Avs/Wings Rivalry

The greatest rivalry in the history of sports. The games between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings at the turn of the millennium etched their way into hockey history. According to numerous analysts, players, coaches and last, but not least the fans themselves, both teams had a rivalry, which was and will remain unrivaled in every way. The competitiveness and eagerness to win typical for hockey turned into hatred, animosity and the will to win, no matter the cost. Both teams crossed the boundaries of what’s called fair in today’s hockey world. Both teams used methods, which would hardly be accepted in today’s NHL, just to get an edge over the opponent. Dirty, cheap and dangerous plays were almost routine in games, which fans will forever remember as legendary. Bench-clearing brawls, goalie fights, hard hits, an all-out war for every inch of the ice, beautiful plays, unforgettable comebacks, an unrivaled atmosphere and most of all emotions on every step. The games between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings during the 1996 – 2002 period became a celebration of hockey. The games featured numerous future Hall-of-famers – as of 2015, 17 players from both teams have been inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. They were willing to go beyond their limits, which resulted in the most hard-hitting and emotional games of its era. The rivalry, which these teams developed, will be ever-present every time they face each other, whether someone likes it or not. This became one of the main reasons why the NHL opted to hold an outdoor game in Denver as part of the league’s Stadium Series and why they chose the Red Wings to square off against the Avalanche. This is why the first European Fan Club of the Colorado Avalanche, Eurolanche, brings you an overview of the whole, now legendary, rivalry. This is a story of bloody fights and beautiful hockey games.

Detroit made Colorado

As absurd as the title sounds, there certainly is a degree of truth in it. If it wasn’t for a number of bizarre coincidences, Colorado might’ve never won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and we wouldn’t have any rivalry to speak of. No one, not even during the 1995/96 regular season, would’ve thought that a matchup between an Original Six team and a relocated franchise would bring such a level of intensity, unheard of in the NHL at that time. After their relocation to Denver, the Avalanche played their first-ever game against Detroit, a 3-2 win. The two opposing sides exchanged a couple of words and both coaches expressed their excitement – the home side was honored it could play their first game against an Original Six team, while the visitors were happy about a new NHL franchise in the USA. One of the players exchanging pleasantries was Claude Lemieux. He played an uneventful game and talked with some of the visitors afterwards. He also may have “thanked” them that they have, in a sense, brought him to Colorado.

A screenshot from Colorado´s first game ever. Kamensky skating down on Vernon and scoring the game-winning goal.

If it wasn’t for Detroit, Lemieux would’ve never ended up in Colorado. During the 1995 playoffs, Lemieux played lights-out and racked up 16 points in 20 games, which earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy. The Red Wings went into the Stanley Cup Finals as the perennial Cup favorite, but Lemieux put the New Jersey Devils on his shoulders and played the key role in the Devils’ triumph. Were the Devils to lose, Lemieux would likely never protest against the contract he signed with the team during the regular season. He only signed the faxed copies of the said contract. After he earned playoff MVP honors and won hockey’s Holy Grail, he wanted a bigger paycheck. Lemieux argued that the previously signed contract is void, but after both sides went to arbitration, the contract was upheld and Lemieux asked to be traded before the start of the next season. To the surprise of many, including the management of the Red Wings, he ended up in Colorado.

Colorado’s premier season was a go and the team enjoyed success right from the start. Detroit, however, was miles ahead and the Red Wings had 62 wins by the end of the regular season, a record that still stands. They also asserted their dominance on December 2, 1995. In Montreal, the Red Wings were literally trashing the Montreal Canadiens. Manning Montreal’s crease was Patrick Roy. A fan favorite. The star of the previous two Stanley Cup runs in 1986 and 1993 and a two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner. On that fateful night in December, everything changed in a fashion, no one would imagine in their wildest dreams. Detroit scored 9 goals and Montreal coach Mario Tremblay pulled Roy with the score being 9:1 (the game ended 11:1). Tremblay was likely making a statement, because being Montreal’s new head coach, he didn’t have the best of relationships with Roy. Roy became known for his difficult personality, which Tremblay’s predecessor tolerated and he even let Roy miss several practice sessions. Roy wanted the same from Tremblay and because of that, he had to endure a shelling, which was “highlighted” by 9 goals in his crease. As the game went on, the fans started booing him and gave him an ironical applause after every successful save he made. After giving up the 9th goal, he made his way to the bench. He almost went to take his seat, but he suddenly turned around. He went over to the club’s president, who was sitting behind the bench, where there was no glass at the time, and told him that he played his last game for Montreal.

