Do you have a bucket list?
I do. In fact, I have several. For those that don’t know me personally, I am studying to become a meteorologist, plus work in radio news outside of my work here at The Sin Bin. I have bucket lists for each of those career tracks and am proud to say, I have checked some things off from each list.
Not surprisingly, I have one for hockey as well and last weekend, I put a big check mark next to one of those things on the list.
Much to my surprise, my wife bought tickets to the NHL Alumni and Outdoor Games as a Christmas present and it was the best gift I could have gotten from her — outside of her saying “yes” when I proposed.
Each of us have a story of how we were bitten by the hockey bug. Some will say it came from putting on skates for the first time, others will say it was the feel of a hockey stick.
Mine is different.
I became enthralled in the game by watching the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche rivalry unfold for a seven-year period from 1996-2003. We can debate this for days, but in my opinion, there has not been a more intense rivalry in the sport.
And this past weekend was it’s swan song.
You may recall, the Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry didn’t really get going until Claude Lemieux boarded Kris Draper and rearranged his face in the third period of game six in the 1996 Western Conference Finals. Colorado went on to win that game, the series and their first Stanley Cup. Lemieux was suspended two playoff games for that hit, but like elephants, hockey players never forget.
The rivalry simmered and boiled for much of the 1996-97 season, until one evening in late March, when it completely blew up. The game featured Darren McCarty tackling and pummeling Claude Lemieux, the infamous Shanahan tackle on Roy and later the Roy/Vernon fight, plus a heated exchange between coaches Scotty Bowman and Marc Crawford. It didn’t matter that night who won the game, it was about getting retribution for a teammate.
Detroit would exact further revenge that season, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup Champions in six games during a rematch of the Western Conference Final from the year before, and winning their first Stanley Cup in 42 seasons.
For the next several years, the rivalry waged on. Teams filled with championship pedigree played intense, edge-of-your-seat games every single time they met. This, I thought, was the way the game should be, and I fell in love.
Fast forward thirteen years.
All of the participants in that rivalry have moved on to varying degrees; some playing the game still (Alex Tanguay), some are coaching (Patrick Roy), and others have moved into prominent front office positions (Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan) with various teams.
But on Friday night, they all came back to put on one last show for the fans who could not get enough of the rivalry during its hey day.
“That was my way of saying thanks for the boos,” McCarty told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.
From that moment on, the crowd was as boisterous as it was when the teams first played each other. After all, the passion and hatred from both sides was the underlying tone of this rivalry.
For those two hours Friday night, it didn’t matter that these guys were a little greyer and slower. What mattered to the more than 43-thousand people in attendance was that these guys were adding one final chapter to a rivalry that brought so many people into the game.
That gratitude was shown when the Avalanche played a video on the big screen inside Coors Field with just over five minutes left in the game, showing highlights from the rivalry. Like a tidal wave, fans from the upper deck began applauding and it quickly moved its way down and grew to a crescendo, finally reaching the players at ice-level. It took the players a few seconds, but once they responded, the fans didn’t stop applauding.
“That was kind of neat,” Detroit captain Steve Yzerman told NHL.com. “Honestly, down on the ice level it’s not as loud in a big open stadium, it carries a bit, but it was really a special moment for us all. It’s been a pretty good rivalry and the chants with the fans, everybody in unison, that’s never happened before.”
The alumni game was the pinnacle of the weekend for me. It allowed me to take a journey back to my youth, when my oldest brother and I would watch games and I grew an deep and abiding love for the game.
For that, this hockey fan says thank you.