Monday, April 11, 2011

My History of the Colorado Avalanche

Welcome to the first edition of The Avalog!  This is my personal perspective into the Colorado Avalanche and the National Hockey League.  I became a hockey fan in 1995 during the Avs' inaugural season.  Before the season started, my middle school was lucky enough to attend a lunch at McNichol's Arena with the Avalanche players and coaches.  Thanks to Kevin Walton and my mom for making it possible for me to attend!  I remember meeting players like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Adam Deadmarsh, Stephane Fiset, and Jocelyn Thibault (Roy had not yet been traded to the team).  That lunch instantly made me hockey fan.  Over the course of the season, I learned the game and even attended a few games at The Big Mac.  It was certainly a privilege to learn a new sport by following a new, exciting team who was actually really good!  Denver's previous new team was the Colorado Rockies.  While the city was excited to have a baseball team, the Rockies were an expansion team and not quite championship contenders at that time.  The longstanding Broncos and Nuggets had also not won anything yet.  The Nuggets still haven't.  So, when the Avs entered the playoffs as Pacific Division Champions (and would later set the record for most consecutive division titles), there was a definitely a buzz in the Mile High City about its new hockey team.  They dispatched the Vancouver Canucks in 6 games as well as the Chicago Blackhawks.  Denver got a taste of Patrick Roy's colorful personality and got to know 'Hawks star Jeremy Roenick as well.  Then, the Avs were matched up against the Detroit Red Wings, the team many had picked to win the Cup that year.  The Avs won this series in 6 games as well, but this would be the beginning of the most heated rivalry I've witnessed in my lifetime.  Sure, there's the Broncos-Raiders rivalry, but when was the last time both teams were good?  Finally, the Avs swept the Eastern Conference Champion Florida Panthers and won the state of Colorado its first ever major sports championship.  Joe Sakic's 34 points in 22 games earned him the Conn Smythe.  No one can argue with that.  However, #33 was brilliant in the playoffs as well.  No Avalanche fan will ever forget his 63-save triple overtime performance capped off with Uwe Krupp's Stanley Cup game-winning goal.  My parents let me stay up until 2:30 that morning.  Everyone could sense history was about to be made.

Over the next several years, the Avs became accustomed to success.  They won their division 8 consecutive times.  However, it was painful every year the Avs would make it to the Western Conference Finals and lose to Detroit or Dallas.  I remember my high school graduation party in 2000.  My parents rented the neighborhood clubhouse and there was no TV there and of course, it just so happened to be game 7 between the Avs and Dallas Stars.  I was probably the most anti-social person of the class of 2000 that day.  I was huddled around the radio during the game, listening to Mike Haynes' call and after the loss, I was in no mood to celebrate.  We got Bourque for one reason and failed.  Fortunately, he decided to give it one last go and then the big trade that next season paid huge dividends!  Adam Deadmarsh was a fan-favorite here in Colorado (you'll still see an occassional "Grateful Deadmarsh" shirt today) and many fans were sad to see him go, but getting a perennial all-star like Rob Blake made it worth it!  Hopefully the Avs will see similar returns in the recent Erik Johnson-Chris Stewart blockbuster trade.  From Day 1, the 2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche team seemed like a team of destiny.  Pepsi Center played host to the NHL All-Star Game that season.  The Avs, fittingly enough, were loaded with all-stars.  I still love the all-star patch on Avs jerseys from that season.  My Forsberg jersey, the first authentic jersey I've owned, is from that year!  The Avs finished the regular season with the Presidents Trophy, which, as anyone who knows hockey will tell you, is certainly not a guarantee for a Cup!  The Avs took care of Vancouver in 4 games, and then ran into a tough opponent with a good series storyline in the Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings of course, had former Avalanche favorites Adam Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller and the Avs had former Kings captain and Norris Trophy winner, Rob Blake and also Stephen Reinprecht.  Blake was booed ever shift he touched the puck in LA (ironically, he was booed by Avs fans in 2010 after knocking out Peter Mueller with a concussion).  The Kings took the Avs to the limit, but Colorado prevailed on its home ice in Game 7.  The Avs beat the St. Louis Blues in 5 games, who were coached by Joel Quenneville.  The Stanley Cup Finals faced the Avs against the defending champion New Jersey Devils.  This was a dream match up.  In Roy and Brodeur, you had, arguably the 2 greatest goalie who've ever played the game.  There were talented scorers on each side.  Sakic, Tanguay, Hejduk, Drury (Forsberg was lost after the Kings series with an unfortunate spleen injury.  He would miss the entire next regular season too).  Patrick Roy however, played like he wanted Ray Bourque to win a Cup.  He bested Martin Brodeur and captured his record 3rd Conn Smythe Trophy.  Equally as memorable and Krupp's triple OT goal is the moment where Joe Sakic handed the Cup to Bourque.  The single classiest moment I have witnessed in pro sports.  Period.  Has there ever been another captain who handed the Cup off without hoisting it himself first? 

The Avs were still good after that.  Bourque retired in the manner of John Elway.  Riding off into the sunset a champion and his #77 hangs in the rafters at the Pepsi Center despite playing fewer than 100 regular season games in burgundy and blue.  After a disappointing first round loss to Minnesota in 2003, Patrick Roy decided to call it a career.  He retired with virtually every goaltending record, although Brodeur has since passed him in career wins.  The following year, David Aebischer took the reigns as starting goaltender and, for the first time since moving to Colorado, the Avs made a huge splash in free agency.  The Avs were notorious for making blockbuster trades.  Roy, Fleury, Bourque, and Blake were the big ones, but the Avs had never gone out and signed guys during the offseason.  That changed when they inked Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.  Unfortunately, both likely future hall-of-famers had their worse years with the Avs.  As classy as Sakic passing the Cup to Bourque was, the Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore was equally as appaling.  That was the single worst act I've witnessed during the course of a professional sports game.  It still disgusts me that Bertuzzi is allowed to play in the NHL.  Steve Moore never played another game.  His younger brother Dominic has made a decent career for himself, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  If you're looking for a good hockey book, check out Saving The Game, by Mark Moore, the older brother of Steve, who was an aspiring hockey player himself, until his career was prematurely ended by concussions.  Along those lines, I would also recommed, Blood Feud by Adrian Dater, which chronicles the Avs-Wings rivalry.  As a goalie, I'm also a fan of Martin Brodeur's autobiography and Patrick Roy's biography, which was written by his dad.

Since the lockout of 2004-05, the Avs have been up and down.  They lost Forsberg and Foote due to the new salary cap.  However, both would return in 08 to the burgundy and blue.  They've made the playoffs every other year since the lockout, never getting past round 2.  We've also recently seen the retirement of Avalanche legends like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Adam Foote.  I suspect we'll see #21 and #52 hanging in the Pepsi Center rafters very soon!

Well, that was much longer than I was planning.  Sorry about that!  Not all my blogs will read like novels.  More to come soon including the draft lottery (tomorrow), the Avs future, and the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs!

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