Death of Wings-Avs rivalry has personal meaning

It doesn’t seem all that long ago when all eyes in the National Hockey League would have been on the Detroit Red Wings this week.

The hockey world would have been abuzz with the Wings taking on the Colorado Avalanche twice in the span of four days, bringing a Stanley-Cup atmosphere to two late regular-season games. The teams would, in all likelihood, be vying for position and momentum at the top of the NHL’s Western Conference with the playoffs just over the horizon.

But that was then, upwards of 20 years ago now. In fact, this month will be the 20th anniversary of Darren McCarty’s fight with the hated Claude Lemieux, in retribution for Lemieux’s infamous, purposeful injury to Kris Draper’s face.

These days, things could not be more different.

This season finds the two former blood rivals in different conferences, with both teams far out of the playoff picture. The Wings (26-30-11, 63 points) are one point out of last place in the Eastern Conference, while the Avalanche are last in the NHL, at 19-46-3 (41 points). The 29th-place team, the Arizona Coyotes, has 60 points. The Avalanche has a minus-91 goals differential — all the more staggering considering that the second-worst team (Arizona) is at minus-51.

The Avalanche has lost six of its last eight games. The Wings are 1-1-4 in their last six.

As a result, neither of their two games this week, the first last night (in Denver, and so competed too late to be included in this paper) and the second on Saturday, will be shown on national television. That’s how far the rivalry that was once universally considered the best and most intense in the NHL has fallen.

Now, one can’t even really call it a rivalry. I can’t imagine any fan of either team getting worked up about the other. Younger Red Wings fans most likely wouldn’t even know to hate the Avalanche unless they really don’t care for singular team names (which would make them okay in my book).

But I have a more personal reason for rejecting nostalgia regarding this game, and this former rivalry: It was the reason why I met my now ex-wife.

Back in the olden days there was this thing called America Online, which was how most people connected to this newfangled thing called the Internet. AOL had these things called chat rooms, which were sort of like Facebook Messenger only for several people at a time.

AOL had a hockey chat room, in which I started talking to a woman from Colorado who had just become an Avalanche fan (the team had moved to Denver from Quebec the year before).

One thing led to another, we fell in love, started a long-distance online relationship — something that was almost unheard-of back then — and eventually got married. I proposed at a Wings/Avs game at Joe Louis Arena.

That was a really cool story, sort of a modern-day Montague-Capulet thing.

Until it wasn’t. We divorced in 2014. I should have known.

Anyway, the rise and fall of the rivalry follows a parallel arc in my life, and its death and newfound irrelevance resonates with me in a way that few others (aside from my ex-wife, probably) will feel.

I, like the Red Wings and Avalanche, now have other things to worry about. We have moved on, and what was once a source of intense emotion is no longer.

Oh, and I have the same chance of winning the Stanley Cup this year as they do.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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