Current Wings weaned on bloody rivalry with Avs

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Mike Vernon lands a punch on Patrick Roy during the Wings-Avalanche brawl at Joe Louis Arena on March 26, 1997.

Detroit – Danny DeKeyser, who grew up in Metro Detroit, was just like every other Red Wings fan around here during the 1980s and 1990s.

DeKeyser did not like the Colorado Avalanche.

Hated the Avs.

“I wasn’t a big fan of them,” DeKeyser said Friday, when asked about the legendary Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry, ahead of Friday night’s Detroit-Colorado game at Joe Louis Arena. “Being a Red Wings fan, they had some good battles over the years, in the playoffs, and it was fun to watch.

“But being a Red Wings fan, I didn’t like (the Avalanche).”

It’s different now. The Red Wings and Avalanche are in different conferences, and they only meet twice in the regular season. But the videos are on YouTube, and most of the current Red Wings grew up following the rivalry.

It’s still special when the Red Wings and Avalanche play, even many years later after the bad blood was flowing.

“A lot of good battles,” DeKeyser said. “(Colorado goalie Patrick) Roy and (Mike) Vernon, some of those battles, and it was a lot of entertaining hockey, a lot of fun to watch.”

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Mike Green remembers that he would make appointment television for Wings-Avs games.

“Absolutely, just because of the rivalry and the history there was at the time,” Green said. “It was sort of the biggest rivalry in the league.”

Even in Sweden, Gustav Nyquist would get up early to catch all the Swedish players on the Red Wings going against the Avalanche’s Peter Forsberg.

“He was the biggest name, our most famous Swedish player for sure, and he’s a guy you followed through the course of his career,” Nyquist said. “I remember watching him many times for Colorado and especially those rivalry games against Detroit.

“It’s fun to look back sometimes and you see those videos and those games against Colorado, remember all the brawls that went down.”

Justin Abdelkader remembers, as a youngster in Muskegon, cheering the Red Wings and passionately disliking Claude Lemieux on the Avalanche.

“(Lemieux) was the evil villain and for Detroit fans we didn’t like him,” Abdelkader said. “But as Colorado fans you probably loved him. Those are guys you’d love to have on your team but hate to play against.

“For sure those were games that were must-see television just because you didn’t know what to expect.”

Friday’s game is a bit of a tune-up for the Feb. 27 outdoor game in Denver, part of the NHL Stadium Series. It is preceded by the Wings-Avs alumni game on Feb. 26, which will surely attract a ton of interest.

“It’s certainly one of the greatest rivalries of its time,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Certainly it was heated. “It’ll be interesting to watch the alumni game to see if there’s any carryover effect.”

This will be the second outdoor game for most of the current Red Wings, who previously participated in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium against Toronto on Jan. 1, 2014.