25 years ago, a Joe Louis bloodbath helped propel the Detroit Red Wings into a glorious era

Darren McCarty’s gory vengeance on Claude Lemieux is core hockey lore

Mar 23, 2022 at 4:00 am
click to enlarge Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty and Colorado Avalanche Claude Lemieux duke it out three seconds into Tuesday night's game at Joe Louis Arena, Nov. 11, 1997. - David P. Gilkey, Detroit Free Press
David P. Gilkey, Detroit Free Press
Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty and Colorado Avalanche Claude Lemieux duke it out three seconds into Tuesday night's game at Joe Louis Arena, Nov. 11, 1997.

In the summer of 1996, I took my son, Marc, on a coast-to-coast tour of college campuses so he could choose a school. By chance, we crossed paths with a prediction for a hockey explosion that would launch a championship era for the Detroit Red Wings.

We lived on the East Coast then, but Marc wanted to check out (among others) the University of Michigan, in our state of birth. While we ate pizza in an Ann Arbor restaurant, a tall man with an athletic build and a mustache approached our table.

I recognized Dave Lewis, an assistant coach with the Red Wings. By then, I'd covered the National Hockey League for three newspapers in three cities; he'd played in the NHL for four teams before coaching.

"Joe," he said. "It's going to happen at Joe Louis Arena. Be there. People will come from Saskatchewan to see this."

He was smiling, slightly, but his tone and words were serious. I can't directly quote most of them because I didn't take notes and it was a quarter-century ago.

But I recall vividly his vow: the Red Wings would then wreak vengeance upon Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche for maiming the face of Detroit's Kris Draper with a blind-side check into the boards in Denver that spring during a bitter Western Conference finals series in the Stanley Cup playoffs of 1996.

Just as Lewis promised, the payback came in Detroit's now-demolished Joe Louis Arena.

During a multi-player brawl, Darren McCarty of Detroit attacked Lemieux with punches that left Lemieux dazed and dizzy. Blood flowed from his face and onto his shirt and onto the white ice and sideboards as 19,983 enemy fans stood, jumped, clapped, howled, and roared with delight.

Instead of getting ejected from the game, McCarty earned only two minor penalties for roughing. Hours later — after yet another McCarty fight and other fights involving others — McCarty scored the winning goal in sudden-death overtime in a 6-5 Detroit victory. That spring, the Wings won their first of four Cup championships in a span of 12 seasons.

I covered the Joe Louis Bloodbath for The New York Times and got to both dressing rooms afterward to hear some blunt words.

"Retribution," a trembling McCarty said. "Back in the Bible, go to the Old Testament. An eye for an eye."

When McCarty started elaborating about "God's will," an alert public relations official announced that it was time to let Darren take his shower.

Down the hallway, in the Avalanche room, a different philosophical analysis was advanced.

"Everyone is gutless on that team," said Mike Keane, referring to Detroit. "This doesn't prove they are men. I think they are phony."

Three months later, McCarty and the fin de siècle Red Wings defeated the defending champion Avs in an occasionally vicious six-game Western Conference finals series. Detroit then swept the Philadelphia Flyers for its first Cup championship since 1955.

That generation of players also won in 1998, 2002, and 2008. McCarty played on all four. That era of success has been bettered in Detroit hockey history only with four Cup championships in six seasons from 1950 through 1955, when the team played at Olympia Stadium and the NHL was a six-team league.

In decades of sports reporting, I covered many major rivalries, including the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball and the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Michigan Wolverines in college football.

I recognize the visceral passion among the athletes and their fans and, sometimes, even the media. I know how team sports — even at the high-school level — can spark tribal emotions that can rage out of control.

Even by the standards of those traditional sports feuds, Red Wings-Avalanche was extreme. Reporting the beating of Lemieux that night was like covering ritualistic mob behavior in a partly civilized frontier town.

Or, as McCarty explained, this sort of revenge — with fists punching skulls — demonstrated hockey's eternal need for vigilante justice.

