Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Colorado Avalanche from A to Z

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Puck Daddy's Summer Series: The Colorado Avalanche from A to Z
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  • Peter Forsberg
    Peter Forsberg
    Swedish ice hockey player

(Ed. Note: August is known to be a very quiet month in the hockey world. As we wait for September to arrive and training camps to begin, let’s learn a little history about all 30 teams. Behold, our summer A-Z series, in which we ask fans of all 30 teams to drop some knowledge on us! Add your own choices in the comments!)

By: Cheryl Bradley, staff writer for BSN Denver

A. Altitude

Denver is famously known as the Mile High City because it is exactly one mile above sea level. The repercussions of that altitude extend to professional athletes, and hockey players are no exception.

Altitude
Altitude

Road teams often employ the short-shift strategy when in town, with coaches taking a different approach to managing the game than they would in other cities. Denver coaches recognize this advantage, and you’ll see them push the opposition harder in the beginning of a game to capitalize on the natural edge their city provides.

B. Blood Feud

Considered one of the most violent rivalries in sports history, the battle between the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings was fueled by talent.

The teams faced off in the playoffs five times, three of which were in the Western Conference Finals. The venom, however, started to boil when things got physical. No game was more indicative of the rivalry than the one on March 26, 1997.

Darren McCarty avenged Claude Lemieux’s questionable hit on Kris Draper with a blindsider, starting a cascade of nine fights, one of which was the first of the teams’ goalie brawls, this one between Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon.

The bloody battles continued over the next decade, finally dying out when the teams no longer faced off in playoff competition. Next season’s stadium series features a game between the Avs and the Wings, and while the match between the current rosters counts in the standings, it’s the alumni game that will draw the biggest crowd as fans everywhere will watch to see if any more blood will be spilled on the ice.

C. Czech Invasion

On a late 1980 night in Innsbruck, Austria, two Czech hockey players huddled in a phone booth, shaking with fear and excitement as they called an office in Quebec, Canada. The players were brothers Peter and Anton Stastny, and the office was that of the Quebec Nordiques. In a defection straight out of a movie, the talented hockey players were whisked away under the cover of night so that they could play in the NHL, free from the communist rule that had dictated their lives for so long. 

Their presence in Canada catapulted a struggling Nordiques team into relevance, especially when the third brother, Marian, joined them a year later, also defecting after suffering immense repercussions from his brothers’ actions. The brothers instantly became one of the top lines in the NHL, and their story—one of both talent and courage—changed the face of the NHL forever.

D. Draft Day Fist Pump

Growing up, Matt Duchene’s walls were adorned with everything Avs, and he dreamed of one day playing for his favorite team.

As fate would have it, Colorado had the third overall selection his draft year. John Tavares was the clear-cut number one selection in 2009, but second was still up for grabs: Victor Hedman or Matt Duchene. Video during Hedman’s selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning—which left Duchene as the logical choice for the Avs—shows the young center celebrate falling to third overall with an ardent fist pump, instantly endearing himself to Avs nation. Duchene continues to show his love for the state and the team, most recently in his decorative choices for a new home gym

E. Eric Lindros Trade

A year after Eric Lindros refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques, the team traded him for a return of riches that eventually paved the way for Colorado’s first Stanley Cup. The Lindros trade was so lopsided as to be laughable, and it continues to bear fruit today, 23 years later.

The initial return included Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg, who would have been nearly enough on his own. However, the Philadephia Flyers threw in Steve Duschene, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Philly’s first-round picks in 1993 and 1994, and $15 million in cash—for good measure, of course. Further trades stemming from the Lindros windfall saw the likes of Patrick Roy, Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay, and Claude Lemieux, among many others, added to the Avalanche roster.

F. Footer

Adam Foote is as much a fixture of the Avalanche franchise as Joe Sakic. The standing ovation he received during his final shift before retirement is testament to how much fans love him. It was classic Footer: stealing lunch money and imposing his will.

