Today’s memory is one that brings pain to my heart because it involves the team I love to hate – the Colorado Avalanche. However, I, along with every Red Wings fan, can make an exception for this memory. This is the memory of Ray Bourque, finally getting to hoist the Stanley Cup above his head.
Ray Bourque without a doubt is one of the 5 greatest defensemen to play the game of hockey. You won’t find too many people that question it. Most agree that he’s up there with Orr, Lidstrom, Harvey, Potvin, Shore, Coffey, and company. However, as the 1999-2000 season was winding down, Ray Bourque realized that his chances at winning a Cup were fading quickly. At 40 years of age with 20 seasons under his belt, he had one good shot left. Bourque had been a Bruin his entire life. Drafted in 1979, Bourque had never wavered. He was always quick to re-sign with them and often for much less than market value, which angered the NHLPA on several different occasions. He was their captain, their heart and soul, their modern day Bobby Orr. But in the 1999-2000 season, Bourque met with Bruins GM Harry Sinden and requested a trade to a contender so that he would have a chance to win what he desired most – the Stanley Cup. Bourque had all the individual accolades in the world, from 5 Norris Trophies, to 19 consecutive All Star appearances, but he didn’t have his name on Lord Stanley’s Cup. Bourque had initially requested a trade to the Flyers, but in one of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen from a professional sports GM, Harry Sinden told Bourque that “this may not be your first choice, but this is the team I feel is best”. On March 6, 2000, Bourque was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche.
Bourque made an instant impact on his new team, registering 14 points in the final 14 games of the season. The Avs were just 30-26-10-1 at the time of the deal, but bolstered by Bourque’s arrival, the Avs closed the season on a 13-2-1-0 tear to finish with the #3 seed in the West. The Avs ran through the Coyotes and Red Wings in 5 games before finally succumbing to the Dallas Stars in 7 games. In that 7th game, Bourque hit the post in the final minutes of the game, with the Avs trailing 3-2. Crushed by the defeat, Bourque decided to try for one final time in the 2000-2001 season with the Avs.
The Avalanche were absolutely determined to win this Cup for Bourque. Captain Joe Sakic was quoted at the beginning of the season saying “I’m excited for this year. We’ve got Ray (Bourque) signed again, and hopefully we’ll have another good chance to win the Cup, so that’s my only focus and my only goal this year”. Bourque though was 41 years old and many were unsure how much he would be able to give in this cause. Well let me tell you something. Never ever doubt a surefire Hall of Famer, no matter how old they are. Bourque quickly dispelled all notions about his age, recording 1 goal and 8 assists in the first 9 games of the season. Bourque went on to post an All-Star campaign as well as finishing as the runner up for the Norris Trophy. However, the Avs wanted to be certain that they had the best chance to win the Cup, so they acquired another All-Star defenseman at the trade deadline in Rob Blake. The Avs finished the season with the best record in the NHL, going 52-16-10 for 118 points. Bourque finished the season with 7 goals, 52 assists, 59 points, and an ungodly 26 minutes/night. Not bad for a 41 year old. In fact, the 59 points was his highest point total since 1995-1996.
The Avs opened the playoffs against the Canucks, and quickly swept them in 4 games. The Avs knew that their biggest threats in the West would be Detroit and Dallas, so when the Kings knocked out the Wings in the first round, the Avs knew the opening was there. However, those Kings weren’t just going to roll over because the Avs wanted them to. The Kings pushed the Avs to a 7th game. In that 7th game, Bourque recorded 2 assists to lead the Avs past the Kings 5-1 and into the Conference Finals for the 3rd consecutive year. The last two times, the Avs had fallen to the Dallas Stars. This time though, the St. Louis Blues had done the dirty work for them, sweeping the Stars in the 2nd round. Bourque sensed his opportunity and turned in one of the best series by a defensemen that postseason. In the 5 game series, Bourque recorded at least 1 point in every game, scoring a total of 3 goals and 6 points in the series. Bourque was finally in the Stanley Cup Finals, for the third time in his career, but the first time in 11 years. The Avs opponent was the defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.
The Avs and Devils played a ferocious 7 game series, with neither team really gaining control until Game 5 of the series. In Game 5 of the series, the Devils beat the Avs 4-1, putting the Avs on the brink of elimination. Ray Bourque was now one game away from losing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the 3rd time. Determined not to let that happen, the Avs youngsters stepped up in Game 6, leading the Avs to a 4-0 win and a winner-take-all Game 7 back in Colorado. You just knew that there was no way Colorado was going to lose that game. Joe Sakic was not going to let that happen. In Game 7, Sakic personally scored a goal and an assist as his line accounted for all 3 of the Avs goals en route to a 3-1 victory.
There’s really only one man that’s allowed to call the moment that Ray Bourque got to hold the Cup and that is Gary Thorne. In an extremely classy gesture, captain Joe Sakic didn’t even bother to raise the Cup after it was handed to him. Instead, he brought Ray Bourque over to the table and handed it straight to him. Bourque was so emotional. You could see the tears streaming down his face. He didn’t even know what to do with it. His teammates had to tell him to go skate with the cup. His son was crying on the ice. It was truly a magical moment.
I’ll never forget seeing Bourque raise the Cup. He was one of the greatest players of his generation, one of the greatest defensemen of all time, and a consummate professional. He just played the game the right way, played the game for the right reasons, and was a superb individual. It made me so happy to see him win the Cup, even though it was with the team I hated the most. After 22 years, Bourque retired, having finally won the only piece of hardware that anyone wants to win.
If you want to watch that entire Game 7, it is below:
And here is also a video chronicling the 2000-2001 Avalanche season