Monday, October 5, 2015

1976-77 Colorado Rockies Michel Plasse Jersey

On this date in 1976, the Colorado Rockies played their first ever game, which was also the first NHL regular season game to ever by played in Denver, Colorado.

The Rockies began life as the expansion Kansas City Scouts in 1974 and had a very poor 15-54-11 record their first season, having been outscored 184-328 and finishing the season by winning just one of their final 19 games as they went 1-15-3 to close out their inaugural campaign.

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The 1974-75 Kansas City Scouts

Things were going better for the Scouts in year two, with a 11-21-4 mark near the end of 1975, but the club managed to win only a single game the rest of the season! The last 44 games saw the Scouts set the benchmark for futility with a 1-35-8 record, which included being outscored 105-214, an average of being outscored by 2.5 goals per game.

One of the main issues facing the Scouts was the arrival of the World Hockey Association in 1972, which resulted in a dramatic rise in player salaries as well as a suddenly very thin talent pool, as the number of professional teams went from 14 NHL teams in 1971-72 to 32 between the two leagues combined by 1975-76.

With the Scouts averaging 8,218 fans per game in their 17,000 seat arena (roughly 5,000 below the league average at the time) and an ownership group in debt, a mid-season ticket drive was staged that resulted in only 2,000 sales. Faced with that bleak reality, the owners decided to get out of the hockey business and sold the club to a group headed by Jack Vickers, who moved the team to Denver for the 1976-77 season, renaming his new club the Rockies.

As a side note, Denver as actually scheduled to receive an expansion franchise that season and the Scouts relocation to Denver scuttled that plan, which cost Seattle, Washington it's opportunity to receive the other franchise, which it still has never obtained now 39 years later.

The Rockies opened their first season in Denver with a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on this date in 1976, and eventually finished with a 20-46-14 record, which relegated them to a 5th place finish in the five team Smythe Division.

1976-77 Colorado Rockies team photo 1976-77 Colorado Rockies team.jpg
The inaugural 1976-77 Colorado Rockies

While the Rockies actually won one less game in 1977-78, they improved by five points in the standings by virtue of 21 tie games, which reduced their loss total from the year prior by six games. This resulted in the franchise qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in their four year history to date. Unfortunately, their stay was brief, as the "preliminary round" contested at the time was a quick best-of-three and the Rockies were ousted by the powerful Philadelphia Flyers in two straight.

The team took a step backwards the following season, dropping to 15 wins and just 42 points in the standings, which was the worst in the NHL.

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Wilf Paiement led the Rockies in scoring their first three seasons

Despite rising to 19 wins and 51 points in 1979-80, the Rockies were still last overall in the league yet again.

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Lanny McDonald arrived in Colorado in 1979-80

It was more of the same in 1980-81, but the Rockies nudged up from 51 points to 57, which did allow them to not only stay ahead of the Jets, but pass the moribund Detroit Red Wings by a point as well.

Once more, it all went wrong for the Rockies during their final season in Denver when they came home trailing the pack, having dropped back to 49 points, five behind Detroit. To make matters worse, the Jets improved by a whopping 48 points that season!

One would expect all the last place finishes to eventually lead to some improvement, but a look at the Scouts and Rockies early draft picks reveals a list of names that include Barry Dean (#2 overall in 1975 - 81 career NHL points), Don Cairns (#20 overall in 1975 - 105 points), Doug Berry (#38 overall in 1977 - 43 points), Randy Pierce (#47 overall in 1977 - 138 points), Mike Gillis (#5 overall in 1978 - 76 points), Merlin Malinowski (#27 overall in 1978 - 165 points), Paul Gagne (#19 overall in 1980 - 212 points), Joe Ward (#22 overall in 1980 - 0 points), Rich Chernomaz (#26 overall in 1981 - 16 points) and Uli Hiemer (#48 overall in 1981 - 73 points).

The Rockies drew fairly well at the gate, but the dismal finishes, seven coaches in six seasons and three different owners while in Colorado made for a very unstable franchise, which was eventually sold to John McMullen, who relocated the franchise to New Jersey for the 1982-83 season and renamed them the "Devils". Of note, the Devils would also play their very first game on this date in 1982, a 3-3 tie against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In New Jersey, the club would find it's long awaited stability and success, as McMullen would own the club for 18 years, have one general manager for 29 years and win three Stanley Cups.

Today's featured jersey is a 1976-77 Colorado Rockies Michel Plasse jersey worn in the Rockies first-ever game played on this date in 1976. Plasse was a goaltender who had actually spent some time with the franchise while they were in Kansas City, was backing up starting goaltender Doug Favell for the majority of the game, but did see action for a few minutes early in the third period when he relieved Favell who came out of the game while suffering from a cramp.

This jersey survived in such remarkable condition as both goalies would change numbers after a few games, with Plasse taking the #31, leaving this one relatively unused.

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Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1976-77 Colorado Rockies Nelson Pyatt jersey. This lightweight mesh jersey was from the Rockies first set of jerseys, worn early in their first season until their main jersey set arrived.

This jersey stands out due to it's smaller crest made of a white mountain, while the club's main jerseys had a much larger crest which consisted of a blue mountain outlined with a bold white outline as pictured in the player photos above.

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Here is an interview with Rockies captain Lanny McDonald on the occasion of his return to Toronto.

Our next video is some old time hockey featuring the Colorado Rockies.

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