“I can’t believe I shook that guy’s friggin’ hand…” – Dino Ciccarelli
In the mid-nineties, Kris Draper was the epitome of a blue-collar hockey player, all scrum and speed, which lead him to being the Red Wing’s go-to-guy on the penalty kill, with a particular talent for scoring shorthanded goals.
In the ’96 cup campaign, Draper’s postseason ended when Colorado Avalanche player, Claude Lemieux, put his entire upper body into Draper’s face. Crushing it against the boards in what is certainly one of the most malicious and the dirty plays in NHL history.
Reconstructive surgery was necessary. But true to his nature, Draper came back the following season as if having his face scrambled was just another day at the office. The Avalanche won the Stanley cup that year, while Draper was in the hospital, and the Detroit Red Wings, known for their Lady Byng-like poise and finesse, quietly bided their time.
“Hockey players have long memories.” –Darren McCarty
When these two met at the Joe the following year, it was a different situation entirely. Near the end of the first, the least likely of scrappers, Igor Larionov, got involved with Peter Forsberg and glorious bedlam ensued.
Big number 25, Darren McCarty, was the closest thing Detroit had to a goon at the time. McCarty was a physical presence on the ice but he also scored his fair share at the right wing position. Seeing his chance, McCarty ripped into Lemieux and tore his helmet off in one of Hockeytown’s greatest spectacles. I remember watching this happening live as a kid and couldn’t understand why Lemieux didn’t fight back. The big bad wolf crumpled to the ice in a pathetic effort to protect his head while McCarty’s bare fists tore skin and drew blood. From that day on, Lemieux was less than a paper tiger. He was a man who openly displayed his spineless cowardice to all of hockeydom on local television.
McCarty ended up dragging Lemieux around the ice in a two-team brawl that ended up with 18 fighting majors. Lemieux, face bloodied, retreated to the locker room, and was buried forever as far as Wings fans were concerned.
“They were after Claude and we expected it. McCarty’s a big guy and he should face him at least, stand up and go after Claude if he wants to do something.” – Patrick Roy
It was sweet to see McCarty avenge Kris Draper, but the overlooked gem of the night was Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon slugging it out. I think it’s fair to say that Roy was a legendary villain for any Red Wings fan of the 90’s, and as much as I used to hate him, I kind of admire him in hindsight. He came to the aid of Claude Lemieux, streaking past the centerline even while encumbered with all that padding, only to be hammered by Brendan Shanahan in a flying collision that knocked both men to the ice. Roy’s blood was understandably up by the time Vernon got to him and the two ‘tenders went at it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this, but I have it on good authority that the hockey gods smile every time two goaltenders fight. By the time the blood was scraped off the ice there was more than two whole periods left to play.
Darren McCarty scored the game winner in OT. A billion angels got their wings that night. They were all colored red.