The Free Press has commemorated that historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”
Day 43: May 28, 1997
The backstory: With the Stanley Cup Finals three days away, the Red Wings and Flyers returned to the ice as preparations ramped up for a series that would end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought for Detroit or a 22-year drought for Philadelphia. Cup fever griped the two cities. But the players and coaches tried to focus on the task at hand. Take Flyers coach Terry Murray, for instance. He said he had spent the past few days holed up at the team’s practice facility in Voorhees, New Jersey, watching game films. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, during a session with reporters, he had a blank look when someone mentioned the William Penn statue. Told the landmark statue atop City Hall, with great fanfare, sported a giant Flyers jersey, Murray replied: “Oh, is that right?” The teams made little news, reporting no significant injuries from their conference finals. In Detroit, the Free Press revisited the main men in the season’s biggest trade, heard Papa Bear complain about a Russian stereotype, found the other Grind Liners razzing Kirk Maltby and caught up with an octopus outlaw.
STANLEYTOWN, DAY 42: How Eric Lindros went from Michigan youth phenom to Red Wings rival
Cup or bust: Each spring, the Wings’ Russian players got asked how badly they wanted to win the Stanley Cup. In hockey circles, plenty of fans, media, front-office types and players questioned, sometimes out loud, sometimes in whispers, whether Europeans, especially Russians, possessed the win-at-all-cost desire of their Canadian counterparts. “I’m tired of answering this question,” said Slava Fetisov, 39, considered the greatest defenseman in Soviet history. “We’re like everybody else in this dressing room that dreams of being a champion. We grow up with different goals in our mind, but still you have to play for a championship team. It doesn’t matter if you play for Stanley Cup, for the Olympics, for the world championship. … They say we don’t want to win the Cup, that we hate to win the Cup. What do they think I am going to say, ‘I’m Russian. I don’t want to win the Cup’?” A few facts to further dispute the stereotype: Three of the Wings’ top four playoff scorers were Russians. Slava Kozlov led with eight goals. Sergei Fedorov led with 14 points. Igor Larionov had 12 points. Russians had scored 40% of the team’s goals — 17 of 42. The team was 12-0 when a Russian scored a goal and 0-4 when none did. Three of those losses were shutouts. “I just want to drink from Stanley Cup,” Fetisov said. “More than anything else right now.”
Trade to end all trades: At the start of the season, after weeks of rumors and on-again, off-again negotiations, the Wings acquired power forward Brendan Shanahan from the lowly Hartford Whalers to add goals, size, toughness and moxie. Hockeytown considered him the missing link. To pry Shanahan loose, the Wings shipped away defenseman Paul Coffey, center Keith Primeau and a first-round draft pick. Primeau, stuck behind Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in the pecking order, thought he had been made a scapegoat for past playoff failures. Coffey had landed in Scotty Bowman’s doghouse; in fact, the Hall of Fame coach openly questioned the future Hall of Famer’s skills and production. Before Christmas, Coffey had complained loud and long enough that the Whalers dealt him to the Flyers. Coffey, 35, still carried a giant chip on his shoulder from the October trade and an even bigger grudge against Bowman. Free Press’ Drew Sharp wrote from Philadelphia: “Coffey’s bubbly exuberance over playing in his seventh Stanley Cup Finals freezes into a contemptuous glare when the subject shifts to his former coach.” Coffey told Sharp: “This series is not about Scotty and me. I really don’t want to get into any of that stuff. I’m no longer a Detroit Red Wing. I’m a Philadelphia Flyer. … I’m only going to talk about the game.” Coffey, winner of four Cups, saw similarities between the Flyers and the 1991 Penguins, his last Cup championship. “We had a super, great hockey player (Mario Lemieux) who wanted just one thing — to win the Cup,” Coffey said. “We’ve got the same thing here with Eric (Lindros). It makes me feel like a kid again, which is just how I felt with that Pittsburgh team.” With the Wings, Shanahan, 28, produced 46 goals and 41 assists — plus 131 penalty minutes. Only once had he reached the conference finals, as a rookie with New Jersey in 1988. He longed to play for a contender. The season had been a dream come true, for which he thanked the Whalers’ general manager, Jimmy Rutherford, a former Wings goalie, and owner, Peter Karmanos, a Detroiter who ran Compuware. “It says something about Jim Rutherford, his ability to pick teams,” Shanahan said. “I asked to be traded to a Cup contender and Paul Coffey asked to be traded to a Cup contender, so, obviously, Jimmy knows his teams. But, honestly, you’ve got to appreciate a guy like him and Mr. Karmanos.” With 13 points — six goals and seven assists — Shanahan was the Wings’ second-leading playoff scorer. He was third with 43 penalty minutes. “This is where you want to be at this time of year,” Shanahan said. “It’s thrilling to be able to compete for this, but our job isn’t over yet. This is it. Everything you’ve done in your career takes a backseat to the next couple of weeks here. Being in the Stanley Cup Finals is what you’ve prepared your whole life for and dreamed about your whole life.”
