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The story of the Colorado Avalanche begins far from Denver, Colorado; in la belle province of Quebec. Professional hockey came to Quebec City in 1972 when the San Francisco franchise of the World Hockey Association was moved over and the Nordiques were born. As the WHA folded at the end of the decade, the Nordiques joined the National Hockey League for the 1979-80 season. Like many of the ex-WHA entrants, the Nordiques were in for a big surprise in their first NHL season. Coached by Jacques Demers, they finished fifth in the Adams division and out of the playoffs. The team was slowly building an exciting team with the likes of Michael Goulet, Dale Hunter, Jacques Richard, Anton and Peter Stastny. With a young core, the Nordiques were viewed within Quebec as an emerging team while the Montreal Canadiens had the burden of living up to their dominating play in the late 1970s. A natural rivalry between the two Quebec based teams was formed and numerous "Battles of Quebec" would ensue.The Canadiens and Nordiques had their first postseason meeting in 1982. They went back and forth until the Nordiques came through with an overtime win in game six. The Nordiques went on to defeat the Boston Bruins in seven games before losing to the New York Islanders in the Wales Conference finals. The Canadiens and Nordiques would face each other in five playoff series, with the Canadiens taking three. Hard times befell the Nordiques in the late 1980s with five straight years out of the playoffs. The team continued to draft wisely, accumulating a bevy of young potential stars including Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Valery Kamensky, Adam Foote, and Owen Nolan. Not included in the list was Eric Lindros, a highly regarded prospect drafted by Quebec as the first overall pick in 1991. Lindros had publicly announced his desire against playing in Quebec and sat out of hockey for a year, instead playing in the Canada Cup and for Team Canada. In the 1992 entry draft the Nordiques had apparently traded Lindros in a multi-player deal to the New York Rangers but Philadelphia complained that a verbal deal had been reached by them and the Nords. An independent arbitrator was appointed and he ruled in favour of the Flyers. That brought to an end the Eric Lindros saga as he went to Philadelphis with Peter Forsberg, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, two draft picks and $15 million in cash going to Quebec.
The Nordiques and Canadiens would have their last postseason meeting in 1993. The Canadiens won two overtime games and dispatched of their bitter rivals in a hard fought series. Their financial situation worsened as the team struggled on the ice. The consortium of owners asked the various levels of governments for help with the team. The Nordiques had an old facility and were lacking many of the revenue schemes enjoyed by American teams. In 1995 they were sold to the COMSAT Entertainment Group and moved to Denver, Colorado. Denver was no stranger to professional hockey and the team was named the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs were close to being a serious Stanley Cup contender and new general manager Pierre Lacroix was busy tinkering with the squad to add the necessary pieces. Claude Lemieux and Sandis Ozolinsh were acquired through trades, but the biggest impact was getting a disgruntled Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens. The Avalanche started that year's playoff run defeating the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks in six games each. The Conference Final saw the Avalance face off against the Detroit Red Wings, a rivalry that would grow in the years to come. The Avalanche overpowered the Red Wings in six games and went on to face the Cinderella Florida Panthers expansion franchise for the Stanley Cup championship. In a series that they completely dominated, the Colorado Avalanche swept the Panthers on a game winning goal by defenseman Uwe Krupp to win their first ever Stanley Cup.
The Avalanche began defense of their championship with a first place finish, accumulating 107 points. They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers in the first two round of the playoffs and faced off against their arch rival Detroit Red Wings. In a repeat of the previous year's Conference Finals the series went to six games, but this time the Red Wings would emerge on top. The 1998 playoffs saw the recognition of another great Avalance postseason rivalry as the Edmonton Oilers defeated them in the first round of a hard fought seven game series. The early exit also saw the departure of coach Marc Crawford who declined a contract extension and was replaced by their minor league coach Bob Hartley. In 1999 the team moved to its brand new facility, the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. Hartley had the team clicking on all cylinders as they made their way through the first two rounds of the playoffs. San Jose took the Avalanche to six games in the opening round and the always tough Red Wings were dispatched in a six games series. But the Colorado club would run into an equally potent Dallas Stars team in the Conference final and lost to them in a six game set. The 2000 playoffs would be much the same, except for the first round matchup that instead featured the Phoenix Coyotes. The team was competitive throughout its years in Denver and the 2001 playoffs would continue to show their dominance. The Avalanche ploughed through the first three rounds to face off against the defensive specialists from New Jersey. In a gruelling seven game set the Avalanche would come out on top and win their second Stanley Cup in five years.
Despite missing Peter Forsberg for the entire 2001-02 regular season due to an assortment of injuries, the Avalanche continued their dominance winning their seventh straight division title with a record of 45-28-8-1. Future hall of famer Patrick Roy became the first goaltender to win 500 career games. With Forsberg returning for the playoffs, the Avalanche defeated the Los Angels Kings in a seven game series. In the second round they were down 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks but rallied back to win the series in seven. They would go on to the Conference final to once again face the Detroit Red Wings. With the series tied at three games a piece the Red Wings blew out the Avalance 7-0 in game seven to end their playoff run. The next season saw more coaching changes as Tony Granato replaced Bob Hartley behind the bench. With age and injuries catching up to some of its key players, the Avalanche finished the season with an impressive 42-19-13-8 record. Their playoff run was a brief one as they were upset by the Minnesota Wild in a seven game series. The offseason saw Patrick Roy announce his retirement as general manager Pierre Lacroix continued to accumulate talent by signing Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne as free agents. Unfortunately the two did not have much of an impact on the team. After the lockout, the team was able to use its talented players to their full abilities in the new era NHL. The likes of Joe Sakic, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk and Rob Blake and Marek Svatos would have excellent seasons. The Avs traded David Aebischer to the Habs at the trading deadline for Jose Theodore. In the playoffs, they made it past the Dallas Stars but lost to the San Jose Sharks in the second round. In the off-season, the Avs were facing some salary cap constraints and could not sign Rob Blake and had to trade Alex Tanguay to the Flames.
Colorado Avalanche Overview:
Team name: Colorado Avalanche
Founded: 1972 in World Hockey Association, joined NHL in 1979
Formerly known as: Quebec Nordiques (1972-1995)
Arena: Pepsi Center
Stanley Cups won: 2 (1996, 2001)
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