"You've got to keep fighting in the game," McCarty said.

McCarty's gory beating of Lemieux is part of the core lore of Detroit hockey, played here professionally for almost a century. And March 26, 2022 marks precisely the 25th anniversary of this pivotal moment.

The bad blood boiled from the Draper incident of 1996, when Detroit had the best record in the regular schedule but lost to Colorado in six games in the Western finals.

Just that season, the Avs had moved to Denver from Quebec City, where they used to be the Nordiques, hatched in the 1970s in the renegade World Hockey Association. The Red Wings were NHL blue bloods, "Original Six" members founded in the Motor City in the Roaring Twenties.

So the two teams had no geographical or historical rivalry. That didn't matter.

McCarty’s gory beating of Lemieux is part of the core lore of Detroit hockey, played here professionally for almost a century. And March 26, 2022 marks precisely the 25th anniversary of this pivotal moment.

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"From the first drop of the puck in Game 1, guys were taking runs," Draper later recalled for The Players Tribune. "Slashing, grabbing, sucker-punching. You name it. . . We did stuff. They did stuff."

In Game 3, Lemieux sucker-punched Slava Kozlov of Detroit in the back of the head because Kozlov's earlier shove from behind had gashed the face of Colorado's Adam Foote.

After the 6-4 Detroit victory, as Lemieux walked with his family through the parking lot outside Denver's McNichols Arena, they passed by the Wings' team bus.

Suddenly, Wings' coach Scotty Bowman — a master of psychological warfare — stepped into the open doorway and spoke harshly to Lemieux, who told me about it the next morning in the corridor outside the dressing room.

"I'm walking out with my child, my wife, and my nephew, and my family," Lemieux said. "Bowman just started yelling out of the bus, which is a weird thing. The door was still open and he took a step down and said 'Nice sucker-punch, you blankety-blank. I hope you get suspended.'"

The next day, Bowman demanded the National Hockey League review Lemieux's hit on Kozlov. Headquarters suspended Lemieux for Game 4.

Bowman was a shrewd, veteran coach with a glittering record; Colorado's Marc Crawford was new and young and had not yet won much. Hearing that Bowman demanded NHL justice, Crawford analyzed the mind of his senior rival.

"He's a great thinker," Crawford said, "but he thinks so much that he even gets the plate in his head to cause interference in our headsets during the games."

At that point, even those in the know said "Huh?"

Crawford's reference was to an incident in which Bowman as a teenage junior got hit in the head by a rival's stick. For decades, journalists had reported this as fact: Scotty Bowman has a metal plate in his head, put there by doctors after his career-ending injury. Those words may have well been engraved on the Stanley Cup.

It seemed to be a telling detail that helped explain something — who knows what? — about a brilliant but sometimes baffling man.

Crawford's taunts soon reached Bowman during an impromptu news conference in the lobby of the arena. His response brought an even greater "Huh?" — because Bowman then told a swarm of reporters, repeatedly, "I don't have a plate in my head."

We reporters were confused, as if someone had used a plate in his head to interfere with our brain waves. Why had Bowman never said this before? Why had he never bothered to correct the record?

Bowman kept answering the same questions the same way. In that he was surrounded on all sides, this meant that the perplexed pack of puck pundits moved with Bowman, turning as a group in a 360-degree circle as if Bowman were the sun and we were his slowly orbiting planets. To mix journalistic clichés literally, Bowman was actually spinning the media while lobbying us in the lobby.

The two teams split the next two games to give Colorado a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series. The horrid flash point came in Game 6 on May 29 at McNichols in a 4-1 Avs' victory that clinched Colorado's berth in the Stanley Cup finals against Florida.

At 14:07 of the first period, Lemieux charged Detroit's Draper from behind and rammed his face into the solid dasher at the top of the side boards near the team benches. The impact cracked Draper's face like the shell of a hard-boiled egg.

Lemieux got a five-minute major penalty and an ejection for a game misconduct.

