New to the Colorado Avalanche? Here is a little history lesson for ya.
In 1995, the Quebec Nordiques were purchased by the COMSAT Entertainment Group, Inc. and moved to Denver, Colorado. The group conducted a poll and it was decided that the team would henceforth be known as the Colorado Avalanche. Their primary colors were burgundy, white, and blue with hints of black and silver.
It is important to note that the team was moved and renamed; Colorado inherited a winning team with a lot of potential. The Nordiques had their winningest season in 1994-95, won their division, and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, the famed Avalanche offensive duo of destiny, got their start with the Nordiques. Perhaps the most important addition upon the move was goalie Patrick Roy, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens. Slightly below Roy on the list was forward Claude Lemieux, acquired from the Stanley Cup-winning New Jersey Devils (the team formerly known as the Colorado Rockies).
Enter destiny. The Avs won their first game at McNichols arena against the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. The winningtradition continued. The Avs won their Pacific Division and beat the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Red Wings in their journey to the Stanley Cup Finals. Their series against the Red Wings was especially physical and hotly contested, adding to the existing rivalry (for more on this to come). In game 6 of the series Lemieux hit Kris Draper from behind as Draper was leaving the ice. Draper broke his face, and Lemieux faced a small fine and many, many unkind words. The Avalanche went on to sweep the Florida Panthers in the Cup Finals when they won Game 4 in triple overtime on a goal scored by defenseman Uwe Krupp. Joe Sakic was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP, and Denver hoisted it’s first championship trophy. Yep, victory is far sweeter than the alternative.
The following season saw an equally competitive Avalanche team winning the Presidents’ Trophy by having the best regular season record. Perhaps the most outstanding game of the season came on March 26, 1997, the last regular season meeting of the Avs and Red Wings. This game includes a fight so legendary it has nickname: The Brawl in Hockeytown. It began with a hit by Forsberg on Igor Larinov (on which Forsberg threw a little something extra) and very quickly all hell broke loose. See the whole fight here, in the beauty of HD. After the smoke cleared there was so much blood on the ice they had to resurface it before play continued. Sadly, Detroit won in overtime. The teams met again in the Western Conference final and lost the series 4-2.
That summer, Joe Sakic took a giant step forward for hockey players when he signed a three-year, $21 million offer sheet with the New York Rangers. At the time the Avs had a month to match the offer and keep their captain. Luckily the organization was smart enough to keep #19 around to help win the Pacific Division again. (Spoiler: Joe Sakic spent the rest of his career with the team, retiring in July of 2009 from the same team that drafted him in 1987. The Avs retired his #19 and raised it to the rafters at the 2009-10 home opener.)
In 1998 the Nashville Predators joined the league, and the Avs moved to the Northwest Division. This season saw their still-unbroken longest ever win streak of 12 games. They won the division, beat the San Jose Sharks (yes, this is one of the many times the Sharks lost in the first round of the playoffs) and Detroit Red Wings, and then lost to the Dallas Stars in a seven game Conference Finals.
In 1999 the Avs moved to the Pepsi Center (somewhat lovingly called “The Can” by some fans and/or frequent visitors). The team acquired Ray Bourque from the Bruins after he requested a trade to a contender near the end of his career, and they again won the Northwest Division. The Avs beat the Phoenix Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings before again losing to the Stars in the Conference Finals. Bourque’s dream once again eluded him.
In July of 2000, Stan Kroenke bought the Nuggets, the Avs, and the Pepsi Center for $450 million and agreed to keep both teams in Denver at least through 2025.
2000-2001 was the best season of Joe Sakic’s career. The team won the Presidents’ Trophy, the Northwest Division, and acquired defenseman Rob Blake prior to the playoffs. The Avs swept the Vancouver Canucks, gave up a 3-1 lead over the LA Kings but still won in 7. Peter Forsberg required surgery to fix his ruptured spleen (hockey’s tough!) and missed the rest of the season. In spite of the loss of Forsberg the Avs beat the St. Louis Blues in the Conference Finals and took the defending Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils to 7 games and then won game 7 at the Pepsi Center 3-1. Sakic hoisted the Cup and immediately handed it to teammate Ray Bourque, who waited a few heart beats to retire. Sakic was also awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy for being the NHL’s regular season MVP, the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly play, the Lester B. Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Award) Ã‚Â for his play in the regular season. Patrick Roy won the Conn Smythe. See the game highlight video here.
On November 26, 2001, Ray Bourque’s #77 was the first jersey to be retired and hoisted to the Pepsi Center rafters by the Colorado Avalanche. This honor came about 6 weeks after his jersey was retired by his longtime team the Boston Bruins. The Avs again won the Northwest Division in the 2001-2002 season, won playoff series against the LA Kings and San Jose Sharks, but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in game 7 of the Conference Finals. The Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup. 2002 was also a Winter Olympics year, and the Avs sent nine players to Salt Lake City, UT to compete. (Canada won gold, and the US won silver.)
The 2002-2003 season got off to a rocky start, but the team pulled it together and won their record-setting ninth consecutive division title. Unfortunately they lost in the first round to the Minnesota Wild.
Patrick Roy retired in 2003. His jersey #33 retired shortly thereafter, and joined Bourque’s #77 in the Pepsi Center rafters. This ceremony was sadly the highlight of the 2003-2004 season, as the team failed to meet the lofty expectations of the Avs’ Denver fanbase.
On March 8, 2004, the Canuck’s Todd Bertuzzi punched Steve Moore in the back of the head, reportedly in retribution for a hit Moore put on a teammate a few weeks earlier. Unfortunately Moore was hit at a strange angle and was driven into the ice head first, fracturing three vertebrae in his neck and ending his career. Bertuzzi was suspended for the remainder of the season, and was formally charged with assault by the Vancouver police. He pled guilty and received a year’s probation. He was cleared to resume play for the 2005-2006 season, following the lockout.
