October 6, 1995. The newly minted Colorado Avalanche played their first season opener in their new town of Denver after a messy divorce from Quebec. Their opponent? The Detroit Red Wings.
Colorado won that first game in McNichols Arena by a 3-2 score, but there was no rivalry yet between these two teams. (The winning goalie that night? Stephane Fiset.)
This iconic rivalry really got started during that year's intense playoffs, as the two teams met up during an intense Western Conference Finals matchup where Claude Lemieux's blindside hit on Kris Draper sparked a decade-long rivalry.
Fast forward to 1997, when this happened:
Within a matter of months, these two teams with little history became the most intense rivalry in hockey -- and one of the most visible in all of sports. When Detroit and Colorado met on the ice, it became an event. (There's even been a book written about this period in hockey.)
These two franchises have followed different paths under the Salary Cap era, as the Red Wings have enjoyed consistent playoff success. Colorado has been forced through a painful rebuilding plan that has left them young and inexperienced. Adam Foote, the last remaining player from that first playoff series, retired at the end of last season.
The rivalry is now dead.
June 2009: Colorado selects Matt Duchene third overall in the NHL Entry Draft.
Duchene's favorite team as a child was the Avalanche, and he shows visible excitement when not selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning. His best career numbers are against Detroit, scoring five goals and five assists in just eight games.
June 2011: Colorado selects Gabriel Landeskog second overall in the NHL Entry Draft.
Landeskog grew up in Sweden idolizing Avalanche great Peter Forsberg.
July 2011: Colorado trades for goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov was prepared to play in Russia this season, until his agent told him there was a trade offer from the Avalanche.
My agent called me and said there is a possibility to go to Denver. I replied that we cannot lose this chance. Avalanche is one of my favorite teams in the NHL. And then when the free agent market opened Washington and Colorado made the trade happen. And right away without thinking I signed a contract for three years.
Rivalries are good for fan interest, and good for business. Avalanche hockey tickets were the hottest deal in town during the height of the Red Wings rivalry. Still, even now, there is an incredible market for these games as Opening Night sold out in a matter of minutes. People want to say one last goodbye to Peter Forsberg, the most electric player this city has ever seen.
On Saturday night, the arena will be packed with Avalanche faithful ready to salute the old dynasty that brought two championships to Denver. Number 21 will walk on the Pepsi Center ice one last time. But the true draw of the night should be on the players in uniform. Quietly, Colorado has built a young team around players who love playing in Colorado. They've acquired young players that want to wear the "A" on their sweater; a team that grew up dreaming of beating the Detroit Red Wings.
The torch has been passed. Now all they have to do is win.
The Rivalry is Dead! Long Live the Rivalry!