After the game, in the corridor near the dressing rooms, Detroit trainer John Wharton walked from the first-aid room alongside Draper, who looked as if he had endured a car crash. Wharton detailed the damage done.

"He has a fractured jaw and possible orbital fracture and a broken nose," Wharton told us. "He took 30-some stitches. The teeth will have to be re-placed because they are out of position. He also suffered a concussion."

Draper said he learned the name of his assailant when he was on the table.

"When I found out, I wasn't surprised," Draper said. He implied that Lemieux routinely protected himself while intentionally harming others. "He runs around with a visor down to his chin and a body full of armor," Draper said.

He said two Colorado players — he wouldn't give their names — visited him after the game to call Lemieux's deed "a classless act.

"That's coming from his own teammates," Draper said.

One of Draper's teammates — goalie Chris Osgood — said another suspension of Lemieux would not suffice and that the Red Wings would deal with Lemieux in the next season. When someone suggested that this sounded like a threat, Osgood called it just a prediction.

"It's not a threat," he said. "It's something that's going to happen. We're sick and tired of it. It's happened too many times. He could have broken Draper's neck. It's sickening."

The Avs went on to sweep the Florida Panthers to win their first Cup championship.

McCarty later told Detroit radio station 97.1 The Ticket that he often thought about Lemieux during that summer off-season. He said he envisioned Lemieux's face on the golf balls he hit off the tee. Draper was not only his friend and "Grind Line" linemate; McCarty also was best man at his wedding.

After surgery, Draper's jaw was wired shut and McCarty carried a pair of pliers, he said, in case Draper choked on food and needed first aid. Constantly, McCarty said, he envisioned revenge against Lemieux.

"I was driving myself crazy," McCarty told the radio station. "I said, 'God, whatever happens, can I be the messenger whatever Your plan is?'"

During the following regular season, Detroit and Colorado played three games prior to the March 26 showdown. The Avalanche won all three.

Due to injuries, Lemieux missed the first two, one of them featuring the removal of two Colorado players on stretchers. Lemieux played in the third match, in Denver, on March 16, but no attack took place that night.

However, in the Denver arena, Detroit fans — the Wings' base is widespread — hoisted signs that showed Lemieux's name on tombstones. The Avs would visit Detroit in 10 days. There's a phrase sometimes heard in hockey: "Get 'em in your own barn."

As March 26 approached, the Detroit and Denver newspapers joined the feud.

In the Denver Post, columnist Marc Kiszla wrote "Detroit so hates Lemieux it can taste the bile. But the Red Wings can't hurt him, can't intimidate him, can't touch him."

There’s a phrase sometimes heard in hockey: “Get ‘em in your own barn.”

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Addressing "the motor mouths of the Motor City," he added: "It's a rivalry only in Detroit's spiteful dreams."

In the Detroit News, a headline heralded "A Time for Revenge" and put Lemieux's face on a wanted poster. Columnist Bob Wojnowski wrote of Lemieux's "phony sneer that supposedly makes him intimidating.

"He's intimidating like a carjacker is intimidating," he wrote. "You don't know when he'll strike but you can bet it will be from behind followed by sudden flight."

Colorado players downplayed the grudge.

"The Lemieux-Draper thing is over now," Colorado's Keane said. "They had their chance to settle the score last game." But goalie Patrick Roy of Colorado offered a more realistic prediction. "It will be a very interesting game," he said. "We expect a tough game."

Detroit players spoke more forcefully. Draper said of Lemieux: "He won't fight guys on this team, at least not the guys who can fight." McCarty said: "I have no respect for the way he plays. He's gutless and won't stand up for himself."

When the Avs reached Detroit, "I was getting death threats," Lemieux said. A security guard watched Lemieux's hotel door.

But he would have no such protection on the ice before the usual standing-room-only crowd at Joe Louis Arena, which stood gray and drab on the north bank of the Detroit River, across from Windsor, Ontario. (Yes, Detroit is so "Hockeytown" it is actually north of Canada).

The neighborhood included two other massive tributes to Louis, the "Brown Bomber" from Detroit's nearby (and long-ago demolished) Black Bottom. He was the world heavyweight boxing champion before, during and after World War II.

One memorial was a 30-foot statue of Louis and his gloved fists towering in a front hallway of what was once called Cobo Hall. Just down the street stood an 8,000-pound sculpture of Louis's clenched fist (bare-knuckled) across from City Hall.

Inside "The Joe" that night, both teams served knuckle sandwiches, early and often. Brent Severyn of Colorado and Jamie Pushor of Detroit fought first at 4:45 of the first period; Rene Corbet of Colorado and Kirk Maltby of Detroit did the same at 10:14.

"It was a saucy little game," McCarty later told the web site Woodward Sports Network. "You can see something's boiling up to happen." (Other McCarty quotations from that WSN interview will appear below in italics).

Lemieux felt an early slash from Detroit's Vladimir Konstantinov and later a check into the boards from Detroit's Brendan Shanahan. Neither was penalized by referee Paul Devorski.

click to enlarge Red Wing Darren McCarty and Colorado Avalanche Claude Lemieux fight during first-period action at Joe Louis Arena. - Julian H. Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press
Julian H. Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press
Red Wing Darren McCarty and Colorado Avalanche Claude Lemieux fight during first-period action at Joe Louis Arena.

The major gang fight erupted at 18:22 with an unlikely pair, Detroit's Igor Larionov of Russia against Colorado's Peter Forsberg of Sweden.

In the NHL mentality of that era, European players were not expected to fight, especially two stars like these. Forsberg and Larionov were highly skilled craftsmen better known for creating scoring chances, although neither shied from hard contact and Forsberg enjoyed initiating it.

But tensions and expectations were such for brawling on this night that their behavior seemed organic to the mood and attitude. In that neither dropped gloves for bare-knuckle punching, referee Devorski gave them not five-minute major penalties for fighting but only two-minute minors for roughing because they merely wrestled on the ice and tumbled over on each other.

"Rolling around like puppies on Christmas morning," McCarty said with a smile.

Meanwhile, McCarty and Lemieux milled about an eight-player scrum while everyone chose what hockey people call "dance partners." When McCarty spied Lemieux, he lunged toward him and, with a shot from his gloved right hand, hit him upside the head the way Joe Louis smacked Max Schmeling back in 1938 at the original Yankee Stadium.

McCarty later said he looked Lemieux in the eye before unloading and explained the difference between this approach and a sucker punch.

"That's the cold-cock," McCarty explained. "That's not a sucker punch."

As Lemieux fell to the ice, McCarty ripped the helmet from Lemieux's head. The Wings had often complained that Lemieux's large, hard, plastic face shield amounted to part of his "armor."

"I didn't see him coming," Lemieux later said on the Canadian TV sports show OTR. "He popped me right in the temple. I was dizzy. I went down."

As Lemieux went down, McCarty fought with his legs as well as his arms.

"Yes, I did try to knee him," McCarty said.

His "try" succeeded.

"He kneed me where I lost my helmet," Lemieux said. "He got away with that." Years later, Lemieux said he had a permanent knot on the back of his head as a souvenir.

Having now shed his gloves, McCarty began to pummel the prone Lemieux about the head and face, drawing blood. He dragged him over to the boards in front of the Detroit bench and continued punching him.

"I'm just — boom!" McCarty said. "Smashed Lemieux's head against the wall . . . I smashed his face."

In that Lemieux appeared to be covering up in a defensive crouch, many fans later accused him of "turtling," a term used for a player afraid to fight and more interested in protecting himself in the manner of a turtle retreating into a shell. Lemieux later denied this, saying only that he was too dazed to fight back.

McCarty offered an anatomical analysis.

"I'm trying to take my fist and put it through his skull and rip his heart out," McCarty said. "He got what he deserved."