Cover boy: Maltby took plenty of grief from his teammates because of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. He was front and center on its cover. The type big read “Hot Wings” and the photo showed Maltby keeping Colorado captain Joe Sakic from the puck. “When Malts goes up, he’s supposed to be the high guy on our line,” center Kris Draper said. “Obviously, he’s kind of going, so Joey (Kocur) and I are covering for him as we usually do. Hopefully, he’ll still give Joey and me the time of day, because we’re still his wingers.” Players bestowed a new nickname for Malts: SI. “I’m sure one day, I’ll look back and want to show it to my kids,” said Maltby, who had three goals in 16 playoff games after three goals in 66 regular-season games. Asked whether he would be part of the magazine’s famed swimsuit issue, Maltby said: “I haven’t done the shoot yet.”
Off the ice: The big story on the front page of the Free Press told the tale of a 30-year-old former pizzeria manager from St. Clair Shores and how he spent the better part of a night in a Denver jail because of his case of Cup fever. The guy was Sam Iaquinto. His crime was shot-putting an 11-pound octopus onto the ice at McNichols Arena during Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. He spent about 11 hours in jail, was charged with “throwing stones or other missiles,” pleaded guilty and paid a $25 fine. “It’s something everyone should do once in their life,” Iaquinto told reporter Raja Mishra, “but I’ll never do it in another city again.” The day before the game, Iaquinto purchased an octopus from the Lobster Pot fish market in Detroit for $50. “I actually carried it on the plane in a six-pack cooler,” he said. “Right on with my other luggage as a carry-on.” In his hotel, Iaquinto and some friends adored the octopus with red and white ribbons and tied bows around its neck and legs. To get the creature past arena security, Iaquinto said he “got it down to the size of a loaf of bread by stuffing it into Ziploc bags.” Friends tried to tape everything to his back and then a hip, but they decided it stuck out too much. “Then I knew what we had to do,” Iaquinto said. “We’ve got to crotch it.” The plan worked. Once in McNichols, he purchased a large bucket of popcorn, stashed the thawing cephalopod in it and placed a spare T-shirt on top. He slipped down from the upper deck between the second and third periods, and even though the Wings trailed, 6-0, he launched his octopus onto the ice. Angry fans grabbed him until security could arrived. Once in jail, Iaquinto said, other prisoners started calling him “Mr. Octopus.” Despite the Memorial Day weekend, by 6:30 a.m. he was pleading guilty and hustling to the airport for an early flight home. A few days later, he told the Free Press he was excited about the Cup finals but had no intention of trying to replicate his feat in Philly. “I would toss an octopus at The Joe but never again in another state,” Iaquinto said. “The cops see your Red Wings jersey in another state and they’ll trap you. No way, man. I’m not going through that again.”
Famous last words: From Shanahan on a private pep talk Bowman gave him before the final game against the Avalanche: “It was the best 30-second motivational speech I have ever had from a coach. He told me Colorado was purposely not trying to get me angry, because they were afraid of how I’d play. He said I had to play as if I were already angry.”
Relive the glory: The Free Press has crafted a 208-page, full-color, hardcover collector’s book with fresh insights and dynamic storytelling about the 1996-97 Wings. It’s called “Stanleytown 25 Years Later: The Inside Story on How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City after 41 Frustrating Seasons.” It’s only $29.95 and it’s available at RedWings.PictorialBook.com. (It’ll make a great Father’s Day gift for the Wings fanatic in your life!) Personalized copies available via [email protected]
More to read: Another new Wings book arrived in April from Keith Gave, a longtime hockey writer for the Free Press in the 1980s and 1990s: “Vlad The Impaler: More Epic Tales from Detroit’s ’97 Stanley Cup Conquest.” It is available through Amazon and other booksellers and a portion of the proceeds is earmarked for the Vladimir Konstantinov Special Needs Trust. (Plenty of Gave’s prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)
Even more to read: Red Wings beat reporter Helene St. James, who helped cover the 1997 Stanley Cup run, recently wrote “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Detroit Red Wings.” Featuring numerous tales about the key figures from 1997, “The Big 50” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. (Plenty of St. James’ prose also appears in “Stanleytown 25 Years Later.”)
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