The events that followed during the next few hours were reminiscent of an action movie. Roy went missing. Team captain Mike Keane and Roy’s son went out to look for him. They found him at his agent’s house as everything was being worked out. Roy couldn’t swallow a defeat like that and asked for a trade. The phones rang throughout the whole night. One of the people calling was Pierre Lacroix, the Avalanche’s general manager, who used his previous ties with Roy’s agent and orchestrated the goalie’s trade to Colorado. The trade was officially announced two days later. Roy and Keane were headed for Denver, with Jocelyn Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky heading the other way. In hindsight, there’s no arguing which side won the deal. During that time, the management in Detroit was starting to get a little nervous, as they were starting to put together everything Lacroix made happen. They knew that the league’s new team got a whole lot stronger and could prove to be an obstacle on their way to the Stanley Cup, but those thoughts were quickly put aside when the Red Wings cruised to a 7:0 victory against Roy and the Avalanche. History will always remember the paradox. If it wasn’t for Detroit’s loss during the previous playoffs and their dominance on a December night in Montreal, Lemieux and Roy would’ve never ended up Colorado.

The infamous hit

Against all odds, Colorado went on to shock the hockey world and along with two valuable additions finished second overall in the NHL, right after Detroit. During the playoffs, Colorado benefited from numerous key injuries their opponents faced, along with a couple of questionable calls from the referees going their way. One of those calls became memorable. Jeremy Roenick of the Chicago Blackhawks was speeding down on Roy, but was obviously fouled by the back-checking Sandis Ozolinsh. The foul went unpunished, much to Roenick’s displeasure. After being asked about Roenick’s after-game tirade, Roy uttered one of his most memorable quotes, saying that he “can’t hear him because of his two Stanley Cup rings plucking his ears”. Colorado beat the Vancouver Canucks 4:2 in the opening round and eliminated Roenick’s Blackhawks with the same score in the following round. Detroit went on to beat the Winnipeg Jets 4:2 and the St. Louis Blues 4:3 in the next round. Everything was set for a Western Conference Finals showdown between Colorado and Detroit, this (understandably) being the first time these two have squared off in the post-season. There was little doubt the heavily favored Red Wings, previous year’s Stanley Cup runner-ups, would advance to the Finals once again. The narrative was once again the same, a big, Original Six franchise facing a young, new organization. Although Colorado won their very first meeting, they went on to lose the following three in a regular season. Detroit won the regular season with a record-setting 62 wins. Their roster included 8 players with more than 70 points and 7 players with more than 20 goals. Goalie Mike Vernon even went so far that he said his teammates dominated the game so much that he could quickly go buy a pizza and go back into the net. But fate had other plans.

Before the series began, the Red Wings players had zero respect for their opponent. After being asked who their thought was Colorado’s most dangerous player, someone from the showers yelled the name of a player, who played during the unsuccessful Colorado Rockies era. Following their first defeats, the Red Wings said the Avs were lucky. This attitude was behind the Avalanche’s first real success. Detroit’s management did everything it could to slow down Colorado’s young team. Before the first practice at the Joe Louis Arena, every single Avalanche player had their luggage searched for bombs by police dogs. Several hours before puck drop, the alarm went off in the hotel the Avalanche were staying in. After making their way into the locker room, the Avalanche found out it was freshly painted. As if someone already knew that a merciless battle was going to happen.

The first game began according to predictions. Detroit jumped to a 1-0 lead. The game was tied after Paul Coffey scored an own goal. Colorado gained momentum and won the game in overtime, after Mike Keane’s neutral zone shot found its way into the net. The underdogs went on to win the second game 3-0. Holding a 2-0 series lead, the team was in good spirits heading back to the Rocky Mountains. Game 3 was a reality check, as the Red Wings recorded a 6-4 victory after a wild game. Colorado also lost Claude Lemieux, who was suspended for sucker punching Slava Kozlov, after Kozlov’s foul on Adam Foote, who needed 18 stitches, went unpunished. Being suspended, Lemieux had to take a seat in the stands for Game 4. After the game, Lemieux was going to his car together with his wife and newborn son, when he heard yelling from Detroit’s team bus. Coach Scotty Bowman went on a vulgar rant for his attack on Kozlov and was supported by the whole team bus. Everything happened in front of Lemieux’s family. Before the following game, Lemieux met Bowman, who was accompanied by Pierre Lacroix. As he was about to confront him about the previous events, Bowman allegedly put his head down and left. It was in this moment that both sides started to use similar attacks against each other. Press conferences turned into comical, yet serious bouts. More and more people from Colorado were saying that Bowman had a metal plate inserted into his head because of an older injury and that it was apparently causing him problems, though it remained nothing more than a mere rumor.

