You know those newspaper front pages that players hold up right after they've won a championship, the ones that make you think "How the heck did they print those so fast?" When the Avalanche won Game 7 against New Jersey to take the Stanley Cup in 2001, representatives of my newspaper, The Denver Post, distributed them to as many players and fans as they thought could hold them up in front of the ABC cameras.
There they were -- big broadsheet pages that said "Mission Accomplished" in 50-point type for the world to see. I could only hope that the cameras didn't zoom in too close to the copy under my byline on that front page.
Why? Because those things had to be done before I left for the New Jersey Meadowlands for Game 6, and there was no way in the world I thought they'd ever be printed. The Avs were down three games to two to the defending champs, having just been blown out at home in Game 5, and I freely admit I wrote them off. But the bosses said the four-page "special" had to be written anyway, just in case. So, before getting on the plane, I groggily penned the most cornball piece of fluff ever written. Any horrendous "seventh heaven" cliché or bad Avalanche pun I could think of -- "It's a landslide of joy!" -- ended up in the "story."
No worries, I thought, this will never see the light of day.
Silly me for having doubted the mighty Avalanche that year. They went on to win Game 6 in New Jersey by a 4-0 score and Game 7 at the Pepsi Center in Denver by 3-1. While those special editions are still sought by fanatic collectors of Avalanche memorabilia, they always make me cringe a little when I see them.
But that team made a lot of people look bad. It had one of the most star-studded rosters in NHL history. Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay were on the top two lines. The defense had a top-three of Rob Blake, Adam Foote and Ray Bourque. And in goal, of course, was the legendary Patrick Roy.
The Avs breezed through a 52-16-10-4 regular season to win the Presidents' Trophy while Roy broke the all-time NHL victory record of 447 previously held by Terry Sawchuk. There was also the great Bourque's emotional return to Boston for a game in March.
SI VAULT: Hoo-ray (06.18.01) by Michael Farber
There was, however, much adversity in the playoffs. The Avs nearly blew a second-round series against Los Angeles before winning in seven, and they learned they'd lost the formidable Forsberg to a ruptured spleen after celebrating their 5-1 deciding win over the Kings. They beat St. Louis in a five-game Western Conference Final that was closer than than the margin of victory suggests, and hopes for a Cup in Bourque's 22nd and final NHL season seemed lost after a dismal showing in that Game 5 against New Jersey.
Here's a story that's not very well known, which helps explain a lot about that Avs team:
Roy, always looking for a motivational edge, heard about a comment allegedly made by the wife (now the ex-wife) of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur before Game 6. Roy was told that Melanie Brodeur had said it would be "nice when we win another one." Roy then vowed not to allow another goal by the Devils the rest of the way, and to this day longtime Avs personnel say he's still mad about the power-play tally he allowed in Game 7 to Petr Sykora. The irascible goaltender bagged the Conn Smythe Trophy for the third time -- becoming the only player in league history to win it in three different decades.
Roy is still by far the cockiest athlete I've ever covered, and he could be difficult to deal with at times. But he always made for great copy. (I wish I'd gotten that vow in the paper after hearing of Mrs. Brodeur's comments, though.) He's been missed in Denver.
The overriding memory that everyone has of that Avalanche team, of course, is Bourque finally lifting the Cup after his last game. It was a marvelous moment for every hockey fan who was not from New Jersey.
Bourque was one of the first players to hold up that special edition newspaper after winning the Cup. I'm told he has a copy of it framed somewhere in his house.
Glad you have it, Ray, but I'd like to make one request: Can I do a rewrite?