By Matthew J. Buettner, CBSDenver.com
DENVER (CBS4) – This Friday marks the 20th anniversary of the Colorado Avalanche’s first Stanley Cup win.
On June 10, 1996, the Avs became the first-ever NHL team to win the Cup following a franchise relocation. Following the 1994–95 season, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs with their star-studded roster easily won the Pacific Division and went on to sweep the Florida Panthers in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals.
Although the Broncos had been to several Super Bowls, they at that point had not won one yet. So with the 1996 Stanley Cup win, the Avalanche became the first major professional sports team based in Denver to win a championship, and oh were the fans ecstatic. (See a series of Coloradans’ memories from the big win in the recollections at the bottom of this article.)
Some rioted in the city’s LoDo neighborhood and police had to spray tear gas to disperse the rowdy crowd of thousands.
In the 1995-96 season the Avs roster included captain Joe Sakic, forward Peter Forsberg and defenseman Adam Foote. And the team only got better when the Avs traded to get goalie Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens.
That year the Avs won the Pacific Division with 104 points — 25 more than the second place Calgary Flames — under head coach Marc Crawford and general manager Pierre Lacroix. They cruised by the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs — each in six games. But then came the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals in what would mark the beginning of a bitter rivalry.
The Red Wings were the defending conference champions but the Avs jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and won it in six games. But what will be remembered most about the series is a hit Avs forward Claude Lemieux put on Red Wings forward Kris Draper. The check into the boards was so hard Draper suffered a broken jaw, a shattered cheek and broken orbital bones.
Lemieux’s hit fueled the bad blood between the teams that led to years of epic fights, including retaliation for the hit next season from Detroit’s Darren McCarty on Lemieux. That led to a mid-ice duel between goaltenders Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon. In 1998 Roy went to battle Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood at center ice.
The 1996 team had several prolific goal-scorers in Sakic (51), Lemieux (39), Valeri Kamenski (38) and Forsberg (30). Scott Young and Adam Deadmarsh also each had 21 goals. At the time many considered Forsberg to be the best two-way player in the game.
The Avs became somewhat of a dynasty with their core star players. Colorado would advance to the Western Conference Finals in five of the next six years but only won the Stanley Cup once more — in 2001 against the New Jersey Devils.
Two of the Avs stars from those years are back with the team today. Sakic, who played his entire 21-year NHL career with the organization, is the team’s Executive Vice President of hockey operations. In 2013 Sakic and the Avs hired Roy as head coach and the team won the Central Division with a franchise-record 52 wins. He won the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s best coach.
In the comments below, several CBS4 employees and other hockey fans share their memories of the Avs’ first year in Denver:
Mark Haas, CBS4 Sports Anchor:
I was in 7th grade when the Avs came to Denver.
My two favorite memories that come to mind:
- The trade for Patrick Roy, and the news anchors having to explain how to pronounce it. (Not like your Uncle Roy).
- The triple-overtime, Uwe Krupp Stanley Cup winner. I remember watching the entire game with my brother, struggling to stay up and both being half asleep when the Avs finally won it, but then jumping around our living room celebrating when they did.
Jim Benemann, CBS4 Anchor:
As great as it was winning that Cup, I’ll never forget the amazing hockey that led up to the finals. The Avs played eight games against the Canucks then Blackhawks decided by just one goal. And many longtime Avs fans will tell you that Hawks series was the best in franchise history. Three games went to OT. One to 3OT! And how great beating those beloved Red Wings to reach the finals. The Avs swept the Panthers, including an 8-1 rout. Yep, I think the best team won!
Brian Maass, CBS4 Investigates Reporter:
Wonderful to remember that season. I was at the Avs first game ever at the old McNichols Arena — which I loved. They played the Red Wings and won. So there. So much energy in the building that night. Had season tickets way back then. And what a magical season. For my money, Forsberg was simply otherworldly. Aside from Bobby Orr, I have never seen a single player simply take over a game the way he could, when he was healthy and at the top of his game. The puck seemed glued to his stick as he circled through the offensive zone weaving around hapless defensemen and making the most outlandish plays.
When it all came to an end in Florida, with that Uwe Krupp slapshot, I remember being down in Larimer Square on top of a live truck. The celebration in the streets wasn’t pretty. But it happened.
Days later, when the team took part in the big ceremony on the steps of the City and County Building, I was fortunate to be part of the coverage. Somehow, my photographer and I managed to get inside the building and into city council chambers where all the players were hanging out before the speeches began. Just us and the team. I remember it was pretty quiet, relaxed — just a bunch of young guys goofing around, probably worn out from days of celebrating. Mike Ricci was always the class clown and his goofy smile that day in council chambers is hard to forget.
Steve Cox, Executive Sports Producer:
Being from Alabama I didn’t grow up watching hockey and was only vaguely interested when some guy named Patrick Roy showed up during that first season.
But then the playoffs started. As the 10 p.m. producer at CBS4, I spent my evenings at the station and inevitably, someone would turn on a TV to the Avs games.
As the playoffs went along, there was one night in particular that stood out. The Avs and Blackhawks were locked in a battle that went to OT. Our 10 p.m. news actually ended before the game did.
During an OT intermission, I drove to El Chapultepec to play some pool and finish watching the game. If you know the back room at the Pec, then you know the cast of characters that played pool there.
Not exactly the hockey crowd. But by the time the Avs won in triple OT, the whole room was glued to this old TV going wild. That was the night I officially became a hockey fan.
As for the Stanley Cup Finals, on the night of the deciding Game 4, my 10 p.m. newscast was basically planned out as a Postgame show. We had a ton of people down in Florida including anchor Aimee Sporer to cover the historic event. But the game went to triple overtime as well and wasn’t done until after our newscast ended. We did a ton of weather to fill the time that night!
Eventually the Avs won, and we stayed on the air til after Midnight doing the eventual postgame show.
Jason Hussong, CBS4 Assignment Editor:
The win against Florida, the two things I remember most weren’t about the Avs at all. It was how Johnny V. (John Vanbiesbrouck) was so good for the Panthers that year, and how the fans threw a ton of rubber rats on the ice … something they got back into doing this year.
Raetta Holdman, CBS4 Producer:
Who would have thought toothless Mike Ricci would become a sex symbol?! (I think we maybe even went so far as to do a story about the woman who cut their hair). He was all the rage in town. And a common goal was to make it to the restaurant Carmine’s on Penn after a winning game for a chance to spot the team.
Greg Clutter, CBS4 Viewer and Avs Superfan:
Denver got spoiled with a Cup for the first season the team was here! Great to see the first championship trophy was the most difficult one to win in professional sports.
Brett Heinzerling, CBS4 Promotions Producer:
I sat on the edge of my couch … literally … for all 6 periods of Game 4. The great Patrick Roy stood on his head, making save after save after save. Somehow, he was matched by John Vanbiesbrouck (of all people).
The Avs led the series three games to zip, and the Stanley Cup was a foregone conclusion, but somehow this game was PACKED with drama. When the big German Uwe Krupp ended it with a mighty blast, my house, and all of Denver, erupted. We FINALLY had a champion!
I can’t believe it was 20 years ago.