DENVER (CBS4) – It’s still the best handoff in sports history. On this date in 2001, the Colorado Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup Championship beating the New Jersey Devils 3-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
As Avalanche captain Joe Sakic received the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, he immediately gave it to Raymond Bourque who finally had a chance to raise the cup to the heavens after 22 years in the league.
“You know this was meant to be,” Avalanche left winger Alex Tanguay said. “For a guy who meant so much to the sport as Ray, to be able to on his last game, have the Stanley Cup and hoist it first, it was a surreal moment for sure.”
Tanguay had the game of his life. The 21-year-old scored a goal in Game 5 and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and he would score again midway in the first period of Game 7.
“The first one I went around the net, and I actually had the game shot in Game 2, and people don’t remember it, but I missed it. I knew there was a little hole up high on the glove side after going around the net like this. So, going around I knew where I was going. I tried it before, and I just missed the shot and fortunately it went in,” Tanguay recalled.
Up 1-0 after one period of play, Tanguay scored again, getting the putback goal on a 2-on-1 break from Sakic.
“I got lucky. The puck from the rebound from Joe’s shot came right back to my stick and I was fortunate to put it in,” he said.
Tanguay would get an assist as Sakic roped a wrister past Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur, giving the Avs a 3-0 advantage, en route to a 3-1 victory.
This remains the only time a Denver sports team has won the league championship in the Mile High City. The Broncos’ three Super Bowl titles were in San Diego, Miami and San Francisco. The Avalanche other title in 1996 was in Miami on the home ice of the Florida Panthers.
The celebration in the locker room was the complete opposite in 1999. In the 2000 playoffs, the Avs lost in seven games to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Finals. Tanguay, then a rookie, was a nonfactor in the postseason, only scoring two goals in the playoffs and saw his ice time cut dramatically. In the offseason, he made a promise to himself.
“I said ‘This will never happen again. When we’re in crunch (time) situations, I want to be one of those guys that’s relied upon,’” he said.
So Tanguay rededicated himself to the sport by rebuilding his body and better understanding the mental part of the game by watching more game film, and the hard work in the offseason paid off. When the playoffs came around the following season, Tanguay responded by scoring six goals and adding 15 assists. The pressure of the postseason produced diamonds on a championship ring and a memory that will last a lifetime.
“It’s a dream. It’s still to this day, you know, we all talk when we see each other. We don’t see each other very much. We don’t talk very much with some of those guys, but when we do we know we got that little something special that very few people got to experience.”