. Two fights had already broken out in the first period before what turned out to be the main event got going as the end of the first period neared.
The melee began when Igor Larionov of the Red Wings and Peter Forsberg of the Avalanche ran into each other and started fighting, and Detroit enforcer Darren McCarty made a beeline for Lemieux. McCarty hammered Lemieux, punching him repeatedly before Lemieux fell to the ice and covered his head.
McCarty continued whaling away on Lemieux before officials finally separated the two, but in the meantime other fights had broken out. The latter part of the fracas involved Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan and Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote, and goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy also got after each other.
The following video shows that the crowd in Detroit thoroughly approved of the retribution from McCarty.
That brouhaha was just the biggest of nine fights in the game.
McCarty would score the game-winning goal in overtime, and the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1997 and again in 1998, a season that included a compelling follow-up brawl between Detroit and Colorado, featuring Roy.