In this edition of Why Not Us we take a look at the Colorado Avalanche at the dawn of a new millennium in the 1999-2000 season and their first season in the Pepsi Center.
Welcome to the fourth installment of Why Not Us and our look back at the often forgotten seasons of Colorado Avalanche hockey. With the last edition, we looked at the 1998-99 season and how the Avalanche ended up making a pivotal move for Theo Fleury to salvage a rocky start and make a postseason push.
In this retrospective, we examine the 1999-2000 season and what moves and moments ended up playing a part in the 2000-2001 Stanley Cup that came the following year.
Before the Colorado Avalanche started the 1999-2000 season, the team already had their fanbase buzzing on two separate fronts. The positive news surrounding the Avalanche was they would be playing in the newly constructed Pepsi Center, as part of a major sports venue upgrade in Denver which included Coors Field and Mile High Stadium. The old McNichols Sports Arena in which the Avs used to call home, would be torn down to provide additional parking for Mile High Stadium.
The negative news, however, would be that the Avalanche would be taking the ice in Pepsi Center without Theo Fleury who they traded for in ’98-99. The Avalanche opted to not re-sign the top 10 scoring right-wing and he ultimately ended up signing with New York Rangers for ’99-’00.
The Colorado Avalanche would end up starting the 1999-2000 season on the road on October 5th,1999 against the Nashville Predators in the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The Avalanche wanted to validate their belief in the current roster and their move away from Fleury with a strong start to the season.
The Avs played a tight game with the pre-Smashville Predators and ended up stealing a road win in the 3rd period with a game-winning, power-play goal by team captain Joe Sakic. A new addition to the ’99-’00 NHL season was that one point would be awarded for an overtime loss yet games could also still result in a tie. So by the time of the home opener in the Pepsi Center on October 13th, the Avalanche had a record of 1 win 2 losses 2 ties and 0 overtime losses which is displayed as 1-2-2-0.
With that confusion aside (And trust me I’m a history and stat geek and that stat still confuses me) ,the Colorado Avalanche welcomed the Boston Bruins to the brand new Pepsi Center for their home opener. These aren’t the same Bruins that we know today because the B’s rolled into Denver winless and the Avalanche used it to their advantage to show off in their new arena.
With goals by Milian Hejduk and Adam Foote, the Avs beat the Bruins 2-1 to open the home slate with a win and bring their record to 2-2-2-0. The Avalanche would end the month of October with a 5-5-2-1 record beginning to mirror the mediocre start they had in the previous season.
At the beginning of November, Colorado Avalanche management tried to make a move to shake things up as they did last year by making a trade. This trade, in contrast to last year’s acquisition of talent in Theo Fleury, saw the Avalanche trading away Claude Lemieux to the New Jersey Devils for Brian Rolston.
The Avalanche would not see the same benefit of this trade as they would flounder through the next 3 months and ending the month of February just two games above the .500 mark. Then with injuries to Sakic, Forsberg, and Roy to name a few, throughout the season, the Avs found themselves in unfamiliar territory with two months left in the season.
The Colorado Avalanche began the month of March with two wins at home, bringing their record to 30-26-20-1. But management had one more trick up their sleeve. On March 6th, 2000 the Avalanche went back in the well and made a trade with the Boston Bruins in which they acquired Dave Andreychuk and, more notably, Ray Bourque.
The aging Bourque had requested to play with a Stanley Cup contender in efforts to finally add a championship to his storied career, subsequently making this trade a possibility for the Avs. With the addition of the future Hall of Fame defenseman, this provided the Avs with a jolt of confidence they needed to which they rattled off a six-game winning streak. The Avalanche would end the season on a separate eight-game winning streak securing them a record of 42-28-22-1 and the Northwest division title.
The Colorado Avalanche found themselves back in the playoffs for the 5th straight year since the move from Quebec. The Avalanche would have their initial first-round matchup be against the Phoenix Coyotes in their third year since the move from Winnipeg. The Coyotes would have a very impressive roster consisting of Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Lyle Odelein, and Shane Doan but would prove to be no match for the now white-hot Avalanche.
Colorado would continue the winning streak they had going into the playoffs by winning the first 3 games against Phoenix. The Coyotes would take Game 4 in Arizona with a game-winning goal by Mikael Renberg but would lose Game 5 to a Peter Forsberg series-winning goal in the third period.
As we have grown accustomed to in the Why Not Us series, the Colorado Avalanche would be facing the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs. This year however the Avalanche found themselves rolling with dominant confidence and carried that into this series as well.
The Wings had their typically stacked roster of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Chelios, and Chris Osgood among others get them to a second-place finish in the Central division, but the Avs didn’t care. The Avalanche shut out the Red Wings in Game 1 with goals from Forsberg and Ozolinsh and beat them again in Denver in Game 2 behind Roy’s 29 saves.
The Wings would get their only win of the series scoring 2 of their 3 goals off the power-play in Game 3. The Avalanche wrapped up games 4 and 5 and their series against their heated rival and set their sights on the Western Conference finals.
The Colorado Avalanche made a habit of drawing parallels with the ’98-’99 season in many ways throughout the year and it would show up again in the repeat of last year’s Western Conference Finals matchup with the Dallas Stars. The defending Stanley Cup champions led by Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Sergei Zubov, and Ed Belfour eliminated the Avalanche last year on their way into the Finals.
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This year, however, the Avs attempted to reverse that outcome by shutting out the Stars in Game 1 by a score of 2-0. The two teams would alternate wins through the first 4 games of the finals coming into Game 5 knotted at two games apiece. The Stars, however, after winning Game 4 would be the first to break the trend by winning Game 5 in overtime with a goal by Joe Nieuwendyk.
The Avalanche would return the favor in Game 6 by beating the Stars 2-1 with the game-winning goal coming from Chris Drury in the 3rd period, forcing a Game 7. Colorado was facing Dallas in a Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row, and they quickly found themselves in an uphill climb.
Both Adam Foote and Dave Andreychuk took penalties in the first period in which Dallas turned into power-play goals putting the Avs down 2 going into the 2nd period. Roman Lyashenko of the Stars tacked on one more goal in the second period for good measure, making the lead almost insurmountable. In the 3rd period, the resilient Avs scored a shorthanded goal from Peter Forsberg and then Milian Hejduk scored 3 minutes later, but it wasn’t enough to win the game. For the second year in a row, the Avs were bounced in Game 7 by the Stars. But unlike last year, the Stars would lose the Cup to the New Jersey Devils in 6 games.
The Colorado Avalanche found themselves mirroring many aspects of the year prior. However they ended with churning confidence and momentum they had lacked in previous seasons. The Avalanche at the end of this year found themselves believing in the make-up of their roster and the direction that management and Bob Hartley had them heading.
As a spoiler to no one reading this entry, the Avalanche would end up winning the 2000-2001 Stanley Cup with the roster rallying around Ray Bourque, thus cementing his legendary career. The next edition of Why Not Us will be around the 2001-2002 Avalanche and how they followed up their Cup win.
Also, this should not come as a spoiler but 2001 was the last time the Avs hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. Therefore, there is no “light at the end of the tunnel” bookending these entries because future installments of this series will detail some of the darker days of the franchise. So buckle up because we will be diving into the teams post-2001 that has become a blind spot to many fans of today.