Welcome to the dusting off and resumption of “Watching old Avalanche games”, kind of the PG hockey version of “Dave’s Old Porn.” As I said in my first installment (gulp) five years ago, call it “time capsule beat reporting.” About six years ago, a gift of about 500 Avalanche games from the past – all on VHS – was given to me as a gift. So, when I play them here, it’s for the first time ever that I’ve actually seen the broadcast. Most or all of these games, I was in the press box, not watching on TV.
To steal from Bill Simmons, I’ll keep something of a running diary of the game here, and tell stories. I mean, I’m old enough now where “telling stories about the past” is something I probably will have to start doing more and more. Today’s contest: April 18, 1999, Dallas Stars at Colorado. This game has some significance for one good reason: it was the final regular-season hockey game ever at McNichols Sports Arena.
Ah, Big Mac. I truly miss that place. I sooo wish they could have just kept it sitting somewhere intact as a museum. I mean, how many people around my age here experienced their first great live sporting events there? I loved Big Mac. People forget what a great building it was to see a game, no matter where you sat. The ceiling was fairly low, so it kept the crowd noise in better than the more airy Pepsi Center and other similar buildings of today.
When the denizens of Big Mac felt the urge to stomp their feet and howl to the rafters, that place got crazy loud. With a great team to cheer for in those days in the Avs, Big Mac was genuinely an intimidating place for opponents. I heard it all the time from players on other teams. “The crowd gave them a good advantage there tonight…”
OK, on to the game. To set up: the Stars came into this game as the NHL’s No. 1 team in points, the President’s Trophy secured with 112 points. The Avs were the Western Conference’s No. 2 team in points, with 96. There was nothing at stake for either of the two teams, as their playoff seedings were set. This was the Avs team with new acquisition Theo Fleury, in a season that started off at 0-4 for first-year coach Bob Hartley.
This was the season in which Pierre Lacroix was essentially forced to trade away his son, Eric, after some combustible reports in the beloved Denver Post surfaced describing the friction his presence caused in the dressing room. I’ve often said that ’98-99 season was the craziest team I ever covered, with so many big stories happening seemingly weekly.
The game tape I have is a Fox broadcast, with your play-by-play announcer Jiggs McDonald and color man Joe Micheletti. Fox used to have rights to NHL games, remember. I’m not sure if the glowing puck was in use at this time, but I guess I’ll find out as I now click play on my, yes, VCR, with the VHS tape inside.
Your goalies: Patrick Roy for the Avs and Manny Fernandez in net for the Stars. Eddie the Eagle obviously got the day off (maybe that extra rest was what proved beneficial later on in the playoffs).
First observation: isn’t Fox the one who gets credit for first putting the score and time always present in the corner of the screen? I seem to recall that being so. Kids today don’t know this, but when I was a boy, I bruised a lung all the time yelling at the TV: “Show us the score, tell us the score!” Anyway, we have the “Dal, Col” box nicely up in the top left corner here.
The Avs have a line of….SCOOORE. Joe Sakic just buried one past Fernandez, a little more than a minute in. Fleury came across the Stars blue line and saucered a cross to a wide open Sakic on the left side. Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov were your beaten D-men, with Mike Modano trailing. Sakic gave it that quick little wrister, and it’s 1-0 Avs already. That’s goal No. 41 for Sakic.
The Avs have a D-pairing on the ensuing shift of Greg de Vries and Sylvain Lefebvre. Two of the quietest guys ever.
OH MY GOD: A shot of Ken Hitchcock here, and he’s got lots of dark hair, with a Marlboro Man-style mustache. And guess what? Other than that, he looks exactly then as he does today: intense stare toward the ice, a bit of a grumpy bent too, often with his arms folded. There’s a reason why this guy is still coaching today. Because he’s great.
Michelleti informs us here that the Stars are without Derian Hatcher for this game, plus the first five games of the playoffs, for a vicious hit on Jeremy Roenick. Forgot about that.
The Avs had a line of Sakic, Fleury and Milan Hejduk. Hedgie was a rookie then, remember. Another line: Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury and Claude Lemieux.
AD BREAK: A Dodge Ram ad, with Edward Herrmann doing the narrating. “Dodge Ram, the Rules have Changed.”
An ad for MCI Worldcom. Remember MCI Worldcom?
We’re back, and the Avs are on the power play, after Craig Ludwig molested Forsberg behind the play. This was the clutch-and-grab, Dead Puck Era, don’t forget. Ludwig bear-hugged, hooked and tripped Foppa on the sequence. And, of course, griped all the way to the box.
