Review: ‘Unrivaled’ is Just That; An Emotional Look At Two Titans
Let's start with - ESPN sure does know how to do a sports documentary. I lived in Michigan in 1996 and 1997, and the director captured what was going on at the time. The Detroit Red Wings had been down for a long time, but were slowly climbing back to respectability under the ownership of the Ilitch family. "Unrivaled" is like looking at a time capsule from that era.
In the mid-1990's the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings were pounding on each other, as the Red Wings were pounding at the gate, but just weren't good enough yet. The rivalry was already in place, but the 1996 playoffs just reinforced they weren't good enough. The Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. Some said say the Red Wings were one player away. As it turns out that player was Brendan Shanahan.
The 'Lanche were the defending champs and the Wings still had to get past them. It made for some extremely physical, some might say, violent, hockey. The danger is looking back at it twenty-five years later and looking at it as "rock 'em, sock 'em robots". But it wasn't that.
It's funny. Twenty-five years pass and Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux are actually friends. Kris Draper on the other hand wants nothing to do with Lemieux. Two things are stressed during the two-hour documentary. The main one is - a lot this nonsense could've of and maybe would've been avoided if only Lemieux had apologized for damn near killing Draper. A Q & A event in Detroit was filmed for this, and people were respectful and the two long-time rivals, McCarty and Lemeiux 'bro-hugged. But if you were expecting a tear-filled apology, remember this was ESPN, not Oprah. Patrick Roy, the Colorado goalie admits goalie fights were dumb. And an interesting factoid somebody brought up. Claude Lemieux and his son Brendan are the only father-son in NHL history to both be suspended for biting an opponent.
And the emotional part of "Unrivaled" was much of the final 45 minutes, which focused on Vladimir Konstantinov; the point being, life can change in the blink of an eye.
Unrivaled is on ESPN+ after its debut on ESPN Sunday. It is really good. The hairstyles from those years are not, and are quite funny to see now.