With Lemieux missing from the lineup, the Avs won Game 4 4-2 and were a single win away from advancing to the Finals. Detroit managed to get another win, but the series was decided during Game 6 in the McNichols Arena. The home side raced to an early 1-0 lead in the game’s 6th minute. Kris Draper had the puck on his stick. He dumped it and went for a line-change, but little did he know about the giant opponent that was chasing him down. “I saw it happen right in front of me. It felt like watching a car crash. I didn’t believe it would happen. Lemieux continued to skate towards Draper, but I still felt like he was eventually going to stop,” said Darren McCarty, who turned out to be one of those wanting to avenge the hit the most. Lemieux hit Draper in full speed from behind, resulting in Draper hitting the boards head-first. The building fell silent. Lemieux was finished for the game, as was Draper. Draper left the ice drenched in blood, only to see his face being almost unrecognizable in the locker room mirror. He had numerous fractures, open wounds, bruises and swellings. Despite his horrendous injury, Draper wanted back in the game, but the team doctor obviously wouldn’t let him. Draper found out that Lemieux was the one who caused his injury on the next day in the hospital. His teammates were the ones who witnessed it first-hand. It was later that they realized that after losing 1-4 and ultimately losing the series 2-4, they shook hands with Lemieux. The controversial Dino Ciccarelli voiced his displeasure the most. “I can’t believe I shook this guy’s friggin’ hand after the game. That pisses me right off,” said Ciccarelli afterwards. “Looking at Draper’s face, it makes me sick. If the league doesn’t do anything about it… He could’ve broken his neck.” Several yards away was Lemieux, celebrating the victory in Western Conference champions gear. He didn’t care about Draper. He didn’t even bother to go see him. How bad was his injury? Will he be able to play again? He didn’t care at all. He wanted to enjoy the night and was certain he was going to win his second Stanley Cup in row. “No one wants to see a guy get injured. I didn’t want to injure him. I’m sad that he got injured. I don’t want to waste time talking about Detroit,” said Lemieux in what is the closest he came to an apology for the incident. Personally, he thought he deserved a two-minute minor at most. He got tossed from the game and also received a two game suspension, which made him miss the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. He wanted to play so much that he was ready to give up half of his salary as well as sitting out half of the next season in order to appeal his suspension. He was unsuccessful and sat out the first two games, but appeared in the last two, as Colorado completed the 4-0 sweep of the Florida Panthers and shockingly won its first Stanley Cup.

While Lemieux was busy enjoying his second Stanley Cup in row and a loaded new contract from Pierre Lacroix, Draper had to have his mouth wired shut for sever weeks. If someone brought up the incident to Lemieux, he was always trying to avoid talking too much about it and instead called it an excuse for the Red Wings to mask their own meltdown. He refused to talk about it and continued to ridicule his opponents. Because of that, Lemieux received numerous threats, from people wanting to beat him up, to death threats. Numerous Red Wings players were also threatening him and were ready for payback once they’d met again. Lemieux knew all too well that the day would come. But could he predict that it would go down in hockey history as the “Blood feud”?


The summer of 1996 felt like a bad dream for the Red Wings. After dominating throughout the regular season, the team failed in the playoffs for the third time in row. First, they were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the first round, fell in the Finals afterwards and the final blow came against the Avalanche. Also, no one forgot about Lemieux’s hit. Draper was progressing very slowly, while his teammates were hungry for revenge. McCarty was the most prominent one wanting Lemieux’s head. As he opened up later, he struggled with alcohol abuse at the time, which made him even hungrier to avenge his teammate. To get his revenge, the organization had to make several steps to improve a team that wanted to make the leap from wannabe-contender, to true Stanley Cup champion. Then-general manager Jim Devellano got rid of several older players throughout the summer and brought in new faces highlighted by Brandon Shanahan and several other tougher guys. One of the questions surrounding the Red Wings was whether or not Steve Yzerman would be traded, as he failed to meet coach Bowman’s high expectations as team captain, but a trade never happened. Their goal was to bring more toughness into their game. Aside from their attractive, offensive style of play, the Red Wings wanted to be known as a tough, strong team.

During the second game of the 1996/97 season, Lemieux went down with an injury, which sidelined him until next January. Because of the injury, he was forced to miss two games against the Red Wings, which the Avalanche won. The Red Wings got their long-awaited payback, at least partly, during the second game, as Martin Lapointe steamrolled Alexei Gusarov. Lapointe hit Gusarov so hard that the Russian defenseman, who kept away from trouble, lost consciousness. Several moments later, Aaron Ward sucker-punched forward Rene Corbet, causing him a head injury. Was this meant to be payback? Did Detroit want to get their revenge on players, who had nothing to do with Lemieux’s vicious hit? Pierre Lacroix got so angry after the game, he waited for Lapointe in front of the visitor’s locker room and lashed out at him. Dave Lewis, Detroit’s assistant coach, joined the argument, which almost ended in a fight.

Lemieux’s first game against the Red Wings was on March 16, 1997. Nothing of significance happened, except a little fight him and Draper got into. Colorado won yet again. Lemieux made fun of Draper’s lowly stats, adding insult to injury. He enjoyed that the Avalanche dominated the league in a fashion reminiscent of Detroit’s dominance the season before. The Avalanche became a perennial contender. Draper at the time said that both clubs hate each other and that it was the biggest rivalry in sports at the time, yet the game in March ended without any significant events. After the game, Lemieux said that the show was over. Little did he know how wrong he was.

