Wednesday, June 10, 2009
With the financial troubles of the Quebec Nordiques mounting, they found it difficult to compete with rising player salaries, made even more difficult by a weakening Canadian dollar. With by far the smallest market in the NHL, plus the language barrier facing potential free agents, unlike bi-lingual Montreal, Quebec City is virtually all French, the team owner asked for a bailout from the Quebec government, but was turned down. The team was subsequently sold to a group of investors from Denver, Colorado, where the team was moved and renamed the Colorado Avalanche.
The fans in Colorado were immediately handed a team stocked with captain Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky, Adam Deadmarsh, Mike Ricci and Adam Foote. The team later added Claude Lemieux just days before the start of the season and Sandis Ozolinsh later in October.
If that weren't enough, former Montreal Canadiens captain Mike Keane and no less than Patrick Roy arrived in early December after Roy had a public falling out with the Canadiens organization, a trade that never would have happened had the franchise remained in Quebec as the Nordiques, the Canadiens bitter province rivals.
With Roy now anchoring the team in goal, they finished with a 47-25-10 record, winning the Pacific Division by 25 points. They defeated the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and President's Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings, all by identical 4 games to 2 margins. The series against the Red Wings would kick off one of the greatest NHL rivalries, if not in all of sports, as the teams would meet in the playoff five times in seven years, with three of those being for the right to go to the finals, plus several memorable regular season brawls - which included the goaltenders! The rivalry has even been chronicled in book "Blood Feud", which can be purchased here.
The Avalanche would face the Florida Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup finals, with Florida giving way in four straight. The final game would go to three overtimes before Uwe Krupp won the cup with the only goal of the contest.
With the Stanley Cup win, Russians Alexi Gusarov and Kamensky and Swede Forsberg became the members of the exclusive Triple Gold Club for players who have won Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold and the Stanley Cup.
Today's featured jersey is a 1995-96 Joe Sakic Colorado Avalanche jersey with the 1996 Stanley Cup finals patch as worn by Joe when he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. When the Avalanche landed in Colorado, the adopted an entirely new identity, from the singular team name, unique to the NHL colors and ground breaking jerseys, which featured the unusual striping pattern reminiscent of a mountain range.
The Stanley Cup finals patch was the first of many that the Avalanche would wear with this style jersey, that would remain unchanged through the 2006-07 season.
Sakic was the leading scorer of the playoffs that season with 34 points and the Stanley Cup was the first major championship for a team located in Denver, no doubt leaving the fans left behind in Quebec City to look on in yearning. The Cup was the second for a team that originated in the World Hockey Association, with the first being the Edmonton Oilers.
One of the lasting memories of that year's playoffs were the Panthers fan's celebratory rats, which would rain down on the ice by the thousands for each Florida goal, causing opposing goalies to seek shelter inside their net until the hailstorm subsided.
The celebration stemmed from captain Scott Mellanby deftly killing a rat with a one-timer in the dressing room prior to the team's opening game of the season. When he followed it up by going out and scoring two goals that night, goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck dubbed the feat "a rat trick".
Dasherboard: Wow, what a game! Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals featuring two heavyweights punching and counter-punching. We can only hope everyone watched the hockey game before changing over to the basketball game. You only need to watch the last two minutes of that anyway.
Marc-Andre Fleury did his best Jim Craig impression, turning back the Big Red Machine time after time, with the occasional assist from Rob Scuderi who saved a pair of goals himself, by putting Game 5 behind him and coming up with 25 saves and being named the #1 Star of the Game.
You just knew it was going Fleury's way when late in the second period the puck got behind him after a save, and when he moved his left leg in to hopefully freeze the puck, he kicked it out to his right (where Scuderi made the first of his goal-saving plays to clear the puck away from Nicklas Lidstrom and a wide open net), instead of kicking the puck backwards into his own net in a similar manner to Game 6 last year when he tried to sit on the puck and it squirted out from under him and into the net for the game, and Stanley Cup, winning goal.
The Pittsburgh goals came from Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, who took advantage of a horrible play by Detroit's Mikael Samuelsson, who went for a poke check and turned away from Kennedy, leaving him the time and space to score Pittsburgh's all-important second goal five and half minutes into the third period.
To hold the Red Wings off the board through the first five minutes of the third was big, but to increase their lead to two goals was a real boost, allowing them to respond correctly and with composure to Detroit's goal 2 1/2 minutes later. Had Detroit's goal been a tying goal, after the Penguins commanded the game for the first 52 minutes, outshooting Detroit 24-12 after two periods, it may have been a much different outcome.
So now it's onto Game 7 on Friday night, thankfully not up against the NBA finals, the NFL draft, baseball's All-Star Game, the BCS Championship game or the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The NHL could not have hoped for a better scenario for Friday, and should see their highest TV ratings in quite some time.
With the dominance of the home teams in this series, we only wish that the one game, winner-take-all Game 7 "Super Bowl of Hockey" could be held at a neutral site, with the team's alternating last change, to determine once and for all, which of these two teams is truly the best on equal terms - and without those bouncy boards at Joe Louis Arena.
What do you say? Let's hold the game equal distance from each city in Columbus, Ohio at the Blue Jackets Nationwide Arena.
It all comes down to Friday. We can't wait!