Although vicious, bloody, pre-ordained and historic, this battle was not even the wildest punchout of the event.

That came when goalie Roy of Colorado saw Lemieux in trouble against McCarty and raced down the ice to his rescue. This triggered a chain reaction. Detroit's Shanahan cut off Roy and crashed him with a leaping body block with choreography resembling tag-team action in pro wrestling.

Organically, Detroit goalie Mike Vernon dashed into the pile from the other direction to square off with Roy, goalie vs. goalie being correct hockey etiquette in six-on-six brawls, sort of like a square dance in a Saskatchewan barn when everyone knows the proper do-si-do.

The two goalies stood toe-to-toe at center ice and landed multiple punches in a lengthy slugfest that delighted the fans, who leapt from their seats and screamed; and the players, who stood in front of their benches and banged their sticks on the boards; and perhaps even some journalists in the press box, who pounded their laptop computer keyboards and punched the dials on their telephones.

click to enlarge Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy, left, takes a punch from Detroit Red Wings' goaltender Mike Vernon during a first-period brawl in Detroit on Wednesday, March 26, 1997. - AP Photo/Tom Pidgeon
AP Photo/Tom Pidgeon
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy, left, takes a punch from Detroit Red Wings' goaltender Mike Vernon during a first-period brawl in Detroit on Wednesday, March 26, 1997.

And it left visiting goalie Roy with blood streaming down his face. At this point, I called my editor on the desk in New York and told him to watch the wire services because some sensational photographs were no doubt on the way.

"You hockey writers," he said with a chuckle. "You love that stuff."

A few minutes later, he called me back.

"You've gotta see these pictures!" he said. "This is crazy!"

At the time — late in the 20th century — fighting in hockey was commonplace, although reduced in scale and scope from the "Broad Street Bullies" era of the 1970s when the Philadelphia Flyers dominated and intimidated the NHL with intentional brawls and twice won the Cup. They were to hockey what Hell's Angels were to highways.

In some ways, fighting amounted to hockey pornography — something physical and perspiration-producing between two (or more) consenting adults before willing voyeurs who watched either in person or through television.

For some hockey promoters, fans, and journalists, hockey fights were a guilty pleasure. Others felt no guilt whatsoever. Before the internet, fans trade video cassettes of hockey fights by mail, an underground, bootleg circuit.

In some instances — probably most — fights were a quasi-legal sideshow sanctioned as entertainment. But in other circumstances, calculated or spontaneous fighting could inspire a team, settle a grudge, intimidate an enemy, and even spark (symbolically, at least) an era of success. This was one of those.

In the previous decade, while climbing from the cellar level of the NHL, the Red Wings had improved with the help of Bob Probert and Joe Kocur, "The Bruise Brothers," two of the most effective punchers in the sport. McCarty grew up near Detroit, in Leamington, Ontario, Canada.

In other circumstances, calculated or spontaneous fighting could inspire a team, settle a grudge, intimidate an enemy, and even spark (symbolically, at least) an era of success. This was one of those.

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He'd spoken of taking the tunnel bus across the border and under the Detroit River to watch Probert and Kocur punch out foes at The Joe. As was the case with them, McCarty took on the so-called "enforcer" role of vindicator not only for his team but for a vast community.

"The whole Red Wing nation — man, woman, child, granny — who ever wanted a piece of this guy," McCarty said on The Ticket. "I was the messenger."

McCarty paid only a small price for delivering his message. In a twisted bit of hockey justice, referee Devorski let McCarty off with only two minor penalties for roughing. According to this "It-takes-two-to-tango" logic, McCarty wasn't "fighting" because his victim did not fight back (and was not penalized).

The only majors for fighting went to the two goalies, who also got two-minute minors for "leaving the crease" in front of their nets. Hockey, after all, has decorum: Thou shalt not leave thy goal crease.

