The Colorado Rockies were a professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) that played in Denver, Colorado, from 1976 to 1982. They were a relocation of the Kansas City Scouts, a 1974 expansion team. The franchise moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1982 and was renamed the New Jersey Devils.
Franchise History[edit | edit source]
Bringing the NHL to Denver[edit | edit source]
Ivan Mullenix, owner of the Central Hockey League's Denver Spurs had been awarded a "conditional" NHL franchise for the 1976-77 season. With McNichols Sports Arena already complete by 1975, he looked to enter the NHL a year early, and the league attempted to broker an arrangement by which he would acquire the struggling California Golden Seals franchise and move them to Denver in lieu of an expansion team. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Penguins would be sold to a Seattle-based group that had also won a conditional franchise for that city.
The proposed arrangement fell through, and with the continuing franchise difficulties, the NHL called off the 1976-77 expansion. The Spurs then elected to move to the WHA for the 1975-76 season, but low attendance, financial difficulties and rumors that the NHL was preparing to move the Seals or Kansas City Scouts to Denver prompted Mullenix to move the Spurs to Ottawa almost halfway through the season. Unfortunately, the Ottawa Civics lasted only two weeks before folding. The Seals ultimately decided to move to Cleveland for the 1976-77 season, where they played for two years as the Barons before folding.
Meanwhile, the Scouts were on the verge of collapse despite having entered the NHL only two years earlier. Despite having suffered a hideous 12-win season in 1975-76, they'd fared somewhat better on the ice than their expansion brethren, the Washington Capitals. However, their ownership group was badly undercapitalized and didn't have the resources or the patience to handle the typical struggles of an expansion team. Additionally, the Scouts were hobbled by an economic downturn in the Midwest. Facing almost $1 million in debt, the Scouts mounted a season-ticket drive to raise revenue. However, when they only managed to sell only 2,000 tickets, the Scouts decided to pull up stakes and get out. They quickly agreed to sell the Scouts to a Denver-based group headed by Jack Vickers, who moved the team to Denver as the Rockies.
Continued Struggles[edit | edit source]
Unfortunately, the situation did not improve significantly. In six seasons in Denver, they made the NHL Playoffs only once, in the 1977–78 NHL season. Even then, they finished with the sixth-worst record in the league, 21 games under .500. However, the Smythe Division was so weak that year that the Rockies finished second behind the Chicago Black Hawks, the only team in the division with a .500 record. This allowed them to edge out the Vancouver Canucks for the last playoff spot by two points. (In those days, the division runner-ups were guaranteed a playoff spot.) The Rockies went down rather meekly in the first round, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in a two-game sweep. They would not make the playoffs again until 1988--their sixth year in New Jersey.
The Rockies did have some outstanding players for a short time. Barry Beck set a record in his rookie year for goals by a rookie defenceman, and Lanny McDonald was traded to the Rockies by Toronto. In addition, the team at various times had such players as Chico Resch, Wilf Paiement, Rene Robert, Rob Ramage, Bobby Schmautz, Steve Tambellini and Brent Ashton. But the team always had a lack of overall depth and traded such quality for quantity. Reported poor management did not help, either.
Under Don Cherry[edit | edit source]
One of the few bright spots in the franchise's history was during the 1979–80 NHL season when flamboyant Don Cherry, a former Jack Adams Award winner, was named head coach after being fired by the Boston Bruins. Under Cherry, the Rockies adopted the motto "Come to the fights and watch a Rockies game break out!" This could be seen on billboards all over Denver in the 1979–80 season and rejuvenated the ailing club.
However, as he later admitted, Cherry's outspokenness and feuding with Rockies general manager Ray Miron did not endear him to the front office. While Cherry did much to motivate the players, goaltending was still the team's weakness as Miron refused to replace Hardy Astrom, whom Cherry dubbed "The Swedish Sieve". Cherry recalled one game where his players had got ten shots on goal without scoring, but Astrom then conceded a goal from the opponent's first shot and so was yanked from net.
