01 March 2009
1978: February 15th; A couple of hours before Leon Spinks defeated Muhammad Ali in a 15-Round decision, the Indianapolis Racers defeated the Nordiques in a 9-6 decision. In each case, the loss by the defending champion marked a milestone, denoting the impending decline. The main difference between them being that Ali would go on to recapture his Belt later that year, whereas the Nords would not capture another Ring for 19 years.
1980: February 18th; Czechoslovakia dominated West Germany by an 11-3 margin, in Lake Placid. The game featured three hat-tricks by the Czechoslovakians, including one by Peter Stastny, who finished with 14 points during the 6-game tournament. His brother Marian finished with 11 points, while brother Anton collected 8 of his own. The team ended the round-robin at 3-2, which proved to be too little in Herb Brooks’ Miracle Group of Death.
1982: February 16th; On a bet, Lee Majors granted Farah Fawcett a divorce after the Nords beat the Jets by a 7-3 score. If Québec were to beat the 3.5-point spread AND the score was over 9.5 goals, Majors would agree to give up the era’s best piece of ass. Despite her own substantial earnings, the case resulted in Majors’ net worth being downgraded to the Three-Million Dollar Homeless Man - weaker, slower, worse.
1988: February 21st; The Soviet Union beat Czechoslovakia 6-1 to complete a perfect 5-0 round-robin in Calgary. They were backstopped by future Nord, Sergei Mylnikov. Another future Nordique, Valeri Kamensky, contributed 6 points in a supporting role, while a third Québec draft pick, Alexei Gusarov, added 4 points from the blueline. With Marian having retired the previous year, and Peter & Anton playing for the Nords, the Czechoslovakian team would finish in 6th place.
1990: February 17th; The Nordiques lost 7-1 in Los Angeles, on Luc Robitaille’s 24th birthday. The line of Wayne Gretzky, Tomas Sandstrom and Robitaille combined for 14 points. It was thanks to games like this, that Luc would return to the 50-goal and 100-point plateaus that he had missed the previous season. After trading Bernie Nicholls to the Rangers a month earlier, for Sandstrom and Tony Granato, the Kings were developing into a deep team with more than one scoring line, though it wasn’t in evidence on this night.
1992: February 18th; On a busy day that saw Chicago trade Hall of Fame hopeful, John Tonelli, to Québec for future considerations, the Nords’ own future was considered bright according to most experts. Their holdout asset, Eric Lindros, led Team Canada over Germany 4-3 in a shootout, to advance to the semis in Albertville. The Nordiques also had their eye on the Penguins’ free agent Cup-winner, Scott Young, who had been playing in Italy up until the Olympics. On this day, he and Team USA were in the process of beating France by a 4-1 count, advancing to the semis. The Unified Team featured Andrei Kovalenko and future Av, Darius Kasparaitis, and was beating the Finns handily, by a 6-1 score. Three days later, the Unified Team would knock off Team USA by a score of 5-2, setting up a showdown between Kovalenko and Lindros.
1994: February 17th; The Nordiques came away from San Jose with an 8-2 victory that featured a franchise-record tying 5-goal performance by Mike Ricci. Mats Sundin had accomplished the feat two years earlier for the first time in franchise history. Since Ricci, only four players have recorded 5 in a game. Meanwhile in Lillehammer, Peter Stastny, who was representing his third different country in international play, helped his Slovaks beat Italy by a 10-4 score, after having secured a tie against Sweden in that year’s Group of Death. Peter Forsberg and the Swedes dispatched France by a 7-1 score to maintain their slight lead. Paul Kariya and Team Canada fought to a 3-3 draw against Team USA, which was led by Dave Sacco, the younger brother of Lake Erie head coach, Joe Sacco.
1995: February 16th; The Nords won 4-2 in Philly, establishing the franchise records for best 13-game start and highest recorded winning percentage. After the lockout delayed the season until mid-January, the Nordiques went 12-1 out of the gate, after beating the Flyers. Owen Nolan opened the scoring with two goals in the first period. He would later go on to finish only two back of Jaromir Jagr for the goals title, while Lindros would finish tied with Jagr in points, one goal behind Nolan. Steven Finn and Chris Simon had both set up Nolan’s first goal of the night, before each got into fights with Ryan McGill and Dave Brown, respectively. They all watched from the penalty box as Kamensky fed Nolan for the early two-goal lead. After Rod Brind’Amour cut the lead to one, Joe Sakic scored what turned out to be the winner, on a pass from Wendell Clark. Sakic then returned the favor, helping Clark pot his league-leading 10th goal of the season, for the 4-1 lead. Stéphane Fiset stopped 38 shots, including 18 in the third period alone, as the former understudy bested his old teammate, Ron Hextall.