Colorado flew to Detroit to play their last game against the Red Wings for the season on March 26, 1997. They had 8 games left until the end of the regular season and had already secured a playoff berth. Everyone knew that the league’s top overall spot was up for grabs, which would guarantee home advantage throughout the whole playoff. Therefore, coach Marc Crawford kept playing his best players, including Lemieux, every game. Lemieux got “special” treatment in Motor City. He had a bodyguard stand at his door, who accompanied him everywhere he went. Although it was almost a year since his hit on Draper, he was still being threatened – sometimes directly, sometimes through the press in Detroit. It was the press that played a specific role during the rivalry. The writers hated each other. They often wrote critical commentaries, in which they didn’t shy away from attacking one another. Former Denver Post writer Adrian Dater once got into an argument with his colleagues from Detroit and also got into an argument with Detroit’s spokesperson, who threw him out of the locker room. Scotty Bowman himself said that he never experienced so much hatred between writers, as he did during this rivalry. For example, local radio stations in Denver played the sound of a crying baby as a sign for the Draper incident, or called McCarty in the middle of the night before the game, to wake him up.

Such was the atmosphere Lemieux hit the ice of the Joe Louis Arena for the first time since the incident, which made him infamous. It began all of a sudden in the 19th minute, with the Avs holding a 1-0 lead. Peter Forsberg got into a tussle with Igor Larionov, which would’ve ended in a fight if the two didn’t slip up. No one really expected this from them at the time, them being nice and quiet Europeans. The next pairs that got ahold of each other were Valeri Kamensky and Nicklas Lidstrom, Gusarov and Vladimir Konstantinov, and Foote and Shanahan. Lemieux and McCarty were the ones, who were left alone. McCarty made use of this and threw Lemieux on the ice. Lemieux turtled and was ridiculed by Red Wings fans and players ever since. McCarty landed several punches, but soon realized that Patrick Roy was skating from his net to help Lemieux. Roy’s attempt was stopped by Shanahan, after the two collided in mid-air. As Roy later admitted, his knee was never the same as before the collision with Shanahan. Adam Foote quickly realized what was happening and went after Shanahan, but not before Mike Vernon joined the brawl. Roy and Vernon quickly went into a goalie fist-fight and the crowd had the chance to witness a brawl full of hate and hard punches. Lemieux was still turtled up and McCarty was doing as he pleased with him. Although his “fight” with McCarty lasted several seconds, Lemieux left the ice with a bloodied face, after the two linesmen got McCarty of him. The Red Wings finally got their revenge. Shockingly, McCarty only received 4 penalty minutes. Referee Paul Devorski later admitted that he made a mistake.

Multiple fights broke up during the second period – Ward fought Brent Severyn, Foote fought Shanahan, Adam Deadmarsh fought McCarty and Keane fought Thomas Holmstrom. Lemieux returned to the game and apparently wasn’t out for revenge, much to the surprise of fans and teammates alike. This was later criticized and apparently hurt his status in the locker room. The Avs held a 4-3 lead after two and Pierre Lacroix decided that he’ll watch the rest of the game elsewhere inside the arena. Along the way, Lacroix passed the Detroit press, bumped into a writer and yelled several slurs at him. It was as emotional as it gets. Despite the Avalanche doubling their lead, they conceded 2 goals and the game went into overtime, with McCarty scoring the deciding goal. Referee Devorski recalled feeling really, really bad, as the game was decided by a player he was supposed to throw out of the game. Detroit ultimately won the game that went down into NHL history as “Bloody Wednesday”.

Both teams had a great start in the post-season. Colorado eliminated Chicago 4-2 and beat Edmonton Oilers 4-1 afterwards. Detroit eliminated St. Louis in five games and swept Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the second round. Both teams deservedly made it to the Conference finals, as they weren’t just the West’s best two teams, but were the two hottest teams in the entire league. Fans thought that the payback McCarty & co. got in March was deserved, but still wanted the team to show they can play when it matters the most. Colorado, on the other hand, had the perfect opportunity to assert their dominance over the Red Wings and to win their second Stanley Cup in row.

