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The Red Wings – Avalanche brawl was a large scale on-ice melee that occurred March 26, 1997, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan, United States, between two National Hockey League rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche. The brawl, alternatively called Bloody Wednesday, Fight Night at the Joe and Brawl in Hockeytown,[1] stemmed from a previous on-ice incident between the two teams during the 1996 Western Conference Finals. The incident stemmed from a controversial hit by Claude Lemieux on the Red Wings' Kris Draper the previous year.

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Previous incident

In Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals, Avalanche right wing Claude Lemieux checked Draper from behind, driving Draper's face into the boards.

The hit sent Draper out of the game and into the hospital with a broken jaw, shattered cheek and orbital bone, which required reconstructive surgery involving his jaw being wired shut and numerous stitches. The Avalanche would go on to defeat the Red Wings in six games, eventually winning the Stanley Cup. After the traditional handshakes that take place after a playoff series, former Red Wing winger Dino Ciccarelli said of Lemieux, "I can't believe I shook the guy's freaking hand."[2]

The brawl

In the next regular season, although the two teams had played each other three times without incident, this fourth meeting on the night of March 26 was different. In the first three match-ups, Lemieux had not dressed for the Avalanche, so Lemieux was making his first appearance against the Wings since the hit on Draper. As tensions mounted early in the first period with incidents involving Kirk Maltby, René Corbet, Brent Severyn and Jamie Pushor, a melee ensued at the 18:22 mark. Shortly after a collision between Red Wing center Igor Larionov and Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg, Wings enforcer Darren McCarty seized the chance to avenge his Grind Line teammate by escaping a referee's grasp and hitting Lemieux with a right hook from the side. McCarty laid many blows on Lemieux, who fell to the ice and covered his head (labeled "turtling" by the hockey media); McCarty managed to land a few more punches, drag Lemieux to the boards, and knee him in the head before the two were separated by officials.

Other players became engaged in the hostilities when Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy skated out of his net to defend his teammate; he was intercepted by Red Wing forward Brendan Shanahan, who was skating at full speed, with an open ice body check, sending him sprawling momentarily. While Shanahan and Colorado defenseman Adam Foote fought, Wings goalie Mike Vernon went out to center ice to meet Roy. The fight between Larionov and Forsberg ended with the oft-injured Forsberg aggravating an injury. Forsberg did not return to the ice, sitting out the remainder of the game. Patches of blood on the ice were visible before the ice was resurfaced by the Zamboni.

After several more fights with according penalties, including a fight between Shanahan and Foote four seconds into the second period, the game was able to continue. When the third period ended, the score was tied 5–5. Incidentally, it was McCarty who scored the winner against Roy in overtime, assisted by Shanahan and Larionov.

Aftermath

Mike Vernon, who won his 300th career game, believed the brawl-filled game "brought the Red Wings together" in time for the playoffs.[3] Colorado head coach Marc Crawford, meanwhile, wondered why McCarty did not receive a game misconduct for his largely one-sided instigation and subsequent fight with Lemieux (McCarty received a double-minor for roughing for that incident, and also received a fighting major later in the game). Subsequently, Avalanche right winger Mike Keane criticized Draper for having McCarty fight on his behalf.[3]

A similar free-for-all took place on May 19, during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals at Joe Louis Arena, when during a penalty-filled game, Crawford was seen screaming obscenities at Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman across the glass separating the two benches. The Wings would win that game 2-1. Crawford was fined $10,000 for the tirade.[4]


The next year during a game in November between the two teams, McCarty and Lemieux began to throw punches seconds after the opening faceoff, much to the delight of the Joe Louis Arena crowd. And then on April 1, 1998, Joe Louis Arena was the site of another Avs-Wings brawl. This time Patrick Roy challenged and then squared off with Chris Osgood at center ice. The referees called more severe penalties this time, as Roy and Osgood both received minor, major, misconduct, and game misconduct penalties. The two teams combined for 46 penalties totaling 228 minutes.[5] The Wings ultimately won the game 2–0, and would go on to win the second of their consecutive Stanley Cups.

The game and brawl is considered a defining moment in modern Red Wings history. However, as players began to leave each team through free agency, trades, or retirements, the rivalry began to die down.

A game between the Red Wings and Avalanche on March 23, 2002 broke into a brawl (much smaller than the previous two) Kirk Maltby came into Patrick Roy's net and Roy took exception. The brawl continued when Red Wing goalie Dominik Hašek skated down the length of the ice to confront Roy but tripped on a discarded stick, causing him to crash into and knock over Roy. Infuriated, Roy threw off his gloves and mask to fight as Hasek did the same, but the two were restrained by referees, thus preventing Roy from fighting a third Red Wing goalie since 1997.

Box score

See also

References

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