Ah, the lockout. Thanks to a labor dispute, the 2004-2005 season did not happen, marking the first time an entire season of a professional sport had to be cancelled under these circumstances. As are most labor disputes, this one arose over money and the disagreement on owners and players of how it should be shared or spent. (Obviously it is much more complicated than that; if you are curious about some of the specifics, here is an excellent college paper written on the subject.) Many of the players went to play for European teams. The league lost its broadcast deal with ESPN. Fans lost faith and interest in the league. When the locks were cut and business resumed (with the salary cap firmly in place), the NHL faced a significant uphill battle to fight in order to get hockey back to it’s previous prestige. This battle is still not over.
The Avs faced their own battle, as the salary cap meant some of their big name, big money players had to be shipped off. Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg left. 2006 saw another play stoppage for the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The Avs went to the playoffs, won the first series against the Dallas Stars but lost the next series to the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The next day GM Pierre Lacroix stepped down but remained President of the franchise. Francois Giguere was hired as GM and remains to this day.
The 2006-2007 season was a little rough for the Avs. On October 16, 2006 their NHL record-setting home sellout streak ended after lasting 487 games dating from November 9, 1995. New-to-the-Avs goalie Jose Theodore was largely less than stellar, yet still expensive. The Avs amassed 95 points but missed the playoffs. Joe Sakic scored his 100th point. The season went out with a whimper.
2007-2008 had a few meaningful occurrences. December 9, 2007 marked the Avs 1,000th franchise victory. In February the team signed free agent Peter Forsberg. Just ahead of the trade deadline the Avs reacquired Adam Foote. Partially due to the help of the returning players, the Avs made the playoffs and won the first series against the Minnesota Wild but lost the second series to the dreaded Detroit Red Wings. Following the loss, coach Joel Quenneville was let go. (He was promptly hired by the Chicago Blackhawks and won a Cup in the 2009-2010 season.)
Under the leadership of returning coach Tony Granato the Avs completed the 2008-2009 season with something less than pride. Joe Sakic only played in a handful of games due to injury, none of the Avs’ scorers crossed the 70 point mark, and the team missed the playoffs after only winning 32 games.
The bright side of doing badly was the third overall draft pick, with which the Colorado Avalanche selected forward Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion. He and fellow draftee Ryan O’Reilly, both 18, both training camp standouts, made the opening night 2009-2010 roster (the night Sakic’s jersey was retired) and never looked back. The Avs consistently outplayed their opponent’s expectations, especially considering what a young team they were. Largely due to the brilliant play of goalie Craig Anderson the Avs made the playoffs but lost in the first round to the San Jose Sharks. The season highlights included the benching of John Michael Liles (and subsequent better play), sending the promising Chris Stewart back down to the AHL, and the concussion of Peter Mueller in the last regular season game against the Sharks.
The 2010-2011 season was one of ups and downs. The exceedingly quick, young team wasn’t going to surprise opponents as they did the previous year, but had hoped to come out to a stronger start than they managed. Peter Mueller went through training camp but sustained another concussion in a preseason game and didn’t play again. The team was heavily damaged by injury. At the beginning of the season the team rose to this challenge, buoyed by the leadership of Chris Stewart, Paul Stastny, and always Milan Hejduk. John Michael Liles, somewhat of a pariah in the season before, truly stepped up and became a leader as well. As the All Star break drew near, the Avs were still in playoff position and managed to outscore their opponents in spite of abysmal defense and average (at best) goaltending.
After Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Kevin Shattenkirk represented the Avs at the All Star Game, everything went downhill. Craig Anderson, hampered by injury and attitude, let even more pucks into the net. Peter Budaj continued to be his solid backup self (read: wasn’t good enough to steal games away). To make matters worse, the offense completely dried up. The more games that passed with few goals scored, the more the losses stacked up, the more snake bit the young team appeared.
Late in February, the Avs traded ex-golden boy Craig Anderson to the Ottawa Senators in a straight swap for goaltender Brian Elliott. Even more surprising was the trade of Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk to the St. Louis Blues for defenseman Erik “EJ” Johnson and center “Silent”Â Jay McClement (along with conditional draft picks). Each of these trades resulted in slightly elevated individual play, but had little overall impact on the teams. The poor play of the Avalanche was literally historic, as they racked up a franchise record 10 game losing streak and won only one game in the month of February. In spite of this the Avs were quiet at the trade deadline, only sending AHL defenseman Kevin Montgomery to the Edmonton Oilers (AHL affiliate OKC Barons) in exchange for defenseman Shawn Belle. The Avalanche clearly decided to trust in their current players and development system for the immediate future of the franchise. Several key players will be free agents come the summer of 2011, so the team could still change dramatically before the start of the 2011-12 season.
When the disappointing season closed, the Avs finished with a mere 68 points and in second-to-last place in the NHL. (Edmonton was worse with 62 points.) They only managed to win 10 games after January 1, 2011…5 in January, 1 in February, 2 in March, and 2 in April. It was a very, very rough season for the team and its fans.
The 2011 – 12 season started off with the retiring of Peter Forsberg’s #21. There are some terrific prospects coming up through the ranks…Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, Joey Hishon, and Calvin Pickard are poised to be difference makers for the organization over the next several years. The #2 overall draft pick, Gabriel Landeskog, made the Avs’ opening night roster and got his first NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 12. Offseason acquisitions included adding serious size to the defensive squad and respected goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere. In spite of the heartbreaks of the last few seasons, there is still reason to hope for a brighter future for the Colorado Avalanche.
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