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February 19, 2021

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Other recent related Avalanche commentaries:

Lake Tahoe: The morning after 

Omnibus interview with Joe Sakic

Pierre Lacroix's legacy

Cup or Bust? And has it really been 25 years? 

 

Plus:

"Rocky ... Really Rocky .. Hockey" excerpt from Playing Piano in a Brothel 

 

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The Avalanche will wear its reverse-retro jerseys Saturday afternooon against Vegas in the outdoor game alongside Lake Tahoe, on the outdoor rink built on the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

 

The wardrobe gambit -- part of an NHL-wide marketing tool involving all 31 teams -- salutes the franchise's days as the Quebec Nordiques, one of four World Hockey Association franchises absorbed by the NHL for the 1979-80 season.


One of their opponents was ... the Colorado Rockies.


What about them?

 

I've been on this soapbox before -- many times, I'll concede -- but it seems to strike a chord.   

 

The NHL allows franchises to set their own historical boundaries. Yet it rankles me that the New Jersey Devils' records and annals completely ignore the franchise's roots as the expansion Kansas City Scouts and then six seasons as the Rockies.

 

I covered them for the final five seasons of their tenure in Denver and enjoyed it as an eventful training ground for a young scribe, and came back to NHL coverage and commentary when and since the Avalanche arrived in Denver in 1995.

 

During the Rockies' stay, I wrote about the on-ice product; ownership changes, both real and fallen-through; trades of Lanny McDonald, Barry Beck and more; arena lease terms, comparing them to those around the league; a revolving cast of coaches that included the bombastic Don Cherry; and finally the sale to John McMullen and the move to New Jersey, where I was among the media at the Meadowlands news conference hearing all assure us the New Jersey franchise (as yet unnamed) never would have an unsold ticket.

 

That's all part of my narrative in the book excerpt linked above. The Nordiques even make an appearance. One of the most bizarre incidents in the Rockies' tenure was a hallway stickfight during a Rockies-Nordiques game at McNichols Sports Arena in March 1980. That was in the final days of both Cherry's only season as Colorado's coach and the Nordiques' first season in the NHL.

 

Plus, I have to point out that while the franchise traded several stars in a futile attempt to add depth and improve, these Rockies never agreed to pay the Rangers or Flames to take the contracts off their hands.    

 

I also recently appeared with host Tim Hanlon on his "Good Seats Still Available" podcast episode about the Rockies. 

   

I fully recognize there are two separate issues here, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive. A team can acknowledge both: a) the franchise's heritage, including its other stops; and, b) the market's hockey heritage, beyond the existing franchise.  

 

The franchise's Quebec stay is part of the Avalanche's succcess story, especially since the foundation for two Stanley Cup championships was laid in Quebec -- including by Pierre Lacroix, who came to Denver with the team. I covered a handful of Rockies' games at Quebec; had many of the famous toasted-bun hot dogs at Le Colisee; returned with the Avalanche for a 2002 exhibition game and dined in the players' beloved Cafe de la Paix (where the owner, Benito Terzini, called Joe Sakic "Giuseppe"); and visited Patrick Roy for a post-retirement profile. So I had a feel for how the loss of the Nordiques was wrenching.       


Also, though, the biggest myth about Colorado sports is that nobody in the state knew the color of the blue line until the Avalanche arrived. Colorado has a deep-rooted hockey heritage. It hasn't always been glorious, but it's there. College hockey, pro minor-league hockey, the WHA Spurs, the Rockies. And though the big explosion came after the Avalanche came to Denver, youth hockey. That doesn't even get into the issue of how your neighbor might have been raised a Bruins fan who believed No. 22 always was Brad Pawk.

 

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One version of the Avalanche's third jersies has been at least reminiscent of the Rockies' much-admired uniforms and the team honored the former Rockies in 2015, bringing in, among others, Beck,  Wilf Paiement and McDonald for a game against Columbus. So the Avalanche hasn't ignored the Rockies. I'll grant that.

 

Also, I'm not against paying homage to the Avalanche's roots as the Nordiques. The inclusion of the Nordiques' NHL seasons in such things as records and season-by-season results is a classy gesture. It's so classy, it should be the norm. The norm for all franchises that have made multiple stops.  

 

But I also suggest "retro" here can be as much -- or more -- about Colorado's hockey heritage than about the Avalanche.

 

Even when the "retro' includes the star-crossed Rockies. 

 

So, yes, I wish the Avalanche was wearing Rockies' flashbacks Saturday. I doubt the Devils ever will.

 

The NHL can't legislate memories. But it can set standards that all franchises must consider their previous stops part of their heritage for record and annals purposes.

 

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Left: Anybody know what happened to this Rockies defenseman?  

Right: The Devils' reverse-retro jersey is ... a Devils' jersey.  

 
     

 

terry@terryfrei.com

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