Colorado Avalanche: 20 Years , 20 Moments

In 1982, the Colorado Rockies left for New Jersey meaning there would be no NHL hockey in Denver for another 13 years. In 1995, the Quebec Nordiques moved west and became the Colorado Avalanche. In the 19 seasons since that move, the Avalanche have gone from envy of the hockey world to rebuilding bottom feeder. They’ve seen some of the greatest players in the game’s history wear the A on their chests, and they’ve seen a fair share of dark moments too.

This year will be Colorado’s 20th season since the move from Quebec. So here is a list of 20 moments in franchise history that shaped the team’s identity. It might not be the 20 greatest moments, and there are surely some that have been left out, but it’s 20 moments that any Avalanche fan will remember, and remember well. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Colorado gets a team

July 1st, 1995 is the Avalanche’s birthday.  When the Quebec Nordiques began having financial trouble and were unsuccessful in getting a new area they began talks with COMSAT Entertainment Group of Denver regarding the sale of the franchise. On July 1st the deal was officially announced, and professional hockey returned to Denver.

Season tickets began selling almost immediately, and fans were ready. The team just needed a name. It has since been reported that ownership wanted to originally name the team The Rocky Mountain Extreme, fortunately they had enough common sense to let the fans decide. There was a naming contest held, and on August 10th of that year the new hockey team in Colorado officially became the Colorado Avalanche.

2. Colorado trade for a goalie

It has become one of the most talked about trades in hockey history. A few days after surrendering 9 goals against the Detroit Red Wings, Canadiens super star, Patrick Roy was sent west. Many felt that Colorado was only missing a goalie to be a true Cup contender, and what better goalie to get than one of the all time greats. On December 6th, 1995, Roy joined the Avalanche. The trade was one that would come to define the franchise. With Roy the Avalanche would be regulars in the Western Conference Finals, and would go on to win two Stanley Cups. Roy’s contribution to the Avalanche franchise was nothing short of extraordinary.

3. Rivalry with Detroit begins

The team that came over from Quebec was already great. They had won their division the previous season, and were unlucky to be knocked out in the first round by the New York Rangers. With a few tweaks to the lineup, they were ready to be a serious contender. In that first season there was one problem though, The Detroit Red Wings. Detroit set an NHL record for wins in the 1995-96 season, and they looked unstoppable.

When the two teams met in the Western Conference Finals that year, Detroit was very much the favorite. Colorado surprised Detroit by winning the first two games. Detroit won games 3 and 5, but for most of the series Colorado was in control. The Avalanche won game 6 and advanced to the Finals, but something much more notable happened in that game. Claude Lemieux started possibly the most intense rivalry in any sport when he smashed Kris Draper face-first into the railing along the boards. Lemieux was suspended for Colorado’s next two games, a suspension that would be laughed at had the same incident happened today. Detroit never forgot what happened, and combined with the fact that these two teams were constantly at each others throats deep in the playoffs each year, it became a long and very bitter rivalry.

4. The Avalanche and Red Wings brawl

March 26, 1997 was the peak of the rivalry with Detroit. There has been much written about this event, especially in the very good book Blood Feud by Adrian Dater. However, sometimes it’s best to just watch and enjoy. It was one of hockey’s greatest rivalries for a reason.

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5. First Presidents Trophy in 1997

Colorado already had a Stanley Cup, but they claimed their first President’s Trophy in 1997 finishing the year with a record of  49-24-9 (remember ties?). The season didn’t end as well for Colorado as they would have liked, as Detroit avenged the previous year’s playoff loss. It was a great achievement nonetheless. It wouldn’t be the last President’s trophy the team would win, but the first one is always a bit special.

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Forsberg won the Hart Trohpy in the 2002-2003 season  T Sanford/THW

6. The division title streak hits 9

While this streak technically began when the team was still in Quebec, it’s always nice to be in the record books. Eight of the nine division banners were won in Denver, and a few of those were close calls, but they all count the same. Number nine was won on the final day of the season as Colorado just edged out the Vancouver Canucks with 105 points to their 104. Colorado looked like they would not be in a position to break the record early in the season. The team got off to a bad start, and Head Coach Bob Hartly was fired early on. Eventually the Avalanche improved and overtook Vancouver right at the end. Peter Forsberg led the league in scoring that season, and won his first and only Hart Memorial trophy.

7. Joe Sakic scores 600

Joe Sakic was the greatest player to ever play for the Colorado Avalanche, and he has the number to prove it. He is the only player in franchise history to reach 600 career goals. On February 17, 2007 in Calgary, Sakic scored a late empty net goal to give himself that magic number.

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8. Peter Forsberg beats Florida 7-5

March 3rd, 1999 was Peter Forsberg’s career in a nutshell. Colorado were getting killed by the Panters before Forsberg turned the game around all by himself. He scored a hat trick, and had three assists to bring Colorado into the lead. The game finished 7-5, and Panther fans in attendance must have left the arena dazed and confused.

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9. The Avalanche get a new stadium

When the Pepsi Center opened for business on October 1st, 1999, it was a state of the art arena. It has since been upgraded a few times to bring it further up to date. It replaced the old McNichols Sports Arena, and has hosted much more than hockey, ranging from Basketball to political conventions. But to Avalanche fans, it’s home.

