If you had been reading the paper today in regards to Detroit’s ever-changing automotive industry, it was hard to avoid the news of Chrysler heavily considering selling off the Dodge Viper brand. When the Viper first sprouted on the market over a decade ago it was considered the latest hot car to come out of Motown automotive plants. In order to help spur this success, marketing dollars were put into a minor league hockey team that played out of the Palace. In 1994, Detroit had a cheaper alternative to the Red Wings. For a few short years, the Detroit Vipers provided hockey fans with a second option in our town.
The atmosphere at first was mixed. Nobody knew what to think of the free hockey puck giveaways or the plum and pea green uniforms. In order to drive some excitement in the area, the players highlighted were Darryl Williams and John Craighead – two players who had a real mean streak on the ice. The team won the division in their first year including a victory over Wayne Gretzky’s exhibition team. Benefiting directly from the NHL player’s strike, the Vipers began to draw huge numbers through the Palace turnstiles.
The success continued even as players returned to the NHL and the Wings set an NHL record by winning 62 in 1995-6. The next season saw the Vipers defeat the Long Beach Ice Dogs to win the Turner Cup, mere days apart from the Wings taking their first title in 42 years. Gordie Howe then showed up the next season in a horrific publicity stunt that was both overhyped and sad to watch. The season then ended with a pre-game brawl before Game 7 of the Turner Cup finals where the start of the game was delayed as the ice had to be resurfaced from all of the blood.
Losing seasons and a declining interest in another hockey minor league led to the Bloomfield Hills-based IHL to shut its doors for good. For seven seasons, the Vipers provided an alternative hockey atmosphere that was extremely fan-friendly and exciting to watch. In hearing today’s announcement I couldn’t help to think of what a strange time it was for hockey in this town.