During the first two games, Roy faced 79 shots in total. Colorado’s offense suddenly disappeared, but the series remained tied at 1. The offense got better, but Vernon stood on his head to give the Wings a 2-1 series advantage. As it became apparent, offensive futility wasn’t the Avalanche’s only problem. The team from the Rocky Mountains came under immense pressure, which became the team’s biggest enemy. One of the problems the Avs had to face was Bowman’s tactics. He claimed that the visitors’ bench in the old McNichols Arena was too small. The Avalanche ignored Bowman’s claims, to which he responded by having a bench with the prescribed length brought in to show that he was right. The league agreed and had the bench made bigger. The second problem was the overall mood in the Avalanche locker room. Lacroix brought his son Eric over from the Los Angeles Kings, much to the displeasure of many players. They split into smaller groups. The third issue was Roy’s overreaction at the post-game conference after the team’s Game 3 loss. Roy wanted to motivate his teammates, but put them under additional pressure. Colorado lost the following game 6-0. Roy, his speech and his teammates were the laughing stock of the Detroit media, their fans and their players. The blowout was overshadowed by yet another incident. About two minutes before the final horn, Lapointe tripped Corbett, which resulted in a bench-clearing brawl. Both coaches had a verbal fight, with Bowman poking fun at Crawford, saying that he knew little Crawford’s father sooner than he did. Crawford was furious and his own players had to hold him in order to keep him from jumping Bowman. One of the linesman had to stand between the benches. Crawford received a $10,000 fine and as the years went by, he and Bowman became friends. In his book titled “Blood Feud”, Adrian Dater published the argument’s uncensored transcript for the first time. In total, 232 penalty minutes were handed out during the game, in comparison to the game in March, where the referees “only” handed out 148 penalty minutes, though the regular season game was far bloodier, literally.

The Avalanche comeback never came. Colorado won Game 5 by the same score (6-0), but were ousted 1-3 in Game 6, resulting in a 2-4 series victory for the Red Wings. During the traditional handshake, Lemieux, Draper and McCarty didn’t even look at each other, nor did they shake hands. Detroit swept the Philadelphia Flyers in the Finals, winning their first Stanley Cup since 1955. Payback was finally here. It was clear that the ball was now in Colorado’s court.

The Avalanche failed to meet their preseason expectations. They struggled throughout the whole season and ended the regular season with 95 points. The season stood as the team’s worst season in their first 9 seasons after the franchise’s relocation from Quebec. Another issue was Lemieux, the man who single handedly started the fierce rivalry. According to numerous insider reports, his teammates wanted him to man up and avenge last season’s bloodbath from March. He even had an in-person meeting with Crawford, who supposedly instructed him to do the same. Lemieux did as he was told. In the November game against the Red Wings, Lemieux went after McCarty before the puck was even dropped. The fight was very even, with some spectators claiming Lemieux’s victory. Lemieux finally got his revenge, but even this wasn’t enough to get the team rolling again. Patrick Roy wanted to get his team going in similar style, as he fought Chris Osgood on April 1, 1998, but to no avail. The Avalanche held a 3-1 series lead in the first round against the Oilers, but ultimately lost 3-4, shockingly losing Game 7 0-4 at home. On their way to their second Cup in row, Detroit eliminated Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis, Dallas Stars, before sweeping the Washington Capitals in the Finals. The press all around North America was starting to ask, if this was the end of the short-lived rivalry and if Colorado’s win from 1996 was just a fluke. Pierre Lacroix & co. wanted to do everything to silence their doubters.

Detroit’s fall

The 1998/99 season was supposed to be the Avalanche’s rise from ashes, as they were supposed to silence their doubters. The season was marked by several events that resembled a soap opera script. They often had little to do with hockey or actual games. It all started at the post-season press conference, where Lacroix and Crawford sounded almost comical, as they couldn’t formulate a clear answer whether or not Crawford would remain at the club. As it became clear later on, Crawford wanted to leave Denver at any cost. Lacroix wouldn’t let him, as he still had a year left on his contract. Both sides couldn’t come to an agreement and Crawford started the season as a TV analyst. The Avs later allowed him to take the head coaching job in Vancouver, in exchange for a draft pick.

Eric Lacroix remained an issue in the locker room. One unnamed Avalanche player told Adrian Dater that it just isn’t normal to be on the same team with the GM’s son. Mark Kiszla, known for his harsh style of writing, caught on the story. After the situation became known to the public, new head coach Bob Hartley called a special team meeting. He suspected Milan Hejduk to be the press’ anonymous source. Ironically, the Czech forward couldn’t speak much English at the time. A lot of the players defended Hejduk. Eric Lacroix was in another room and after he heard that his presence bothered some of the players, he asked his father to be traded, to which he agreed. Pierre Lacroix had a heated phone call with the editor’s office of the Denver Post. During the press conference announcing the trade, Lacroix was visibly holding back tears. It was a nice gesture, showing he cared about his son, as well as the team itself, although it little to do with his “business is business” mentality.

As for Hartley, his first season at the helm of an NHL team stacked with star players began with 4 consecutive losses. The tension grew on December 21, 1998. Hartley pulled Roy in the third period. He was replaced by Craig Billington and as the game-winning goal was scored during his stay in goal, he got credited for the win, although he didn’t even had to make a save. Roy was furious. Instead of celebrating the win, he stormed the visitors’ coach room and broke a TV, a video recorded and essentially anything he could, all in front of Hartley and his assistants. The reason? Roy was eyeing Terry Sawchuk’s record of 447 wins. The public became aware of the incident two weeks later, when the Canadiens visited Denver. At first, Roy blamed Dater for wanting to embarrass him in front of his former team and blamed some of his teammates for telling Dater. Adam Foote and Valeri Kamensky became the prime suspects. As Dater wrote in his book, none of them were his source, but distractions like that didn’t help the mood in the locker room, which was at an all-time low despite the departure of Eric Lacroix.