The Rockies finished with 51 points, and it was apparent that management would scapegoat Cherry for not making the playoffs. In their final game, which was held at home, Cherry's team defeated the Penguins 5–0. As it was already known that Cherry would not be back next season, he wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots for what would be his last NHL game, and after the final buzzer sounded his players formed two lines for him, with sticks raised to form an arch to walk between while he acknowledged the cheers of the crowd.
Move to New Jersey[edit | edit source]
Although attendance in Denver was not bad, the team was plagued by instability. The Rockies had seven coaches in four years, none lasting more than one full season. Ownership changed hands twice in four years. Finally, in 1982, New Jersey shipping tycoon John McMullen bought the team. He announced that he had "big plans" for the franchise, but they involved playing in the then-new Brendan Byrne Arena in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The Rockies had actually petitioned to move to New Jersey in 1978, but the NHL vetoed the move because the Byrne Arena was still under construction, and there was no suitable temporary facility in New Jersey at the time. The team was relocated for the 1982–83 NHL season and renamed the New Jersey Devils, and the NHL would not return to Denver until the Quebec Nordiques moved to the Mile High City on June 21, 1995, and became the Colorado Avalanche.
Legacy[edit | edit source]
The last active NHL player who had played for the Rockies was Joe Cirella, who left the NHL in 1996, the year that the newly relocated NHL team, the Colorado Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup Championship. The Avalanche had played 23 seasons as the Quebec Nordiques. Two other former Rockies, Paul Gagne and Rich Chernomaz, played until 1999 in the Swiss and German leagues, respectively.
The Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils met each other in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, with the Avalanche winning the series and the championship in seven games; the deciding game was in Denver. By this time, former Rockies head coach Don Cherry was now with Hockey Night in Canada.
The song "Rock and Roll, Pt. 2" (AKA "the Hey Song") was first played in a sport setting at Rockies games in the late 1970s and was later played in most North American sports venues to celebrate home team scores for the better part of 25 years  .
The NHL Colorado Rockies should not be confused with the Major League Baseball team of the same name that began playing in the National League in 1993.
Season-by-Season Record[edit | edit source]
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1976–77||80||20||46||14||54||226||307||978||5th in Smythe Division||Out of playoffs|
|1977–78||80||19||40||21||59||257||305||818||2nd in Smythe Division||Lost in preliminary round (PHI), 0-2|
|1978–79||80||15||53||12||42||210||331||838||4th in Smythe Division||Out of playoffs|
|1979–80||80||19||48||13||51||234||308||1020||6th in Smythe Division||Out of playoffs|
|1980–81||80||22||45||13||57||258||344||1418||4th in Smythe Division||Out of playoffs|
|1981–82||80||18||49||13||49||241||362||1138||5th in Smythe Division||Out of playoffs|
Team Captains[edit | edit source]
- Simon Nolet 1976–77
- Wilf Paiement 1977–79
- Gary Croteau 1979–80
- Mike Christie 1980
- Rene Robert 1980–81
- Lanny McDonald 1981
- Rob Ramage 1981–82
First Round Draft Picks[edit | edit source]
Note: This list does not include selections as the Kansas City Scouts.
- 1976: Paul Gardner (11th overall)
- 1977: Barry Beck (2nd overall)
- 1978: Mike Gillis (5th overall)
- 1979: Rob Ramage (1st overall)
- 1980: Paul Gagne (19th overall)
- 1981: Joe Cirella (5th overall)
Colorado Rockies Individual Records[edit | edit source]
- Most goals in a season: Wilf Paiement, 41 (1976–77)
- Most assists in a season: Wilf Paiement, 56 (1977–78)
- Most points in a season: Wilf Paiement, 87 (1977–78)
- Most penalty minutes in a season: Rob Ramage, 201 (1981–82)
- Most points in a season, defenceman: Barry Beck, 60 (1977–78)
- Most points in a season, rookie: Barry Beck, 60 (1977–78)
- Most wins in a season: Glenn Resch, 16 (1981–82)