ADS SPOTTED ON THE DASHER: US West, Wendy’s, MasterCard, Gart Sports, Starter, Conoco, Everen Securities.
The Avs do nothing on the power play. At times, there were just too many cooks in the kitchen with this team I think. Sakic, Fleury, Forsberg, Drury, Tanguay, Hejduk, Deadmarsh. Who gets the puck? Still, when they were on…
AD BREAK: An ad here for Oracle, the “e-business engine” of some of the “top websites”, with an early version of the Amazon logo. No doubt many at the time thought to themselves, “What the hell is the Internet.”
A Denis Leary ad for Quaker State. He just slammed an engine with a sledgehammer. “I wouldn’t lie to ya, they’re not paying me enough,” Leary says to the camera.
The logos on the ice at Big Mac at the time had ones for United Airlines, Geico Direct and Seaworld. Pretty sure the Seaworld one was for national broadcasts only.
GAME BREAK: Suzy Kolber is giving us an update (wait, Suzy Kolber worked the NHL for Fox???), and Sergei Samsonov has just scored for the Bruins to tie up Philly. There’s Pat Burns behind the Bruins bench (RIP).
No trapezoid back then, remember, so we’ve got lots of puck-handling by Roy here all over the place. He nearly just gave away a goal to Modano, but Saint Patrick bailed himself out with a great pad save. He did that from time to time.
Adam Foote and Alexei Gusarov on D here for the Avs. The Goose. Never once interviewed him. He always feigned not knowing English, but after that you’d hear him talk like you or me to a teammate. We never took it personally, because he was funny about it. He’d always say “We talk tomorrow!”
AD BREAK: A FedEx ad that finishes with Detroit players chasing some hapless keeper-of-the-Cup guy around on the ice for misplacing it in Bolivia.
Another Dodge Ram ad, with Herrmann talking. The Rules have indeed changed.
Here’s an in-game, pre-taped interview with the Avs’ Dale Hunter, talking about Wayne Gretzky’s final game (earlier that day, on Fox). Some extended banter here from Jiggs and Joe on the Great One. Why did he ever have to retire?
Paul Devorski is the referee for this one. Can’t say his name without thinking of March 26, 1997, the infamous Avs-Wings game at the Joe. He told some great stories about that night, and other things in my (book plug alert) book “Blood Feud.”
Brent Severyn just got a shot on goal for the Stars. Forgot he played on that Dallas team. Sevvy was the Avs’ enforcer in that 1996-97 season, and he hated the job. But he looked more like a bodybuilder than a hockey player, so he got the job by default.
Fernandez just totally robbed Hejduk with 3:12 left in the period, followed by an ad break with one of those lame twist-em hockey ads by Bud Light. A Pizza Hut New Yorker pizza ad next: a large, one-topping for $9.99. I’m getting hungry, even for retro pizza.
Back to action, Forsberg was just obstructed about five times on a dump-and-chase move into the Stars zone. Stars players might as well have just put a saddle on Foppa’s back. Here’s a shot of Pierre Lacroix sitting in his “luxury suite” at Big Mac. It was just an old TV/radio control room and a couple of chairs in it. Jiggs and Joe also show that it’ll be Colorado vs. San Jose in the first round of the playoffs. That series would be delayed by the terrible events of Columbine two days after this game. I drove right by the school that morning, on my way to an Avs practice that never took place. Ugh, horrible memories.
A Fox graphic: Stars were allowing 2.02 goals per game to this point of the season, tops in the league. That ends the first period, with the Avs holding on to that early Sakic-provided lead. This was how the games went back then. One goal a period was about all you’d expect.
AD BREAK: An ad for AirTouch cellular. AirTouch? Don’t remember them much, but they were indeed with us at one point.
Suzy Kolber at the Fox Studio desk, sponsored by Ram Tough. Lots of coverage of the Great One’s final game, and why not. Geez, has it really been that long since he played? There’s the Great One getting a new Mercedes from his father at Madison Square Garden. Think Walter asked the kid for the cash for that thing? Overall, nice tribute to Gretz to the tune of “I Will Remember You” by Sarah Macwhatsername.
AD BREAK: There’s that actor from the Omen III doing an ad for MCI Worldcom. Holy god, I’m starting to feel 8,000 years old now. Another Dodge ad narrated by Herrmann, this time for the new Dodge Caravan. Ads then – and much more so before that – always featured a voice-over narrator, with some goofy dialogue and even goofier actors. An ad for the “new series” on Fox, Family Guy. Too bad that show never caught on.
