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Colorado Rockies- a brief history

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03-25-2013, 10:30 AM
  #1
yave1964
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Colorado Rockies- a brief history

Come to the fights and watch a Rockies game break out was the mantra when don Cherry coached the team. That’s the highlight, enough said.

The Rockies moved from Kansas City after the Scouts barely had two season tickets sold for year three. Colorado had been rumored to be the destination of the Seals before they departed for Cleveland. Denver had been a long time popular minor league city, getting the Scouts and renaming them the Rockies was a major coup, the team always drew well but underfunded owners and very, very bad Hockey doomed them after six seasons.

They won their opener in the 1976-77 season, and lead by Steve Durbanos fighting everyone in the league who would hold still they were an interesting team before folding down the stretch, the year before in Kansas City they had only 36 points they improved to 54, missing the playoffs but not embarrassing themselves.

The following season they actually snuck into the playoffs with 59 points, which sadly would go on to be an organizational high for the two years in Kansas City and six in Denver. And it took another four years in Jersey before they topped the 59 point mark. They faced the Flyers in a best of three first round series and lost two in a row and that was the extent of the Rockies playoff experience.

Slipping back to 42 points in 1978=79 brought about change in the signing of Don Cherry to be the coach. Cherry had just been let go in Boston due to the fact that year after year he couldn’t get his club past Montreal. Cherry came aboard after turning down an overture from Ballard and the Leafs, a decision he said helped push him into the announcing booth.

“We couldn’t win at home and were doing poorly on the road, my fault as a coach lay with the fact that I couldn’t think of anywhere else to play.”

Was Cherry’s famous quote about his year in Hell, being forced to watch players like Merlin Malinowski who was nicknamed the magician.

According to Cherry Malinowski got the nickname because of the way he disappeared once the puck was dropped and goalie Hardy Astrom nicknamed by Cherry ‘The Swedish Sieve’ for the soft goals he would allow were not in the Cheevers and Esposito class that Cherry was used to. The team had added veteran performers like Don Saleski and Rene Robert, who were supposed to improve the top six forward depths. They traded their two legitimate stars Barry Beck and Wilf Paiement for Lanny McDonald, Pat Hickey, Joel Quinnville and Mike McEwen, added veteran Walt Mckechnie and Bobby Schmautz, watched first rounder Rob Ramage develop on the blue line, and in spite of all of this the team only went from 42 points up to 51, Cherry was let go at years end, most of these old geezers moved on to the golf course and the next phase of their lives soon after.

The next couple of seasons the team continued to shuffle people in and out, trading the aforementioned McEwen for Chico Resch of the Islanders to play goal. Before the season Peter gilbert bought the team and was looking into moving them to New Jersey, he was just waiting for the new Arena to be completed. He bowed out after a year, sold the team to john McMullen who after a 49 point debacle in 1981-82 finally moved the team to Jersey where they would be wretched for another four years before turning it around and becoming one of the league’s best organizations.

Anyway, here are the all-time Rockies by position…

RIGHT WING WILF PAIEMENT
It was easy to pick Paiement over Lanny Mac for whom he was traded, Paiement was an immensely talented player, he produced at a point a game ratio for a rotten club, is the Rockies all-time leader in Goals and Points as well as second all-time in penalty minutes. He was a bit of a thug throughout his career and never did much in the post season but he is still had 356 goals and 814 career points and over 1700 penalty minutes. He gave it all on some bad teams.

CENTER PAUL GARDNER
By far the weakest position on the club, they had a never ending but always changing cast of solid d-men and wingers, Malinowski who really only had one good year is Gardner’s only competition for the top spot at centre.

Gardner was the team’s first round pick in 1976; he played three seasons in Denver producing at nearly a point a game pace before being dealt to Pittsburgh late in 1979 for something called don Ashby. He bounced between the NHL and AHL thereafter but for his career he scored 402 points in 447 games which were not bad numbers. Gardner’s Dad Cal played in the NHL as did Gardner’s brother Dave.

LEFT WING GARY CROTEAU
Wow the bad hockey this guy saw from ice level. After eleven playoff games with the Kings as a rookie, he played 11 seasons with the Red Wings, Seals, Scouts and Rockies and never again sniffed the playoffs, even though back them damn near every team made it.