Back then, the NHL used only one referee instead of the two they do today. Perhaps a partner could have added to McCarty's rap sheet a two-minute minor for instigating, a five-minute major for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct, and an ejection for a game misconduct.

Colorado coach Crawford later said the referee apologized to him at the first intermission for not calling a more severe penalty against McCarty.

"He said he blew the call," Crawford said. "Small consolation."

Despite missing the most blatant offense, Devorski nevertheless called 18 fighting majors as the night raged on. Later in the game, McCarty won at least a draw in his second battle, this one with the wonderfully named Adam Deadmarsh.

Then came McCarty's moment of glory, his career-defining memory and perhaps the highlight of his life.

In the first minute of sudden-death overtime, on a flowing rush of skating and passing with Larionov and Shanahan, McCarty beat Roy to give Detroit the 6-5 victory.

Selected as first star of the game, McCarty waited in the hallway for his curtain call and wiped tears from his eyes. After taking a bow, he sat in the dressing room and quoted the Bible.

Two months later, in the post-season playoffs of 1997, the Wings and Avs reprised March 26 with a burlesque sequel at The Joe. This show roared right out of Slap Shot, Paul Newman's Hollywood hockey film farce from the 1970s that mocked the Broad Street Bullies era.

For the second consecutive year, the Red Wings and Avalanche met in the Western Conference finals. After three games, Detroit had two victories and the furies returned during a 6-0 Detroit victory in Game 4. Again, the referee was Devorski.

Late in the third period — after multiple fights, slashes, elbows, cross-checks, and high sticks — Coach Bowman of Detroit and Coach Crawford of Colorado discussed the proceedings from the near ends of their respective benches.

Crawford stood up on his bench, therefore towering above his older rival and screaming down at him while Bowman gazed back with a blank stare. As Crawford raged, his players and assistants held him back but never covered his mouth.

According to the book Blood Feud by Adrian Dater, the conversation went something like this.

BOWMAN: "I knew your father before you did."

CRAWFORD: "Yeah, yeah. And he thinks you're a fucking asshole, too . . . You fuckin' old cunt . . . Fuck you, you fuckin' asshole, you're a fuckin' loser! . . . I'll fuckin' kill you! I will! I'll get you, you cocksucker! . . . Your time has come! I'm going to get you."

It appeared at this point that Bowman's psychological ploys had gotten the best of his rival. Although the Avalanche won Game 5 in Denver, the Wings clinched the series in Game 6 back in Detroit and went on to sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals for their first Cup championship since 1955.

But the celebration dimmed a few days later when a limousine crash in suburban Detroit left Konstantinov partly paralyzed and with brain damage that destroyed many memory functions. When the Wings won the Cup again the following year in Washington, they presented it to Konstantinov on the ice in his wheelchair.

Also in that 1997-98 season, in Colorado's first visit to The Joe, Lemieux challenged McCarty to fight as they lined up for the opening faceoff. It was a matter of honor, he said. Detroit fans, NHL fans, and even some Colorado fans still thought Lemieux "turtled" in his March 26 beating.

"For me, it was planned," Lemieux said on OTR. "I was tired of hearing about it."

click to enlarge Linesman Dan Schachte leads a bleeding Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy to his bench after Roy was involved in a first-period brawl with Detroit Red Wings' goaltender Mike Vernon in Detroit on Wednesday, March 26, 1997. - AP Photo/Tom Pidgeon
AP Photo/Tom Pidgeon
Linesman Dan Schachte leads a bleeding Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy to his bench after Roy was involved in a first-period brawl with Detroit Red Wings' goaltender Mike Vernon in Detroit on Wednesday, March 26, 1997.

He didn't like hearing that he "turtled" in the previous brawl. No hockey team would ever be named "the Turtles." "Kraken," perhaps; but never "Turtles."

"I know that it had such a negative impact on the team and people criticizing me," Lemieux said. "I said, 'You know what? I'm going to fight.'"

Video of the event shows a brisk and serious battle, evenly fought, with both combatants trading words before trading punches. Lemieux later said he didn't want to wait to do it in Denver.