10. 2001 all-star game

The city of Denver finally had the chance to host an all-star game, and it did so in the most memorable year in franchise history, 2001. North America defeated the World 14-12 in the high scoring game. Colorado had 5 starters across the two teams, and Ray Bourque won the accuracy shooting contest in the skills competition.

11. Patrick Roy wins number 448

The 2000-2001 season was a great year for Patrick Roy, early in the year he broke Terry Sawchuk’s long-standing record of wins by a goalie. The record breaking game was an October 17th matchup with the Washington Capitols. It was a weird game which included a light failure. But in overtime, Forsberg put Roy’s name in the history books by scoring the game winner. Roy’s record would later be broken by Martin Brodeur, but Roy is still considered by Avalanche fans to be the greatest of all time.

12. Patrick Roy wins third Conn Smythe

Roy broke another record that season. When Colorado won their second Stanley Cup, he was voted the playoff MVP for a third time. No other player in the History of the NHL has ever managed such a feat. Roy will be remembered as one of, if not the greatest goalie to ever play the game. His play in the playoffs for Colorado that season was spectacular, including the first period of game 6 in New Jersey when Roy stood on his head and shut down the Devils. His game 4 mistake that gifted the Devils a goal was forgotten, and after another great performance in game 7 he cemented his place in history.

13. The Bertuzzi incident

Not all memories can be happy ones. Steve Moore, weeks after a controversial hit he put on Canucks star Markus Naslund, was hit from behind and drove into the ice by Todd Bertuzzi. Moore was severely injured and never played in the NHL again. Bertuzzi was handed a lengthy suspension, and had to apply for reinstatement when the league resumed after the 2004-05 lockout. Bertuzzi was never forgiven by the fans in Denver, and was booed each time he made an appearance at the Pepsi Center.

14. Patrick Roy has trouble hearing Jeremy Roenick

What most people forget about the 1996 playoffs was just how great a series Colorado and Chicago played in the second round. Four of the six games went to overtime, and two of those needed more than just one extra period. Colorado eventually won the series, but some controversy arose around the officiating. Blackhawk’s forward Jeremy Roenick, who in game 3 embarrassed Roy on a breakaway, felt that he should have been awarded a penalty shot in game 4. Roy’s response was that he would have made the save anyway. This led to one of the most famous exchanges in Stanley Cup Playoff history.

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15. Paul Stastny’s rookie point streak

Paul Stastny had some big shoes to fill when he joined the Colorado Avalanche. His father, Peter, had been a legend for the Nordiques. Peter had been a mentor for a young  Sakic. Now it was Sakic’s turn to do the same for Peter’s son, Paul. The younger Stastny had a great rookie season. He scored 78 points, and set an NHL record for longest rookie point streak. From February 3rd until March 17th he kept his streak going for 20 games. He not only broke his father’s franchise record of 16 games, but also Teemu Selanne’s record of 17 games. Stastny would go on to be a fan favorite in Denver before heading to St. Louis last year.

16. Matt Duchene is drafted

This is when the rebuild began. Apart from Matt Duchene being a very good hockey player, this moment represents more about the team than it does the player. Sakic would retire shortly after Duchene was drafted, and the team would start getting younger. Ryan O’Reilly was drafted one round later. The following years would see new talent like Gabe Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Chris Bigras come to Denver. Colorado knew they were no longer a powerhouse in the NHL, and drafting Duchene marked the beginning of their long road back to the top. It’s still a work in progress, but drafting Duchene was symbolic of the path the team was about to head down.

17. The return of Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic

Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy
Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since Roy and  Sakic retired, Colorado seemed like a mess in the front office. There had been accusations among the fans that the team was becoming cheap, caring more about the profits off the ice than the points on it. Following another abysmal season in 2012-2013, Colorado cleaned house. Out went the old coaching staff and front office, and in stepped two of the Franchises greatest players. Roy and Sakic were named head coach and general manager respectively.

While they are still relatively new to the job, they’ve infused the team and fan base with a new sense of optimism. Since taking over they have begun building the team to their liking. Recent moves to bolster the blue line have left some fans genuinely excited. It’s still too early to tell how big of a success they will become, but they’ve started to bring fans back to the Pepsi Center.

18. 2013-2014 Central Division champions

The Roy regime got off to a pretty good start. No one expected that a team that just drafted first overall, and had the second worst record in the league the previous season would suddenly win the league’s toughest division. The team struggled defensively, but they held their own with a little help from Seymon Varlamov. Varlamov earned a spot as a finalist for the Vezina trophy that year. Colorado was well represented in Las Vegas that summer with MacKinnon, Roy and O’Reilly all taking home hardware. The season ended on a disappointing note in game 7 in the opening round against the Wild, but it was a memorable year regardless.

19. 1996 Stanley Cup champion

This was not only the first Stanley Cup win for the Avalanche, but it was also the first major professional championship for the state of Colorado. It was an exciting run that included the aforementioned wins over Chicago and Detroit. That run also included a great first round series with the Vancouver Canucks. Sakic made a name for himself that year. He scored 18 goals during the playoffs, and he was an easy choice for the Conn Smythe. That Cup win kicked off a long playoff streak for Colorado, as for the next decade they were considered one of the league’s Elite. Not bad for a first impression in your new home.

20. 2001 Stanley Cup champion

This is the greatest moment in franchise history. There can be no argument. It needs no explanation.

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