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A look back at the Colorado Avalanche's first-ever game in 1995, Stanley Cup win in 1996

Posted: 3:20 PM, Jun 14, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-15 16:41:23-04
CLAUDE LEMIEUX MIKE KEANE

DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche's first-ever game in 1995 started and ended with a boom, kicking off a season that ended with Lord Stanley's Cup in the hands of Denver's brand-new hockey team.

The Avs made their way to Denver via financial difficulties in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The Quebec Nordiques were very much a “bottom-feeding team" and Comsat Entertainment (now Ascent Entertainment) purchased them on May 25, 1995. The deal was finalized on July 1 and after the Nordiques relocated to Denver, the franchise was officially named the Colorado Avalanche about a month later, according to the NHL.

This brought renewed excitement to the City of Denver and Coloradans who had been without a home team to cheer for since the Colorado Rockies hockey team was relocated to become the New Jersey Devils in 1982.

After the move was announced, more than 12,000 season tickets were sold within 37 days, according to the NHL.

On the evening of Oct. 6, 1995, the Avs put on their new uniforms and skated out onto the ice at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver — which was demolished and rebuilt into the Pepsi Center in 2000 and renamed in 2020 to Ball Arena — for their first game. Fireworks exploded in the air to celebrate, according to The Associated Press.

In its first regular season game ever, the Avalanche won 3-2 against the Detroit Red Wings in front of a sold-out arena, with left wing Valeri Kamensky scoring two goals, including one around the 10-minute mark and another with less than four minutes left in the game. Defenseman Craig Wolanin scored the second goal, the AP reported.

Colorado Avs Stephane Fiset in 1995 first Avs game ever

The puck found the net behind Avs goalie Stephane Fiset within the first two minutes of the game, but he was “nearly flawless after that, stopping 30 shots," according to the AP.

“After the first goal, I knew I had to shut the door," Fiset told the AP. "That’s my job, just to keep the team in the game. I knew we had lots of time to score, so I just wanted to keep us close and give us a chance to win.”

The first penalty in Avalanche history was handed down to Claude Lemieux for high sticking 42 seconds into that game, according to the AP.

READ MORE: Commerce City boy trains in his full goalie gear while watching Avalanche games

Following the Avs' win that evening, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman helped hoist a banner at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver to signal hockey's successful return to Colorado.

It "turned out to be a successful one for the boisterous fans and the Avalanche players," the AP wrote the following day.

Newspaper headlines boasted the Avs' win: "Red Wings buried by Avalanche," "Avalanche thunders into season in Denver," "Avalanche slides to 3-2 win with Kamensky goal in third."

“If goalie Stephane Fiset doesn’t fade in the playoffs like he did last season, the team is a Stanley Cup threat," a reporter with The Montana Standard wrote.

The players expressed their excitement with the media as well.

Right-winger Owen Nolan told The Gazette out of Quebec that, "We had good fans in Quebec, but it’s like night and day as far as the loudness. … That’s really a great motivational factor, especially when the guys are tired. It really picks us up as a team.”

Avalanche captain Joe Sakic — now executive vice president of hockey operations for the Avs — said the Red Wings caught them off guard in the beginning.

"It was pretty important for us to get the first one at home out of the way, and it shows how far we’ve come," he told the Associated Press.

The Avs fought tooth and nail through the rest of the regular season, acquiring some big names along the way, such as goalie Patrick Roy and forward Mike Keane in December 1995.

After a season of highs and lows — but mostly highs — Denver was buzzing with excitement in May 1996 as the city's new hometown team headed to the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers.

Final tickets were the hottest items in town, The Daily Sentinel reported on May 31, adding that fans had gathered outside the 16,000-seat McNichols Arena hours before tickets were available in hopes of securing a spot to see the series.

VANBIESKBROUCK FITZGERALD RICCI
Colorado Avalanche center Mike Ricci, front bottom, falls on the ice after hitting the puck in for a goal past Florida Panthers center Tom Fitzgerald, center, and goalie John Vanbiesbrouck in the second period in Game One of Stanley Cup action in Denver's McNichols Sports Arena on Tuesday, June 4, 1996. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Game 1 started on June 4, 1996.

