DENVER -- When Mike Ricci heads to Denver this week for the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Alumni Game between the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field on Friday, he should have no trouble getting a table at one of the city's finer restaurants.
After all, he was a member of the 1996 Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.
But there was a time when no one in the Mile High City knew who Ricci, or any member of the Avalanche, was.
"In Quebec, everyone knew who we were, in Colorado we couldn't get a table," said Ricci, a member of the Nordiques when the franchise moved to Denver after the 1995 season. "In Quebec they would hold us a table, in Colorado it was 'Holy smokes, boys, we a have to wait two hours for a table.' But after (we won the Stanley Cup), we didn't have to wait two hours for tables at places anymore."
Ricci, a development coach for the San Jose Sharks, can hardly wait for alumni game against the Red Wings, unquestionably the Avalanche's fiercest rival in the late 1990s.
"Both teams are going to play to win. I don't think either one is going to want to lose," Ricci said. "It's getting a lot of hype here, so we have to live up to that too."
And the hype is real. At least 11 Hockey Hall of Fame members could be on the ice Saturday, with goalie Patrick Roy - who is Colorado's coach -- defensemen Ray Bourque and Rob Blake and forwards Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg representing the Avalanche. Forwards Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Dino Ciccarelli and Igor Larionov, and defensemen Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom, are expected to play for Detroit.
"It will be as intense as it can for a bunch of old guys," Ricci said.
The intensity stems from the bitter rivalry that began in Colorado's first season in the League, when the Avalanche defeated the Red Wings in the Western Conference Final on their way to the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings would return the favor next year in the conference final and go on to win the Cup in consecutive seasons. The teams played against each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times from 1996-2008. From 1996-2002, they combined to win the Cup five times.
Ricci said he's most looking forward to seeing his former teammates back in Denver.
"Even back then, you could tell why we had such good chemistry," Ricci said. "Players could not see each other for years and all of a sudden, boom, it's right back there, and that's what I'm looking forward to."
Selected in the first round (No. 4) of the 1990 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Ricci was part of the mega-Eric Lindros trade on June 30, 1992 that also sent Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, two draft picks and $15 million to Quebec. The trade would eventually turn the Nordiques into a contender; they earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in the 1995 season, but fell to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
"[Losing to the Rangers] was the best thing for us," Ricci said. "It was a prototypical learn-from-your-mistakes. We didn't play that bad in that series and we realized the things we had to get going."
They got going in more ways than one when the franchise moved to Denver to start the 1995-96 season. On Dec. 6, 1995, the Avalanche acquired Roy and Mike Keane from the Montreal Canadiens. Just like that, a championship nucleus was born.
"It was a great group of guys, we kind of grew up together, being in Quebec for a few years and then going to Colorado," said Ricci, who played parts of three seasons with the Avalanche before being traded to the Sharks. "Quebec was very passionate. It was a tough move, but once we got to Colorado we immediately had a chance to win. It didn't hurt that we got [Patrick] Roy and Mike Keane."
Ricci said these days he's focused on getting himself ready for a full game and his first professional outdoor game.
"I'm just trying to stay healthy right now," he said. "I'm trying to lose weight. When you are coaching, you don't move as well. You stand. You monitor. You really don't move as fast as the guys do. I think I'll be all right."