(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here's James "Tapeleg" Gralian of Jerseys and Hockey Love, giving us The Essentials for the Colorado Avalanche.)
The main talking points about the Colorado Avalanche over the past few seasons have been their fall from glory. The lack of playoff appearances would have been unheard of before the lockout, which changed a free-spending ownership into one handcuffed by a salary cap, and that saw previous mainstay players like Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg move on to greener pastures.
But the past was filled with glory when the Avs moved from Quebec City and settled down in Denver, CO, perhaps spoiling the fans a little bit. I prefer "building a strong fan base" myself, but hey, I'm biased (if not fair).
When Wysh asked me to take on this post, I could think of one person who I felt I needed on board with me, and that's my co-host and creator of The Avs Hockey Podcast Jay Vean. What he lacks in a nickname, he makes up for in his dedication and knowledge of the Avalanche. I couldn't have done this post without him.
So take a trip back with me though some of the best times and icons of the Avs. You will understand why the fans love them so much.
Player: Joe Sakic
There have been some great players to don the burgundy and blue, but none compare to "Super" Joe.
He leads every franchise record available to him, aside from penalty minutes. He was the captain of the team that all others will be compared to, drawing comparisons to former Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. He was a first round Hockey Hall of Fame nominee, has eight playoff overtime game-winning goals (which is two more than anyone else in NHL history), is a Conn Smythe winner, an Olympic Gold Medalist and tournament MVP, and a two-time Stanley Cup winner.
Even with all that, Joe Sakic is the epitome of class. He rarely had anything negative to say, he just went out and played, and led by example. People didn't want to just play like Sakic, they wanted to act like Sakic. That's how a player defines a franchise. Joe did it all.
The Avs won the Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver, and it was a defining moment for hockey in Colorado, washing the bad taste of the Colorado Rockies away. But the 2000-01 season and the Mission 16W post season (for the 16 wins it takes to win the Cup) was simply magical for the fansSweeping Vancouver, being taken to the brink of elimination by the Kings, making short work of the Blues in five games, and the dramatic seven game Final against the Devils, the focus was on one man, Raymond Bourque, who came to Colorado to win a Cup after spending his previous years in Boston in futility. When the Cup was handed to Joe Sakic by Commissioner Gary Bettman, the captain handed it immediately to Bourque to hoist for the first time, and the victory lap. Avs fans still get choked up watching it. I know I do.
Game: Game 4, Stanley Cup Finals. June 10th, 1996. Avalanche 1, Panthers 0
The Avalanche had won the previous games in the series 3-1, 8-1, and 3-2. Game four, played in Florida, was going to be something else. It was a goalie battle. Nothing was going in, and both Patrick Roy and John Vanbiesbrouck played their hearts out.
I remember watching the game in a seedy bar in Denver when a friend called and said he had a seat for me at a downtown bar, game on the big screen. I told him, if the game goes to a third overtime, I was there. At the end of the 2nd OT, I raced to meet him, and shortly after I sat down, there was the goal.
Goal: Uwe Krupp, game winner, Game 4, Stanley Cup Final. June 10, 1996
An awkward backhanded clearing attempt by the Panthers is held in at the point by a defenseman. He winds up and shoots. Nothing has been going in the net, and there is no reason to think this one will. There is no reason to believe it will all end here, four and a half minutes into the third overtime. It seems like this game is going to go on forever.
But good things happen when you put the puck on the net. Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it deflects, sometimes it just sits there, waiting for someone to pounce.
And sometimes, heroes are made.
Uwe Krupp won a Stanley Cup with that goal. Just like the fantasies of children, winning the Cup in overtime with an unlikely shot. It solidified the Avs as the hometown heroes for years to come. If there is a more important goal in Avalanche history, I can't think of it.
Trade: Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens
For all the great players on the roster, the 1996 (and 2001) Stanley Cup wins would not have happened if Patrick Roy hadn't been traded to the Avalanche. After being left in net for a shellacking, Roy came off the ice to tell the owner of the Canadiens that he had played his last game in a Habs sweater. He was traded to the Avalanche along with Mike Keane for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Jocelyn Thibault. Two Cups later, one in the same season he was traded, it's easy to say who won this trade.
