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With the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry back in the news, Knuble reflects on historic meeting

March 26, 1997 game between Avs and Wings changed everything.
Credit: FSD
The former East Kentwood star explains why winning the Stanley Cup the second time means more than it did winning the first.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Every year, he sees a few social media comments about it. Or he gets a few messages reminding him of yet another anniversary. 

"They do it every March, you know?" says Mike Knuble. "Mid March that the tweet starts. And then on the 26th  there's always some friends that text and remind me."

As if anyone could forget.

March 26, 1997 represents one of the greatest dates in Red Wings history. On that night the Wings got even with their arch nemesis from Colorado and the boldest chapter of the rivalry was born. 

11 fights in one game at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. The game became known as "Bloody Wednesday" and "Fight Night at the Joe". There was Darren McCarty pounding on Claude Lemieux, the man whose hit on forward Kris Draper in the 1996 playoffs kickstarted years of hatred. Goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy got into it. But most importantly, McCarty scored the game-winner in overtime, giving Detroit a 6-5 victory and the motivation that the could make a run in the playoffs. 

Credit: Tom Pidgeon, AP
Darren McCarty fights Claude Lemieux, getting revenge for teammate Kris Draper, on March 26, 1997.

It also just so happened to be the NHL debut of Mike Knuble, the former East Kentwood high school standout who later starred at the University of Michigan. 

"I feel like really proud and really happy to be a part of that game," he said. "And it's certainly like, your first game is always memorable because it's your first game. But to have it like that was really crazy."

When ESPN E:60 decided to put together a documentary, "Unrivaled", on the 1990's Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry, a lot of former players, like McCarty, were thrilled. They loved knowing the rivalry was once again going to be the talk of the sports world. Knuble had no idea his story would be in it until he heard from ESPN two years ago. 

Credit: ESPN
ESPN's documentary "Unrivaled". on the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry of the late 90's, debuted on Sunday June 26th, 2022.

"I wondered 'What do you guys want to talk to me about' you know? I kind of had that little angle that it was my first game. And so they talked to me about what I remember from the game and what was I feeling on that day, and all that. You know, actually, we talked for like an hour."

Unfortunately, Knuble's appearance on screen in "Unrivaled" lasted all of two seconds as he described how the rivalry would often spill off the ice and local radio stations would get involved. 

The Griffins assistant coach remembers how privileged he felt just to be a part of it all. "It's a unique, very unique rivalry in the in the history of the NHL and there was some crazy stuff that went on. It was really fun to be a part of, and it was great hockey, there was also some crazy mean and dirty stuff going on. But at the same time it was 15, 20 hall of famers playing in these series. There's some really, really good hockey players playing. So it was really awesome to be a part of.

While Knuble helped the Wings win a pair of Stanley Cups before he went on to play with Wayne Gretzky in New York, he says it's that game, his very first in the NHL, that people remember more than anything. 

"No matter where we traveled in my career, I could bring it up with people, even when we lived in Washington and Detroit, or I mean, Boston and New York, you could bring that game up, and people were like, 'oh, yeah, no, I know that game', even casual fans. So having it revisited in a documentary by ESPN is just amazing."

The documentary and behind the scenes footage can currently be seen on ESPN-Plus

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