If it seems like forever ago, well, a lot has changed since 1997. But if today’s date rings a bell for hockey fans in Detroit, there’s a reason. Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Joe Louis Arena brawl between the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche, a seminal moment in the Wings’ championship era of the last two decades.
The cover of the sports section in the Detroit News on March 26, 1997, proved to be equal parts hype and foreshadowing. It featured a mock “Wanted” posted featuring the Avs’ Claude Lemieux, who’d smashed Kris Draper’s face with a reckless hit in the playoffs the year before. Yes, we had an inkling something could happen that night, that players in the Wings dressing room hoped something would happen, and that one or two, if they got an opportunity, intended to settle a score with Lemieux. The teams had met three times already that season, the Avs had won all three games, and there had been no on-ice retribution against Lemieux.
But no one knew for sure what it would look like if, or when, it did happen. And certainly no one could’ve guessed it’d start with Igor Larionov grappling with Peter Forsberg, or that it’d include Mike Vernon duking it out with Patrick Roy — aided by Brendan Shanahan’s flying body block on Roy — after Darren McCarty jumped Lemieux to satisfy the building’s blood lust.
In all, there were nine fights and 148 penalty minutes that night. There also was a wildly entertaining game that Detroit won, 6-5 in overtime, with McCarty, who had no business still being in the game, scoring the winner in the first minute of OT.
Here’s full video of the brawl, in case you’re feeling nostalgic.