Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because it’s now 2022 and I still find myself BEGGING the internet for fun little diversions to read, so I have to create some of this shit myself. This week’s list…
Top 5 Sentimental Favorite Avalanche Players
This is the man I can say with a high degree of confidence was my first favorite professional hockey player. He was #14 on the 1994-95 Denver Grizzlies team that, in its only season in Denver, won the International Hockey League’s Turner Cup and featured future NHL players Zigmund Palffy (who was a dead ringer for Jaromir Jagr at the time), Tommy Salo, Kip Miller and others I’m probably forgetting. My dad bought season tickets to the Grizzlies, and I went to probably 20 games that year. I learned to love, appreciate and deeply enjoy hockey that year. Why my favorite player was a journeyman whose career ended up spanning 25 years with only a cup of coffee in the NHL as his only foray with the big boys, I’ll never know. Kids, right?
The very next year, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver, were re-christened the Avalanche, and immediately stole the city’s heart by winning the Stanley Cup and picking up a worthy enemy in the loathsome Detroit Red Wings. I bought a roller hockey stick, a puck and a ball, strapped on my skates, and spent hours shooting at the rock wall in my parents driveway. I celebrated the Avalanche dispatching the criminally boring New Jersey Devils in 2001. And I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been happier about a championship than I was for this year’s.
We’ve been blessed in this town with some superlative hockey players, and while I could go on all day about Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Milan Hejduk, Rob Blake, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, or any of a dozen guys whose names you likely know off the top of your head, this list pays tribute to some of my favorite slightly below the radar guys. The grinders. The fighters. The glue guys. In no particular order, here are 5 Avalanche guys I absolutely adore.
During this year’s Cup run, I found myself thinking about Stephane Yelle a lot. He was one of those commodities that the best teams have – a Center on the 3rd or even the 4th line who would realistically be anchoring a 2nd line on a lesser team. Just an absolute faceoff animal who you could put on both the penalty kill and the power play and have him contribute positively either way. No one was ever going to outwork Stephane Yelle, especially down in the messy area in front of the goal where he’d make the opposing goalie’s night miserable banging in rebounds, screening shots, and generally being a pest.
There’s something to be said about being thoughtful when you name a team because consciously or not, I think everyone is going to internalize the qualities of that name for better and worse. The best Avalanche teams are just that, an endless, unstoppable force you can only hope to mitigate, but never fully control. When Stephane Yelle anchors your bottom six forwards, teams are going to have a long night ahead of them. Yelle played relentless, highly intelligent hockey that wasn’t very flashy, but ruthlessly effective instead. There was a guy this year who reminded me of Yelle…
Among the longest tenured of the current Avs, J.T. can really do it all. But on a team with so many weapons upfront between Landeskog, Rantaanen, MacKinnon, Kadri, Nichushkin, and Lehkonnen, you think to yourself, “Holy shit, Compher is 7th in my mind?!”
Compher is another guy I, as a dipshit fan, feel comfortable watching on either the power play or the penalty kill. There are only three Avalanche players that come to mind for me in this category – the aforementioned Stephane Yelle, the all-world Joe Sakic, and Compher. The other thing I like about Compher, like most guys on this list, is he’ll fight ya. I’m mystified by the mentality of hockey players who can play this elegant but brutal game, get wound up enough to fistfight a guy in the middle of the ice, and then let it go after the game.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been in a real fight in my entire life, but getting to the point of trading punches with someone seems like it would leave some deeper emotional scars that I couldn’t just put aside once the game’s over, but hockey players sure seem to. I don’t get it, but on some level, I’m intensely jealous of this ability.
It also bears mention that during the Avs victory parade, the camera kept finding Compher and his mock Stanley Cup made of beer cans. What I’m saying is, I’d like to hang out with JT Compher. Call me, J.T.!
If you went to see the Avalanche in person during Dan Hinote’s day, it might at first seem surprising to see so many of his jerseys in the crowd considering during his Avalanche career he topped out at 15 points in a season. But Hinote was like catnip to whatever the hockey fan equivalent of hipsters might be. He’s a guy best appreciated when you watch a shitload of hockey because he’s doing the shit no one else wants to do. Pressing on the forecheck, finishing hits, getting effective clears on the penalty kill. He’s blue collar hockey all the way, and he’s goddamn beautiful at it.
Hinote holds a couple of unusual NHL firsts. He was the first player ever to be drafted out of West Point, which, ok, no wonder his work ethic is what it is. And he’s the first Florida-born player ever to score an NHL goal. That one’s neither here nor there, but firsts are fun!
During the Avalanche’s first run for the Cup in 1996, I found myself in Chicago right about the time the Avs’ 2nd round series against the Blackhawks was set to start. Beset with the mouthy Jeremy Roenick, future turncoat Chris Chelios, and noted asshole Bob Probert, the Blackhawks had plenty of players to cheer against back then. And my cousin Matthew has the gall to go on and on about how much he hates Mike Ricci.
I understood his vitriol in the abstract, but didn’t fully appreciate how a person could hate Mike Ricci until he joined the San Jose Sharks. And my god, what an irritating player! He’s an instigator. A gadfly. An agitator. “The scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if you could just stop tonguing it” as put so succinctly by Edward Norton’s character about Marla Singer in Fight Club.
With his missing front teeth and long, greasy hair, Mike Ricci is the guy you LOVE on your team, and the first guy you HATE when he’s on any other team. He’s a target, a symbol, that which ultimately distracts and discombobulates other teams who focus so squarely on shutting this guy up, the door opens for literally everyone else on the ice to do damage. Ricci is the guy on your team you adore, and you adore him even harder because of how much fans of other teams tell you they hate him. So fun.
Look, I said this was in no particular order, but Adam Deadmarsh is my all-time favorite player. I grabbed onto him almost immediately when the Avalanche arrived in Denver after the Grizzlies stole my heart the year earlier. In a league I was unfamiliar with populated by so many Canadians, Russians, and other Europeans with hard to pronounce, and even harder to spell names, Deadmarsh was a hard-nosed American who hit like an outside linebacker and scored with the beauty of an aria.
Adam Deadmarsh would fight anyone. Go on YouTube and type in “Adam Deadmarsh fight” – nevermind, I’ll do it for you, it’s right here – and you’ll see him square off with everyone from Darren McCarty to Brendan Shanahan to Ed Jovanovski to Shayne Corson to Derian Hatcher. He’d back down from no one, and while he’d sometimes get his ass kicked (Jovanovski kicked the everloving crap out of him), he’d always get back up. I couldn’t get enough Adam Deadmarsh.
The last time I remember feeling genuinely upset about one of my team’s trades – I mean, outside of the unfathomable stupidity of trading Nolan Arenado AND $50 million to the suckass Cardinals for a few middling prospects and a sack of batting helmets – was when the Avs traded Deadmarsh to the Kings for Rob Blake. I recognized Blake as one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and would never discount how important his contribution was to that 2001 team, but goddammit… Deadmarsh was my guy.
And I write this article now because I know the 2022 Stanley Cup winners will not stay comprised as they are right now. Players will leave, new players will come in, and the world will keep on spinning. But particularly in the afterglow of a championship, it’s important to remember and pay tribute.
And I’m not done. Coming up on Monday, I announce a very exciting guest for next week’s show. Stay tuned…