Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Colorado Avalanche - 1996
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Colorado Avalanche - 1996 & 2001

30 APRIL 2013
Joe Sakic captained the Colorado Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001.
Joe Sakic captained the Colorado Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001. (Photo by David E. Klutho/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Owing to a shifting financial landscape that revealed that they simply couldn't compete in the hockey marketplace, the Quebec Nordiques, fresh off a first-place finish in the Northeast Division, moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche during the summer prior to the 1995-96 season. But the pieces were clearly already in place for the Avalanche during the lock-out shortened 1995-96 season. Adam Foote recalled, "It started with drafting Joe (Sakic) and then getting (Peter) Forsberg in that (Eric) Lindros trade and getting a bunch of players that made a huge impact."

Patrick Roy was a stabilizing force in the Avalanche goal for both Stanley Cup championships.
Patrick Roy was a stabilizing force in the Avalanche goal for both Stanley Cup championships. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Joe Sakic, by then, already captain of the club, agreed. "I have to go back to our last year in Quebec," he begins. "We had a real strong team. We finished first but we lost in the first round (of the playoffs). But we had a strong core. Getting Sandis Ozolinsh on the back end for the powerplay and acquiring Claude Lemieux, who had just won the Conn Smythe (Trophy) the year before, really helped the team." Lemieux had already been part of two Stanley Cup championships - 1986 with the Montreal Canadiens and 1995 with the New Jersey Devils. He joined Colorado in a three-way trade that saw Steve Thomas join the Devils from the New York Islanders, and Wendel Clark dealt to the Islanders from the Avalanche.

1996 Stanley Cup-winning goal by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp.
1996 Stanley Cup-winning goal by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp. (Photo by Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
And while the Avalanche had a solid line-up in 1995-96, a December trade gave the squad the final piece that most believe cemented the season for Colorado. "We were able to create a core of players that could play a long time together and we won a couple of Cups, but we wouldn't have got there without a guy like (Patrick) Roy," stated Adam Foote. "I loved playing in Quebec City and they treated me great there but I'm not sure that the Roy trade would have happened if we had still been in Quebec."

Joe Sakic captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs Most Valuable Player in 1996.
Joe Sakic captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs Most Valuable Player in 1996. (Photo by Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Stephane Fiset was considered to be the Avalanche's goaltender of the future, but the moment Patrick Roy was acquired from Montreal in December 1995, Fiset was relegated to back-up status. "Fiset was playing a hell of a role for us but didn't have a lot of playoff experience," explained Foote. "No disrespect to Stephane, but when (general manager) Pierre (Lacroix) pulled the trigger on the Roy deal, we acquired the last piece we needed to win the Stanley Cup. I remember thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me!' I couldn't believe how good Patrick was in practice and as a leader. He helped all of us young guys take it to another level as far as how we practised and how we acted off the ice."

Sakic concurs that Roy was a huge addition to an already strong team. "By getting Patrick, Pierre (Lacroix) was, in effect, saying, 'You've got the goalie, now just go out and play and get it done.' And Mike Keane added leadership, so bringing in those guys really helped the entire team focus on one goal."

Peter Forsberg played a key role in both the 1996 and 2001 Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup titles.
Peter Forsberg played a key role in both the 1996 and 2001 Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup titles. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Hockey Hall of Fame)
With a target in sight and a talented group of players, there was another ingredient necessary to win, and that was hard work. Adam Foote pointed out the importance of strong on-ice leadership. "Joe had his great work ethic, and we had a core of guys who worked so hard in practice. Sakic and Roy led the way and that's why we won - they were true professionals and led the way for the young guys to follow."

In 1995-96, Colorado finished first in the Pacific Division, and second overall to the heavyweight Detroit Red Wings, who ran away from the pack with 131 points to 104 for the Avalanche.

Colorado faced Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs, eliminating the Canucks in six games. The conference semi-final against the Chicago Blackhawks was an extreme challenge. Although the Avalanche survived, taking the series in six games, four of those games went into overtime, including a 3-2 win that was finally decided in a third overtime period.

The conference final featured a showcase between the Red Wings and Avalanche, and it will long be remembered for its ferocity. Mike Keane's goal at 17:31 of overtime gave Colorado a 3-2 win to start the series. Patrick Roy blanked the Wings 3-0 in Game Two. Detroit bounced back in Game Three with a 6-4 victory. Although the Avalanche was outshot 31 to 17, they doubled Detroit 4-2 in Game Four, but that was then followed with a decisive 5-2 win for Detroit. Cornered by Colorado, the Wings were faced with elimination in Games Six, but the game is, unfortunately, best remembered for a vicious hit into the boards at centre ice that saw Kris Draper suffer a broken jaw and a shattered cheek and orbital bone at the hands of Claude Lemieux. Colorado won the game 4-1, but it spawned a nasty rivalry that existed for several years.