The Hall of Fame defenseman was such an important part of the Avs’ success through 2005, that letting him go due to salary cap restraints hurt the team greatly. He was in his third season with the Columbus Blue Jackets when he was traded back to Colorado, a move for which he has been vilified in Columbus. However it happened, he returned to the Avalanche in typical Foote style, catching a chartered flight to Calgary before the ink on the trade even dried, joining the team mid-game. He now works with the team as a defensive coordinator with his jersey firmly secured in the rafters.

G. Gabriel Landeskog

There’s more to Gabriel Landeskog than just being the youngest captain in NHL history, though that’s no small feat. He worked tirelessly to get to where he is now, and leadership was a quality he sought and cultivated.

Landy is a bull on the ice, earning respect for his talent since his rookie season as a force both with and without the puck. He’s also a jokester off the ice, someone who will just as quickly laugh at himself as tease a teammate. Landeskog doesn’t shy away from standing up for his beliefs, either.

Oh, and he’s a meme, too, in case you didn’t know. Landeskoging (above) became a thing in 2012 when the Swede fell to the ice in celebration after scoring a hard-earned OT goal against the Anaheim Ducks. Did we mention that he was so sick that night that he was taking IV fluids between periods?

H. “How do you like them apples, Gilmour?”

Joe Sakic isn’t really known for his fighting skills, so when he drops the gloves, people get a little excited. No one was more excited than Avs’ play-by-play announcer Mike Haynes when Sakic took on Doug Gilmour back in 1999. His famous line, “How do you like them apples, Gilmour?” accentuated the craziness of the situation.

I. Iron Man

For a while, defenseman Karlis Skrastins held an NHL Iron Man record, appearing in 495 consecutive games in the middle of his 13-year, 832-game career in the league. The beauty of his record, though, was that he continued to play a hard-hitting style of hockey, leveling and receiving hits that would leave other men out of the lineup for the next game—or three.

Not Skrastins, though. He fought through injuries and continued to perform, night after night, always giving his best to help his team succeed.

Sadly, he was one of the passengers on the ill-fated 2011 flight of the Lokomotiv YaroslavlKHL team. He wasn’t the only former Avalanche player aboard. Ruslan Salei, another defenseman who spent parts of three seasons in Colorado, also perished in the accident. Tragety struck a third time, with former Avalanche Wade Belak dying that summer.

The Avs honored their three fallen comrades in 2011 with a tribute video opening night and a commemorative decal worn on the players’ helmets all season.

J. Joe Sakic

How can you talk about the Avalanche without Joe Sakic immediately coming to mind?

He was, without a doubt, the most talented player in franchise history, holding career records for most seasons, games, goals, assists, and points. His captaincy stretched back into the Nordique days, and now his leadership has moved to the front office as Executive Vice President/General Manager of the team. He’s had numerous nicknames, but he’s most often called Super Joe for all of theamazing things he did on and off the ice to lead the Avs to two Stanley Cups and Canada to multiple gold and silver medals.

He’s as classy as they come, and no move was more classy than when, in 2001, he passed the Cup to Ray Bourque, bucking tradition and allowing the veteran to take the first celebratory lap.

K. KSE

Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE) has a monopoly of sorts in Denver. Owned and run by Stan Kroenke, KSE operates four major league sports organizations in town: Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Mammoth (NLL), and Colorado Rapids (MLS). Added to his sports ownership is the St. Louis Rams (NFL) and Arsenal Football Club (Premier League) in London, England. The Pepsi Center also falls under KSE’s jurisdiction, as does the media company Altitude Sports which is comprised of radio and TV outlets. KSE even controls all ticketing for its teams and other events at KSE venues via Altitude Ticketing.

L. Lockout

For many teams, the 2004-2005 lockout meant some roster adjustments here and there. For the Avalanche, it meant a complete dismantling. The newly instituted salary cap forced Colorado to give up some of its most prominent players, crippling the team and sending it into ten years of on-ice struggles. Keeping Joe Sakic and Rob Blake meant the loss of Hall of Famers Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg, among others. Without those players, Colorado was a shell of its former self, making only 4 playoff appearances in the 10 years that followed the lockout.

M. Mission 16W

The Hockey News
The Hockey News

Ray Bourque came to Colorado to win a Stanley Cup, a goal he had spent over 20 years chasing. Now, in his final year as a professional hockey player, he was done waiting. At the start of training camp for the 2000-2001 season, Bourque posted signs with the motto “Mission 16W” in the locker room, hoping to inspire the team to make it into the playoffs and get the 16 wins needed to hoist the Stanley Cup.

The team embraced the idea—with Sakic even promising Bourque in September that not only would they win, but Ray would be the first to lift the Cup—and the entire season became all about winning for Bourque. The motto Mission 16W defined that season for both the team and the fans.

N. Nathan MacKinnon

Talent oozes from this kid’s pores. The 2014 Calder Trophy winner can’t help but make the opposition look inept. From his lightning feet to his pinpoint shot, MacKinnon is electrifying on the ice.

When the Avs won the lottery in MacKinnon’s draft year, GM Joe Sakic boldly stated well before the draft that MacK was their guy. He has not disappointed, putting up 101 points (38g, 63a) in 146 regular season games and 10 points (2g, 8a) in 7 playoff games. MacKinnon also helped Canada bring home gold in the 2015 World Championships with 9 points (4g, 5a) in 10 games.

O. One-Liners

Patrick Roy is most known for being one of the best goaltenders in hockey history. However, he’s also known for his personality and sharp wit which often led to one-liners that have become infamous in hockey circles. From his insistence that there would be “no more rats” during the 1996 Stanley Cup finals against Florida to claiming he could not hear Jeremy Roenick because he had his “two Stanley Cup rings plugging [his] ears."

Roy was always one to make a splash in the headlines as much for his press conferences as his saves. Of course, his quips didn’t stop when he became a coach, most recently getting attention for his statement during the 2014 playoffs against the Minnesota Wild that it was time for the Avalanche to “put our balls on the table.”

P. Peter the Great

It’s doubtful you could find a more galvanizing player in Avalanche franchise history than Peter Forsberg. Loved by his fans and teammates, hated by the opposition, Forsberg was a force on the ice like few others in the NHL. His skills with the puck were legendary, but unlike most offensively elite players, Forsberg also played with an edge—a sharp one—physically punishing those who got in his way.

His style of play made him special, but it also had much to do with shortening his career. Despite only 708 NHL games, Forsberg left us with mountains of memories; however, none were a better testament to his talent and drive than his one-man comeback against the Florida Panthers in 1999.

Down 5-0 early into the second period, the Avs looked done for the night. The only question was how much worse it would get. But Forsberg had had enough and sparked a monster comeback. In seven unanswered goals, Forsberg was part of six of them, scoring three himself and helping out on three others. That was the beauty of Peter the Great: he came up huge when the team needed him most.

Q. Quebec

Let’s be honest. The Avalanche would not have won that first Cup without the team Quebec handed to them when the Nordiques moved to Colorado. So what’s their story?

The Nordiques saw early success in the NHL when they joined the league in 1979, much of that thanks to the addition of the Stastny brothers in 1980 and 1981. By 1987, however, things took a nosedive. Bad seasons allowed the team to draft some exceptional players like Sakic, Foote, Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, and, of course, Eric Lindros. With the addition of the players from the Lindros trade, the Nordiques saw the biggest single-season improvement for a team in NHL history, going from 52 points in 1991-1992 to 104 in 1992-1993.

After a shortened season in 1994-1995 due to the lockout, the cash-strapped Nordiques fell to the pressures of maintaining a viable hockey club. Team President Marcel Abut announced the club’s relocation to Colorado in May of 1995. 

R. Roy, Patrick

Patrick Roy really needs no explanation, but in case you’ve been under a rock for 30 years or are new to the game, here’s a brief run down: revolutionized goaltending by making the butterfly style the norm; won four Stanley Cups, three Conn Smythes, three Vezinas, and a whole bunch of other awards;  considered one of the three greatest goaltendersto ever play the game; won the Jack Adams award as the NHL’s best coach for the 2013-2014 season. And that’s the short list.

Of course, his time with the Avs started after a 9-goal shellacking at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, which prompted him to unequivocally state that he’d never play for the Canadiens again.