Second period underway, with the Avs coming out to the ice from an entrance behind the north-side net. Remember that?
First minute, Ludwig molests Forsberg again, no call. Sandis Ozolinsh and Aaron Miller were a defensive pair in this one. Ozo was more like a forward than a D-man, but boy was he a difference-maker many times for the Avs. He had no fear carrying the puck anywhere.
Pretty quiet at Big Mac as play continues. It’s obvious neither team was too motivated for this one, with all playoff spots locked up.
Game break: Flyers take a 2-1 lead on Boston on an Eric Desjardins goal. Claude Lemieux once tried to taunt Desjardins by yelling at the Flyers captain: “what’s the C stand for, selfish?”
Warren Rychel to the box for hooking at 2:56, part of a mandatory two-minute stick foul Rychel had to take in every game of his career.
And….the Stars take advantage with a PPG. Joe Nieuwendyk gets it, with an expert redirect of a Sergei Zubov shot from the point. Few players were as good on tips as Newy, and he just killed the Avs in these years (including in the playoffs for the following two years).
AD BREAK: Busch Beer. “BUUUUSCHHHHH”, with that pop-off top and steamy vapor trail. What happened to Busch Beer?
Avs PP on the return to action, with Ludwig whistled for chop-blocking Jeff Odgers in front. The ratio for Ludwig infractions-to-actual-calls was 1-10, so this was the one here. Mike Keane leads the penalty kill for the Stars. Prior to the Chris Drury trade to Calgary in 2002, the decision to let Keane go unrestricted in 1997 was probably the worst decision by Avs brass.
Why is Dale Hunter getting PP time here? He could barely skate by then. Nothing doing for the Avs on this one…
Drury is starting to assert himself. He was so good getting loose pucks around the net and either putting them back on net or, as he’s doing here, skating quickly with it and setting someone else up. The Avs have a third line in this one of Stephane Yelle, Shjon Podein and Jon Klemm. Forward time for Klemmer? Don’t forget, he scored two goals in Game 2 of the 1996 Cup Finals against Florida.
Fleury just got absolutely robbed by Fernandez. Theo went around the left end and beat the D-man clean (you never see that happen anymore), circled to the middle but Fernandez robbed him.
AD BREAK: OH MY GOD, REMEMBER THOSE ADS FOR PHONE CALLS USING 10-10-220??? We have one here, starring Dennis Miller. It’s official: I’m ancient. And OMG – I just found the very ad I saw here on YouTube. Enjoy!
Some pushing and shoving here, with Fleury right in the middle of it. Can we officially call him the toughest 5-foot-6 hockey player who ever lived? Ozolinsh gets called for a penalty as part of it. He’s not happy. But the Avs kill it off, with Roy making a nice pad save on Brett Hull, and another on Jamie Langenbrunner and then another on Grant Marshall.
Power play Avs now, with Ludwig sent to the box again. That means he gets nine straight no-calls coming up.
Nice chime in from Micheletti about Lemieux: he rented a house in California the previous summer right next to Gretzky, and that’s how they became great friends. Never knew how that started.
Games sure moved along slower then, it’s all coming back to me now. It took forever for the next faceoff. Not so in today’s game. This second period is really dragging from a million stops in play.
Roy keeps the game 1-1 after two with a strong exhibition of netminding on a late Stars PP, with Lefebvre in the box. The Stars got a 5-on-3 for about a minute, when Foote tackled Langenbrunner in front of the net. Of course, Foote was irate going off. Hartley is caught mouthing some clear F-bombs on the Fox feed to Devorski.
“I’ll be surprised if they do not score on this 5-on-3,” Micheletti says. Surpriise. The Stars overpassed their way out of the chance.
Intermission ad breaks: a couple more Dodge ads (think the NHL lacked sponsors back then?) and more Kolber talking about the Great One in the studio.
Moving right along, still 1-1 here with 15 minutes left. Forsberg’s starting to buzz a bit, taking pucks from behind the net and flying up the ice. That leads to some renewed clutch-and-grabbing of him by the Stars on ensuing shifts, followed by Forsberg looking incredulously at Devorski for lack of calls. No player got cheated against more than Peter Forsberg in his prime.
AD BREAK: One for Embassy Suites. Oh, I loooved Embassy Suites. I’m mostly, exclusively a Marriott guy now, but back in the day, Embassy Suites were a more frequent destination. Great big rooms (well they’re suites, duh) and that great big courtyard in the middle of the hotel for dining. The free breakfasts were awesome.
Hey, an ad for the X-Files too!
