It’s August, which means things are very, very quiet around the NHL, and especially around the Colorado Avalanche.
That means now is as good a time as ever to start a new series where we take a look at some important names from the franchise’s history. Some of them are going to be bigger names, and some might not be as big, but if there was ever a time to look back, it’s now.
First up is my favorite player of all-time, Valeri Kamensky.
When I wrote my story on Mikko Rantanen months back about playing the off-wing, Kamensky was my actual inspiration. My childhood is full of memories of Kamensky flying down the left wing as a right handed shot, and wiring one-timers that were fed to him by Peter Forsberg. He’s the reason I wanted to play my off-wing. He just made it look so easy, when in reality, it’s a little more difficult. You have to be real good on your backhand, and that takes a high level of skill, especially to pull it off in the best league in the world.
Before making his way to North America, Kamensky accomplished a ton in Russia. He was the first Russian member of the Triple Gold Club, winning a Gold at the World Juniors, World Championships, Olympics, and eventually, winning a Stanley Cup. During the 1990-91 season, he was named the Soviet Union Player of the Year. At that point, the NHL was his next challenge.
Once he got to the NHL, he hit the ground running. With the Nordiques, he racked up 153 points in 173 games. When the franchise moved to Colorado, I fell in love with him as a player.
He was just so graceful on the ice. His long stride seemed to catch opposing defenders by surprise, as he would fly around them down the left wing. With his long reach, defenders struggled to get the puck away from him. The line of Kamensky, Forsberg, and Claude Lemieux will always go down as my favorite Avalanche line of all-time. Yes, I loved watching them more than the Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen trio.
Part of that is likely nostalgia, but the 90’s trio just had a little bit of everything. They had skill, they had power, and they could all mix it up physically. Kamensky was the least likely of the three to mix it up of the three, but he had his run-ins. Who could forget him sucker punching Ulf Samuelsson? No one likes a sucker punch, but if it’s against Samuelsson, it can be forgiven.
If you want to watch a fun powerplay, go back and watch the Avalanche powerplay in the mid-90’s. Kamensky, Forsberg, Lemieux, Joe Sakic, and Sandis Ozolinsh could do whatever they wanted with the man advantage. The Instagram link below has several videos showing their dominance and puck movement.
That first year in Colorado was Kamensky’s best in the NHL. He set career high’s in goals, assists, and points, and was a point-per-game player in the playoffs, helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup.
In his four years with the Avalanche, he scored 261 points in 289 games, and saved his best hockey for the playoffs, scoring 58 points in 56 games. He was a true joy to watch, and scored one of the more beautiful goals in NHL history.
After catching the puck in his skates on his way to the net, he spun around, and while falling, smacked it with his backhand through John Vanbiesbrouck’s legs.
After the 1998-99 season, he left as a free agent, signing with the New York Rangers, but it never worked out for him anywhere else. At that point, he was getting deeper into his 30’s, and wasn’t the same player he used to be. In 2002, he returned to Russia, and played two more seasons before retiring from playing in 2005 at the age of 39.
So here’s the Valeri Kamensky, one of the best wingers to ever wear an Avalanche uniform. I’d argue he’s one of the most talented players to ever come through the organization. He was a huge part of the dominant Colorado teams of the 90’s, and helped bring Denver its first team championship back in 1996.
What are some of your favorite Kamensky memories?