If you were a fan of the Detroit Red Wings throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, chances are you have some not-so-fond memories of a team that struggled to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Being a fan of the Red Wings during the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, was flat out fun. The team experienced a great deal of success, winning the Stanley Cup three times within a span of six years. In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, THW’s team of Red Wings writers share their greatest memory as a fan.
Tony Wolak: Vladdie Visits the MCI Center
Entering Game 4 of the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals with a 3-0 stranglehold on the series, the Red Wings were poised to bring home their second Cup in as many years. Up 3-1 early in the third period, there was a stoppage in play. After noticing cheering and applause behind the Capitals’ net, the Red Wings spotted their fallen comrade, Vladimir Konstantinov, standing up out of his wheel chair to cheer on his team. That moment, I’m convinced, gave that Red Wings team all the motivation they needed to bring home another Cup.
Konstantinov had been in a limousine accident the prior summer within days of the Red Wings’ 1997 championship. Team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov and defenseman Slava Fetisov were also involved in the wreck. Fetisov escaped relatively unharmed, but Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov sustained serious injuries, relegating them to wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.
As a Red Wings fan, witnessing that moment was one of the most incredible feelings outside watching the team capture the Stanley Cup. Seeing Vladdie stand up was amazing. Then watching the Red Wings respond and dominate the rest of the game in Konstantinov’s honor was unlike anything in sports. As a kid, I understood the significance of Konstantinov motivating his team, but the true appreciation for what went on set in at an older age.
The 1997 Stanley Cup may have been the sweetest, but the 1998 Cup was the most meaningful. And Vladdie’s strength gave the Red Wings all they needed to seal the deal.
Brandon Peleshok: Nick Lidstrom scores from center ice; changes complexion of series
Even though there are a ton of overtime goals, game-changing hits and milestone moments to choose from, Nick Lidstrom’s goal against Dan Cloutier during the 2002 playoffs stands out as my greatest memory as a fan of the Red Wings.
The 2001-2002 squad was an absolute juggernaut. Regarded as one of the best teams ever assembled, nine (ten if you count Scotty Bowman) members from the Red Wings’ roster that season have since entered the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet, for all of the promise and hype surrounding the team, they almost imploded in the first round that year.
The Vancouver Canucks established a 2-0 series lead against the Red Wings, scoring nine goals against a visibly shaky Dominik Hasek. With just 30 seconds remaining in the 2nd period, the game was tied 1-1 at General Motors Place. The Canucks were likely content with the situation – just one goal away from taking a 3-0 series lead. Lidstrom had other plans, though.
Lidstrom’s goal from center ice changed the entire landscape of the series. While the goal itself was not flashy, its impact cannot be understated. Detroit went on to win the game 3-1, and then win four straight against Vancouver. The Red Wings would then go on to beat the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes en route to their 10th Stanley Cup. For his part, Lidstrom received the Conn Smythe Trophy, while finishing his post-season with 16 points through 23 games.
Jacob Messing: Detroit signs Luc Robitaille; wins Stanley Cup
Luc Robitaille was 35 years old and had already amassed 1,238 points (590 G, 648 A) by the time he pulled a Red Wings jersey over his head; but it is my greatest Red Wings memory.
Red Wings GM and big-spender Ken Holland signed Robitaille to a two-year, $9 million deal prior to the 2001-02 season. Robitaille—the highest scoring left wing in NHL history—joined Detroit at the same time as Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and the under-the-radar rookie Pavel Datsyuk.
At the age of 35, Robitaille was a fourth-line player for Detroit on a team that included ten names that now sit in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Robitaille, Hasek, Hull, Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Brendan Shanahan and coach Scotty Bowman). Datsyuk is a potential future Hall of Famer and could raise become the eleventh member of the 2001-02 Red Wings to be selected.
It was as a King that he won a Calder Trophy and was selected to the All-Star game eight times; but he was a Red Wing when he scored his 610th goal, which tied Bobby Hull for the most goals as a left wing, then added his 611th just ten days later.
What is your favorite moment as a Red Wings fan? Comment below or tweet us: @THW_RedWings
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.