Runner up: Eric Lindros traded by the Quebec Nordiques to Philadelphia for (via TSN) "Ron Hextall, Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, 1st round selection (Jocelyn Thibault) in 1993, 1st round selection (later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, later traded to the Washington Capitals - Nolan Baumgartner) in 1994 and cash." I'll take that trade any day.
Unsung Hero: Stephane Yelle
I have to let Jay have the floor on this one. He nails it. -
"Had to think about this one a bit and I think Stephane Yelle could be the man. Sixth in Avs history in regular season games played, fifth in playoff games played, was on both cup teams, and did all the dirty work so the stars could do what they did best. Every great team has a Stephane Yelle-type player on it and every great team knows what players like Yelle mean to a team. The Avalanche were fortunate to have Yelle with them when things mattered most."
Franchise Villain: Todd Bertuzzi
Is there anyone else? Is anyone even close? After the infamous Steve Moore incident, there was no other person more applicable.
It doesn't get any uglier. Enough said.
Fight: Sakic vs. Gilmour and Roy vs. Red Wings Goalies
The Avalanche have had a few bruisers on the roster over the years, but when the unusual suspects drop the gloves, things get interesting. For instance, Joe Sakic vs. Doug Gilmour. It takes a lot to make Joe Sakic want to punch a guy in the face. But it happens.
But for my money, Patrick Roy fighting Mike Vernon in 1997 (which he lost) and Chris Osgood in 1998 (when he won the fight but lost the wrestling match) is some of the most entertaining fighting you will see. And it didn't hurt that it was against the Red Wings.
Coach: It's a Players' Team
Jay and I talked about this one, and we came to the conclusion that there simply isn't a defining coach for the Avalanche. The top three coaches the Avs had were Marc Crawford (who was the coach of the Vancouver Canucks when the Moore/Bertuzzi incident happened), Bob Hartley and Joel Quenneville (who was an assistant coach during the 1996 Cup winning season). But all of them have been overshadowed by the players and Pierre Lacroix, former GM and current team president. No one shaped the Avs more than Lacroix. Coaches be damned, this is a player's team, for better or for worse.
Broadcaster: Mike Haynes
Jay says …
"He's been around since the very beginning in either radio or television. Fans have to respect his enthusiasm, passion, and approach, especially after his aneurysm. Haynes' most famous line, "How you like them apples Gilmour?!?!?"
"For my money, I'm going with the less attended Marc Moser. He has more enthusiasm and passion for the team than anyone, and doesn't mind showing it in his exciting radio calls. But Jay still nails it."
Arena Behavior/Tradition/Trend: Quiet stoicism until the home team gets a lead
This is, to me, the most annoying part of the arena experience. The fans don't seem to be willing to cheer on the Avalanche until they get a goal. After that, they back the team vocally, but they don't give their love freely. There are fan efforts to change this by people like the Burgundy Brigade, but they have their work cut out for them. I would like to see the fans put a little more of their heart into the games early.
Arena Food: ?????
Bavarian Nuts? Mini-DDDDDDonuts? There isn't anything that really stands out to me. I guess you would have to say Breckenridge Avalanche beer, which has no relation to the team. Beer, that's food, right?
Swag: Burgundy 3rd Jersey
The third jersey of old has been criticized for being a ripoff of the Rangers style of jersey, and I can see what those people mean. But hockey traditions are born from the past, and the classic styling of the third jersey was complemented by the color scheme that highlighted the best color in the league.
Quite honestly, there just aren't that many people, jersey collectors or not and Avalanche fans or not, that don't like the look and feel of the old burgundy alternates. The point here is proven by the current third jersey, similarly styled to the old version, but with blue being the primary color.
The "Blueberry" jerseys also seem to be cursed, as the Avalanche lost many of their initial games wearing the new version. The burgundy third is dead, long live the burgundy third!
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