In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the 1997 Detroit Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup that ended a 42-year championship drought, the Detroit Historical Museum has opened a new exhibit that looks back at a beloved team led by their legendary head coach Scotty Bowman, seven future Hall of Famers and two iconic lines nicknamed “The Russian Five” and “The Grind Line”.
Utilizing fan artifacts and game used memorabilia from local collectors, the Detroit Historical Society, and the Ilitch Holdings Corporate archives, the exhibit highlights how the dynasty was built and lets fans relive that exciting season that ushered in a dynasty that produced three championships in five years and cemented a new nickname for Detroit: “Hockeytown.”
Recently Scotty Bowman visited the exhibit and cast his hands in cement for an installation that will take place later at the “Legends Plaza” located outside of the museum.
The 42-year championship drought started after the 1954-1955 season when the Wings led by future Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Alex Delvecchio and goalie Terry Sawchuk defeated the arch rival Montreal Canadians 3-1 in game seven at Olympia Stadium to capture the Stanley Cup trophy as they completed the greatest championship run in Detroit sports history. The Wings had won their seventh consecutive league championship and fourth Cup in six years.
Following the Cup victory, the Hockey News predicted that “Detroit was plotting to imprison the Stanley Cup for all times.”
No one could have ever believed that it would be another 42 years before the Wings would raise the Cup again.
In the biggest blunder in Detroit sports history, six weeks after the ’55 Stanley Cup victory Red Wing GM Jack Adams, noted for shaking up team chemistry over the years, shocked the hockey world by trading away half of his team in two trades five days apart.
Although the Wings would appear in the Finals the following year, four times in the early Sixties, (’61, ’63, ’64, ’66) and again in 1995, they always came up short.
Over a 17-year period known as the “Dead Wings Era” from 1967 to 1983 Detroit made the playoffs twice and went through 13 different coaches and six general managers.
In the ’95-’96 season the Wings had set an NHL record with 62 wins but were upset in the Western Conference Finals by the Colorado Avalanche during which their pesky right winger Claude Lemieux had caused a devasting injury to Detroit’s Kris Draper that set-in motion one of the bitterest rivalries in sports history.
The next season the team surprisingly finished second to Dallas in the Central Division of the Western Conference with 38 wins, a far cry from their record setting dominant play the previous season.
However just three weeks before season’s end the Wings and their fans were energized on March 26 at what became known as “Fight Night at the Joe” when Darren McCarty pummeled Colorado’s Claude Lemieux for the previous year’s dirty hit on his line mate and later scored the overtime goal that beat the Avalanche 6-5.
The psychological boost of beating their hated arch rival helped catapult the team into the playoffs.
Rabid fans were soon flying Red Wing flags on their car windows while the Spirit of Detroit statue at City Hall was draped in a massive winged wheel jersey.
Over a thrilling two-month period the Wings marched through the playoffs and eliminated the dreaded Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals before sweeping the Flyers to win the Cup in front of 20,000 ecstatic fans who nearly blew off Joe Louis Arena roof.
Tragically, the week-long celebration that had included a victory parade with a million fans lining Woodward Avenue cheering on their hockey heroes ended when on Friday, June 13th a limousine accident in Birmingham paralyzed defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov.
The next year the Red Wings dedicated the season and honored the two men by wearing a special patch emblazoned with their initials and went on win a consecutive Stanley Cup after sweeping the Washington Capitals.
The Detroit Historical Museum is located at 5401 Woodward Ave. in Detroit across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts and is open Thursday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday: 1 – 5 p.m. Phone: 313.833.1805. The special exhibit runs through January 2023.