Colorado Avalanche players celebrating one of the franchise's two Stanley Cup victories to date. Photo courtesy of the NHL
Colorado has a long and complicated history with the game of hockey, with the sport gaining prominence in 1948 when the state hosted the very first NCAA men’s hockey national championship game, to its dropoff in the early ’80s, and then its reemergence in 1995.
With two collegiate programs combining for 10 national championship trophies and two Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters of the Pepsi Center in Denver, hockey is thriving statewide, especially now that the sport has a stable National Hockey League presence in the Colorado Avalanche.
Narrowing this list to just five significant moments was difficult, so a bit of cheating was involved — merging the Avs’ two Stanley Cup victories, for example, into one pick. Some signature moments had to be left off as well, such as the University of Denver’s initial rise to domination in NCAA tournament play in the '60s, and the brief tenure of the Colorado Rockies franchise, an NHL club which called Denver home from 1976 to 1982, before moving to New Jersey and becoming the Devils.
After reading the selections below, be sure to vote for your favorite in the poll.
Colorado College was the first collegiate program in the Centennial State to win a NCAA men’s hockey national championship, claiming its first national title with a 13-4 defeat of Boston University in 1950. In what was just the third Frozen Four played, the Tigers’ Chris Ray scored four goals to help his team claim the hardware. Colorado College, which was coached by Cheddy Thompson, competed in a Frozen Four played in Colorado Springs that also included Boston College and Michigan. Colorado College defeated Boston College 10-3 in the semifinal round. All tourney games were played at Broadmoor Ice Palace, which was closed and demolished in 1994.
Colorado Springs played a significant role in college hockey’s early years, hosting the sport’s national tournament in the middle of the 20th century. The first 10 NCAA men’s hockey Frozen Fours were played in Colorado Springs from 1948 to 1957. Colorado College played in four of the championship games and won two of them. During that span, Michigan appeared in the most national title contests (7) and won the most championships (6), with the Wolverines’ lone blemish coming in a 13-7 loss to Colorado College in 1957. All Frozen Four games were played at the Broadmoor Ice Palace, which was the home of Colorado College’s hockey program.
The University of Denver is tied with North Dakota as the second most successful program in NCAA men’s hockey history with eight national championships, as the Pioneers trail Michigan by just one national title. The Pioneers won five championship banners between 1958 and 1969, but then they went dormant — failing to win another championship for the rest of the 20th century. With a program helmed by coach George Gwozdecky, the Pioneers reclaimed their old form in the 2000s, winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. The team knocked off Maine 1-0 to win the top prize in 2004, and they took down North Dakota 4-1 the following year. The victories returned the program to prominence, cementing the Pioneers as the state’s top collegiate team.
Former Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy. Photo courtesy of the NHL
In the latter decades of the 20th century, there wasn’t a lot for Colorado hockey fans to be excited about until the Colorado Avalanche set up shop and quickly established a winning program. The Avalanche played their first game in Denver in 1995, and by the end of their first season in the state, the team had won the Stanley Cup — the first of two. The Avs defeated the Florida Panthers in a four-game sweep with team captain Joe Sakic earning the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is presented to the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs each season. The team won its second Stanley Cup five years later, as Colorado took down the New Jersey Devils in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final in 2001. Goaltender Patrick Roy received the Conn Smythe Trophy that postseason.
Prior to the Quebec Nordiques relocating to Colorado and being reborn as the Avalanche, the state hadn’t had a National Hockey League team to call its own since 1982, when the Rockies moved from Denver to the East Coast where they became the New Jersey Devils. The Rockies, who played in Colorado for just six seasons, were bottom-dwellers, missing the playoffs all but one season. When the Nordiques became the Avalanche in 1995, the state didn’t just get an NHL club again — it got a winner. The Avs quickly won a Stanley Cup their first season, moved into the Pepsi Center in 1999, and then they won another Stanley Cup in 2001. With league stars like Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy as part of the team’s roster in the early years, the Avs quickly established themselves as contenders and they didn’t miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs until the 2006-07 season.
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