Colorado Avalanche: Why the 20th Anniversary is so Disappointing

The Colorado Avalanche currently sport a 4-9-1 record.  They talked a good game coming into the season about not getting off to such a slow start again. Certain players are playing below their level.

All of that is disappointing in any season. However, the 2015-16 season marks the 20th anniversary of the franchise’s coming to Colorado. The 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche squad brought the first ever sports championship to Colorado.

Any fan who loves the history of this team is going to feel extra disappointment for the season thus far, even if they weren’t fans at the time or were too young to comprehend at the time what was going on.

For those of us who were fans at the time and adults to boot, the disappointment becomes more poignant.

For me, it’s downright painful.

Beginnings of a Hockey Fan

I became a hockey fan in 1993. To my then-boyfriend’s disdain – he’s a dyed in the wool Bruins fan from Boston – I fell for Jaromir Jagr and his super sexy mullet, not to mention super sexy offensive skills. I became a Pittsburgh Penguins fan.

On one thing we could agree — neither of our offenses could consistently get past the scourge of Eastern Conference snipers, Patrick Roy.  The great goalie was on his way to backstopping the majestic Montreal Canadiens to Stanley Cup victory for the second time.

We kind of hated him a little for how effectively he shut our teams down, but we couldn’t help but respect his talent,  his skill, his compete level.

As we watched his pure dominance in the game, we talked about what it would take to get him traded out of Montreal.  We both agreed, Wayne Gretzky allusion notwithstanding,  the answer was “nothing.”  Montreal and Patrick Roy were an institution together.

Colorado Gets Hockey Again

Rumors started circulating around that time that Colorado was being considered for an NHL team again, possibly an expansion team. There was supposed to be an exhibition game here, but the lockout put the kabosh on that.

We got an International Hockey League team in the Denver Grizzlies, though. I attended tons of their games,  but it only whetted my appetite for an NHL team.

I would have been happy with an expansion team. I wouldn’t have cared how bad they’d be for so long (ahem Columbus Blue Jackets). I just wanted an NHL team in my home state.

Well, you know by now that Colorado didn’t get an expansion team. We got an already very good team in the Quebec Nordiques.

I was utterly ecstatic. Your best Christmas morning? That’s how I felt when the NHL announced Colorado was getting an NHL team.

Patrick Roy Comes to Colorado

Old loves don’t ever just go away. My first-ever NHL game wasn’t opening night for the Colorado Avalanche’s inaugural season. Those tickets were very expensive and almost impossible to get. Instead, I got tickets to the second-ever game at McNichol’s Arena, the third-ever for the Avalanche.

They were playing Jaromir Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course.

Meanwhile, I was trying to get to know these new faces. So, I understood our two big stars were Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. We had this crazy defenseman who liked to skate around a lot, Sandis Ozolinsh. We also had this German defenseman, Uwe Krupp — that was unusual. Ok, I was working on learning about these guys, but a part of me still just loved Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Tom Barrasso, Ken Wregget, Ulf Samulsson… their names come to me now as easily as they did then. You never forget your first.

That goes for first impressions, too. Patrick Roy was the best goalie in the world — I had learned that even as I learned about the sport of hockey.

On December 7, 1995, the Montreal Canadiens had the worst case of the stupids ever seen in the world of sports, and boy am I glad they did. They traded Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche. I don’t care about all the other elements that went into that trade. The greatest goalie in the world, a man I already respected, was coming to join my new love of a team.

That Christmas morning came again. My team for my beloved state that already had such great players was now getting the best goalie in the world. Nothing could be better.

Except this, of course:

It’s said we Coloradans don’t appreciate what that team accomplished. It all came too easy.

Those people obviously didn’t pine for hockey to come to Colorado. They obviously didn’t see their hopes of seeing an NHL game dashed because of the lockout. They didn’t suffer the information suck of the 1990s when Google didn’t even exist yet, and with it that instant gratification of learning all about your faraway team.

