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Claude Lemieux leads a group of former Montreal Canadiens during the Heritage Classic practice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmontonon Friday November 21, 2003. John Ulan/The Globe and Mail (John Ulan)
Claude Lemieux leads a group of former Montreal Canadiens during the Heritage Classic practice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmontonon Friday November 21, 2003. John Ulan/The Globe and Mail (John Ulan)

The Heritage Classic

Peplinski, Lemieux meet on friendlier terms Add to ...

Of all people, it was Jim Peplinski who extended a hand and invited Claude Lemieux to participate in Saturday's Heritage Classic alumni game at McMahon Stadium.

If you know the history between the two, you'd appreciate the irony.

In the 1986 Stanley Cup final between Peplinski's Calgary Flames and Lemieux's Montreal Canadiens, the two forwards got into a lively scrap. At one point, Lemieux was scratching at Peplinski's eyes like a mad velociraptor. Peplinski put up his hands to defend himself. When one of his fingers got to close to Lemieux's mouth - CHOMP! Lemieux bit it to the bone.

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"I was skating to the penalty box and showed the bloody finger to (referee) Denis Morel," Peplinski recalled prior to Saturday's outdoor rematch. "He said, 'How do I know you didn't do it to yourself?'"

The Bite Heard 'Round the National Hockey League was highlighted by Peplinski's post-game comment that he needed a tetanus shot. That was the start of what would be a fierce rivalry between the two players and their organizations, who went at it tooth and fingernail again in the 1989 Stanley Cup final.

And yet, when the 2011 Heritage Classic was planned, and an alumni game included, Peplinski was one of the first Flames to ensure Lemieux received an invite.

"He couldn't make it because he was coaching a midget team in a Game 7 playoff (in Quebec)," said Peplinski. "We e-mailed back and forth. He asked, 'What should I bring?' I wrote, 'Tetanus.' He wrote back, 'I don't think I can find that. We might have to use vodka.'"

Peplinski said he would always attempt to annihilate Lemieux when they met on the ice. But years later, when both their careers were done, Peplinski took a different view of his former finger-munching foe.

"It was the same with Ken Linseman. Afterwards, you meet them, and I remember thinking, 'I wish I'd been able to play with them.'"

The 1989 Stanley Cup final was the last between two Canadian teams and the last between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the NHL. As players from both those teams gathered prior to the alumni game, they told tall tales, cracked plenty of jokes and rejoiced in their accomplishments.

"I think (the 1989 Flames) was one of the best teams ever assembled," said Theo Fleury. "More importantly, it was the quality of the guys. I couldn't have been tutored by a better bunch of guys."

The Flames alumni squad included the likes of Lanny McDonald, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Al MacInnis, Mike Vernon, Joel Otto and Colin Patterson. The Montreal lineup had Brian Skrudland, Sergio Momesso, Ryan Walter and Rick Green.

"Green hasn't been on skates in seven years," joked Skrudland.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

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