“That’s not me, that’s karma”: Former NHL’er Darren McCarty details 1997’s Fight Night at the Joe

It was a little over 25 years ago when a night that won’t be forgotten happened: the Fight Night at the Joe.

The bad blood between the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings had been boiling over for some time. In fact, it dates back a full year.

The two teams had met in the 1996 Western Conference Finals and in game six, Avs right-winger Claude Lemieux hit Red Wings center Kris Draper from behind, driving the latter’s face into the boards. On the play, Draper suffered a broken jaw, a shattered cheek and an orbital bone that required reconstructive surgery.

“It sounds like if you’ve ever been to a baseball game for opening day in 30-degree and the ball hits the back and you hear the crack of the bat, it was the crack of his face,” Darren McCarty told Betway. “I’ll always remember that sound because I was right there.

“If Claude Lemieux would have apologized, if he would have shown remorse, yes, the hockey gods and the rules of the game would have played out, but probably not to the spectrum that it did, because he did not apologize.”

Despite the two teams having met three times in the following ’96-’97 season, the bad blood never boiled quite as it had on March 26, 1997.

Things were feisty in the first frame when Avs defenceman Brent Severyn and Red Wings rearguard Jamie Pushor dropped the mitts at the 4:45 mark, while Avs forward Rene Corbet and Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby fought at the 10:14 mark.

But it was in the final moments of the first when things escalated into a major brawl.

“Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg decided that they’d had enough of each other, swatted each other around,” said McCarty. “I know Lemieux’s on the ice, Adam Foote grabs me, Shani (Brendan Shannahan) breaks his arms, I go searching, fade the linesman and when I pop out from fading the linesman, whose face do I see there that I’ve seen a million times?

“I pulled back and I did not leave anything to be desired.”

McCarty caught Lemieux with a devastating right hand, sending him to the ice quickly. As the latter dropped to the ice, McCarty kept swinging eventually pulling him towards the boards at the Red Wings bench, where he delivered a few knees to Lemieux’s head for good measure.

“I’m trying to beat the snot out of Lemieux while he’s on the ice, and I can’t right?” said McCarty. “So I took him and I took his head and I smashed it as hard as I could into the boards. To this day, he’s got a four-inch mark on his forehead so when he looks in the mirror, it reminds him not to be an idiot. That’s not me, that’s karma.

“People say they call it the turtle photo and said he turtled, he didn’t turtle,” said McCarty. “Claude even said he was knocked out. He said that’s the hardest he’s ever been hit.”

Through it all, McCarty was only penalized four minutes for roughing. And when it came down to the end of regulation, both teams were tied at five.

Thirty-nine seconds into overtime, it was none other than McCarty scoring the game-winning goal.