Not only will tomorrow night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks be a celebration of the 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche team that won the Stanley Cup - the first major professional sports championship in the state of Colorado - it will also serve as a reunion for the players that were on that team.
Twenty six players and coaches from the 1995-96 team will gather Thursday and be honored during a pre-game ceremony before the Avalanche takes on Chicago at Pepsi Center.
“It’s going to be great to see the guys. Of course when you win something, you have a special bond and good memories,” said former Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg. “I’m really excited to come and see everyone. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a few of them.”
This will mark the first time that a vast majority of the team will be back in Denver, albeit a different arena, since that magical first season they were together.
“So many of the guys I have not seen in so many years. I have no idea where they’re at or what they’re doing. We’re all excited,” said former winger Claude Lemieux, a key acquisition before the championship season. “A few of us have gotten together and talked in the last few weeks and it’s going to be a great time.”
The camaraderie the team showed during their time in Denver did not go unnoticed by some players, including Avalanche legend Joe Sakic. Even with all of the stardom between the big-name players like Forsberg, Sakic, Lemieux, goaltender Patrick Roy and defenseman Adam Foote, this team played as one through the entire season.
“You have to come together to get something accomplished. Everyone’s got to be on the same page,” said Foote. “That’s what the Mike Keanes, the (Dave) Hannans, the (Troy) Murrays - the unsung heroes that I think on most teams no one talks about – that’s what they did. They were able to leave their egos at the door and get the stars to also.”
When this team started in Denver after the Nordiques moved from Quebec following the 1994-95 season, they began to utilize McNichols Sports Arena; a facility that some players felt was undersized. Because of the limited room, the players had to change their clothes at McNichols and drive in their gear to the practice rink. However, this team had a goal of winning the Stanley Cup, so they didn’t let the small space of the locker rooms get in their way.
“I remember Mike Keane got pulled over on I-25 and he was dressed in his gear and was wearing his hockey helmet. The policeman pulled him over and asked him for his I.D. and Keaner said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Lemieux recalls. “We really sucked it up for a few years. Our facilities at McNichols were the bare minimum. Our locker room was as small as it could get.”
This team will forever have its name etched in history, and on Lord Stanley’s Cup, but one thing most will remember is the teamwork and cohesiveness that guided this club to victory.
“I will say, I think in general, the team itself was one of the best groups I’ve ever been around, if not the best,” said Sakic. “We were so close on and off the ice that I think that is what everybody is really looking forward to…we were such a close team that everybody is looking forward to seeing each other.”