The two teams played another conference final in 2002, when the Avs again were defending Cup champions. McCarty scored a hat trick against Roy in a 5-3 Detroit victory in Game 1, but the series is best remembered for the goalie's memorable gift of a gaffe in Game 6 in Denver.

After making a nifty glove save on Steve Yzerman, Roy struck a Statue-of-Liberty pose with his glove held high above his head like a torch. He was showing off.

But Roy accidentally dropped the puck to the ice. Before he realized it, several Red Wings jumped toward it and Shanahan pushed it over the goal line for a 1-0 lead in what became a 2-0 Detroit victory to tie the series at three wins each.

Before Game 7 back at The Joe, Roy looked rattled in warmups.

A group of teenage girls stood at Roy's end of the ice and teased him verbally through the holes in the glass used during the games by photographers. Roy visibly reacted, turning toward them, speaking and skating toward them and then, apparently, thinking better of it, returning to his goal crease.

I happened to be watching all this while standing nearby with my brother, Ernie, and I remember mentioning to him that Roy didn't seem in the right frame of mind.

He played terribly and was pulled before a cheering, jeering crowd after giving up six goals in less than 30 minutes in what became a 7-0 Wings' victory to clinch the series. Detroit then defeated Carolina in the finals to clinch its third of four Cup titles in this era.

Lemieux's career, which began in 1983, ended in 2009. He maintained a close friendship with Wayne Gretzky, considered the best hockey player of his generation. Lemieux became the president of GRAF Canada, a Switzerland-based sports equipment company that makes hockey skates.

Lemieux's son, Brendan, is a forward with the Los Angeles Kings. Brendan Lemieux was born in March of 1996 and was the infant in his mother's arms when Bowman verbally attacked his father in the parking lot outside the old rink in Denver.

Late in 2021, the NHL suspended young Lemieux for five games for biting the hand of Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk during a fight. Early in 2022, young Lemieux traded punches with Detroit's Gemel Smith. Neither turtled.

McCarty's career, which began in 1993, also ended in 2009, after he rejoined the Wings for their most recent Cup championship, in 2008. He formed a rock band, Grinder, went through two divorces and a bankruptcy, and underwent four rehabilitations for substance abuse.

In 2015, he partnered with a marijuana company, Picanna, to manufacture a line of products under the name "Darren McCarty Brand."

Early in 2022, the company announced McCarty's cannabis "gummies" with brands that included "Power Play and "Lights Out." At present, McCarty's growling voice can be heard on a series of radio commercials for a Detroit-area pain clinic.

In one script, he taunts Lemieux as a "turtlin' b-(bleep)." And in a current television commercial for a law firm, McCarty brandishes his Stanley Cup rings as if they were brass knuckles.

He and Lemieux never became close friends, but have appeared together at trading card shows and were interviewed together on TV.

If card show fans brought photographs of their famous battle, both men would sign them. When they appeared at the same event in suburban Detroit in 2017, the Free Press reported that Lemieux signed the photo of his mugging with the captions like "A bad day at the office" and "I lost the fight" and "I was just praying."

Such promotion, he said, is "all for the good of the game."

Seven years before that, in Canada in 2010, they met for a formal recollection — if not reconciliation — of their feud on the OTR show. One might say they broke the ice.

"This is the first time that you guys have really talked about it at all," said host Michael Landsberg. "Can I get you to shake hands?

"Absolutely," said Lemieux.

McCarty, to Lemieux's left, nodded and offered his hand first.

With tight smiles, they extended their muscular arms over the big leather arms of their chairs. With Lemieux's hand on top and McCarty's underneath, their two hands clasped into one, big, friendly fist.

Joe Lapointe is a Detroit-area freelance writer. This story is a chapter in his sports reporting memoir to be titled either The Fire-Balling Flame-Thrower Threw Bullets to Slam the Door or Local Team Hopes to Win Next Game.

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