Avalanche Throwback Thursday: Favorite #20, Rene Corbet


For the Colorado Avalanche, the numbers right around 20 — 19 and 21 — are very auspicious indeed. Number 21 will always belong to Peter the Great, Peter Forsberg, our Hall of Fame Foppa. Number 19 will always belong to longtime captain, Hall of Fame center and current general manager — amongst other titles — Joe Sakic.

The number 20… not so much. Except in my heart, that is, because some real heart guys have worn the number 20.

The second most obvious player is a man still currently affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, Mark Rycroft. He wore that sweater during the 2006-07 season, which was also his last NHL season. Rycroft currently works as a color analyst for the Avs. He’s a great guy, but he’s not my favorite #20.

The most obvious player is the current #20, Reto Berra. We’ll get to him in a moment because he’s not my favorite either. My favorite #20 is the player who wore it for the Avalanche first, left wing Rene Corbet.

View image | gettyimages.com

Rene Corbet, the Player

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Rene Corbet was drafted 24th overall in 1991, which was second round back then, by the Quebec Nordiques. Corbet had been an insane goal scorer in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, scoring 150 goals over three seasons. Corbet didn’t spend much time with the Nordiques, playing more in the AHL.

Once the franchise moved to Colorado, though, Rene Corbet became a regular on the team. He won the Stanley Cup with the Avs in that inaugural season, making him the only Avs’ #20 on the Cup.

Corbet had been a scorer in major juniors, and he repeated that success at the AHL level. However, he was never able to translate that to the NHL level. He was a fast enough skater and gifted enough with the hands that he remained on the team. Once he showed grit, he settled into left wing on the checking line.

In four seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, Rene Corbet played 230 games. He scored 39 goals and earned a total 86 points. In those Red Wing-rivalry heydays, he also earned 291 penalty minutes. He participated in 35 fights in the NHL — 13 of them in the 1997-98 season. I don’t know how many of those were against the Red Wings exactly, but here’s an example:

Yeah, Corbet didn’t win that one. Here’s a better example of his fighting:

Sometimes it’s a tough old road to make it in the NHL.

Rene Corbet, my Favorite #20

If you haven’t noticed by my EJ obsession, I’m not the sort who favors the favorite. Naturally I loved Foppa and Super Joe. I adore Patrick Roy to this day. But when the Avs came to town, I settled on a different favorite — Rene Corbet.

There’s a lot of reasons, not least of which was because he was cute with an adorable French accent. Why lie about that? I was in my early 20s at the time. However, there have always been cute guys with adorable accents. Rather, I admired something else in Corbet.

I admired his tenacity. Back then, Corbet was a little like today’s Cody McLeod only with a little more offensive upside and more vivaciousness in interviews. I wish I could find an example from that time period, but the closest I could find was his retirement from the Adler Mannheim in Germany:

Check out that puckish gleam in his eyes — it was even brighter when he was an Avalanche.

In fact, one of my favorite Corbet moments came in the 1997 NHL playoffs which the Colorado Avalanche eventually lost to the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs were on their way to eliminating the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 in the Conference Semifinals. After a game in which the stars had done the heavy lifting, Corbet made a Mark Messier-style prediction that his line, the checking line, would score in Game 2. There was that gleam in his eye when he made the promise. (They did, by the way — he did.)

View image | gettyimages.com

This time period predates Twitter, Instagram and even Facebook by many years. That means we fans didn’t have access to the thoughts and lives of the players, for what that’s worth. (See how many followers NHLers have, and it looks like it means a lot.) So, when the news did an intermission special on Corbet and his roomies, it was noteworthy.

See, Corbet roomed with his two fellow checking liners, Eric Lacroix (the GM’s son!) and Stephane Yelle in a LoDo penthouse loft. The feature even showed a picture of the building in which they were living. I still think about that intermission feature every time I walk past the building on my way to the Pepsi Center — I know which it is because the newscasters remarked that the players were just a stone’s throw away from their new barn. (This was in 1999.)

Rene Corbet also gave one of my favorite hockey quotes — or quotes in general. When asked if getting checked hurt, he remarked, “Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn’t hurt, but it’s part of the game.” It’s even a life lesson — I think about that sometimes when I peruse readers’ comments on my posts. 🙂

Rene Corbet Traded

On February 29, 1999, Rene Corbet was traded to the Calgary Flames. To this day I remember that one. I remember walking across the Auraria Campus on my way to class. I remember stopping by the Rocky Mountain News newspaper rack (1999!) and seeing a huge splash about the Colorado Avalanche acquiring Theo Fleury. And I remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I saw the subheading that the team had traded Rene Corbet for Fleury.

The Rocky Mountain News reports the trade that took Colorado Avalanche left wing from the team. Photo credit: Nadia Archuleta

In fact, Corbet was part of a multi-player trade that included Wade Belak and Robyn Regehr for Fleury and Chris Dingman. Yet because of that newspaper front cover, I always think of the trade as Corbet for Fleury — and I still hate Theo Fleury. I even look askance at Marc-Andre Fleury because of that despicable last name.

If you remain a sports fan long enough, your favorite player will get traded. Even our beloved Foppa got traded. Hells, it was a trade that brought our beloved Patrick Roy to Colorado. Former Mile High Sticking editor Austin Manak once related his memories of when Chris Drury got traded.

I’m not going to go into great detail about my feelings at the time. I’m just going to relate this fact — right afterward I spent over $200 on a Calgary Flames jersey with Corbet’s name and number (still #20) on the back. It’s still the most expensive jersey I own, and I only wear it occasionally on Halloween because it has an evil horse head on the front:

Calgary Flames horsehead jersey with Rene Corbet’s number. Photo credit: Nadia Archuleta

Concerning the Avs, I never liked any players who wore #20 after Corbet — that was his number. (Sorry, Mark Rycroft.) That is, until Reto Berra came to the Avalanche. I’d seen him play pretty impressively for Team Switzerland at the Olympics, and I kind of liked what he did with the Calgary Flames. I think I was the only Avalanche fan who even knew who he was much less was excited when he got traded to Colorado.

When it was announced he’d wear #20, I was OK with that. Still am, even though, well, his goal tending struggles are well documented. He kind of looks like Corbet, see — kind of sounds like him, too. I can’t help but root for the kid, #20 and all.

Next: Avs Player Profile: Reto Berra

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