Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche: Fight Night at the Joe 15 Years Later

Nick HeebshCorrespondent IIApril 25, 2012

Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux
Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux

The Wings-Avs rivalry was one of the most heated hockey rivalries of the 1990's.

Both teams were of the highest caliber. Between them, the took the Stanley Cup four times between the '95-'96 and '00-'01 seasons, with their fierce competition oftentimes bred memorable dust-ups.

None is more famous (or infamous) than the March 26, 1997 brawl at Joe Louis Arena. It has since been called "Fight Night at the Joe," "Bloody Wednesday" and the "Brawl in Hockeytown."

The main reason for the fight was an incident on May 29, 1996. Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux checked Red Wings forward Kris Draper from behind, sending Draper face-first into the boards. Draper sustained severe injuries including a shattered jawbone, cheekbone and orbital bone.

Many saw the hit as a cheap-shot, including several hot-blooded Red Wings. 301 days later, revenge was exacted.

The fight began with Igor Larionov of the Wings and Peter Forsberg of the Avs tangling up and wrestling near the Red Wings' bench. In the ensuing chaos, Wings enforcer Darren McCarty took the opportunity to get some blows in on Lemieux; and blows he got.

After bringing Lemieux to the ground, McCarty rained blows on his head. The two eventually ended up near the Red Wings' bench, where McCarty delivered several shots to Lemieux's face with his knee. The officials were finally able to pry McCarty from Lemieux, who retreated to the locker room.

As McCarty was pummelling Lemieux, Avs goalie Patrick Roy tried to intervene, but as he neared center-ice, a full-speed Brendan Shanahan laid a leaping body check on him. Shanahan then tangled with Roy and Avs defensman Adam Foote.

Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon skated out to pull Foote away from Shanahan, and was attacked from behind by Roy. The two powerful goalies then took center stage. They dropped their gloves and exchanged blows in what has since been described as one of the best goalie fights of all time.

In the end, players on both teams were battered, bloodied and bruised. Team captains Steve Yzerman of the Red Wings and Joe Sakic of the Avalanche talked with one official. Other officials attempted to clean up the large pool of blood left by the attack on Claude Lemieux.

While the incident is an all-time great as far as hockey fights go, it had a deeper impact on the Red Wings. It is generally credited as the moment in which the '96-'97 Red Wings became a team in the truest sense of the word. They sought and attained retribution and did it together.

They would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season and the next. Their success at the end of the 1990's would revive a powerhouse team that had not won a Stanley Cup in 42 years.