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Stanley Cup Final

DATER: Memories of 1996 Avalanche Cup Final And Today Are Downright Eerie



Hans Deryk/AP

Does life just repeat itself in some weird way? Is everything a cycle? Is there a parallel universe? I think about this kind of S a lot. Your humble correspondent, first off, thinks way, way, way, way too hard about things sometimes. I have an OCD mind – a blessing sometimes, a curse at others. When it comes to my time covering the Avalanche, I feel like this is some kind of weird new act, in a Parallel Universian kind of way.

So, the Avalanche are up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final against a team from Florida. Twenty-six years ago this month, I was in Florida for a Stanley Cup Final Game 3 against the other team from that big state down south with the Atlantic bordering on most of it.  Game 1 of that 1996 Cup Final was a close game in favor of the Avs. Game 2 was a seven-goal differential in favor of Colorado, 8-1.

That series finished a sweep. Is this going to happen again, albeit with new principal actors, a new location and in a different time? Heck if I know.

I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about how similar this all feels from that time – in a totally different way. Am I making any sense?

Some stories from 1996 Cup Final:

  • I’ve mentioned this before, but the time I thought the Avalanche had that first Cup well in hand was being part of a small media scrum with Patrick Roy, just outside the Avalanche dressing room at the old McNichols Sports Arena. It was after Game 1, a 3-1 Avalanche win in which the underdog, Rat Pack Panthers had a 1-0 lead into the second period at a very nervous McNichols. Goals by Scott Young, Uwe Krupp and Mike Ricci made it a 3-1 final.
  • Roy was standing against wall in the hallway bisecting the Avalanche room from the outer part of the lower bowl. He had a foot up against the wall, and had an utterly carefree demeanor. He smiled a lot and laughed easily. He knew the series was over – he told me this many years later. He said he just knew. Florida had their best shot at getting an early jump, but didn’t do it. The game the next night was an 8-1 Avalanche romp, featuring a natural hat trick from Peter Forsberg.
  • A lot of people have asked me this today: “Is this the best Avs team ever?”
  • Gotta win two more games, then I can take an honest crack at that answer.
  • But, like a lot of you, I think that might have been the best game I ever saw the Avalanche play last night. That game brings back – unfortunately – memories of another moment in the team’s past. The Avalanche lost a Game 3 in Detroit in the 1997 Western Conference finals. They were the defending Stanley Cup champs. Patrick Roy and Claude Lemieux sat at a makeshift media podium inside Joe Louis Arena and were defiant in the wake of media questions wondering if their time as champion was up. “Let’s play,” Roy said. “They haven’t seen our best game yet.”
  • And, the Red Wings would not see it that next night, either. Detroit won easy, making it a 3-1 series. Steven Stamkos, who last night looked like a cross between Fagin from “Oliver Twist” and Merle Haggard, said, essentially, the Avalanche haven’t seen the Lightning’s best game yet and cautioned the media about writing the Lightning’s obit just yet.
  • (By the way: Avalanche-Red Wings ESPN film “Unrivaled” airs this coming Sunday. You won’t want to miss it. And not just because yours truly will appear in it. Oh, and did someone say this book helped in the production of it? Oh, shame on me for mentioning that).
  • You can’t count anybody out though. Avalanche fans should NOT get overconfident right now. Or, do we all not remember the Vegas series of last year?
  • The Lightning are going to give it everything they’ve got tomorrow night. They are two-time defending Cup champs. Granted, the first Cup was when they had $18 million more in payroll than others teams, and beat Dallas in a bubble final in Edmonton. And, granted, the second Cup was against a team from their own conference in a weirdly constructed playoff format, in a brutally awful series played with few fans in Montreal. Both Cups entailed shortened seasons. But, hey, they won them. They are no doubt proud of those rings and will bring everything they have to tomorrow’s game to defend them.
  • The Lightning are up against a real team this time, in a real season. So, let’s see what they’ve got tomorrow.
  • And I know that sounds petty. But, yeah, I’ve had some reservations against this “dynasty” Lightning team for a while now. They won two Cups in non-traditional years. So, sorry, but that just isn’t the same, no matter how much their apologist boosters want to say.
  • One thing I’m worried about still with the Avalanche: 1. Can Kuemper play a real money game on the road? 2. If Burakovsky is out, along with Kadri, is that too much forward depth to miss in a game like this?
  • This next game is really going to say a lot about the Avs. Although, I’ll say this: I thought the Avs were reverting back to their old, choking self in Game 5 at home against St. Louis in the second round. And, they proved me wrong, with that Darren Helm buzzer-beater winner to clinch the series. But, it doesn’t change the fact that the Avs still have one more hurdle to leap across to be the champions of the hockey world. Game 3 is tomorrow night at 6 mountain time on ABC.
  • A couple more memories from 1996 Cup Final: 1. Mark Kiszla buying me a pair of board shorts in the Miami Beach Sheraton, when he wanted to go walking along the beach but I only packed long pants. I still have those shorts in a drawer. Picture me in 1990s-style shorts walking in penny loafers on the beach, and you get the unfortunate picture of me in 1996. This might come as a shock, but I had no girlfriend at that time.
  • Meeting Jack Nicklaus before Game 3 at Miami Arena,.
  • Game 4 ended at about 1 a.m. eastern time. Story filed at about 2 am. just in time to beat midnight mountain time Denver Post deadlines. Guys from Hockey News gave me ride to NHL postgame media shindig, with free booze and shrimp. Back to hotel at about 3:30 a.m., one hour of “sleep” after mucho wino and shrimpo.  4:30 cab to airport by 5, on plane by doors closed at 5:45 or so.
  • Wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.
  • Parade coverage the next day.

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