He could score a bit, scoring 24,17 and 21 goals his first three years in Denver, the big old Ontario farm boy would just sit up in front of the net and flick the puck in, ala Thomas Holmstrom years later. He was injured shortly into the 1980 season and retired soon after.

DEFENSE BARRY BECK
The big hulking blue liner was the first pick in the 1977 draft and scored a then rookie defenseman record of 22 goals. He played only 2 plus seasons in Denver before being dealt to the Rangers for depth, the team had holes everywhere and he brought in a stable of guys who could at least play a little.

He never reproduced that magic rookie season though he did score over 100 career goals and produced at a solid level in the post season with the Rangers.

Beck is now living in China of all places, coaching the Academy of Hockey in Hong Kong.

DEFENSE ROB RAMAGE
Ramage began his career as a member of the ‘baby Bulls’ of Birmingham, a WHA team full of under agers who would all go on to solid long careers in the NHL. His coming to Denver sort of forced Beck out of town, they did not need two when they had holes everywhere else and the Rockies gambled correctly that Ramage was going to be the bigger star. He averaged 14 goals and nearly 200 PIMs during his three years in the rare air, and went on to a near hall of fame career scoring 139 goals and 2224 penalty minutes, winning cups with Calgary in 1989 and Montreal in 1993.


He is remembered as the guy who killed his best friend in a drunken driving incident, former Black Hawk star Keith Magnusen as the two of them were returning from a player alumni meeting. Ramage ended up serving ten months in prison and is forced to undergo counseling to this day.

GOALIE MICHEL PLASSE
God I wanted to go with Chico here, same as with Lanny Mac but the sliver of his career does not equal the four years that Plasse toiled in net. The Rockies actually had an interesting mix in net, the Swedish Sieve Hardy Astrom, Phil Myre finished his solid career here, Steve Janaszak who had backed up Jim Craig with the 1980 Olympic team and of course Chico. Plus Doug Favell and one of the coolest masks in NHL history.

But Plasse was in net for four seasons and a club record 126 games, going 54-83-12 which for that crew was not really that bad. For his career he went 92-136-54.

One of my favorite Rockies Stories as told by Cherry in his colorful book is how the team was scheduled to face the loaded Canadians at home when a blizzard forced the cancelation of the game, prompting Cherry to throw a victory party for his players who managed to make it to the game.

Notables who toiled for the Rockies included 1980 Olympians Janaszak and Bill Baker, over the hill guys like Rene Robert, Saleski, Schmautz, Henry Boucha, Hickey and Terry Harper who had all seen their better days. Mark Messer’s brother Paul played for the team for nine games.

This is my fifth and final defunct franchise history, the Barons, Golden Seals, Flames, Scouts and now the Rockies. I have had a blast writing them, hope that someone enjoyed them as much as I did.

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03-25-2013, 11:37 AM
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Roomtemperature
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The Scouts/Rockies/Devils of the early 80s always came off as some mutant franchise. Always awful. Shouldn't really exist (I mean really sandwhiched between three established franchises at the time and were awful... how could it work). But never really bad enough to be historic like the Capitals were those first two years. Like the Blue Jackets in terms of sucess in play.

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03-25-2013, 01:32 PM
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yave1964
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roomtemperature View Post
The Scouts/Rockies/Devils of the early 80s always came off as some mutant franchise. Always awful. Shouldn't really exist (I mean really sandwhiched between three established franchises at the time and were awful... how could it work). But never really bad enough to be historic like the Capitals were those first two years. Like the Blue Jackets in terms of sucess in play.
I remember after Lorimer, Resch and Tambellini joined the club, after playing for the Islanders. All of them looked embarrassed in their new uniforms, lol.

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03-25-2013, 04:26 PM
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CHIP72
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I've long thought the Devils started becoming the Devils franchise we now know in about 1984-85 or 1985-86 when they went from being a journeyman team with apparently no direction (i.e. a true extension of the Scouts/Rockies) to a young team slowly climbing the NHL ladder. Though the breakthrough occurred in 1988, the foundation for that breakthrough was starting to be put in place in earnest 2-3 years earlier.