Somehow, Colorado made the playoffs and faced the Sharks in the first round. Before the first game, the state of Colorado, as well as the whole United States were shocked and horrified by the Columbine shooting, when a pair of students killed 13 other students and a teacher at Columbine High School. The teams’ representatives agreed that the series would start in San Jose, as any event in Colorado days after the tragedy would be highly inappropriate. The series would continue with 3 games in Colorado, the eventual sixth and seventh game would be played in San Jose and in Denver, respectively. Colorado won the series 4-2. The Red Wings swept the Ducks, conceded only 6 goals and were eyeing a win over the Avalanche.

A sight fans watching games between Colorado and Detroit during the height of the rivalry grew accustomed to.

As was the case in the 1996 playoffs, there was little doubt who the favorite was. According to many, including Brendan Shanahan himself, the rested Red Wings had their best team in the 1999 playoffs. Some analyst even went as far as saying that the Red Wings could advance through the post-season without losing a game. The first two games of the series only backed their theory. The Avalanche lost both games at home in Pepsi Center. During the first game, Kirk Maltby checked Lemieux from behind, resulting in a five minute major. After Forsberg avenged Lemieux with a similar hit on Shanahan, he was ejected. After their arrival in Hockeytown, the airport staff ridiculed the Avs. Bob Hartley and then-radio announcer Mike Haynes wanted to exercise together, but the manager of the gym they wanted to visit wouldn’t let them in, stating that the rivalry was simply too big. The decimated Avalanche suddenly got going again. Their counterparts were overly confident, which resulted in bad goals, unnecessary fouls and the Avalanche managed to tie the series in Detroit. A big factor were the health problems of Chris Osgood, who was replaced by backup Bill Ranford. After playing great during the series’ opening games, under curious circumstances, he supposedly told Osgood he didn’t want to play anymore. Despite this, he suited up for the next two games, but was pulled and replaced by Norm Maracle both times..

Colorado advanced to the Western Conference finals. Detroit was on its knees, the rivalry was revived and this time, the Avs got their revenge. The Avs held a 3-2 series lead against Dallas. They won Game 5 after a wild 7-5 game in Dallas. Missing from the lineup was Theo Fleury, the team’s newest addition. Official reports suggested he had the flu, but he presumably missed the game due to his struggle with addiction, to which he confessed as the years went by. Hartley opted to insert Fleury back into the lineup for Game 6, but the Avalanche lost both of the following games, as Dallas went all the way to beat the Buffalo Sabres for the Stanley Cup.

The last big games

During the 1999/2000 season, the Red Wings heavily resembled the Avalanche from a season ago. Various problems disrupted the organization, which saw themselves as champions before the season even started. Colorado traded Claude Lemieux, after he himself asked for a trade, because he found out Lacroix wasn’t going to offer him a contract he envisioned. Brian Rolston, whom the Avalanche got in exchange for Lemieux from the Devils, had a rather short-lived tenure in Denver, as he, along with Martin Grenier, Sammuel Pahlsson and a first-round pick (Martin Samuelsson), became part of the January trade that brought in Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk from the Boston Bruins. As was the case in 1995, Detroit couldn’t believe what Lacroix pulled off. He brought in a playing legend, one of the best defenseman to ever play the game. His presence in the locker room felt like a scene from a movie. After spending two decades in Boston without winning hockey’s ultimate prize, Bourque, who was as big as a bear, came to Colorado to finally fulfill his dream of winning the Stanley Cup. He was the catalyst the Avalanche lacked during the previous two seasons. In the playoffs, Colorado eliminated the Coyotes, while the Red Wings swept the Kings. The two rivals’ matchup became the most lopsided in the history of the rivalry. In Game 4, the Avs were down 1-2 about 5 minutes before the final buzzer, but Andreychuk’s most important goal during his short stay in Denver tied the game and Chris Drury won the game in overtime. The Avalanche held a 3-1 series lead before going to Detroit, where they won the series. The Conference finals were last year’s rematch, as the Avalanche met with the Stars. The Star won the series in seven, as they eliminated Colorado yet again. In the Finals, the Stars were ousted by New Jersey in six games.

From the perspective of the rivalry, the 2000/01 season brought nothing special. Lemieux played for a bad Coyotes team, the bloody fights were history. Lacroix once again showed his great negotiation skills, as he traded Adam Deadmarsh for Rob Blake. Blake became the final piece of the puzzle the team needed to achieve its goal – winning the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings were eliminated by Los Angeles in the opening round, the first time they were eliminated in the first round in 7 years. Colorado faced the Kings in round two, winning the series in dramatic fashion in seven games. They had no trouble beating the St. Louis Blues in the Conference finals and came back from being down 2-3 against the defending champions from New Jersey, to winning the Stanley Cup in 7 games. After 22 long years, Bourque could finally lift the Stanley Cup in one of the most memorable moments in hockey history. Even with Bourque retiring, the Avalanche managed to hold most of its core together, in an effort to build a dynasty.

In September 2001, the Avalanche held a special training camp in Sweden. The team was at their hotel, when they heard the news about 9/11. Everyone started to panic and wanted to back home to their families. Since the USA didn’t receive any incoming flights, the team, including club owner Stan Kroenke, remained trapped in Europe. On September 15, the team played an exhibition game against Swedish side Brynas, which they won. They became the first professional North American sports team to play a game since the attacks. Afterwards, they finally embarked on the journey back home, though the plane headed back overseas was missing a very important person. During training camp, Peter Forsberg announce that his injury was so severe, he will be staying home and get treatment from his doctor. No one could believe it. Speculations arose that Forsberg’s parents were so scared by the attack, they wouldn’t let their son back to America.

Detroit brought in a new face for the 2001/02 season. Dominik Hasek was the new man in the Red Wings’ crease. Hasek’s arrival was allegedly caused by the Red Wings management’s fear of Lacroix doing something bizarre yet again. Hašek almost became the third Red Wings goalie to fight Roy. A scrum broke out near Roy’s crease during one of the teams’ regular season games. Hasek skated down the ice, but tripped on a stick and the fight never happened.

In the playoffs, Colorado once again beat Los Angeles in seven games and eliminated San Jose in similar fashion. During their first two rounds against the Canucks and Blues, the Red Wings only lost 2 games, resulting and the team being well rested for their meeting with the Avs in the Conference finals. The Avs were the favorites, but got themselves into a similar position as Detroit did in the past. Colorado was on the verge of becoming a dynasty. To get to the top, they only needed to beat the Red Wings. With the return of Peter Forsberg, the organization was certain it would beat the Red Wings once again. The Swedish forward returned to the lineup after missing the whole regular season. He returned in spectacular fashion, racking up 27 points in 20 post-season games.

The final big series of the rivalry was marked by tragicomic incidents. Colorad held a 3-2 series lead, but proved their inability to win a sixth game in a series. In the first period, Roy wanted to show off after gloving Steve Yzerman’s shot, but the puck fell out, resulting in an easy goal for Detroit. The Avalanche wanted back in the game, when a player told Hartley he thought Hasek used an illegally sized stick. Hartley told this to the referees, who measured the said stick, but found nothing and gave Colorado a minor penalty. This happened during a Colorado power-play, so if the stick had really been illegal, the Avalanche would’ve gotten a two-man advantage. They risked losing the man-advantage, which they ultimately did. In Dater’s book, Hartley stated that he’ll never say who the player telling him about it was. Along with Roy’s blunder, the incident was a major turning point in the series. The Red Wings eventually doubled their lead and won Game 6 2-0. Game 7 was played in Detroit and ended in a 7-0 blowout for the home side. Roy allowed 6 goals. Truth be told, most of the Avalanche players had so many official and unofficial injuries that they eventually lost they confidence. Detroit beat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games en route to another Stanley Cup.

The blowout became the last big game of the rivalry that forever changed the NHL. Was it really supposed to end like this? Was this really a fitting end for a rivalry like this? As McCarty told Adam Foote while shaking hands after the game, it was one heck of a series. He, along with others, realized that this probably put the end of a 6-year long rivalry full of hatred and bloody brawls. They knew they played games that were unrivaled in their intensity and overall quality. They gave their games a whole new dimension, which the fans won’t forget. Their future games may lack the spark they’ve had during the 1996-2002 era, but the fans will always remember the players, who were ready to sacrifice everything in order to win. They’ve left us with a legacy we will cherish forever.

How the teams and persons involved ended up

The Avalanche and the Red Wings

Both teams were shockingly eliminated in the first round of the 2003 playoffs. Detroit was swept by Anaheim, while Colorado lost a 3-1 series lead and were eliminated at home by the Minnesota Wild. In 2004, the Avs were without Roy, but newcomers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne made them immediate Stanley Cup favorites. There seemed to be a realistic chance they would meet the Red Wings in the Conference finals, but both teams were eliminated in the second round, after losing to San Jose and the Calgary Flames, respectively. The following lockout cost the Avalanche everything and they had to start all over again. They beat the Stars in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, but were later eliminated by the Ducks. Detroit’s season ended in the opening round. A year later, the Avalanche failed to make the playoffs for the first time since the franchise’s relocation to Denver, while the Red Wings made it all the way to the Conference finals. The 2008 playoffs brought a second-round series between both teams, but the Avalanche were easily swept by the Red Wings, who went all the way to win the Stanley Cup. As of now, this marked the last time the teams have face each other in the playoffs. Colorado didn’t make next year’s playoffs, while the Red Wings lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals. In 2010, the Avalanche lost to the Sharks in the first round, who went on to beat Detroit in the following round. Colorado failed to make a post-season appearance during the following three seasons. They had to wait until 2014 to make the playoffs again, where they lost a dramatic 7-game series against Minnesota, all under new head coach Patrick Roy. Detroit moved to the Eastern Conference before the start of the 2013/2014 season. The Red Wings have made the playoffs 24 years in row, but haven’t advanced beyond the second round since their loss to the Penguins.

