In Gordie Howe’s day, revenge on the ice was much easier to meter out at your own pace.
The NHL was a six-team league for much of Gordie’s career, and the seasons were 70 games long—which meant that you played every team 14 times.
Patience was a virtue in those days of Original Six hockey. Games against opponents were like public transportation; if you missed getting a guy back in a match, you just waited for the next game to come down the pike. Many times, you didn’t even have to wait 24 hours.
Stan Mikita found this out first hand, and not the easy way.
Mikita, as a young player—and as he tells the story—got Howe good one night. The Blackhawks center caught Howe with a blind side elbow, knocking Gordie hard to the ice.
As he skated off the ice following the shift, Mikita was grinning. His teammates were not.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” one of them said. The teammate knew of Howe’s penchant for acting as judge, jury and executioner—on his schedule.
Many Red Wings-Blackhawks (actually, it was Black Hawks in those days) games came and went. Howe didn’t so much as glance at Mikita, who thought he had gotten away with one.
No way will Howe get me now, Mikita thought. Too many games have gone by. He must have forgotten.
Weeks later, at Olympia in Detroit, Mikita says he made a pass—and then woke up on the dressing room table.
“Who was it?” Mikita asked the trainer.
Mikita groaned. “That damned Howe!”
Gordie exacted his revenge—when Gordie saw fit to do it.
Darren McCarty, in 1997, didn’t have the opportunities that Howe did to make things right on the ice.
Former Red Wing McCarty writes about it, in his new book, “My Last Fight.”
“It” was McCarty’s payback to Colorado’s Claude Lemieux, for Lemieux’s brutal hit on Detroit’s Kris Draper in the 1996 Conference Finals, when Lemieux rammed Draper so hard into the boards from behind that Draper’s face was rearranged, literally.
McCarty writes that he made the promise to Draper to get Lemieux back, when McCarty picked his teammate up from the hospital.
But McCarty didn’t have 14 chances to get Lemieux back. The Red Wings and the Avalanche played just four times in the 1996-97 season.
The date of the payback was March 26—the last of those four meetings. That was the night that McCarty exacted his revenge on Lemieux and forced the Avs forward into the famous “turtle” posture on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. During a scuffle on the ice—and there were 18 fighting majors called that night—involving other players, McCarty homed in on Lemieux.
“Even though I fought close to 200 times during my professional hockey career, it’s fair to say that I brought more intensity and anger to the Lemieux confrontation than any bout I ever had,” McCarty writes, as published by the Detroit Free Press as a book excerpt.
“Years later, Lemieux told me that the first blow I delivered was the hardest punch he ever received,” McCarty continues. “During my career, there were other times when I wanted to pound the crap out of an opponent, but I’d never wanted to hurt anyone as much as I wanted to hurt Lemieux.”
So there you have it. Darren McCarty was, indeed, out for Lemieux’s blood on March 26, 1997.
It was a thrilling game, won by the Red Wings, 6-5, in overtime after rallying from a 5-3 deficit in the third period. McCarty scored the game-winning goal.
Howe used to tell of Ted Lindsay’s advice to him: always know who’s on the ice with you—from the other team.
McCarty knew all too well that Lemieux was on the ice when gloves were dropped by other players. The time was right to attack and pummel. McCarty even said that he dragged Lemieux to the Red Wings bench so Draper could see—like a hunting dog bringing his dead prey to his master.
McCarty is like so many Red Wings fans who point to that 3/26/97 game as the night their team turned the corner toward a Stanley Cup.
“What is sometimes lost in the memory of Bloody Wednesday is that we won the game,” McCarty writes. “To me, that was the most important aspect of what occurred on the ice. If we had won the battle, and then lost the game, it would not have had the same impact on our team. We needed to prove to ourselves that we could physically dominate them and also beat them on the scoreboard.”