Darren McCarty: I’d never wanted to hurt anyone as much as I wanted to hurt Lemieux

Jason Kay
Red Wings v Avalanche

Detroit Red Wings’ cult hero Darren McCarty is sharing “his truth” with the world through a memoir of his life and career entitled, “My Last Fight: The True Story of a Hockey Rock Star.”

In the book, co-written with USA Today’s Kevin Allen, McCarty covers his days as a feared NHL enforcer, battles with addiction, bankruptcy, divorce and playing in the band Grinder.

In the following passage, McCarty, now 41, takes the reader through the notorious “Bloody Wednesday” grudge match with the Colorado Avalanche, a night when he and his teammates exacted revenge for Claude Lemeiux’s dangerous hit from behind on Kris Draper.

If you want to appreciate how much anger I was carrying when I went after Claude Lemieux on March 26, 1997, take a close look at my left fist in the famous photo where Lemieux appears to be “turtling.”

My fist is so tightly wound that there is a stress indentation that runs down from hand to my forearm.

Many times since then I’ve tried to ball my fist tight enough to reproduce that stress line. I’ve never been able to do it.

Even though I fought close to 200 times during my professional hockey career, it’s fair to say that I brought more intensity and anger to the Lemieux confrontation than any bout I ever had.

Years later, Lemieux told me that the first blow I delivered was the hardest punch he ever received. During my career, there were other times when I wanted to pound the shit out of an opponent, but I’d never wanted to hurt anyone as much as I wanted to hurt Lemieux.

My NHL career included 758 regular season games played, but this was the contest that defined my career. Although I have a Stanley Cup-clinching goal, this game is probably the most memorable game I ever played. It’s the game that fans ask me about the most.

Some fans don’t even remember that I also scored 39 seconds into overtime to give us a 6–5 come-from-behind win over the Avalanche. They just recall that I avenged Kris Draper’s broken jaw and other injuries by taking down Lemieux.

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The “Bloody Wednesday” game, as it has been called, was certainly the wildest game I was ever involved in. When the buzzer sounded to end that contest, the two teams had combined for 18 fighting majors.

My memorable first-period encounter with Lemieux almost didn’t happen because Colorado defenseman Adam Foote grabbed me just as all hell was starting to break loose. He was strong as an old bear, and he had a tight grip on me. But Brendan Shanahan came over and gave Foote a double-arm chop.

That broke me free from Foote. It was like letting a dog off the leash.

I took a direct path toward Lemieux. It was written, and said, that Lemieux never saw me coming. But that’s untrue. I can tell you that I looked him directly in the eyes before I hit him. I wanted him to know my anger. I didn’t sucker punch him, as some have written. I cold-cocked him.

When he went down, he ended up in what hockey players call the “turtle” position. He was covering his head with his arms. Again, much later, he told me that he wasn’t turtling. He had momentarily been knocked out by the punch, and was trying to regain his senses.

Meanwhile, I was trying to hurt him. I was throwing punches and trying to slam his head into the ice. I dragged him over to the boards so Kris Draper could have a good look.

Undoubtedly, that moment was what Detroit fans had been anticipating. In the Detroit News that morning, a sports column had been published bearing the headline A Time for Revenge.

Accompanying the article was a photo of Lemieux made to resemble a wanted poster. It gave information about Lemieux’s alleged crimes, such as “likes to attack from behind.”

NHL executive Jim Gregory and security director Dennis Cunningham both attended the game with the hope of discouraging any potential trouble.

Everyone seemed to be sure that March 26 was going to be the night that I was going to try to settle the score. The funny part of that story is that I didn’t truly know that was going to be the night.

I was positive that at some point I was going to exact revenge on Lemieux because of what he did to Draper. But I planned on picking my spot to accomplish that objective. Shanahan had taught me that being a good teammate also meant knowing the right time to settle a score.

You don’t want to put your team in a bad position because of a personal grudge.

Draper would testify to the truth that he and I only had one conversation about me going after Lemieux and that came when I picked him up from the hospital.

This was not the first time we had played the Colorado Avalanche in Detroit after the Draper injury. We’d already played them three times that season, and we had lost all three games. But Lemieux was injured for the first two games, and I didn’t want it to happen in Denver. If I was going to make Lemieux pay for his attack on Draper, it was going to be for our fans to see live.

This excerpt from My Last Fight: The True Story of a Hockey Rockstar is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/DarrenMcCarty.