My wife says no one grudges harder than me and it’s an unenviable family trait she hopes I don’t pass down to our kids.
I also have a good memory. Not for birthdays, anniversaries, names of coworkers or my wife’s cell phone number… but I can tell you who scored the Game 3 overtime winner against Vancouver in 2001 (Peter Forsberg).
Now combine a good memory, an undying passion for the Avalanche and an inability to let things go… and you have me. All that together — combined with a disdain for the fan base from my college days (more on that later) — and you have my general demeanor toward the New York Rangers.
If you’re reading this, you are an Avalanche fan. I don’t know why you would be reading this if you weren’t. So you probably hate the Wild, Blues or Red Wings. I’m right there with you. But, for my money, there is nothing more satisfying than beating the Broadway Blueshirts.
I can pinpoint exactly where it came from: I really wanted the Canucks to win the 1994 Stanley Cup. Kirk McLean was so cool. Those uniforms are still some of my all-time favorite sweaters. With my beloved Nordiques still teetering on irrelevancy in 1994, a year away from that first-place finish in the lockout season, I was pulling for the Canucks that spring to go all the way. They didn’t.
That didn’t really sour me too much on New York. I was nine and a casual bandwagon fan of the Canucks that year. Oh well, right?.
Then came the 1995 season. It started late because of the work stoppage and labor dispute. I was just getting into playing hockey at that point in my young life and didn’t fully grasp the concept of why the NHL wasn’t playing. But when it did, Quebec rolled to a 30-13-5 record and first place in the Eastern Conference led by team captain and underrated superstar Joe Sakic and league rookie of the year Peter Forsberg.
Things looked promising for a 10-year old Pat Salvas and his quirky pick of a favorite team (at least by the standards of other kids in southern New Hampshire) as we headed into the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the defending champs. You’ll have to forgive me if that aforementioned memory is a bit fuzzy when it comes to the ’95 Rangers, but I feel like they had a very evident Cup hangover and stumbled to an eighth-place finish in the conference and a date with the up-start Nordiques. A Game 1 win and a hat trick from Sakic had me feeling good. I thought this was the year.
Quebec lost in six games. The last of which came in Madison Square Garden. What I remember most was the team in those beautiful blue jerseys leaving the ice and those friggin’ robots Fox used to use for broadcasts dancing all over the screen when they did the recap of the game (the game was actually on ESPN, but I remember the Fox-bots for some reason).
I didn’t understand at the time that it would be the last time we would witness a Quebec Nordiques game (unless our friend Gary B decides otherwise). For a 10-year-old, it didn’t seem real for a team to just move to another city and cease to exist in the form I was accustomed to. It happened, though. I stuck with the team in the move and everything worked out for me, I guess.
Then came 1997. The Rangers offer-sheeted Sakic, an restricted free agent. I have always hated the Rangers for that move, and still to this day say “how dare you” when thinking about it. The reality of the situation is our beloved and cherished franchise legend appeared to want to go to the Big Apple, otherwise, why sign the offer sheet?
That’s neither here nor there. I was 12 and furious. I’m 37 and still furious. No one grudges harder than me. How dare you!
Seven years later, I went to college in Connecticut. I like to think Devon Toews saw my work as a Quinnipiac University Sports Information intern and graduate assistant and was sold on the school during the recruitment process. The thing to know about Quinnipiac is that it is right off I-91, a highway that literally divides the state in half. On the western side, you have New York fans, while the eastern half of the Nutmeg State usually associates more closely with Boston teams.
I went to four years of undergrad and two years of graduate school with so many Rangers fans that my illogical childhood disdain for them was reignited and has yet to subside.
That brings us to last night. Fourteen years removed from graduation, and I still text my buddy before puck drop that our friendship is on a two-hour pause. It’s both mutual respect and hatred. I hate his team and he probably hates me because I make a big deal of these games and it’s not even a blip on his radar. But we respect each other’s passion for our teams.
If you remember, the Avs and Rangers played the final NHL game in 2020 before the COVID shutdown. At the time — some godforsaken hour after midnight because it was an 8 p.m. Denver start time — it was just an awesome 3-2 overtime win with J.T. Compher getting the winner and giving me bragging rights (edited to reflect the correct goal scorer, not Cale Makar). The days that followed gave us the four-month pause and the end of the Avs’ promising regular season.
As unfortunate as the situation was, I owned bragging rights over my buddy Dan that much longer because of the break.
Those were challenging, frustrating and uncertain times with no one really knowing what to do. I was home all day with two kids under three, losing my mind with each continued viewing of Baby Shark. However, when I think back on that time, I’m grateful the time with my kids that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.
And I’m grateful the Avalanche beat the Rangers right under the wire.
So thank you, Alexandar Georgiev and Evan Rodrigues for Tuesday night’s win. Thank you, Andrew Cogliano for your forecheck and Logan O’Connor for waiting a split second before shooting. Thank you, Valeri Nuchushkin for continuing to be an absolute beast. And thank you, Chris Drury for trading your goalie this summer.
And my friend Dan? Dan, if you read this, please know that I both love you immensely and hate everything (well… not everything) you stand for. Our friendship is un-paused… until Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET.