The Detroit Red Wings are one of the original six NHL teams. The franchise and its players have won numerous team and individual awards and honors, including eleven Stanley Cup Trophy Wins. Detroit is home to many Hockey Hall of Fame players including Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, and Nicklas Lidstrom. Detroit has seen some of the best teams in the leagues history, but none of them compare to the 1996-97 and 1997-98 teams. Over the 2 years, these men made up, what was going to become, two of the best teams in the leagues history.
In the 1996 Offseason, the team’s new nickname “HOCKEYTOWN” launched and was then painted on center ice at the Joe Louis Arena, along with the team’s logo. This new nickname created so much excitement and energy for players and fans which really showed in the upcoming season. One of the most memorable nights in Red Wings history happened on March 26, 1997. Red Wings Right Winger, Darren McCarty, finally got his revenge on Claude Lemieux. In the previous season, Lemieux made a vicious hit on Detroit’s Kris Draper. McCarty had always told Draper that he would take care of Lemieux, he just didn’t know when. McCarty’s uncle always told him that “sometimes the anticipation of death is worse than death itself.” (Dow, 2017 P. 17) This fight lead to the hockey brawl of the season. It has been called “Bloody Wednesday,” “The Brawl at Hockeytown” and “Fight Night at the Joe.” (Dow, 2017 P. 2) This night helped set up the energy of the team for the next few months. Detroit ended up ranking second in the Central Division and third place in the Western Conference. In the first round of the Stanley Cup finals, Detroit was able to win the series 4-2 against the St. Louis Blues. Detroit then moved on to sweep the Anaheim Ducks 4-0 in the second round. Next up, Detroit faced the Colorado Avalanche winning this series 4-2 which guaranteed them a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. Detroit has made it to the finals for the second time in the past 3 years. They faced the Philadelphia Flyers, who were making their first appearance to the finals since 1987. Detroit had won the first three games and were heading into game four. In the first period of game four, Detroit had scored and was in the lead. It wasn’t until the second period, that Darren McCarty had sealed the deal for Detroit by scoring the game winning goal. The Detroit Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
Just six days after ending a 42-year Stanley Cup drought, the Detroit Red Wings experienced one of the worst days in franchise history, star defenseman, Vladimir Konstantinov, and the teams massage therapist, Sergei Mnatsakanov, got into a horrible limousine accident. “The vehicle Konstantinov, Mnatsakanov and Fetisov were riding in crossed three lanes of traffic on Woodward Ave. in Birmingham, jumped the curb and slammed into a tree. The driver, Richard Gnida, whose license had been suspended at the time for drunk driving, told police he had blacked out. The Red Wings personnel were not wearing seat belts.” (Khan, 2017 P. 15) Konstantinov spent several weeks in a coma and was then placed in a wheelchair. He is able to move around with a walker now but Is limited with his speech and movement. This ended the celebration for the team.
In preparation for the 1997-98 season, the team decided to dedicate the season to Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov. “The Red Wings wore jersey patches bearing the initials “VK” and “SM” and the word “Believe” in English and Russian.” (Stubbs, 2017 P. 1) In the beginning of the season, Detroit was consumed of sad thoughts about the accident. Under coach Scotty Bowman, Detroit, with seven future Hockey Hall of Famers, finished second in the Central Division. The Captain, Steve Yzerman led the team in points by finishing the season with a total of 24 goals and 45 assist. Detroit was able to win against the Pheonix Coyotes 4-2 in the first round. They then faced the St. Louis Blues (winning 4-2) and the Dallas Stars (winning 4-2). In the Final round, Detroit swept the Washington Capitals by winning game four by a score of 4-1. Detroit had won the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row. When Steve Yzerman was handed the Stanley Cup, instead of taking it for the traditional captain lap around the ice, he handed the trophy to Konstantinov and pushed his wheelchair around the ice. “A year ago, we were told Vlady might not live and tonight he carried the Stanley Cup,” Yzerman said. “I think that’s pretty special.” (Stubbs, 2017 P.14)
It is easy to say that these two years were some of the best and most heartbreaking in franchise history. The Red Wings went on to win two more Stanley Cups, one in 2002 and the other in 2008. How hard is it to win a back to back Stanley Cup Championship? Well, Detroit held the title of back to back Stanley Cup Championship winners for 19 years until the Pittsburgh Penguins won the cup in 2016 and 2017. Detroit also holds the record for making the playoffs 25 years in a row (1990-91 through 2015-16 season). Many hockey fans have voted that the 1996-97 and the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings teams were some of the best teams to come across in the leagues history. Detroit has been home to some of the greats and will continue to house top talent. As they continue to struggle today, fans are hoping to rebuild a team that will dominate like these past teams in franchise history. As many fans say, “Don’t stop believing, Detroit”.