In the summer of 1995, the Quebec Nordiques left Canada and headed to the Rocky Mountains to become the Colorado Avalanche.
Twenty years later, the franchise has won nine division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and two Stanley Cup championships, just to name a few accomplishments. Throughout the 2015-16 campaign, the organization honored the 20-year history of Avalanche hockey in the Mile High City.
A highlight of the celebration came when Colorado hosted the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, which featured an alumni game on Feb. 26 against the Detroit Red Wings and the first-ever NHL outdoor game in the state on Feb. 27 at Coors Field. Avalanche greats, such as Peter Forsberg, Claude Lemieux, Rob Blake and Ray Bourque, came back to Denver to revive one of the greatest rivalries in hockey history in a contest that was as anticipated as the regular-season game between each team’s current players.
From 1995 through the early 2000s, the two clubs combined for five Stanley Cup championships in seven years and provided the NHL with passionate and wildly entertaining games. When the Red Wings and Avalanche alumni took the ice this time though, smiles and group photos replaced the vitriol and fights that used to define the conflict between the clubs.
Current Colorado head coach and former goaltender Patrick Roy made 20 saves through two periods while Hall of Fame defenseman Bourque had a goal and two assists as Colorado defeated Detroit 5-2. Joe Sakic, the Avalanche’s current executive vice president and general manager, lit the lamp and added a helper in the contest and former Avs forwards Milan Hejduk, Valeri Kamensky and Stephane Yelle also tallied.
Winning the game was just the cherry on top of the weekend for the alumni though, as they enjoyed being reunited with their old teammates.
“We won together in here as a group, and that group over there won, and we had those battles together,” said former Avalanche captain Adam Foote. “To get back [together], nothing fills the void of retiring except things like this, and we all miss the game. It is a void that is hard to fill. We all miss the locker room and we miss playing together and we miss going to war together. It felt good. It felt good to be back with the guys.”
Sakic agreed that one of the best parts of the event was the reunion.
“To see the faces on the other team and obviously to see your teammates, your former teammates that you had great battles with,” said Sakic about his favorite aspect of the weekend. “To see the names and the faces—I think we are all a little bit heavier than we were back when we played, and we are a little bit older—but you just appreciate what we had. There is so much respect on both sides.”
With about five minutes remaining in the contest, a video montage that paid tribute to the history between the two clubs was played in the stadium. The footage brought back great memories not only to the former players, but also to the 43,319 fans in attendance, who gave the alumni a standing ovation to thank them for the memories.
“You see this and you want to get that back. You want to get that back in Pepsi Center for us,” said Sakic. “We are hoping to do that and our players are hoping to do that. But it just goes to show, when you have a product and the players play like both teams did in that era, fans love that and they come and support it.”
Foote mentioned that the intense competition between the two squads only brought him closer to his teammates, and he wished that the current Avalanche squad could fight through a similar clash with another franchise.
“I don’t know if [the current Colorado players] followed the rivalry. A lot of them were young,” he said. “I don’t know if you can really feel how intense it is unless you go through it yourself, but it’s something I wish they all could go through because it’s a great feeling to stick together and go out and have those battles together.”
Current Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog was only three-years-old when the franchise moved to Colorado, so he doesn’t remember everything about the great rivalry, but he believes he can learn from the dominance the clubs maintained at the turn of the 21st century.
“That’s impressive—to do what they did, and be so consistent for so many years and always be a contender every year,” said Landeskog. “It speaks to the quality of the players that they had and the character that they had in the dressing room. I mean every team is going to be different. There is going to be a different dynamic in every team, but everybody can learn from those guys. How professional they were and how they prepared night in and night out, that’s something that everybody can learn from.”