Defenseman Adam Foote provided solid, rugged play in each of the Avalanche Stanley Cup wins.
Defenseman Adam Foote provided solid, rugged play in each of the Avalanche Stanley Cup wins. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The win propelled Colorado into the Stanley Cup final for the first time, facing another team, the Florida Panthers, who were also enjoying their first trip to the final. The Avalanche swept the Panthers, winning Games One and Two in Denver by scores of 3-1 and 8-1, and then moved to Miami for the next two games. The third contest was a tight 3-2 win, but the fourth game was tighter still. Deadlocked in a scoreless tie at the end of regulation, the game went to a third overtime before Uwe Krupp's shot from the point beat Panthers' netminder John Vanbiesbrouck at 2:31 of that stanza to give the Colorado Avalanche their first Stanley Cup championship.

Joe Sakic led the playoffs in production with 34 points, including six game-winning goals, and was rewarded for his efforts with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season's most valuable player.

The Avalanche were a consistent excellent hockey club, finishing first in their division in 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99 and 1999-2000, but were unable to return to the winner's circle. That changed in 2000-01, and it involved securing defenseman Ray Bourque from the Boston Bruins in March 2000.

"We were all so excited when Ray (Bourque) was traded to us," admitted Joe Sakic. But the Avalanche didn't win the Cup in the spring of 2000. "We knew what it meant to him to come back another year to try to win the Cup."

Already a Stanley Cup winner, Mike Keane helped lead the Avalanche to the first title in franchise history in 1996.
Already a Stanley Cup winner, Mike Keane helped lead the Avalanche to the first title in franchise history in 1996. (Photo by Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Avalanche finished first overall with 118 commanding points. They swept the Vancouver Canucks, with Sakic scoring in each of the four contests. The conference semi-final against the Los Angeles Kings was a much tighter affair, with the goaltenders, Roy for the Avalanche and Felix Potvin for the Kings, the stars of the show. The series went seven games, with both goalies earning two shutouts, but when the dust cleared, Colorado was the team moving on.

The conference final pitted the Avalanche against the St. Louis Blues. Peter Forsberg, one of the Colorado stars, was out for the rest of the playoffs after undergoing surgery to remove his ruptured spleen. Sakic scored twice, including a goal on a penalty shot, in Game One to lead his team to a 4-1 victory. The Avalanche took Game Two with a 4-2 win over the Blues, with Sakic, Foote and Bourque amongst the scorers. Game Three took double-overtime before St. Louis secured the win, 4-3. The tables turned in Game Four, with the Avalanche earning a 4-3 overtime win. Colorado clinched the series in Game Five with Joe Sakic scoring the overtime winner less than 30 seconds into the extra frame to give his team a 2-1 win, and the right to play for the Stanley Cup.

The top seeds from each conference faced each other in the final: Colorado from the Western Conference and New Jersey Devils from the East. Joe Sakic scored his 10th and 11th goals of the playoffs to lead his team to a 5-0 shellacking in Game One. The Devils evened the series with a 2-1 win in Game Two, in spite of Sakic's tally for Colorado. Game Three, played in New Jersey, resulted in a 3-1 win for the Avalanche. A desperate Devils team fired shot after shot at Patrick Roy, but the Avalanche were unable to mount much of an attack, managing just 12 shots. The result: a 3-2 win for New Jersey in Game Four. The Devils clawed back and took Game Five with a decisive 4-1 victory. Then, Roy earned his second shutout of the series, blanking the Devils 4-0 in Game Six.

Joe Sakic and Raymond Bourque raise the Stanley Cup in triumph following their win in 2001.
Joe Sakic and Raymond Bourque raise the Stanley Cup in triumph following their win in 2001. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Avalanche opened the scoring with three goals in the seventh and deciding game, including Sakic's 13th, before the Devils rallied for a goal, but that was it, and the Avalanche won the game 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup.

Patrick Roy received the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, winning the trophy for a third time. Then, National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman, walked to centre ice to present the Stanley Cup to Avalanche captain, Joe Sakic. "I knew I was going to do something but I didn't know exactly what, but I just told Ray (Bourque), 'Stay close to me.' As soon as Gary (Bettman) handed me the Cup, I didn't know whether I was going to lift it, but I just handed it to Ray. It was great to see how excited he was! To see his reaction when he got the Cup -- that's what hockey's about."

It was one of the classiest moves every exhibited in a Stanley Cup celebration. "A lot of people were pulling for Ray to win a Cup. Joey has always been a class act and it didn't surprise anyone that Joe would make a move like that," stated Adam Foote. "It goes down in history forever. Everybody loved that and it was full of emotion. I just watched him raise the Cup and people were crying in the stands. It was quite the emotional feeling in the building!"

A remarkable story, the Colorado Avalanche dominated the NHL for a full decade, beginning with their introduction to the National Hockey League in 1995-96.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.