Darren McCarty Relives First Off-Ice Meeting With Claude Lemieux: "I Was Still, F-You"

The two have since developed a healthy relationship.

Will Burchfield
June 21, 2019 - 12:18 pm

More than 10 years after coming face to face with Claude Lemieux on the ice, more than 10 years after pummeling him into submission and releasing a year's worth of pent-up anger, Darren McCarty met his nemesis for the first time off the ice. Neither the passage of time nor the casual circumstances -- the two were in Toronto to tape an interview together -- dulled McCarty's emotions. 

He was still raring to go. 

"I was cold. I was still, fu*k you. I was still in defensive mode," McCarty said on 97.1 The Ticket's podcast The Time That. "And then he was the one that lowered it down and turned it into a man-to-man conversation. Now I’d be fine with him. If I played against him and he did that hit again, though, I’d be the first one to fu*king go after him." 

In the lore of the Red Wings' last dynasty, and certainly in the legend of McCarty's 13-year tenure with the team, March 26, 1997 is a date that will forever stand out. It was the day McCarty and the Wings leveled the score with Lemieux and the Avalanche and launched a championship run several years in the making.

Since then, McCarty guesses he's signed close to 100,000 copies of that iconic photo in which he's standing over Lemieux and raining down punches on behalf of his best friend Kris Draper and the entire city of Detroit. Matter of fact, McCarty and Lemieux have sat side by side and signed the photo together. 

McCarty admits it took him a long time to get past Lemieux's dastardly hit against Draper in the 1996 playoffs -- "I never let it go," he said -- but the two first met in 2010 and have since forged a relationship built on mutual respect. 

"The one thing I’ll say about Claude, as a man, I have respect for him. This was after meeting him and doing the autographs and giving money to charity. You find that some guys, you hate him as a player because you don’t like what they stand for as a player, but as a man, yeah, I’d go golfing with him," McCarty said.

As for the fight, McCarty said it was something he simply had to do. 

"Lemieux hits Draper from behind in Game 6, we lose. We don’t know how bad Drapes is. He crushed his orbital bone, broke his jaw, has a hole in his face. That’s my best friend, my centermen. You go through the summer and you’re golfing and then you look down (to hit a shot) and you just see Lemieux's face and you’re like, man, this isn’t ever going to go away," McCarty said. "That's true.

"It wasn't until the beginning of March when I was driving myself crazy that I just prayed. I said, 'God, whatever happens, can I be the messenger please? Just let me be the messenger, whatever your plan is.' This ain't a religious thing, this ain't anything other than I had to let it go."

To this day, McCarty laughs at how he got out of the melee without incurring a penalty for fighting. 

"I didn't get a major. I got four minutes for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct for felonious assault," he joked.

The other twist: McCarty delivered the first blow with his offhand. 

"I'm a lefty but I hit him with the right. I tell everyone, the whole Red Wing nation -- man, woman, child, granny -- whoever wanted a piece of this guy, I was the messenger. My right is hard but it's got no accuracy, and this one I split him right down the pipe, on the button. He said he didn’t turtle. He said he was knocked out, seeing starts. Said it’s the hardest he’s ever been hit," McCarty said. 

And to put a bow on the evening, McCarty would later score the game-winning goal. 

"It’s a Hollywood script that nobody could have wrote," he said. 

So, now that they're friendly, have McCarty and Lemieux discussed the hit that triggered their rivalry? 

"No, we don’t need to talk about it," said McCarty. "You know what you did, you know I felt. You know what I did. He’s come out and said that if he had to do something over, he would have handled it differently. There still would have been comeuppance, but it wouldn’t have been so personal. It would have been more business."

Other highlights from McCarty's interview:

The best player he ever played with: "Best fundamental player? Nick Lidstrom. He was the perfect human."

The one opponent that left him starstruck: "Joe Sakic. Every time I wasn’t checking him I'd watch him. That release in stride, it was just awesome. He was my favorite player and we’re from the same town, Burnaby, (British Columbia)."

On Kirk Maltby and the Grind Line: "Malts had the best head snap. He’d draw penalties because he could snap his head like a guy high-sticked him. But Drapes would do most of the talking, Malts would do most of the sticking and I would do most of the punching. But, no, Maltby could get under your skin because he just has that way of getting you off your game by pushing the envelope. Guys hated Maltby, because he was good, because he was fast, because he could play."

On the favorite of his four Stanley Cups: "They’re like kids. They're all storylines. My favorite one is '98. '97 and '98 are sort of together. Obviously scoring the goal (against the Flyers in '97) and being from across the boarder and being a Red Wings fan my whole life and what it meant, but we really didn't get to enjoy it because of (Vladimir Konstantinov's) accident. So '98, the accomplishment, I just remember at the end of it we were in the dressing room and we're celebrating, but guys are just, you can tell it’s two years of anguish and anger of what happened to Vladdy. To have him out there (on the ice during the celebration), it was the silver lining I guess you could say."

On celebrating a championship at the Post Bar: "The original one across from Cobo. The place is packed and we had the Cup in there and everybody’s drinking and partying. Joey (Kocur) passes the Cup off to somebody and all of a sudden, he goes, 'Stop!' He pulls out his (hand) and his Rangers ring had slid off (his finger). The whole bar, I don’t know how many people, everybody stopped. Lights go on, everybody's looking, somebody (yells), 'Here it is!' and hands it back to Joey. Turn the lights off and the music goes back on and everybody started drinking again. It was just so priceless, so pure. The whole place stopped, everybody was looking and then right back at it. I was like, this is what Detroit is all about and what winning is all about. Sharing it is the best part."