DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche are headed back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years, when the historic 2000-’01 team brought home the franchise’s second cup.
Avs fans who live in Colorado will be able to watch every game of the Final on Denver7 after most of the previous playoff series have been broadcast on TNT. The date for Game 1 has not yet been set, as the Eastern Conference Finals are still in progress. The league has said Game 1 will be held on either June 15 or June 18.
The Avs’ appearance in the Final has been more than two decades in the making. After they won the Stanley Cup in 2001, they lost the following season in the Western Conference Finals.
This year is the Avalanche’s 11th playoff appearance since they lost in the conference finals in 2002, though they have not reached even the conference finals in any of those series. They have missed the playoffs in eight seasons since 2002.
The 21-year Stanley Cup Final drought means Colorado’s oldest players – Jack Johnson and Darren Helm are both 35 – were 14 years old the last time the Avalanche were in the Final.
Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram was born four days after the 2000-’01 Avalanche team won the Stanley Cup. He’ll celebrate his 21st birthday next Monday, June 13.
And current Avalanche Executive Vice President and General Manager Joe Sakic was the captain of the 2001 team that won the Cup, led the team with 118 points that season and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP.
This year’s team and the 2000-’01 team share some similarities. The Avs finished with 119 points this year, just behind Florida for the Presidents’ Trophy. The 2000-’01 Avs won the Presidents’ Trophy with 118 points in the regular season. Both were top Western Conference seeds in the playoffs.
Both teams had multiple All-Stars: Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy and coach Bob Hartley in the 2000-’01 season, and Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Nazem Kadri and coach Jared Bednar this season.
Both teams also had to go through the St. Louis Blues to reach the final – this year’s team in the second round, with a 4-2 series win, and the 2000-’01 team in the Western Conference Finals, which the Avalanche won 4-1.
That year’s team would win the Cup at home in Denver 3-1 in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils. This year’s team will either face the startup New York Rangers or two-time defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
Denver went wild after the Avalanche won its second Stanley Cup in franchise history – its first coming five years earlier in 1996, in their first season in Denver after moving from Quebec City, Quebec, where they were the Nordiques.
The Associated Press reported about 5,000 fans spilled into the streets, lit bonfires and fireworks and climbed street poles. Sixty-three people were arrested and another 50 were taken to detox centers, the AP reported, and about 700 officers were deployed in the city compared to 40 on a typical evening.
“Andrew Hudson, a spokesman for Mayor Wellington Webb, said he thought the crowd was celebratory, but not as violent as in years past,” the AP reported at the time, citing riots after Broncos Super Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999, and the Avalanche's ’96 Cup win, as precedents.
It remains to be seen whether fans will do the same in the event the Avalanche win the Cup this year – but fans in Colorado are due for another major sports championship, which would be the first since the Broncos won the Super Bowl in early 2016.
Denver could essentially become this year’s hockey capital of the U.S. if the Avalanche win – as it would mean the professional, collegiate and high school national champions this year all hail from the city. The University of Denver Pioneers won their ninth NCAA title in April, and in late March, the Denver East hockey team won the national championship at a tournament in Texas.