Darren McCarty watches The Fight once a year, on the same day every year: March 26.
That’s the anniversary of McCarty’s fight with Claude Lemieux, which provided one of the most cathartic moments in Detroit sports history, when the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche engaged in a brawl to end all brawls in 1997.
McCarty used to watch a scratchy, old VHS copy of the fight. His pals at Fox Sports Detroit have since given him an upgrade, but it almost doesn’t matter. McCarty knows The Fight by heart. He knows it step for step, fist for first, punch for punch.
“I can feel the anger,” McCarty said Monday, his voice rising with excitement. “I can feel like — my blood will boil. I get so worked up when I tell the story. I remember the different moments.
“And I don’t think it’s so much of hitting (Lemieux) or anything, but just the adrenaline of when I tell it that Igor Larionov starts it with (Peter) Forsberg and I say, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s like I went into Shark Week because I knew Lemieux was out there, and when I realized it was on.”
[ 22 years later: Red Wings vs. Avalanche fight night is still the best ]
Yes, it was on all right. And on and on and on. Ten fights (or so) but countless scrums and swings and screams that turned the white ice at Joe Louis sanguine and left McCarty, and every Wings fan, satisfied.
Ten months after Lemieux had broken Kris Draper’s face by driving him into the boards with a terrible cheap shot in Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals, McCarty exacted revenge by pummeling a turtling Lemieux, then scoring the winning goal in overtime.
At 8 p.m. tonight, McCarty will be joined by his longtime friend, St. Clair Shores comedian Dave Coulier, as they relive and recount the game on the “Grind Time with Darren McCarty” podcast. You can find it on Facebook Live, YouTube and iTunes.
“You can’t write a better script for that game, and what it meant moving forward,” McCarty said. “And in hindsight, in 2019, looking back, I mean that was THE GAME that sort of defined us as a group, a team, and as a people, as fans. We all were in it together.”
McCarty is absolutely right. Before that game, the Wings had not broken through. The Avs were the defending Stanley Cup champions in spring 1997 and had won the three previous games between the teams that season. The Wings were still working on breaking their Stanley Cup drought that dated to 1955.
In spring 1996, not long after Lemieux bashed Draper’s face into the boards, the Avs paraded the Cup around Denver with gleeful smiles as the Wings were left to grind their teeth and bide their time. They knew it would be a long time before they could dole out justice, and even then it remained a largely unspoken pact among the players.
“The only thing that was ever said between any of us in the room,” McCarty said, “was between me and Drapes 10 months earlier in May (1996), two days after he got his jaw wired shut and his orbital bone broke. I said two things. I said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.’
“That’s the only thing I ever said. Then I asked him where he wanted to eat, but I knew it was Andiamo.”
On March 26, 1997, Lemieux played in Detroit for the first time since he received a game misconduct for injuring Draper. At 18:22 of the first period, all hell broke loose when Larionov and Forsberg squared off.
McCarty was on the ice and he knew Lemieux was nearby. But McCarty was being held back by Avs defenseman Adam Foote. Brendan Shanahan then helped spring McCarty, who turned, saw Lemieux and didn’t even bother taking off his gloves as he connected with a right to Lemieux’s face that immediately sent him to ground.
Fights broke out everywhere, including the memorable standoff between goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy. McCarty put the icing on the cake when he scored the winner 39 seconds into overtime.
[ March 26, 1997: Watch all 10 fights between the Red Wings and Avalanche ]
It had been a long 10 months. Heck, it had been a long March.
“It’s like God’s mic drop. He wrote the script,” McCarty said. “I remember because when I tell it, it’s like imagine that this is my best friend, my teammate, and this happened 10 months earlier. So how much time did I stew over it and think?
“And the only thing I remember is driving myself nuts and at the beginning of March I just prayed and I said, ‘Please, no matter what happens, just let me be the messenger.’ That was my month of March prayer.”
And it was answered. Followed by another prayer exactly two months later, when the Wings beat the Avs in six games in the Western Conference Finals. Four games later, the Wings swept the Philadelphia Flyers, with McCarty scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 4.
It’s been 22 years. McCarty, 46, can hardly believe it’s been that long, though the salt and pepper in his hair and the extra gravel in his voice confirm the passage of time.
McCarty has learned to appreciate the meaning of this special day even more with each passing year. He insists winning the game was paramount that day. But really,beating the Avs and beating up the Avs is too fine a distinction for most Wings fans to make.
“March 26th is such an important part of Red Wings history, that game the way it turned out,” he said. “It was to slay the dragon and also to knock them off the mountain. We hadn’t beaten them. So it’s the fact that winning the game was more important than the revenge, which is ironic. But it’s the way it was.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.
Published at Tue, 26 Mar 2019 10:00:05 +0000