March 26th, 1997 marks a special day in NHL history for all the right or wrong reasons depending on your stance on fighting in the NHL. Fifteen years ago today fans saw one of the biggest, most heated brawls in the modern NHL. The incident might be most remembered for the specific tussle between goaltender Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon.
It’s important to remember the events leading up to the brawl featured in the video above. Back in the 1996 Western Conference Finals, Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux checked Detroit forward Kris Draper from behind, sending a mostly defenseless Draper into the boards face-first. As the Avs went on to win the series on their road to a Stanley Cup victory, Draper was forced to recover from surgery to repair breaks in his jaw, cheek and orbital bones.
It was clear that Detroit felt the hit crossed the line which caused them to carry over plenty of unresolved anger into the next season. Surprisingly, though the teams met three times prior to the game shown above, none of them featured the Red Wings releasing their anger. March 26th, exactly 15 years ago today, was a different story.
Ironically, the massive brawl all started from two rather unlikely sources – Peter Forsbger and Igor Larionov. As they rolled on the ice, pandemonium broke loose and several altercations took place on the ice with the most memorable and iconic being a rare goalie fight between Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon.
The above brawl is a true indication of just how heated and passionate the rivalry was between the Avalanche and the Red Wings. The hate would last several more seasons but ultimately died down as various members from both teams joined new clubs through free agency. Today, depending who you ask, the former Avs/Red Wings rivalry is more of a memory than an ongoing tradition.
Will the rivalry between Colorado and Detroit heat up again in the near future after laying dormant for several years? That all depends on the Avalanche’s ability to become a serious contender as they were during the years when the rivalry was in its prime.