Although technically not in the record books, Darren McCarty fought 7 pink shirted, hat strapped to the belt loop thugs in 1997.
I open the shed door and I see it. A hockey stick that has the blade removed and a broom head in its place. Sweep. That one word has my mind instantly transported back 14 years. I am reminded that things change but the memory remains. I am back in Michigan after many years and now lost in time because of change. It is bittersweet as I pack up my childhood home and I am spending most of it thinking about the past. This hockey/broom stick is now that catalyst for my latest trip back in time. It's August 2011 and things are changing all around us. Draper is gone, Osgood is gone, Maltby, McCarty, Yzerman, Fedorov...We know the list and if you don't you can see it here. That is the roster from 1996-1997. Superstars. Grinders. Enforcers. Larry Murphy before he started drinking.
1997...What a great year. Don't believe me? Take a look at the facts:
January: Bill Clinton becomes president...again. An entire nation lives in blissful ignorance of someone that will be called W. The Red Wings head into January a respectable 20-13-6 (remember ties?). The wheels would fall off a bit as the Wings would only win only 2 games that month, prompting an entire state to roll their eyes and say, here we go again.
February: The Dow Jones closes above 7,000 for the first time ever. I don't really know what that means but a quick Google search shows me that the Dow closed at 11444.61 on August 5th...That seems higher. I suppose these are the type of things a college education is used for. That same month the Wings went on a tear going 8-2-3. The Wings beat Pittsburgh 4-1 on February 27th at The Joe. In 1997 Sidney Crosby scored 159 goals in 55 games playing in Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia. A lesser known stat about that season, he only dived 175 times. Suck it Crosby.
March: President Bill Clinton bars federal funding for any research on human cloning, a mere 17 years after Tora Sendin broke Swedish cloning laws by creating these. We now know that human cloning leads to playoff disappointment and Don Cherry rants. The Red Wings stormed into March knowing that it was time to pull it together. A storm was on the horizon but no one knew that it would unleash on March 26th 1997.
You have watched it 1000 times. Watch it again. I know I am not the first person to say this but I remember thinking, this is it. If you watched this game you saw more then revenge. You saw more then a brawl. You saw more then a great comeback and win by the Wings. What you witnessed was a team finally coming together. It was breathtaking and magical. I do not have the ability to express in words what that night represents to me, I am not smart or talented enough like the other bloggers on this site but I think everyone who has made it this far knows what I mean and can remember that feeling. Epic.
April: A rocket is shot into space with the remains of 24 people in the worlds first space burial. Chris Pronger was learning to count to 24. Completely unrelated but I think because of Crosby/Malkin, Thornton/Setoguchi, Doan/Doan we are forgetting about the hate we had for Mr. Pronger and the St. Louis Blues. April 13th the Wings would end the regular season in a 3-1 loss at home to the Blues and finish the season 38-26-18 with 94 points. Revenge would be swift as the Wings earned a date with the Blues in the first round.
May 2nd-8th: The Spice Girls hit up the Cannes Film Festival and announce they will be making "Spiceworld: The Movie" The entire Anaheim Might Ducks team get in line for pre-sale tickets that same day and totally forget about the second round of the playoffs. In my mind I only remember the sweep but in my insane amount of research (see: Wikipedia) I now remember that 3 of the 4 games went into overtime, including a double and triple session. I can't remember if the games felt that close but a couple of bad bounces that series could have gone a different way.
May 15th-26th: News and Pop-Culture no longer matter. The Avalanche had beat the Oilers in, what I am sure was, a boring 5 game series. The only thing an entire nation of Red Wings and Avalanche fans could focus on was the rematch that was on the horizon. This had to be one of the most anticipated series of all time. The hate was teeming on both sides (as a side note, that last image has come up every single time I have searched Red Wings, Avalanche, Blues, Chris Pronger...weird). Even Uncle Joey was on the bandwagon. The series started in Denver and was everything it was hyped up to be. The teams split the games and came back to Detroit for a close, scratch and claw game three, which the Wings would squeak out 2-1. It seemed we were in for a series that could go the long haul. And then game 4 and 5 would open up the flood gates. The Wings would rip off a 6-0 victory in a game that would see Kirk "50 goals in junior" Maltby bang in two goals. (PS Bookmark this page now). The Avalanche would head home and drop a 6-0 bomb on the Wings. I am not going to look up the box score but I assume Joe Sakic had all of the goals, assists and saves in that game. I think even after the 6-0 loss, we all felt that if we could have written the Wings being up 3-2 heading back to The Joe we would have. It felt like it was our time and we would not be denied. Fedorov, Shanahan, Lapointe and Vernon would make sure of that in an epic 3-1 victory. The demons had been exorcised. There was still one more round to be played but it had that same feeling as I imagine the 1980 Miracle Team had when they beat the Russians. Beating the Avalanche meant that the Cup would be coming home, there was just one small obstacle to overcome. This. No wait, this. And then this again.
May 31st-June 7th: There are only three things you need to know about this series.
One: This quote by Terry Murray after game three "It is basically a choking situation that I call it right now". Murray would be fired after the series, a lot of blame being placed on this comment.
We all know what happened six days later so I am going to end with that picture. I prefer to live in the happy, ignorance that was June 7th, 1997. Real life would rear its ugly head all too soon. Change is inevitable and with everything that is going on in the real world today, it is easy to get caught up in the past. The day I took that hockey/broom stick and used skate laces to tie it up in the back seat of my car was a day that nothing else in the world mattered to me except my hockey team were champions. That can never be taken away. 1997...What a great year.