Avalanche Throwback: Sandis Ozolinsh, Greatest Number 8


“Ozo created a lot of scoring chances at the offensive end — and he also created chances at the defensive end.” ~Patrick Roy

For this Avalanche throwback Thursday, let’s look at who wore the number eight best for the Colorado Avalanche. My initial thought was Sandis Ozolinsh — besides Jan Hejda, I only remembered one other number eight for the Avs, Wojtek Wolski. (SDorry, Kevin Shattenkirk.) And, to be honest, I only remembered Wolski wore number eight because of Jeremy Lambert’s fine Avalanche throwback post from last week.

As I consulted Hockey Reference to ensure I hadn’t missed anything, I remembered what you may be pointing out right now. There was another number eight for the Avalanche, one who’s guaranteed a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the great number eights is none other than the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne.

Let’s start with him, then I’ll make my case for Ozo.

Teemu Selanne

Teemu Selanne was one of the greats of the game, a gentleman of the highest order. He was also a superbly talented and skilled hockey player. He played 21 seasons in the NHL and represented his country of Finland in four Winter Olympics, earning three bronze and a silver.

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Selanne is the highest scoring Finn in NHL history, and he still holds the record for most goals scored by a rookie. He scored 76 goals his rookie season of 1992-93. (No one on the Avs even scored that many points this year, but let’s not focus on that.)

Between Sandis Ozolinsh and Teemu Selanne, Selanne’s probably the greater player overall. However, I still maintain he’s not the greatest number eight for the Avalanche because he was only a rental player for one year, 2004. Selanne’s greatness mostly came about in his time with the Anaheim Ducks, and they did retire his number this season.

So, for the greatest number eight for the Avs…

Sandis Ozolinsh

View image | gettyimages.com

If you’re too young to remember Avalanche defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, welcome, but know that I pity you a bit. Picture a cross between Tyson Barrie (offensive ability) and Erik Johnson (size and strength) with a dash of Nathan MacKinnon (explosive speed) and you almost have Sandis Ozolinsh.

In his heyday, Ozolinsh was known as the Wild Stallion. This was partially because of his strength and speed. And his size — he was 6-foot-3 at a time they didn’t usually grow them that big. Yet he roved around the ice, turning up in unexpected places. He wasn’t just a stallion, he was a wild stallion.

It’s such a pity that the technology of the 1990s doesn’t convert well to Youtube. Some of my favorite Ozo memories are just that — memories. Did you ever notice how head coach Patrick Roy still refers to Ozolinsh with rueful fondness?

"“He created a lot of scoring chances at the offensive end — and he also created chances at the defensive end. If there was an occasional chance against you, you didn’t mind because he gave you so much at the other side.”"

Ozo made Roy’s job both tougher and easier. Of course, there was that time Ozolinsh scored an own-goal in Roy’s empty net, dropping the puck back to a goalie who was on the bench. The look on Patrick Roy’s face…

However, Sandis Ozolinsh was best known for scoring goals on other teams. In 875 NHL games he scored 167 goals and earned 564 points. One year for the Avalanche he scored 23 goals — only two forwards scored that many this season for Colorado.

Ozo doing what he did best:

Sandis Ozolinsh wore number eight for the Colorado Avalanche from 1995 to 2000, winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado that first glorious season.

So, no disrespect to the great Teemu Selanne (or Wojtek Wolski, Jan Hejda and Kevin Shattenkirk). Sandis Ozolinsh was part of the core group of Avalanche players in the 1990s. His playing style and contributions to the team make Ozo the greatest number eight for the Colorado Avalanche.

Next: TBT: Ozo's All Star Penalty

Next: TBT: Defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh

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