The thing that comes through loud and clear during Unrivaled, the ESPN E60 documentary that delves into the history of the blood feud between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche, is that everyone who was involved on either side of the battle remains unrepentant.
And yet, at the same time, some have been able to put aside their on-ice differences and forge bonds, even close friendships. That would’ve been unfathomable at the height of the bitterness between the two clubs.
Or would it?
“I actually really like Claude Lemieux,” former Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan admits. The two were teammates with the New Jersey Devils and grew to be pals. Claude’s son Brendan Lemieux of the Los Angeles Kings is named after Shanahan.
On the night of March 26,1997, Shanahan found himself watching his Red Wings teammate Darren McCarty pummeling Lemieux into a puddle on the ice. As much as he was tight with Lemieux, Shanahan knew the hockey code and understood that retribution was in order.
Shanahan wasn’t yet a Detroit player the spring of 1996 when Lemieux boarded Red Wings forward Kris Draper from behind, leaving Draper with multiple injuries, including several facial fractures.
Red Wings vs Avalanche Will Go Unrivaled
The hockey world is in constant evolution. During the six-team era when teams traveled by train, opposing players would wait until the train stopped at a station to go to the dining car. They refused to walk through the car containing the other team, such was the hatred of the day. There were even no-fraternization rules among opposing players that the NHL enforced during the season.
Bitterness between opponents was still prevalent in the 1990s but certainly not to that extent. The Avalanche-Red Wings feud was the exception to the rule.
“In addition to all the great things about rivalries, they can also go too far,” notes E60 executive producer Andy Tennant. “Competition bleeds into something uglier.”
The type of brawling and battling that puncutated that Detroit-Colorado rivalry, so often overshadowing the spectacular hockey the two teams were playing, is a thing of the past.
In fact today, many of the players who feuded back then find themselves on opposite sides. As Colorado battles Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup final, two-time Avalanche Cup winner Adam Foote is in the posiiton of rooting against his old club. That’s because his son Cal is a defenseman for the Lightning.
“Claude’s trying to help us win another Cup,” McCarty points out.
A Cast Of Characters
Between 1996-2002, Colorado (two) and Detroit (three) won five Stanley Cups. There are 20 people involved in that rivalry who are now inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Several prominent figures from that era lend their voices to Unrivaled. Among those you’ll hear from are Avalanche players Foote, Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, trainer Pat Karns and former coach Marc Crawford.
Red Wings players featured include Mike Knuble, Vladimir Konstantinov (and his daughter Anastasia), Shanahan, McCarty, Draper, Mike Vernon and Steve Yzerman, former coach Scotty Bowman and former trainer John Wharton.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is also interviewed, as are former NHL player and current Avalanche broadcaster Peter McNab, former ESPN NHL broadcaster Gary Thorne, longtime Red Wings broadcaster Ken Daniels, former Red Wings player and current broadcaster Mickey Redmond, former NHL executive Brian Burke, former NHL referee Paul Devorski, Colorado Hockey Now writer Adrian Dater and former Red Wings team photographer Mark Hicks.
Lemieux Acknowledges What He Did To Draper Was Wrong
Lemieux admits to feeling badly about what happened to Draper in that 1996 Stanley Cup game.
“If I could’ve taken it back, I would’ve taken it back as soon as it happened,” Lemieux said. “I just knew it was not good.”
Did Lemieux ever apologize to Draper for the hit? Has Draper forgiven him?
Well, you’re just going to have to watch to find out.
If you miss Sunday’s debut, you won’t be out of luck. An extended version of Unrivaled with exclusive content will be available for on-demand streaming on ESPN+. The TV version will re-air in prime time on Monday, June 27, at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 and at 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 30 on ESPN. It will re-air on Sunday, June 26, at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.