DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche’s first-ever game of 1995 started and ended with a bang, kicking off a season that ended with the Lord Stanley Cup in the hands of all Denver’s new hockey team.
The Avs traveled to Denver via financial difficulties in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The Quebec Nordiques were truly a “low level team” and Comsat Entertainment (now Ascent Entertainment) purchased them on May 25, 1995. The deal was finalized on July 1 and after the Nordiques moved to Denver, the franchise was officially named the Colorado Avalanche about a month later, according to the NHL.
It rekindled enthusiasm for the city of Denver and the Colorados who had no local team to cheer on since the Colorado Rockies hockey team relocated to become the New Jersey Devils in 1982.
After the move was announced, more than 12,000 season tickets were sold in 37 days, according to the NHL.
On the evening of Oct. 6, 1995, the Avs donned their new uniforms and skated on the ice at Denver’s McNichols Sports Arena — which was torn down and rebuilt as the Pepsi Center in 2000 and renamed the Ball Arena in 2020 — for their first match. Fireworks exploded into the air in celebration, according to the Associated Press.
In its very first regular season game, the Avalanche won 3-2 against the Detroit Red Wings in front of a sold-out arena, with left winger Valeri Kamensky scoring two goals, including one near the 10th minute and another with less than four minutes left in the game. Defender Craig Wolanin scored the second goal, the AP reported.
The puck found the net behind Avs goaltender Stephane Fiset within the first two minutes of the game, but he was “almost flawless thereafter, stopping 30 shots,” according to the AP.
“After the first goal I knew I had to close the door,” Fiset told the AP. “It’s my job, just to keep the team in the game. I knew we had a lot 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 awarded to Claude Lemieux for a high stick 42 seconds into that game, according to the AP.
READ MORE: Commerce City boy practices in full goalie gear while watching Avalanche games
After the Avs’ victory that night, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman helped raise a banner at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver to signal the successful return of hockey to Colorado.
It “proved to be a hit with the vocal fans and Avalanche players,” the AP wrote the next day.
Headlines touted the Avs win: “Red Wings buried by Avalanche,” “Avalanche start season in Denver,” “Avalanche slide 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,” wrote a Montana Standard reporter.
The players also expressed their enthusiasm to the media.
Right-winger Owen Nolan told The Gazette from Quebec that “We had good fans in Quebec, but it’s like night and day when it comes to volume. … It’s really a great motivator, especially when the guys are tired. pick us up as a team.
Avalanche Captain Joe Sakic — now Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Avs — says the Red Wings caught them off guard early on.
“It was pretty important for us to knock out the first one at home, and it shows how far we’ve come,” he told The Associated Press.
The Avs fought tooth and nail throughout the regular season, acquiring big names along the way, like goaltender Patrick Roy and forward Mike Keane in December 1995.
After a season of ups and downs – but mostly ups – Denver was buzzing with excitement in May 1996 as the city’s new home team headed to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers.
Final tickets were the most popular items in town, The Daily Sentinel reported on May 31, adding that fans gathered outside the 16,000-seat McNichols Arena hours before tickets became available in the hope to get a seat to see the series.
Game 1 started on June 4, 1996.
How was the series? As the AP wrote on June 11, the day after Game 4 in Miami: “The Colorado Avalanche took a long time to make quick work of the Florida Panthers.”
In a four-game sweep, the Avs clinched victory, but not before the longest playoff day of the season, when the game went to triple overtime. With 44:31 of overtime – lending to a game that from start to finish lasted four hours and 58 minutes – Game 4 is ranked as the longest scoreless contest and the third longest in the history of the final of the Stanley Cup, the AP reported.
Defender Uwe Krupp scored the game-winning goal at 4:31 of third overtime.
Team captain Sakic, also the league’s MVP that year, called the victory the greatest moment of his life. In total, he scored 18 playoff goals, nearly tying the NHL record. Of those 18, six were winners, according to the AP.
Even the Panthers acknowledged the outstanding competition.
“There’s not a guy in the room that I’m not personally proud of,” Panthers player John Vanbiesbrouck told the AP. “The game was intense. It was an epic game.”
The Avs praised their goaltender, Roy, as an “almost royal thing” who wasn’t the loudest, strongest or fastest player, but “there’s no doubt he’s the Colorado Avalanche man,” the Daily Sentinel reported on June 11.
“Hockey is a dynamic sport,” Av defender Sylvain Jean Lefebvre told a reporter. “And there will be times when the other team will have it. A lot of times in those situations it’s up to the goalkeeper to reverse the momentum. It’s up to the goalkeeper to calm everybody down, to bringing everyone back to the same page. And when your keeper is Patrick Roy, when you look back and see him in the net, it’s an incredible feeling. You just know that everything is going to be okay.
As victory came in Miami, Denver’s Larimer Square erupted with horns and cheers after Krupp’s goal.
“For all of us who have been waiting to say we are the world champions of something, we can finally say it,” former Denver mayor Wellington Webb told the AP. “We are very proud of it and we are going to celebrate all aspects of it.
In a newspaper article published two days after the victory, the AP wrote that the Avalanche “did what the Broncos of the NFL and the Nuggets of the NBA could not accomplish, which the Rockies of hockey (who later moved to New Jersey) failed to approach in six seasons and what baseball’s Rockies only see in their dreams.
Excluding the first five years of major North American professional sports leagues, the Avs were only the second team to win a title in their first year, the AP reported.
Among the celebrations, first-year coach Marc Crawford paid tribute to dedicated Nordiques-turned-Avs fans in Quebec.
“I would like them to feel included in our victory,” he told the AP. “We lived in a wonderful hockey city and we were lucky to be welcomed into another. We had a beautiful house in Quebec and now we have a beautiful house in Denver.
It was a nod to a long journey crowned with the best prize in the game.
“A year ago Denver didn’t have a hockey team. Now he has a Stanley Cup,” the AP article read.
Although the Avs had successful games in subsequent regular seasons, they didn’t make a return to the Stanley Cup Finals until 2001 when the team defeated the New Jersey Devils in Game 7. .
The Avalanche are now back in contention for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001 as they prepare to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Game 1 begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Denver7 brings you all the action on our airwaves.
Here’s a breakdown of the games, which all start at 6 p.m. on Denver7 (with pregame 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 Stanley Cup Finals games.
READ MORE: Ball Arena and Denver Sports Commission speak out on Stanley Cup Final impacts