Colorado Avalanche: Facing the Minnesota Wild Rivalry


The Colorado Avalanche are not ready to foment a rivalry with the Minnesota Wild.

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The Colorado Avalanche were renowned in the 1990s and early 2000s for their rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings. At the time, both teams were elite. It was a good bet one would have to get through the other to get to the Stanley Cup.

The glory days of the Colorado Avalanche waned, our star players retired, and the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference. The rivalry wasn’t there anymore, though longtime Avs fans will always look askance at Detroit red.

Avs Nation started casting around for a new rival. Unfortunately, when you’re not an elite team heading to the playoffs every year, that deep-seated hatred is hard to foment.

Enter the Minnesota Wild.

I’d say prior to the 2013-14 season, Avalanche fans didn’t think much about the Minnesota Wild. Indeed, in that season, Colorado beat the Wild in their five-game series 4-1. When the Avalanche clinched the playoffs and then won the Central Division, our glory days seemed to be upon us again. We started eyeing elite teams such as the LA Kings and, especially, Chicago Blackhawks as potential rivals.

The Chicago Blackhawks were almost our rivals in the 1990s, see, and there’s all those annoying Hawks fans in Pepsi Center. Indeed, when it looked like the Colorado Avalanche were going to face the Blackhawks in the first round, we started rubbing our hands together with villainous glee.

The announcement that our first-round opponent would be the Minnesota Wild was a letdown. But, as our coach and player hero Patrick Roy said, that just meant all those Blackhawks fans would have to sell their tickets on eBay.

I, like so many other Avs fans, didn’t take the threat of the Wild seriously.

And then the first round of the 2014 playoffs happened. You know what went down. If you don’t, here’s a quick run-down:

  • The Colorado Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead at home.
  • The Avalanche couldn’t score in Minnesota.
  • Minnesota goon Matt Cooke took out Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit.
  • The series went back and forth until it forced a Game 7.
  • Minnesota forward Nino Niederreiter scored in overtime, and the Wild won the series.

Unfortunately, that series heralded problems that would plague the Colorado Avalanche as a team — or, rather, exposed the problems that had been present for awhile but were overshadowed by the euphoria of Joe Sakic’s and Patrick Roy’s first season at the team’s helm:

  • Colorado Avalanche players have difficulty scoring, especially in big games.
  • Avalanche players can’t shut out games late.
  • Colorado players don’t play adequate defense.

Since that series, two things have happened, and they’re related. The Colorado Avalanche have won only two games in 10 meetings against the Minnesota Wild, and Avalanche fans’ hatred of that team has grown.

We have so many chirps to toss their way. Minnesota is the so-called State of Hockey, yet the Wild’s  history is so thin, the front offices had to hang a banner commemorating the fans to keep the rafters from being empty. Colorado, of course, has this:

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Minnesota lost its original hockey team, the North Stars, who promptly went on to win a Stanley Cup after being relocated to Dallas. Colorado had lost the Rockies in the 1980s, but had defeated the new team, the New Jersey Devils, in the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Minnesota couldn’t sell out their Stadium Series Game (though they won it), while Colorado sold out Coors Field (but lost).

The Wild massively overpay two stars, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, which hinders their maneuvering under the salary cap. The Avalanche have a couple unfortunate contracts, but they’re not as ruinous.

The Wild’s colors are garish Christmas hues, while the Avalanche have elegant burgundy and blue outlined in silver.

Married Wild captain Mikko Koivu impregnated his mistress. Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog is unmarried and, as far as we know, hasn’t impregnated anyone — and certainly not adulterously.

Yeah, it’s starts getting even sillier.

Here’s the cold, hard truth of the matter: The Minnesota Wild have won the rivalry. Or, more accurately, the Colorado Avalanche have lost the rivalry.

It takes a lot of grit and passion to sustain a rivalry for even a season, much less over several seasons. Players have to be infused with hyper-confidence bordering on cockiness. They have to have the reserves to dig deep beyond even what’s necessary for a tough game. They have to have a whole other level to reach when that rivalry reaches playoff intensity.

The current Colorado Avalanche aren’t made of that stuff. I don’t think the Minnesota Wild players are either, but that’s their purview.

The cold, hard, ugly truth is that I can count on one hand the players on the current Colorado Avalanche roster who have the passion, grit, intensity and pure mean to fight in a rivalry. Basically, it’s Cody McLeod, Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog, and they’re not impervious.

Unfortunately, the other core players have it in them to wilt in big, rival games. I think Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon can come along eventually. Both Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov are dumpster fires in games of this intensity and physicality.

Otherwise, the Colorado Avalanche is comprised of players who weren’t around for that 2014 series. Players like Francois Beauchemin, Jarome Iginla, Blake Comeau and Shawn Matthias are capable of the grit and passion, they just don’t have a reason to feel it.

So, where do we go from there. Honestly, I hate the Minnesota Wild as much as I ever hated the Detroit Red Wings. It’s a different hate, though. I respected the Red Wings but had confidence that my team would prevail.

With the Minnesota Wild, my hate is of the frustrated variety — like a kid crying because a bully just sucker punched him and stole his lunch money. You’d like to think the bully will be brought to justice, but the truth is it probably won’t be at the kid’s hand.

The last two seasons justice was at the Chicago Blackhawks’ hands, and if that doesn’t add insult to injury, I don’t know what does.

So, Avs Nation, it might be time to put the “rivalry” with the Minnesota Wild on the back burner. We’ve got plenty to focus on for our own team. We’ve also got to find a way to come together again — this player vs. coach schism has been destructive on us all.

Next: Avs Team Structure

We’ll be great again. Even in the midst of all our rebuilding, we managed to hang another, legitimate banner — the 2014 Central Division Champions banner. Once the chemistry of the team has been sorted out, and we have players with the grit and passion necessary for deep playoff runs, we’ll find another rival.

Indeed, Avs Nation, we’ll find a rivalry worthy of our Colorado Avalanche.