How did the series go? As the AP wrote on June 11, the day after Game 4 in Miami: "The Colorado Avalanche took a long time to make short work of the Florida Panthers."

In a four-game sweep, the Avs clinched victory, but not before the longest day in the season's playoffs, as the game went to triple overtime. With 44:31 of overtime — lending to a game that from start to finish was four hours and 58 minutes long — Game 4 ranked as the longest scoreless contest and third-longest in Stanley Cup Final history, the AP reported.

Defenseman Uwe Krupp scored the winning goal at 4:31 of the third overtime.

Team Captain Sakic, also the league's MVP that year, called the win the greatest moment of his life. In total, he scored 18 goals in the playoffs, just one shy of tying the NHL record. Of those 18, six were game-winners, according to the AP.

Joe Sakic holding Stanley Cup after 1996 win

Even the Panthers acknowledged the exceptional competition.

“There’s not a guy in the room that I’m not proud of personally," Panthers player John Vanbiesbrouck told the AP. "The game was intense. It was an epic game.”

The Avs praised their goalie, Roy, as an "almost regal thing" who was not the loudest, strongest or fastest player, but “there is no question he is The Man on the Colorado Avalanche,” The Daily Sentinel reported on June 11.

Sports Illustrated Colorado Avs 1996 Stanley Cup win

"Hockey is a sport of momentum," Avs defenseman Sylvain Jean Lefebvre told a reporter. "And there are going to be times when the other team has it. A lot of times in those situations, it’s up to the goalie to get the momentum turned back. It’s up to the goalie to get everyone calmed down, get everyone back on the same page. And when your goalie is Patrick Roy, when you look back there and see him in the net, it’s an incredible feeling. You just know everything’s going to be alright."

While the win came in Miami, Denver's Larimer Square exploded with car honks and cheers after Krupp's goal.

“For all of us that have been waiting to say that we’re the world champions of something, we finally can say it," former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb told the AP. "We’re very proud of it and we’re going to celebrate every aspect of it.”

In an newspaper article published two days after the win, the AP wrote that the Avalanche "had done what the NFL's Broncos and NBA’s Nuggets could not achieve, what the hockey Rockies (who later moved to New Jersey) failed to approach in six seasons and what the baseball Rockies see only in their dreams.”

CORBET
Rene Corbet of the Colorado Avalanche hoists the Stanley Cup in the air after the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Florida Panthers 1-0 in triple overtime to sweep the finals 4-0 in Miami Monday, June 10, 1996. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Excluding the first five years of major North American professional sports leagues, the Avs were only the second team to win a title in its first year, the AP reported.

Among the celebrations, first-year coach Marc Crawford acknowledged the devoted Nordiques-turned-Avs fans in Quebec.

“I would like them to feel included in our victory," he told the AP. "We lived in a marvelous hockey town and we’ve been lucky to be welcomed in another. We had a great home in Quebec City and now we have a great home in Denver.”

It was a nod to a long journey topped with the best prize in the game.

“A year ago, Denver had no hockey team. Now it has a Stanley Cup," the AP article read.

While the Avs had successful games through the following regular seasons, it did not make a return to the Stanley Cup Final until 2001, when the team beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 7.

The Avalanche is now back in contention for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001 as they prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oilers Avalanche Hockey
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz skates on the ice after the team's 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Game 1 starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Denver7 is bringing you all the action on our air.

Here's a breakdown of the games, which all start at 6 p.m. on Denver7 (with pre-game coverage at 5:30 p.m.):

  • Game 1: Wednesday, June 15
  • Game 2: Saturday, June 18
  • Game 3: Monday, June 20
  • Game 4: Wednesday, June 22
  • Game 5: Friday, June 24 (if needed)
  • Game 6: Sunday, June 26 (if needed)
  • Game 7: Tuesday, June 28 (if needed)

Click here for more ways and places to watch the Stanley Cup Final games.

READ MORE: Ball Arena, Denver Sports Commission weigh in on impacts of Stanley Cup Final