The NHL continued to change in 1995, but it would come at great cost to Quebec. Today we look at the birth of Carl Landra’s favourite team, the Colorado Avalanche.
Due to their passionate fan base, the Quebec Nordiques had been a staple of the NHL since 1979. Quebec City’s own ‘Bleu, Blanc et Rouge’ they had a packed house each week at Colisee de Quebec. Their fierce rivalry with more successful neighbours Montreal always made for great viewing. However, despite producing some top talents like Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan and having a talented roster, the French-Canadien market was proving to have limited appeal.
The downfall started when hot prospect Eric Lindros refused to be draft by Quebec. Drafted 1st overall at the 1991 Entry Draft, Lindros had made it clear early on that he would not sign if taken by the Nordiques. His refusal to play suddenly cast this franchise in a worrying new light. Big players such as Steve Yzerman refused to be traded for Lindros. Suddenly the predominately French city found itself on the ropes. The changing financial market in the NHL meant that Quebec City was the smallest market by far and soon, owner Marcel Aublet was looking for buyers.
Denver entertainment group COMSAT purchased the franchise in May 1995. The move saw them re-branded as the Colorado Avalanche and taking up residency at McNichols Sports Centre. Pierre Lacroix was appointed as appointed as GM and Marc Crawford was made Head Coach. The Avalanche now had a roster with quality in spades. Lead by superstar captain Joe Sakic, they also had talented Swedish winger Peter Forsberg. Adam Foote was the rock of the blue line and this team looked like a contender.
The Avs played their first game on October 6, 1995, running out 3-2 winners against Detroit. Russian forward Valeri Kamensky became the team’s first ever scorer. Quickly the side established itself as one of the most exciting new team’s in town. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, they acquired a true legend in net. Canadiens stopper, Patrick Roy had experienced a breakdown in relations with Habs coach, Mario Tremblay. After allowing 9 goals on 26 shots against the Red Wings, Roy was left deliberately left in net. Humiliated, he immediately demanded a trade.
In December 1995 Roy was traded to Avalanche along with Mike Keane for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. Their first season was one to remember as the Avs finished with a record of 47-25-10 record. During the playoffs, they brushed aside both Vancouver and Chicago before reaching their first ever cup final. Against fellow first time finalist, the Florida Panthers, Colorado went on to claim the cup in an amazing 4-0 sweep. German D-Man Uwe Krupp scored a triple-overtime winner in game 4 to secure the victory.
Throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the Avalanche were perennial contenders. They took six straight division trophies from 1996 to 2001. Boston’s legendary blueliner Ray Bourque joined in 2000 in a last-ditch effort to win a cup. The move would see one of hockey most emotional cup final in 2001. Taken to 7 games by the New Jersey Devils, Colorado would win their second cup in less than five years. After 22 years, Bourque was finally handed the cup in a humble gesture by Sakic. Hockey fans everywhere shed a tear.
Since that notable night, Colorado has failed to make a cup final in the sixteen years since. In 2002, they lost in the conference finals to rivals Detroit. Despite signing Anaheim duo Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya in 2004, the Avalanche failed in their quest for glory. Roy retired in 2003, Sakic in 2009 and injury prone Forsberg quit in 2011. Their appearances in the playoffs have been scarce ever since 2009. Patrick Roy returned as head coach in 2013 and made an immediate impact. The Avalanche came second in the Central division and made their first playoff appearance since 2010.
Although Roy was awarded the Jack Adams for a stellar first year, only to struggle to get to 40 wins the next 2 seasons. Roy quit as head coach on August 11, 2016 leaving little time for the Avalanche to find a new coach. Colorado has been in rebuilding mode the last two seasons. New head coach Jared Bednar guided them to a franchise-low 22-56-4 in 2016-17. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and new skipper Gabriel Landeskog have emerged as the future of this team. Fans in Denver hope for a return to glory soon.