A quarter century ago, the Detroit Red Wings ushered in an era unprecedented level of success.
After making the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in nearly a half century 20 years ago — and it all started with the “Hockeytown” moniker that was unveiled before the championship season.
It came at the perfect time to truly make Detroit “Hockeytown” and hoisting the Stanley Cup added to the legend.
Detroit had a perfect blend of veteran stars, strong leaders and upstart youth.
Steve Yzerman was in the middle of the longest run a captain has ever had with one team. He led the team with 63 assists and chipped in 22 goals.
Brendan Shanahan, perhaps the most vital free agent pickup in Red Wings history, scored a team-leading 41 goals and had 87 points.
A youthful Sergei Federov added 30 goals and 63 points, while an aged veteran Igor Larionov had 42 assists.
But the key to the Stanley Cup was the back line.
The defenders were led by the young guns Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov. Though they were still in their mid-20s, the defensive duo was the best tandem of defenders in the NHL.
Lidstrom would go on to win a handful of Norris Trophy awards as the best defender in the NHL. Konstantinov was headed that way before a car crash ended his career a year later.
The duo was a perfect match. Lidstrom was a finesse defender who was always in the right place at the right time and played with class — though his incredible toughness is often overlooked.
Meanwhile, Konstantinov was a tough, rough, powerful defender that punished opponents — but his puck skills and hockey IQ are often overlooked.
Put them together and it was tough to get anything past them, especially in the playoffs.
Detroit finished second in the Western Conference Central Division with 94 points during the 1996-97 regular season — 10 behind the Dallas Stars.
The road to the playoffs was not easy. Detroit defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games, then swept the Anaheim Ducks before battling out a physical series with the rival Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche had the best record in the Western Conference with 107 points.
The Red Wings won Game 2 on the road in Colorado and the home teams won the rest of the games, giving Detroit a 4-2 series win, and sending them to the Stanley Cup finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Stanley Cup finals was somewhat anticlimactic after the stellar series with Colorado. Detroit swept the Flyers in four games, outscoring Philadelphia 16-6 in the series to bring home the first Stanley Cup since the days of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.
The victory didn’t just end a 46-year title drought, it launched the second dynasty in Detroit Red Wings history, and it was when Detroit truly became “Hocketown.”