1997: February 15th; Craig MacTavish became the last player to ever suit up without a helmet, when the Avs won 5-2 in St. Louis. On the same night, Tara Lipinski became the youngest girl to ever win the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, by upsetting Michelle Kwan in neighboring Nashville’s new arena. The NHL had just announced that the rink would become the home of the Predators, who would be joining the league, later that fall. Meanwhile, over in the world of figure skating, the rule mandating the use of shin pads had been introduced in the wake of the Tonya Harding episode. Kwan, however, was allowed to skate barelegged, due to the grandmother clause. The next year, Lipinski and runner-up, Kwan, both went to the Olympics in Nagano, where young Valerie Kharlamov broke Kwan’s exposed ankle, with a vicious slash in the crease. That’s why nowadays, female figure skaters are always seen covering up their legs with tons of protective padding, just like J-S Giguere.
1998: February 21st; Jari Kurri confirmed his return flight from Nagano to Denver, before heading over to The Big Hat for the third-place game against his four Colorado teammates, Patrick Roy, Adam Foote, Sakic and Marc Crawford. Unheralded and undrafted Finnish goaltender, Ari Sulander, was given the start of his life against Roy and the Canadians, who seemed unmotivated after losing to the Czechs a day earlier. Kurri wrapped up his first Olympic tournament in 18 years with 5 points in 6 games, and a Bronze Medal. One can only imagine the total price tag of the assumed property damage unleashed by the losing Canadians, when they returned to their hotel rooms. Had they not smashed all of the television sets, they might have been able to watch the Gold Medal game that featured Milan Hejduk and Martin Rucinsky of the Czech Republic winning 1-0 over Kamensky, Kovalenko, Kasparaitis and Gusarov of Russia.
2001: February 21st; The Avs acquired Rob Blake and Steven Reinprecht from the Kings, in exchange for Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, Jared Aulin and a first round pick (which the Kings used to draft Dave Steckel 30th overall). The trade is widely viewed as the best ever deadline deal, although it came about three weeks before the trade deadline. Blake was instrumental in bringing home the Cup that year, and went on to play another four seasons for the Avs.
2002: February 20th; The quarterfinals opened in Salt Lake City with Sundin’s 3-and-0 Swedes, taking on the 0-and-3 team from Belarus and their only NHLer, Salei. Sweden had displayed impressive and convincing round-robin wins over both the defending Gold Medallist Czechs and the pre-tournament favorite Canadians. Belarus had gained entry into the main 8-nation tournament, by winning their Qualifying Group. With all eight teams surviving the round-robin, Belarus faced their fourth Super 6 nation of the week. Niklas Lidstrom opened the scoring in the first period. Later, on a 5-on-3 advantage, Sweden grew careless defensively, and allowed Belarus to tie the game with a shortie. When it was later Belarus’ turn on the two-man powerplay, they made no mistake and took the 2-1 lead. Michael Nylander soon tied it up, but Belarus came right back to take a 3-2 lead on a breakaway in the third. Sundin drew the Swedes even at 3, midway through the period, before Vladimir Kopat launched a 70-foot slapshot from center ice that rattled off Tommy Salo’s helmet, and trickled in behind him.
The upset victory has been compared to the Miracle on Ice game against the Soviet Union, with Vegas having set the odds on a Belarus Gold Medal, at an even million-to-one, and made the other three games try to follow its act. The second game of the day featured Kasparaitis helping the Russians defeat Rucinsky, Hejduk and Martin Skoula of the Czech Republic by a 1-0 score. Darius would soon join the Avs, in a trade three weeks later. The third matchup of the day starred eleven former/current/future Avs, including Canada’s Lindros, Sakic, Nolan, Blake, Ryan Smyth, Theo Fleury, Kariya and Foote. They defeated Finland by a 2-1 score, eliminating future Avs Teemu Selanne and Ossi Vaananen, as well as the man who would soon be traded for Kasparaitis, Ville Nieminen. The nightcap pitted former Avs Brian Rolston, Deadmarsh, Miller and Young, alongside current Av Chris Drury, as Team USA shutout Germany by a 5-0 score, setting up a semi-final matchup versus Kasparaitis and the Russians, with Sakic taking on Salei in the other semi.
2003: February 20th; The Avs won 5-2 in Pittsburgh, extending to 14, their string of games with at least one point. They would lose to the Islanders the following night, ending a bid to equal their two-year old franchise record of 16 straight games, unbeaten in regulation. Skoula opened the scoring at the 1:31 mark, on a feed from Alex Tanguay. A few minutes later, Hejduk made it 2-0 with his 33rd goal of his Richard Trophy campaign. The Penguins then traded a pair of goals with Dean McAmmond, to trail 4-2, before Reinprecht sealed the game with his third point of the night. This would be the final time that Mario Lemieux would face the Avs on home ice, even though he only retired three years later.
