Approximately one month ago was the 20-year anniversary of Canada’s last Stanley Cup Champion….well at least it should have been. The 1996 Stanley Cup Final featured a pair of teams that literally came out of non-existence to form the most unpredictable Finals matchup in NHL history.
The Florida Panthers were playing in just their 3rd season, and shocked the hockey universe by winning the Eastern Conference. Most fans would remember Florida’s incredible run by the iconic scenes of plastic rats raining down on the ice after goals scored by the Panthers.
The Western Conference champions, the Colorado Avalanche, had been in existence for less than a year when they won the 1996 Stanley Cup. The Avalanche had travelled across the continent, and relocated the previous summer from Quebec City, Canada.
This must have been just brutal to witness for the fans of the Quebec Nordiques for a multitude of reasons. This 1996 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche team was largely comprised of the 1994/95 Quebec team, albeit with a few key additions.
The Nordiques Last Season
In their final season in Quebec, the 1994/95 Nordiques laid the foundation for what would become a sustained dynasty-run in Colorado.
During the strike shortened season of 1994/95, Quebec posted a record of 30-13-5, and were the regular season champions of the Eastern Conference. The #1 seeded Nordiques were upset in the first round by the 8th seeded Rangers 4 games to 2.
Here are the core players who played on both the 1994/95 Nordiques and the 1995/96 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche:
Head Coach- Marc Crawford
Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky, Mike Ricci, Adam Deadmarsh, Scott Young, Chris Simon, Rene Corbet, Andrei Kovalenko, and Martin Ruchinsky.
Adam Foote, Sylvain Lefebvre, Uwe Krupp, Alexei Gusarov, Curtis Leschyshyn, Jon Klemm, and Craig Wolanin.
Backup Goalies- Stephane Fiset and Jocelyn Thibault
The 1995/96 Colorado Avalanche
Along with the core of players that moved with the team from Quebec City, the Avalanche added 5 key players that contributed significantly who were not on the team which played in ‘La Belle Province’ the previous season. They were Patrick Roy, Mike Keane, Claude Lemieux, Sandis Ozolinsh, and Stephane Yelle- who was a rookie.
For Nordiques fans and Montreal Canadiens fans alike, it must have been torture to watch Patrick Roy lead the 1st year Avalanche to a championship. During their time in Quebec City, the Nordiques naturally had an intense rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens. These two most prominent Quebec cities are separated by roughly a 2 hour, 40 minute drive.
Patrick Roy had always given Quebec fits and twice his Montreal teams eliminated the Nordiques from the playoffs. In the 1992/93 season, the Nordiques had a great regular season and lost to the Canadiens in the 1st round of the playoffs 4 games to 2. The Canadiens went onto win the Stanley Cup- posting a combined record of 12 wins, and only 2 losses during the next 3 rounds. The only time they were tested in the 1993 playoffs was that first round series versus the Nordiques. Many Nordiques fans still believe if it weren’t for the Canadiens and Patrick Roy, their team would have won the 1993 Stanley Cup.
Two key players from the 1994/95 Canadiens played instrumental roles in leading the 1st year Avalanche to the championship in 1996. The aforementioned Hall-of-Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, and Mike Keane; who had Captained Les Canadiens the previous season.
Additionally, star offensive-defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh was acquired by the Avs in a blockbuster early season trade that saw the San Jose Sharks swap Ozolinsh for forward Owen Nolan.
Claude Lemieux, known as the ‘The Pest’, was acquired from New Jersey shortly before the season began via a blockbuster 3-team trade involving the Devils and Islanders. The other players of note in this trade saw Wendel Clark go from the Nordiques/Avalanche to the Islanders, and Steve ‘Stumpy’ Thomas get moved from the Islanders to the Devils.
These key moves by the new Avalanche, along with the nucleus of the team and organization that came from Quebec, went onto win this incredibly unlikely Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to 0 versus the Florida Panthers. Famously, stay-at-home defensemen Uwe Krupp, the most unlikely of heroes, scored in triple-overtime of game 4 to clinch the Stanley Cup for Colorado.