Ten minutes to go, and she’s still 1-1. This game so typifies the era. No goal-scoring, just clutching and grabbing and lots of whistles and long delays between faceoffs. Lots of stops for off-sides or two-line passes too. This, I’m reminded again, is why the NHL nearly went belly up.
Roy makes a great stop of Langenbrunner on a 2-on-1 Stars break. Pure butterfly stop. How much do we miss seeing that?
Stars go on the power play with 6:49 left on a Rychel roughing penalty. You could always count on Bundy for a smart penalty like that (just kidding Bundy). Roy kills it off though, with a couple good saves. This thing looks like it’s going to OT.
NOT SO FAST!
Theo Fleury wins the game with 12.7 seconds left. A nothing play, a chip out of the zone by Aaron Miller leads to a miscue at the Stars blue line, leading to a turnaround shot by Hejduk. Fernandez couldn’t control the rebound and Fleury buried it. It’s goal No. 40 on the year for Fleury, a nicer number for him to take into unrestricted free agency that summer.
My three stars for this one, 14 years later: 1. Roy – some big stops, especially on that 5-on-3. 2. Fleury – got the game-winner and added assist. 3. Sakic – got the first goal.
The Stars and Avs would go on to meet in the Western finals, with Dallas prevailing in seven games. They went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Hope you enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane with me, but before I go, here’s my actual game story from that game, in the April 19, 1999 Denver Post:
By Adrian Dater Denver Post Sports Writer
Good goaltending? Check. Timely goals? Check. Hard checking?
The Colorado Avalanche can only hope this was a playoff preview.
It was all there for the Avs in their final regular-season
game, a 2-1 triumph Sunday over the league-leading Dallas Stars
in what should be the final regular-season hockey game at
McNichols Sports Arena.
Theo Fleury’s 40th goal of the season, with 13 seconds
remaining, ended the regular season on a feel-good note for the
Avs, who begin the NHL playoffs Wednesday night at home against
the San Jose Sharks.
“”I was thinking about 40 before the game, and I was just
hoping for an opportunity to get it,” Fleury said.
More than padding personal statistics, however, Fleury was one
of the many Avalanche players concerned over the team’s recent
play. With the playoffs looming, the Avs went to Alberta last
week and lost consecutive 5-1 games to the Calgary Flames and
Fleury said before Sunday’s game he hoped the Avs would treat
it like a playoff game, and he got his wish.
“”We knew we had to play better, and this win gives us some
confidence heading into the playoffs,” Fleury said. “”The
playoffs are here, and from now on we have to be at our best
The Avs got strong goaltending from Patrick Roy, who made 30
saves and finished the season with the best goals-against
average of his career (2.29).
Forget about the regular season, though. Roy never has cared
about it much. For him, all that matters is getting career
playoff win No. 100 on Wednesday night.
“”It’s important for us to take it one game at a time and be
well-prepared for the first game,” said Roy, who finished the
season 32-19-8. “”I really love the attitude we had today and
the preparation. I hope we can keep it up.”
Unlike in the previous two games, the Avs hit hard Sunday,
especially in the defensive zone. They made decent outlet passes
to the forwards and put pressure on Stars goalie Manny Fernandez.
Of some concern still is the play of the special teams,
though. Colorado went 0 for 4 on the power play, and had trouble
setting up much of the time.
The Avs gave up a power-play goal to Joe Nieuwendyk, and
continue to play a passive box formation that puts little
pressure on the puck carrier.
Still, if Roy is on top of his game as he was Sunday, it will
go a long way toward making the postseason penalty-killing
numbers look good.
“”It won’t be an easy series for us,” Roy said of the Sharks.
“”They’re a good hockey team. They’re going to try to surprise
us. Their objective is going to be like every team that plays on
the road. They’re going to try to win one game, and our
objective will be to go over there with a 2-0 lead.”
Avalanche coach Bob Hartley made it through what was often a
turbulent first season behind an NHL bench.
He probably won’t win the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach of
the year, but given the team’s 0-4 start and some dressing-room
turmoil, Hartley seemed to get stronger as the year went on.
“”It’s important to say how proud I am of our hockey club,”
Hartley said. “”We fought hard to clinch the second seed in the
Western Conference, and felt we could collect rewards in the
playoffs. We’re there right now, and I’m real happy with what I
saw, especially in the second half of the season.”
But now, the real second half begins.
“”It’s going to be real exciting to get it going,” Fleury said.
Source Article from http://feeds.denverpost.com/~r/dp-blogs/~3/KoH7No7v180/