S. Semyon Varlamov

Living up to the expectations set by Patrick Roy is a challenge for any goaltender coming into the Avalanche organization. While there have been flashes of brilliance since Roy’s retirement, it wasn’t until Semyon Varlamov joined the team that fans finally found another goalie they could truly love. He has been the foundation for the team as it rebuilds, helping to secure victories and a playoff appearance through jaw-dropping performances in net.

Colorado was mocked for the trade to acquire Varly when it happened, but the 2014 Vezina runner up has proven worthy of the price in the years since the deal.

T. Terrible Jerseys

The sweaters started out so nicely with a unique color scheme and a nod to the Rocky Mountains zig-zagging across the bottom. The team introduced an alternate jersey that was clean and classic.

Then Reebok happened, and it all went downhill from there.

Dubbed “The Uniprons” because of the awful piping that runs down the front, creating an apron-like appearance, the current jerseys are an abomination. The most recent third jerseys, affectionately called Blueberries, weren’t much better. With the upcoming Stadium Series game, we can only hope the team will introduce something worth buying. The web is filled with awesome designs—though just about anything would be an improvement over the piping.

U. Uwe Krupp

The score was tied at 0. The players had been battling for over 100 minutes. The Stanley Cup was on the line. Enter Uwe Krupp, a 6’6” German defenseman. With a shot from the point, Krupp scored the game-winning goal on a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers, securing the Avs’ first Stanley Cup—and Colorado state’s first championship trophy. Talk about instant hero. 

V. Viva Las Vegas

Colorado’s last preseason game each year pits the team against the Los Angeles Kings in Las Vegas, NV. Known as “Frozen Fury”, the event was established by the Kings in 1997 and takes place at the  MGM Grand Garden Arena. This season marks the 17th year of the event, though Frozen Fury XV was cancelled due to the lockout. Only two times have the Avs not made an appearance (Coyotes in 1999 and Sharks in 2001), while in 1999, the Kings and Avalanche had a back-to-back showing. The Avs’ record in Vegas is 7-7-1.

W. Winning through Losing

The one saving grace of losing is high draft picks, and the guys the Avs picked at 1, 2, and 3—Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Matt Duchene, respectively—certainly filled the bill. At the same time, the Avs stocked the cupboard with other exceptional talent in players like Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and the recently-traded Ryan O’Reilly. The Avs’ are built on youth and speed, and it would not have been possible to assemble this team without losing first. While still struggling, the Avs are making strides in the rebuilding effort, continuing to improve with each season.

X. eXtreme

When the Quebec Nordiques were first slated to move to Colorado, former-owner Charlie Lyons intended to call the team the oh-so-very-90s Rocky Mountain "eXtreme." (Yes, the “e” was lower case and the “X” capitalized; like I said, oh-so-very-90s.)

However, fans got wind of it and rebelled. Because of the negative reaction, the team changed tactics, put up a fan poll, and settled on the clear-cut favorite, Colorado Avalanche. Crisis averted.

Y. Yeti

The first mascot for the Avalanche was a very appropriately appointed yeti named Howler.

While the idea was dead on, the application of it didn’t quite make the grade. In addition to scaring children, the notorious mascot found itself at the center of not one, but two controversies, which ultimately ended his reign with the Avs just a few short years after it began.

Howler’s legacy lived on through his footprint, though, as it served as the secondary logo for the team from 1995-2015.

Z. Zanon's Beard

The fall from glory was fast, hard, and painful for the Avalanche and its fans, and many seasons left everyone with very little to celebrate. Fortunately, the darkest days coincided with the rise of social media, and fans turned to humor to get themselves through the worst of times. A prime example is the Twitter account @ZanonsBeard that popped up during the 2012 season. It was named after former Avalanche Greg Zanon and his illustrious facial hair.

When Zanon left the team, the account was renamed @AvsBeard, but the humor remains to remind us that hockey is, first and foremost, supposed to be fun.

Meet the author: Prior to joining BSN Denver as a staff writer, Cheryl was the managing editor for Mile High Hockey. She began writing about hockey in 2009, contributing to both Mile High Hockey and her own blog, Avalanche Breakaway. Follow her on Twitter @cherylcbradley

Previous A to Z Guides: Anaheim | Arizona | Boston | Buffalo | Calgary | Carolina | Chicago