I am a self diagnosed basketball junkie, but my love for hockey has grown over the years and without question has much to do with the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings wars from the mid 1990's.
The rivalry could not be touched. Want two teams that absolutely hated each other? You got it. It didn't matter if it was a playoff game or a regular season game in November. Wings versus Avs was must see television. I wasn't a Detroit fan, but hated the Avalanche and would root blindly for anyone playing them.
Game four of the 1997 Western Conference Finals saw the Red Wings run away from the Avs with a 6-0 thrashing that left Avs head coach Mark Crawford and Detroit bench boss Scotty Bowman nose to nose across each others benches. Crawford took exception to his view of the rough stuff by Brendan Shanahan and the 6-0 shortcomings on the scoreboard.
I remember sitting there watching absolutely loving the Crawford meltdown and the stoic Bowman calmly listening to him come unglued. It was great. My disdain for the Avalanche was due in most part to two guys, Patrick Roy and Claude "The Turtle" Lemieux. Every goal that Roy gave up brought me joy stemming from a comment made to Jeremy Roenick that he couldn't hear what JR was saying because he had two Stanley Cup rings in his ears. I just hated Patrick Roy. You think that I love the fact the Wild ended his career?
The Lemieux hatred was more for the fact that he was more like the bad guy in the old WWF. He was the NHL's version of the heel and his 1996 playoff hit on Kris Draper along the boards ranks in the all-time cheapest hits in the history of the NHL. The retribution of the hit by Darren McCarty over a year later brought me off my couch in full throat just like I was at Joe Louis Arena with the other die hard fans. It is true about Lemieux, he's the guy you love when he is on your team but the guy you hate when your team is playing against him.
The Draper hit ignited the powder keg of what turned into the best rivalry of the 90's in any sport. From a hockey perspective, it is something that has not been seen since. Sure, there have been little dust ups over the years, but never in recent memory did two teams walk into an arena knowing something was going to happen, but not fully grasping what.
The way the game is now, it probably won't be seen again. One of the ironies is that Shanahan is now the NHL pit boss when it comes to discipline. Something so far off his radar when he intercepted Roy's charge in the 1997 all out brawl where McCarty got his revenge.
The Stanley Cup finals are underway capping another amazing postseason, and while a week from now the skates will be put away for the summer, the hockey fan in me itches to see something similar.
I know, you can't recreate history, but it is fun to look back and relive it.
Oh yeah, and I still hate Claude Lemieux.