Claude Lemieux

After being traded to the Devils, Lemieux won his fourth Stanley Cup in 2000. He became one of only ten players to win a Cup with three different teams. He spent the following three season in Phoenix and was traded to Dallas Stars during the 2002/03 season, who bought out his contract after the season, since they had no place in the lineup for him. Lemieux announced his retirement, but was persuaded by Swiss side Zug to play a few games in Europe. Lemieux returned to hockey in 2008/09. He started practicing with the China Sharks, a Chinese team, which at the time worked with San Jose. Lemieux played for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, while also appearing in 18 NHL games and recording an assist. He hung up his skates for good afterwards. According to TSN, Lemieux became the second-most hated player in NHL history after Sean Avery.

Kris Draper

Draper suited up for the Wings from 1993 until 2011. He became the fifth player in Red Wings history to play more than 1000 games for the club. He played at the World Championship in 2004 and at the Olympics in 2006. He was forced into retirement in 2011, as the Red Wings had no roster space for him. He immediately became a special advisor to general manager Ken Holland, which he remains today. He represented the Red Wings at a special press conference about the Stadium Series in September 2015 in Denver.

Patrick Roy

The 9-goal shelling he received from the Red Wings in 1995 indirectly made him join the Avalanche. Roy and the Red Wings “parted ways” in 2002 in similar fashion, as they put 7 pucks behind his back. He decided to play one more year, but retired after the Avalanche’s shocking first-round defeat against Minnesota. He ended his career holding many NHL records and as one of the best goalies to ever play in the NHL. Roy worked around junior hockey, working as team owner, general manager and head coach and became the center of controversy, including brawls and verbal fights, several times. He won the Memorial Cup as head coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts. In 2013, he became the current head coach of the Avalanche, who were inquiring since 2009. He’s also an assistant to Joe Sakic in matters concerning team management. He had his number retired by the Avalanche and became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

Darren McCarty

As the rivalry ended, McCarty’s career started to wind down. He signed with the Calgary Flames following the 2004/05 lockout, but only played two seasons in Alberta. He started the 2007/08 season playing for an IHL club co-owned by Draper. He received a contract from the Red Wings and started the season playing for their AHL affiliate, but got called-up for the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup. The 2008/09 was basically similar to the previous one, with McCarty missing most of the regular season due to injury. He officially retired after the season. In 2011, Adrian Dater met with McCarty, who said that he misses the days of the rivalry and has never forgotten about it. In 2013, McCarty published book, which details his struggles with alcoholism.

Marc Crawford

After his complicated exit from Colorado in 1998, Crawford was the Canucks’ head coach for 7 years. He became an enemy of Avalanche fans after the 2004 Bertuzzi – Moore incident. Crawford seemed to smile after Bertuzzi’s brutal attack. The NHL, as well as several lawyers, started several investigations whether he gave Bertuzzi instructions to attack Moore. Moore, who couldn’t play anymore as a result of the attack, wanted to be paid several million dollars in damages. The NHL gave the Canucks a $250,500 fine, because the organization failed to contain the atmosphere that lead to the attack. Moore reach an out-of-court settlement in 2014. The details were never published. Crawford was fired by Vancouver after failing to make the playoffs. The same scenario happened after two years with the Kings and another two years with the Stars. Since 2012, Crawford’s the head coach of the ZSC Lions of the Swiss top-tier league, where he won one league title so far.

Scotty Bowman

The best head coach in the history of professional sports. No one holds more coaching records than him. After winning his ninth Stanley Cup as head coach in 2002, Bowman retired from coaching and remained in Detroit in another position until 2008. He has been an advisor for the Chicago Blackhawks since then. He won a total of 14 Stanley Cups as both coach and team official, which is an absolute record. He was inducted into the builder category of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991. He spent a total of 59 years and counting working around hockey.

A list of players that played during the rivalry era, who were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame:

Scotty Bowman

Ray Bourque
Paul Coffey
Larry Murphy

Patrick Roy

Igor Larionov

Brett Hull
Luc Robitaille
Steve Yzerman
Dino Ciccarelli

Joe Sakic

Chris Chelios
Brendan Shanahan

Rob Blake
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hašek

Sergei Fedorov
Nicklas Lidström

*The source of information was Adrian Dater´s book Blood Feud. Photography sources: youtube, thn.com, puckpropaganda.com, csnne.com, mlive.com, detroithockey.net
NHL on Nov 11, 2017: "Eurolanche is the world's largest Colorado Avalanche fan club."