Here's the team's point totals for the period centered on the mid-1980s (all point totals based on 80 game schedule with no "bonus points" for regulation ties/overtime losses, i.e. 80 points was a .500 season):

1983-84: 41 points (lowest total for the franchise since 1975-76)
1984-85: 54 points (solid improvement despite not getting Mario Lemieux)
1985-86: 59 points (at the time, tied the franchise record for points!)
1986-87: 64 points (despite decent point total, still tied for fewest points in the NHL)
1987-88: 82 points (first playoff appearance in NJ and first playoff game and series victories in franchise history)

The Devils fell back to 66 points in 1988-89, but moved back up to roughly the .500 level from 1989-90 through 1992-93 before becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in 1993-94.

Stated another way, the Scouts/Rockies/Devils history can be broken down into a few distinct eras:

1974-1985/1986: bad franchise with no direction and little hope (i.e. Mickey Mouse organization)
1985/1986 - 1993: increasingly solid franchise but not a serious Stanley Cup contender
1993 - present: perennial Stanley Cup contender (though one could argue they've fallen a half-notch since the 2004-05 lockout)

One final, semi-related note - the NHL arguably had more competitive balance in 1986-87 than in any season before (well, after the 1967 expansion) or after. Only two teams (Oilers and Flyers) had at least 100 points, and the Flyers had exactly 100 points. (I think the Oilers had 106 points.) On the other end of the scale, the Devils and Sabres both had 64 points (i.e. a .400 winning percentage), which actually is a respectable total.

Sorry for the slight digression from discussion about the Colorado Rockies' history onto discussion about their successor team's early history.

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03-25-2013, 04:38 PM
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BTW yave1964 - thanks for the write-ups.

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03-25-2013, 06:04 PM
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hockeypuck2012
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I saw the Rockies vs Canucks. The guy with the bull horn heckling Don Cherry was better than the game.

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03-25-2013, 07:03 PM
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Mike Jones
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I remember reading Jimmy Devellano's book (The Road to Hockeytown) about his life in hockey and he mentions a job interview with the Rockies. His plan for the Rockies was similar to what he would later do to rebuild the Wings and the Rocky ownership said they didn't want to do that. What a lost opportunity that was but I guess the Rockies thought that their approach was best.

On another note: In Part 2 of the Don Cherry miniseries mention was made that he wanted to bring Doug Favell out of retirement because he was desperate for decent goaltending. He mentioned some bad blood between Favell and the Rocky management. Does anybody know the backstory behind that "bad blood"? I know that Favell was exposed in the 1979 expansion draft and chosen by the Oilers but that's about it.


Last edited by Mike Jones: 03-25-2013 at 07:43 PM.
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03-26-2013, 10:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yave1964 View Post
I remember after Lorimer, Resch and Tambellini joined the club, after playing for the Islanders. All of them looked embarrassed in their new uniforms, lol.
I always feel bad for the Seals/Barons players who wound up on these other bad teams. Craig Patrick and Gary Croteau played full seasons for the second-year Scouts and Croteau went on to play a few more with the Rockies. Mike Christie, Ralph Klassen, Fred Ahern, Walt McKechnie.... even Bobby Sheehan was a Rockie! Good grief, didn't these guys suffer enough?

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03-30-2013, 03:01 AM
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Balls Mahoney
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These write ups are fantastic, I've enjoyed spending the last hour or so reading all of them. I find the defunct NHL teams so fascinating.

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04-10-2013, 11:51 PM
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Thanks for the write-up. I grew up with Rocky hockey. Rockies used to practice on occasion at the old South Suburban ice rink where I played. I remember watching them one time when Cherry was coach, the practice started with a football and a game of 500. Cherry had Blue on the ice chasing players around. Remember thinking "my peewee team practices harder than these guys."
Great story about Cherry, one reason he'll always have my respect. A kid I had played with was doing a skate-a-thon fundraiser for travel dough to tournaments and was going door to door to raise money. Lucky kid knocked on Cherry's door completely at random and he was home. This was after Cherry had been fired and he was still in Denver. Anyway, Cherry pays for his flight to a tournament, bought him a new pair of skates and had him over for dinner with him and Rose. Total class move.
Was sad when the Rockies moved but it was equally as sad going to games and there'd be only 4 or 5000 in the old McNichols Sports Arena. Place was empty by the end. Horribly mismanaged team.

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