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20 years later, Kris Draper reflects on infamous “Brawl in Hockeytown”

Mar 23, 2017

It's been called "Brawl in Hockeytown." Some call it "Fight Night at the Joe."

On March 26, 1997, Darren McCarty of the Detroit Red Wings punched, then kept on punching, Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche.

The reason for that fight happened 301 days earlier in Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals when Lemieux hit Wings center Kris Draper from behind, sending Draper face-first into the bench and smashing his face (see video below). He suffered a broken orbital bone, a broken cheekbone, a broken nose, a broken jaw and a concussion. 

To literally add insult to injury, the Avalanche won the game, eliminated the Wings and moved on to win the Stanley Cup. 

Draper retired from the Red Wings in 2011 after winning four Stanley Cups. These days, he's a special assistant to Wings general manager Ken Holland.

Draper recently wrote an article for The Players' Tribune, and he joined Stateside to talk about the infamous brawl that happened 20 years ago and the hit that started it all.

"It's amazing 20 years later, I run into people, 'I was at that game, I was at that game,'" Draper said. "And other people would talk about where they were when the game happened. It's just something that hockey fans don't forget."

When the dust settled, here's the final tally of the melee: 18 major fighting penalties (two of them to goaltenders Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy) and 144 penalty minutes between the two teams. To put that in perspective, this year, the team that leads the league in most penalty minutes is averaging 11 penalty minutes per game. 

That brawl sparked the Red Wings to make a run to the Stanley Cup Finals where they beat the Philadelphia Flyers to end a 42-year championship drought. 

Listen to the full interview above to hear Draper describe the hit he suffered, how the brawl got started almost a year later and his favorite memories from his 17 years of playing for the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. 

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The Brawl in Hockeytown

Claude Lemieux's hit on Kris Draper