by Dino Cacciola, Detroit Correspondent
It has been touted as one of the most important games in the recent history of the Detroit Red Wings. Bloody Wednesday was definitely a night to remember in Motown, that's for sure, as the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche beat up on each other in a 6-5 overtime Detroit win -- a game that saw revenge against Claude Lemieux.
"The Brawl," which it has been labeled, was shown on a Detroit cable station for two straight days. VCRs in the Motor City were working overtime to tape the event over and over. Blood thirsty fans? One would think this is equivalent to the Romans feeding gladiators to the Lions the way the local media and fans have reacted. You can call it sweet revenge or justification or payback time or retribution. Whatever you call it, it was important to the Red Wings.
"This is a game that brought the Red Wings together," said Wings goaltender Mike Vernon, who picked up his 300th career win against the Avs. "Whether it was the first-period fighting or the overtime goal, a game like this only helps give you confidence to go into the playoffs. When you go to the playoffs, everybody has to be ready to do the job and stay together. Tonight showed the guys were willing to pay the price."
The fans were willing to pay the price of admission for this game. This is what the Wings needed with 10 games remaining before the playoffs. For most teams, the Wings' win/loss record would be considered a great season, but coming off of last year's record setting performance, this has been a big letdown for Detroit. Something was missing in the formula.
Last year's playoff elimination to Colorado was overshadowed when Claude Lemieux checked Kris Draper from behind into the boards face-first and rearranged his face. Lemieux received only a two-game suspension and a $1,000 fine from the NHL while Drapes spent the summer recovering from a broken jaw and numerous other facial injuries. Lemieux became public enemy number one in Detroit and has been a target of the fans and media for about 300 days. He did not apologize for the incident and Draper has said that is all he wanted. In fact, Lemieux has gone on about how he has made Draper famous, made him money, and has helped his career.
There is no doubt that Lemieux has killed the Wings the last two seasons as he rightfully has hoisted the Stanley Cup for New Jersey and Colorado. His statements about Draper has partially fueled the bad blood between the two teams establishing a Western Conference rivalry like never before.
"Screw Lemieux" T-shirts were being sold all over the Detroit Metro area. A local sports station labeled March as "Screw Lemieux Month". The hype for this game has been building for a long time and finally reached its pinnacle on Bloody Wednesday.
Kris Draper's grandfather died the night before the game and he mentioned it to no one. He didn't want anything to be taken away from the game. Draper's best friend is Darren McCarty. McCarty had been incensed over the comments Lemieux made regarding the incident regarding his friend.
"He did it to Drapes, but he did it to me, too," said McCarty. "If one of your brothers gets taken advantage of, you respond. It's a family thing."
The same stand has been taken by the Red Wing's fans who consider their team as family. They wanted Lemieux and they wanted him to pay. You will have your fans that are just blood thirsty. Call it sick or morbid curiosity, it is human nature to be excited and drawn to these situations.
The overwhelming consensus around town, with the exception of the elitist media, are very content with the outcome of the game. The outcome, unfortunate as it may have been for the game of hockey to some in general, was ultimately inevitable. The beginning of this story needed an ending. And in a game that meant nothing to the standings, it meant everything to the Wings. And the final line was written by not only Darren McCarty, but by the whole team. The eye for an eye mentality is being questioned and talked about by everyone from psychologists to school kids.
The Avalanche are still superior and the odds-on favorite to win the Cup. The Wings haven't dented that fact one bit. But for the Wings, winning that game in overtime by rallying from two goals down and getting revenge on Claude Lemieux was a turning point. The fans have finally been won over. They were shown that their team wasn't going to get pushed around and wasn't going to get stepped on for lack of effort. Mike Vernon, a scapegoat the past few seasons, has won the hearts of Detroit fans just by bloodying Patrick Roy in the fight.
For as long as fighting has been in hockey, there has been a movement to remove it from the game. My contention is, if Lemieux would have apologized then this would not have happened. But he didn't and it was assumed that he had no remorse and did the hit intentionally. Within the rules the Red Wings payed him back. McCarty did not receive a fighting penalty because Lemieux turtled away claiming he was jumped and sucker punched. He did not fight. Video replay clearly shows Lemieux saw McCarty coming and ducked. Lemieux had a cut reopened by McCarty and received 17 stitches but returned to the game and nearly scored. The cut may have been reopened when McCarty dragged Lemieux and his head hit the boards. Colorado coach Marc Crawford claims that McCarty kneed Lemieux in the head. That is debatable as the replay would indicate, but McCarty has denied that he did. A few years ago Claude turtled to Cam Neely in a similar situation. This is great fodder for Don Cherry to spew!
Darren McCarty was not suspended or fined for the game, much to the dismay of the Colorado officials. After the game, Wings defensemen Aaron Ward filed a complaint to NHL officials in reference to an alleged altercation between he and Colorado coach Marc Crawford in the hallway outside the locker rooms. Crawford denies these allegations and claims that this is just another Scotty Bowman ploy to fuel the media. Also filed by the Red Wings was an incident where Avs GM Pierre Lacroix was seen pushing a local sports writer in the press box during the game.
Lady Byng candidate Igor Larionov took exception to visor-wearing Peter Forsberg's hit from behind to start the fights. That being the case, it would be farfetched to say that the fight was premeditated as Colorado is proclaiming. But to say the altercation as a whole was not premeditated is absurd. The time it was going to happen was never planned and how it was going to happen wasn't known. But the fact that it was going to happen was well known. The electricity in the air was enough to light the city that night. 19,983 fans crammed into Joe Louis Arena (a proper name, don't you think?) and cheered furiously as 144 penalty minutes were handed out. To finally beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in overtime and to get revenge was very sweet. Ironically, Red Wing enforcer Joey "KO" Kocur didn't suit up for the game due to the flu. Neither did tough defensemen Bob Rouse.
These teams could possibly meet again in the Conference Finals. If the hockey gods choose this fate it should be a most interesting battle. Otherwise anything as far as paybacks to the Wings by Colorado will have to wait until next season. Roy, who played stellar in goal, was bloodied by Vernon and injured his shoulder when Shanahan ran into him at center ice. Lemieux was bloodied. Forsberg was bloodied. Will these scenarios be repaid and relived in the future? No one knows for sure. Picking and choosing a right time and a right place is the key. The Red Wings picked this time and place to get Lemieux back. Mike Keane wanted to know why the Red Wings waited to do this at home? Does it really matter? In hockey you pick and choose your time and place. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes only 300 days. This event or debacle, depending on your point of view, might be the great deterrent this game needs for the cheap shots that occur. It will serve notice that you can't get away with it.
The Red Wings have been criticized for being too small to match the teams in the East, but on Bloody Wednesday they finally played very big. Kris Draper feels closure has taken place. Hockeytown feels that something has finally opened, it is called Aggressive Hockey! This statement might be true, "The Romans had the gladiators... we have hockey." The spirit of Gordie Howe has made a comeback. What a game!
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