Never, mind, as of the 1995-96 season we had a local team, and they were heroes.

I bought a Colorado Avalanche jersey, of course. I didn’t know those other guys, but I knew about Patrick Roy. I bought the home white of the greatest goalie in the world who now played for my team right after Le Trade.

It’s still the only Avalanche jersey I own. I could just never bring myself to “replace” it. (I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy an Erik Johnson Stadium Series jersey…. pretty sure.)

The Disappointment of the 20th Anniversary Season

I’ll never forget where I was when I found out that Patrick Roy had retired. I was in the car with my friend — who was not a hockey fan — leaving Denver International Airport. I had just finished my second year abroad as an English as a Foreign Language teacher, in Croatia where hockey isn’t much of a thing. (Ask Borna Rendulic.) And internet was expensive. In short, I hadn’t kept up with my Avalanche.

We had just cleared the payment booth, and a natural lull came in the conversation. Bless my friend’s heart, she looked at me and said “You know Patrick Roy retired this year, right?”

My heart broke even as I realized such a change had been inevitable. I missed his last season. I missed his retirement ceremony, too, as I headed back to Croatia and, well, life just happens sometimes.

There were rumors that Patrick Roy was going into coaching. I remember a few years later, after I’d returned for good (ish) to the United States that it was said the Colorado Avalanche had offered him a coaching position, but he’d turned it down. I wanted that. I wanted Patrick Roy as our coach the way I’d once wanted an NHL team here in Colorado.

Patrick Roy returned to the Colorado Avalanche eventually. The 2013-14 season was magical for so many, I know. The Colorado Avalanche gained a load of new fans, and I just love them. I do not consider myself superior just because I was a fan in the beginning. I just feel more nostalgic.

Because I remember Le Trade. I remember when he taunted Jeremy Roenick, “I can’t hear what Jeremy is saying because I have my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears.” I remember when he reprised Le Wink. I remember when he pulled the Statue of Liberty move and dropped the puck into his own net. I remember when he lost his mind and broke his stick after giving up an overtime goal. I remember when he deked Wayne Gretzky.

Call me sentimental — I’m sure you are already anyway. But all of those events were live to me at one time. All of those were part of a story that took place in my 20s when your life is so much more passionate. For me the Colorado Avalanche and Patrick Roy are inseparable.

And that’s why this season of woes hurts me. It literally hurts me to hear the Great Man have to stoop to making excuses. It pains me to see these young players whom I “know” so much better thanks to Google, social media and fan blogs such as this, failing to excel for St. Patrick.

For Patrick Roy.

I really don’t care about the record per se. This young core of players sucked under other coaches. Thanks to that tickets got cheap and plentiful, and I’ve seen these players live way more times than I ever saw Patrick Roy. I attended Matt Duchene‘s, Gabriel Landeskog‘s and Nathan MacKinnon‘s first-ever NHL games.

But I will never revere them the way I revere Patrick Roy. How could I? They’re so young, and they remind me of my students trying to make excuses when they failed to do their homework.

And they anger me for tarnishing the great memories. I love them like rambunctious kids, and I hate them for being irresponsible kids.

I don’t think there can be just one truth to why this season has gone so horribly wrong. Motivation is a tough nut to crack — if I learned nothing else as a teacher, I learned that. Plus, there’s just this part of me that looks at my student loans and realizes those guys make enough in one game to wipe them out for me. They have every resource in the world to succeed — including the motivation of playing for a hero of this very club.

Yet for whatever reason, they are not succeeding. And that’s reflecting poorly on the Great Man.

So, Avs Nation, I realize we all expected so much more from this season with the talent and skill on the Colorado Avalanche. I know we’re all disappointed.

However, do not look to me to blame Patrick Roy. He paid his dues for this team. He represented the logo with full pride and played some of the best hockey this world has ever seen. If he stumbles a little in coaching, he deserves a lot of leeway from us.