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(Photo: Paul Werner, Detroit Free Press)

Review of ESPN’s Documentary ‘Unrivaled: Red Wings vs Avalanche’

Patrick Roy, Chris Osgood
(Photo: Paul Werner, Detroit Free Press)

Review of ESPN’s E:60 Documentary ‘Unrivaled: Red Wings vs Avalanche’

I watched ESPN’s E:60 documentary, Unrivaled: Red Wings vs Avalanche, so you don’t have to. That sentence is slightly deceiving, but the doc was actually very good.

I was raised with a passionate hatred for the Red Wings deep in my soul. A warning to fellow Avalanchers, it is aimed towards villainizing Colorado, and they talked to more Wings than Avs, but you gotta do what you gotta do for a narrative, and I can respect that. 

ESPN wrangled some of the biggest names in franchise history for each respective team. From Gary Thorne and Peter McNab to Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Claude Lemieux, and Darren McCarty. Let’s get into the review.

Reality Check

In the Spring of 1995, the Red Wings made a long-awaited return to the Cup Final where their dreams were crushed by a more significant, meaner New Jersey Devils. In the fall of 1995, the Quebec Nordiques were relocated to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche. It’s important that ESPN touched on both of these details because it encapsulated how hungry each team was for success and excitement. 

Mike Ricci, an Avalanche Alum, recalls that first night in Denver. The team went into The Cheesecake Factory in downtown and were greeted with quite the reality check when no one knew who they were, and they were expected to wait for their table. 

The Shit Disturber

Just a few days before the start of the season, Pierre Lacroix magically made Claude Lemieux appear in a three-way trade. He would later be referred to by Gary Thorne as “quite the shit disturber.” Allegedly, he didn’t start things and only ended them but even I have a hard time believing that.

To continue the drama, they cover the blockbuster Patrick Roy trade. Roy said in his interview that he never intended to leave Montreal. He wanted to break records and be THE franchise goalie. But when positional peer Mike Vernon mentioned that maybe he should get traded, his interest peaked. It was a 5-1 loss in Montreal vs. Detroit that sent Patrick Roy over the edge. “I couldn’t stop a beach ball,” he recalled. It was embarrassing and he had had enough. “Mr. Corey, it’s over,” is what he said when he came off the ice. The next morning, he was on a plane to Denver. 

Now it gets really interesting. After the Wings came from behind in the previous round, they were set to face the Avalanche in the Western Conference Final in 1996. This was a pivotal series. If it wasn’t for Slava Kozlov slamming Adam Foote face-first into the glass, this bloody rivalry might not have been the same. Kozlov came from behind and checked Foote into the uneven glass panes. It left him gushing blood on the ice. Head coach at the time, Mark Crawford, said he wasn’t worried about the injury, he was more worried about how pissed off Foote was. “We were out for blood after that,” Ricci said. And that they got. Game 6 of this series is arguably the most important. Lemieux delivered a hit on Kris Draper. The Red Wings trainer wanted to backboard him (essentially take him off the ice on a stretcher).

“Like fuck you are,” Draper said as he skated off the ice assisted by McCarty. The Avs went on to win the series and eventually the Cup, sweeping Florida in the following round. 

The Most Hated Man in Hockey

The following season we see Brendan Shanahan join the Red Wings. Shanahan’s got a secret though. He actually played with Claude Lemieux, the most hated man in hockey. They were friends. That was until Lemieux skates past him during warmies one night and says, “You’re a loser, you haven’t won anything.” It was a little less friendly after that. 

Eventually, slowly but surely, we get to March 26, 1997. Now infamously known as Fight Night at the Joe. All hell broke loose. Obviously, I can’t share too much because that would ruin the fun, but even Patrick Roy was involved. Blood everywhere. A hockey game broke out into a boxing match. Later that season, Detroit beat Colorado in the WCF and then went on the sweep the Flyers for the Stanley Cup. 

The documentary then takes a sad turn, but a necessary one. In Detroit, after they had won the cup, there was a devastating limo accident involving several players. I’m a cold-hearted bitch but I did shed a real tear or two at the 1998 Cup Celly when they wheeled Vladimir Konstantinov onto the ice so he could be with his team. 

Slowly, the doc closes with the rivalry burning out. It ends with some final words from McCarty and Draper. Draper said he hasn’t forgiven Lemieux for what he did literally 30 years ago. These are just my thoughts, but it’s giving a lot of cry-baby vibes. Dude, you can’t even tell your face has been smashed in. It didn’t ruin your career. He obviously doesn’t give a shit. Why are you wasting your energy? You should hear my mom and I mock this guy. Comedy.

A few more random thoughts 

The Barstool guy who said this is about “as down the middle as it gets” is stunningly delusional. It completely villainizes Colorado. 

Avalanche vintage jerseys are unmatched.

I would like to have dinner with McCarty. He seems like a quality dude. 

I am quite pissed off that I missed this rivalry by several years (due to the fact that I was not birthed until 2001).

P.S.: What is the probability Emma Brown writes an article with zero grammatical errors? Zero. The answer is zero. * Editor’s Note: this is true. * But I’m a god damn riot and you all know it.

*** All quotes from article sourced directly from the documentary, which can be seen on ESPN+ ***

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