Colorado Avalanche Alumni Game: Rivalry Continues

Dec 7, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic fans waves to the crowd 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 general manager Joe Sakic fans waves to the crowd before the game against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche vs Detroit Red Wings Alumni Game is a much-anticipated event — perhaps more so than the Stadium Series game itself.

“The rivalry we had — it was just an incredible rivalry. It was great to be a part of that.”  ~Joe Sakic

The Colorado Avalanche-Detroit Red Wings rivalry was one of the greatest in all of sports, not just hockey. Through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the two teams played some of the best but most bitterly contested games, especially in the playoffs.

All good things must come to an end, of course. Slowly the Colorado Avalanche entered the Dark Ages — called the Rebuild, but that actually came later — so the competition wasn’t as fierce. The key players either moved on or retired. The Detroit Red Wings moving from the Western to the Eastern Conference was the death knell of the rivalry.

When the Colorado Avalanche meet the Detroit Red Wings now, the games do tend to be a little chippy. However, they only meet twice a year, and a lot less is at stake. Certainly there’s a lot more bad blood between the Avalanche and their Central Division rivals, especially the Minnesota Wild.

On February 26, the main players of the rivalry years are going to meet on the ice one more time. All the greats are representing for the Avalanche — Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Sandis Ozolinsh, Claude Lemieux. Many of the Red Wings greats are returning, notably Kris Draper and Steve Yzerman.

Related Story: Avs Wild Stallion, Sandis Ozolinsh

Joe Sakic on the Rivalry

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Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, the former captain of the Golden Years squad, was one of the key members of the rivalry. Now, if you remember Joe Sakic as a player, you’re going to remember a skill player with excellent footwork and one heck of a shot. You’re not going to remember any particularly physical play.

Nonetheless, Sakic was a part of the intensity because he was so good — and because he was the captain at the time.

During a press conference on February 18,Sakic talked about the great players involved in the rivalry:

"“Not only was there some ugly stuff there, but you look up and down the roster, there were some great names, great hockey players on both sides that played up and down.”"

On the Detroit Red Wings side, then-captain Steve Yzerman and tough guy Brenden Shanahan are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Of course, on the Colorado Avalanche side we have Sakic, Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg.

The immense talent was one thing, but the competitive nature of both teams really helped foment the rivalry. The teams were good, and it was a good bet one would have to get past the other in the playoffs. From 1996 to 2002, the two teams met five times in the playoffs.

That kind of history also spilled over into the regular season games, according to Sakic, “Regular season games were playoff atmosphere. Every one of them.”

That’s probably part of the reason Sakic remembers the rivalry so fondly, if you can imagine:

"“The further you are away — it was a long time ago — I know I speak for myself and probably a lot of players who were a part of that, I think you look back and you really appreciate being part of something like that. It was a special time for the two organizations.”"

Sakic laughs that the rivalry was “heated” and that the two teams “didn’t like each other.” He adds, though:

"“But you had a lot of respect for everybody who was a part of that. It was something special.”"

Joe Sakic in action vs the Detroit Red Wings:

For those of us who were Colorado Avalanche fans during that time period, Red Wings red will always be as a red flag before a bull. Because, yes, it was special.

More About The Rivalry:

Avs Beat Wings for Conference

Avs-Wings Brawl on 1997

Shanny a Goon in the Playoffs

Related Story: Top 5 Patrick Roy Goalie Moments

Joe Sakic Feeling Comfortable

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When Joe Sakic first started talking about an alumni game, he remarked that Kris Draper said he skated three times a week in the months leading up to the game.

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Earlier this year Sakic laughed that he’d start getting ready a few weeks ahead of time, which was his habit leading up to training camp.

Now it sounds like Sakic is taking it pretty easy. During the presser he said, “[My conditioning] is not where I want it to be. I ran out of time.”

He admitted that he’s only skated in his equipment four or five times in preparation. However, the equipment “feels comfortable now.” If he’s telling the truth, he’s going to be putting on hockey equipment that’s been in his garage for a couple years — maybe longer.

Now, Sakic and Roy, along with Adam Foote when he was the defensive coach for the Colorado Avalanche, were known for participating in scrimmages after practices on occasion. However, those weren’t full games, obviously.

When asked if he still had a shot, Sakic laughed, “You’re going to have to ask the goalies. I don’t think so. I’d like to pretend I do. I go home, I tell [wife] Deb and the kids that I do, but I’m sure it’s not the same.”

When asked about the flow of the game, Sakic said the following:

"“The first period’s going to be getting into the game, try and get the flow going. I’ve talked to some of the Detroit guys. [They say] if the game’s close, the intensity will pick up.”"

Sakic didn’t get to be a Hall of Fame NHL player by taking the game casually. Indeed, he admits his main focus for playing well in the game is he doesn’t want his teammates and himself to embarrass themselves. He admits:

"“Obviously we’re not going to be at the peak conditioning and our abilities that we once were. We’re going to want to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves and try and put on a decent show.”"

Interestingly, Joe Sakic doesn’t admit the Alumni Game is the more anticipated game. Naturally, he prefers to put the focus on the regular season game that happens on February 27. Nonetheless, Sakic’s going to try and get another skate in before the game.

Next: Patrick Roy in Goal Again

The Colorado Avalanche vs Detroit Red Wings Alumni Game takes place on Coors Field 5:00 pm on February 26.