2004: February 21st; The Avs traded Skoula to Anaheim for Kurt Sauer and a 4th round pick in 2005 (who ended up being Raymond Macias). A day earlier, the Avs had acquired Bob Boughner from Carolina, in exchange for a 3rd round pick (which Carolina used to draft Casey Borer). The moves did little to stem the tide of a 3-game losing streak, as the 32-11 Avs finished the season 8-11 and only made it to the second round of the playoffs.
2006: February 18th; Montréal Canadiens goaltender, José Theodore, slipped on his driveway and landed hard on his heel, breaking a bone. If not for his ban from the Olympics for Propecia use, he might have been in Italy on that day. Virtually every other member of the Habs who wasn’t in Italy, spent the time off in even warmer climes. The only reason José was anywhere near an icy walkway that day was because his wife, Stéphanie Cloutier, was due to give birth a month later. Both of their fathers were either in prison or just out of jail, so the baby’s Grandmothers both had their hands full. With the new $39M salary cap in place and with the fine play of Cristobal Huet all year, the heel injury seemed to prompt what would have been unthinkable to Theo a few months earlier – getting traded for an undecorated backup goalie. His tumultuous spring season culminated in a weekend fling with Paris Hilton, after the Avs had been eliminated in Round 2 of the playoffs. Meanwhile in Torino, Sundin, Forsberg and future Av, Daniel Tjarnqvist, led Sweden to a 6-1 victory over Latvia. Selanne and Nieminen led Finland to a 4-2 victory over Hejduk and Rucinsky of the Czech Republic, to remain perfect. Kasparaitis and the Russians squeaked by with a 1-0 win over Kazakhstan. Defending Silver Medallist, Team USA, was not as fortunate against Marek Svatos and Team Slovakia, dropping a 2-1 decision to Peter Budaj. The Americans featured John-Michael Liles and Jordan Leopold lining up behind Drury and Rolston. Finally, defending Gold Medallist, Team Canada, was upset 2-0 by Martin Gerber, as David Aebischer watched from the Swiss bench. The shutout was the upset of the night denying Sakic, Smyth, Blake, Foote and Colorado 1st rounder, Robyn Regehr, any points..
2007: February 15th; The Flyers traded Forsberg to the Predators when it became obvious that he could not help Philly make the playoffs. His impact in Nashville was mostly negligible, until the final game of the regular season, when the Preds travelled to Colorado for Foppa’s only career game as a visitor to Denver. Forsberg set up Kariya’s winning goal, which eliminated the Avs from post-season play for the first time in 13 years.
2008: February 20th; The Avs lost 3-2 in Anaheim, for their first 5-game losing streak in a decade. Selanne opened the scoring with just his 2nd goal of the season. Jeff Finger and Andrew Brunette answered in the middle frame, to give Colorado the lead, but Rob Niedermayer sent the game to a shootout on a pass from Chris Pronger. In the skills competition, Corey Perry was the only Duck to solve Peter Budaj, but it would be enough to deny the Avs of all but one point during the 5-game stretch.
2009: February 20th; The Avs went into D.C. and beat José Theodore and the Caps by a 4-1 score, for their first 3-game winning streak in six weeks. Smyth had a great night that began when he opened the scoring, thanks to a gift from Foote on the night before Smyth’s 33rd birthday. Smyth later reciprocated for Foote’s first goal in 106 games, which proved to be the winner. Andrew Raycroft went on to stop 28 of the 29 shots he faced to beat the man who he replaced last summer.
2010: February 16th; The Olympic tournament will open in Vancouver with yet another wacky tournament format. This time, the 12 invited teams will be divided into three Groups. After a 3-game Preliminary round-robin, the three Group winners, plus the best non-winner, will receive byes into the Medal Round or quarterfinals. The remaining eight teams will face off in a Wild Card game to determine the other four teams in the Medal Round. All teams will be ranked 1 through 12 after the Preliminary round-robin, based primarily upon position within one’s Group, then most points, then goal differential, then goals for. If two teams are still tied, priority will revert to the higher IIHF 2009 World Ranking. What this means is that some members of the Super 6 will need to work their way into the Medal Round, for the first time. With all of the upsets that have occurred lately under more restrictive formats, imagine the possibilities this time around. For example, Team Canada could go 2-1 in a Group that features Team USA and Switzerland, but miss out on a bye if some other 2-1 team has a better goal differential. That would force them to win a Wild Card game just to get into the quarterfinals and face a Top 4 team. Given the IOC’s reluctance to sponsor a broader tournament, I guess I like this new twist on the 12-team pool. Ideally, I’d like to see the NHL commit to Sochi, but with different birthplace rules to get more nations involved. Some fresh meat to feast on, y'know?