DENVER – Claude Lemieux made his way through the handshake line after his Colorado Avalanche alumni defeated those from the Detroit Red Wings, 5-2, on Friday night at Coors Field.
In front of him stood Dino Ciccarelli, who once lamented that he shook Lemieux’s “friggin' hand after the game” back in 1996, after Lemieux plowed Kris Draper from behind into the boards and, well, broke his face.
Ciccarelli and Lemieux locked eyes. They extended their hands, shook, then clasped them together and pulled in for a bro-hug.
Then it was Draper in line, looking at Lemieux. They have never spoken about the incident, although they have spoken since the incident.
On a night that celebrated the six-year-long blood feud between the Avalanche and Red Wings, Kris Draper and Claude Lemieux shook hands at center ice, with Draper giving him an extra tap on the shoulder pads.
“It’s all good. We’ve had many encounters since retiring. It’s all behind us. It’s a great event,” said Lemieux.
“We shook hands, yeah. I saw him last night. I talked to him after the draft. We’re gonna end up interacting a little bit. He’s in the player agent business and I’m in the front office,” said Draper.
Maybe everyone needed one more night to move on. The alumni game drew over 43,000 fans to a three-hour tribute to the NHL’s most vicious, bloody, contentious rivalry of the last 20 years.
“The blood was like the axe used in battle. It wasn’t the war,” said Darren McCarty of the Red Wings, who once jumped Lemieux to spark a classic 1997 line brawl between the teams. “The war was about the hockey, and how good it was, and the Hall of Fame players on each side.”
They were on display at the Stadium Series alumni game. Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan and Ray Bourque had goals. Patrick Roy, the current head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, was arguably the best player on ice, only give up one goal on 20 shots through two periods.
("Yeah, but our Corsi was not very good, though,” said Roy, cheekily.)
What was amazing about the game: How vital it all felt. The players competed harder than in any previous NHL outdoor alumni game – blocking shots, playing dump and chase and, at one point, the trap. And they fell into their old roles, too: Draper antagonizing with the occasional cross-check; defenseman Adam Foote patrolling the front of the goal.
At one point, McCarty skated near the crease of the Avalanche net. Foote had his stick out, and McCarty tripped over it. “I was like, man, you’d think I’d learn by now. It’s like the hundredth time he’s gotten me,” said McCarty.
The fans chanted and cheered like there was something at stake too, filling the building with 43,319 fans to watch an exhibition game.
“So many people wanted to see us play one more time against each other. Wanted to relive some of the moments we had in the past,” said Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
The fans, too, fell into their old roles. Especially during the player introductions, when the villainous Lemieux and his Red Wings counterpart McCarty were both booed by the mix of Colorado and Detroit fans in the stands.
“I would have been bummed if I didn’t get booed. It’s the ultimate honor in an opposing rink. They appreciate the rivalry. Claude’s the villain. I’m sort of the villain. That’s how a rivalry is supposed to be. So thank you guys. And girls. Everyone. And kids,” said McCarty.
As the crowd serenaded him with jeers, McCarty saluted them.
“I’m a Broncos fan. I figured I’d give them a Mile High salute,” he said. “Unfortunately, they got us this time. But we got them last time, and ended up with a Cup. So we’ll get over it.”
The fans also saluted the players after a stirring late-game video was shown highlighting the rivalry, set to Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These.” They stood up and gave the players an ovation. The players responded with a stick salute from the ice. It was an incredible moment.
Then, mechanically, the fans went right into dueling “Let’s Go Red Wings!” and “Red Wings Suck!” chants.
“It’s amazing to see 43,000 fans stand up and say how much they appreciated the rivalry,” said Lemieux.
And it was amazing to see these rivals not only put on a show for three periods, but salute the fans right back at the end of the game. “I think it’s great for hockey to see that even though we were big rivals, we’re still hockey players. We can still come together like we did at the end of the game,” said Lidstrom.
Roy, who had fights with two different Red Wings goalies during the course of the rivalry, agreed: “At the end, having both teams gather at the middle of the ice. Yeah, we were rivals. But we can all get together and take a picture.”
It was a moment to celebrate two teams that dominated the league and a rivalry that has reached legendary status.
“This puts a closing chapter on it,” said McCarty.
“It was the conclusion to probably the last best rivalry in hockey.”
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY