Colorado Avalanche: Original Wild Stallion, Sandis Ozolinsh

Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche alumni and current players are presented before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche alumni and current players are presented before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Sandis Ozolinsh was an offensive defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche during the team’s first Stanley Cup run in 1996. He’s returning as part of the Alumni Game.

Some people like to call Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie wild because of his roving ways, and I’ve been known to call defenseman Nikita Zadorov a wild mustang. However, there was an original Wild Stallion, and that was Sandis Ozlinsh.

Sandis Ozolinsh, #8, was always one of my favorite players. Talk about a player who played all 200 feet of the ice — he roved over that ice like the wild stallion that earned him his nickname. He was an exciting player to watch — and quite a character to boot.

Related Story: Ozolinsh Takes All Star Penalty

Memories of Sandis Ozolinsh

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Just seven games into its inaugural season, the Colorado Avalanche made a move that would later become a habit — a blockbuster trade. Colorado traded Owen Nolan for Sandis Ozlinish. The Wild Stallion would soon become a fixture all over the Avalanche ice.

When Avalanche fans talk about the great defensemen of our history, most come up with Ray Bourque and Rob Blake first with a healthy dose of Adam Foote. However, I remember those first years so well, and Ozo was our premier defenseman back in the day. If you want to know what it was like to watch Sandis Ozolinsh in the 1990s, imagine a Tyson Barrie-esque rover with the size and grace of Erik Johnson with a little of Matt Duchene’s flash. That was Ozo.

Analogue doesn’t do him any justice, but here he is:

Watch how Ozo pinches in for this clutch goal!

And then there was the time Sandis Ozolinsh quieted ALL the fans in the United Center in Chicago:

Patrick Roy likes to joke that Ozolinsh could create chances on both ends of the ice with his roving ways. However, one of my memories of Ozolinsh has nothing to do with roving. Then-coach Marc Crawford pulled Roy because the opponent had a delayed penalty. For some reason Ozolinsh forgot about that and effected a neat drop pass to a goalie who wasn’t there — and scored an own goal. The look on Patrick Roy’s face — it’s no wonder he’s still chirping him almost two decades later!

The Colorado Avalanche only got Sandis Ozolinsh from 1995 to 2000 before he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. In that time, though, he played in 333 games and earned 72 goals. Every season was a 50+ point season except for an injury-plagued year when he got “just” 32 points in 39 games. His peak production for Colorado was 68 points in 80 games.

Those were numbers any Colorado forward would have liked to have last season.

Ozo was an All Star three times as an Avalanche. One more memory I have of him is his rocking the fastest skater competition so hard that he just flipped around and skated the last leg backwards. Wild Stallion.

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Related Story: TBT: Ozo and the Avs

Colorado Avalanche 20th Anniversary Team

Sandis Ozolinsh was voted part of the Colorado Avalanche Anniversary Team. A native of Riga, Latvia, where he again makes his home, he made the trip back to Colorado for the celebration on December 7, 2015.

Ozolinsh spoke with the Avalanche website about his experience being back in Denver. He joked about how long ago he and the other greats were making all those memories. He added that a lot of his experiences weren’t funny at the time, but they’re laughable now.

"“It was just good, on the ice and off the ice, the stuff that we did together. We were much much younger.”"

Ozolinsh definitely seems comfortable in his father figure role. He jokes “Now, I tell some of the players not to do things that I did when I was 23.”

Wisdom certainly does come with age:

"“I was thinking at the time that I knew everything, and I found out later than I knew nothing.”"

One of the things he didn’t know was what kind of beast — with what players — the Colorado Avalanche even was!

"“All of a sudden you get traded to the team that just moved from Quebec to a new city that did not have hockey for a long time. I didn’t even know who was playing on that team! On the flight here I had to check who were the players and what is what because Quebec was in the other conference.”"

Ozolinsh, of course, had been drafted by the San Jose Sharks and played his first three NHL seasons there.

The altitude got to Sandis Ozolinsh, too. He says that by the second period of his first game in Colorado he was completely out of breath. Hazard of being one mile high.

His time with the Colorado Avalanche was special to him, of course — he won his only Stanley Cup with the team in 1996. He said of the entire five years here:

"“These were the best times in my NHL hockey career, here.”"

In all, Ozolinsh spent 24 years in the NHL.

Next: TBT: Greatest #8, Sandis Ozolinsh

For those of you who didn’t get to see Sandis Ozolinsh back in the day, he will be participating in the Alumni Game on February 26. The Wild Stallion is grizzled now, but I saw him play for Latvia in the Olympics just two years ago, and he’s still a rover. It’ll be a treat to see #8 on the ice one more time.