Contributed by resident historian, Tilt’d Toledo
1978: February 12th; Possibly as a result of the dreaded AVCO Cup hangover, the Nordiques went into Cincinnati suffering through their worst slump of the season. They had lost two straight in Houston to start the week and had won only 3 of their past 11 games. A loss to the Stingers threatened to drop the Cup champs to .500 for the first time since October. With a spate of injuries in the crease, Québec employed their newly acquired fifth-string goalie, a 20-year old rookie from Finland named Markus Mattsson. Long before Kiprusoff and Backstrom were tearing up the NHL, the incredibly white Jackie Robinson of Finnish goalies was blazing the trail. His debut in Cincinnati would represent a bump on that road, however, and Mattsson would soon be traded back to Winnipeg, who had owned his rights earlier in the season. In addition to being the first goalie from Finland in both the WHA and the NHL, Mattsson’s other claim to fame was that he shut down Gretzky in 1984 to end the Great One’s streak at 51 games. But Mattsson’s career didn’t exactly start off that well. After being peppered with 19 shots in the first period, Mattsson finally relented at the 16:40 mark on a goal that was set up by former Lightning coach, Barry Melrose. Two minutes later, former Kings coach Robbie Ftorek would get a power play helper from former Senators GM, Rick Dudley. With 16 seconds to go in the frame, future Nord, Ftorek, would set up the Stingers’ third goal. The teams traded goals in the second, before the wheels started to come off, halfway through the third. The 8-2 loss did not discourage the young Mattsson, who went on to become the Jets’ starter and capture the last two editions of the AVCO Cup. The future wouldn’t be as kind to Nordiques coach, Marc Boileau, whose team lost the next four games. Despite bringing the Cup home less than nine months earlier, the slump would cost Boileau his job.
1980: February 9th; The expansion Nords were shutout 5-0 by the eventual Cup champions on Long Island, marking the start of their first seven-game losing streak in the league. They had lost four straight a month earlier to fall below .500, but this night’s loss sent them spiralling to 25-44-11, when it was all said and done. It would take another ten years before Québec would break the franchise records for fewest wins and longest losing streak, during their dismal 1989-90 season. Heading into the Islanders game, the Nordiques were only 4 games behind Bossy’s boys and very few people would have predicted, at that point, that New York was on the verge of a dynasty, or that the Nords would close out the year with a 6-23-4 record. Meanwhile, three days later, all three Stastny brothers made their Olympic debuts in Lake Placid for Team Czechoslovakia.
1981: February 8th; Québec won 4-3 in Boston to extend their NHL franchise record win streak to five games, as well as extending their undefeated streak to six games. They would soon shatter the latter, by going unbeaten in eleven games a month later, but the winning streak stood up for another year until they strung together six victories. Two days after the Boston game, on the day before his 27th birthday, the Nordiques sold their former starting goalie, Michel Dion, to the Jets. They had acquired veteran ‘keeper, Dan Bouchard, in a trade the previous week. The win in Boston served as a harbinger, as the recently mediocre Nords were now becoming a force to be reckoned with. At the start of the streak, Québec stood at 11-26-12, but would go on to lose only 4 of its next 28 games to climb back to .500 for the first time since October. If the Avs can somehow recapture that magic, and lose only 4 of their remaining 26 games this season, such a turnaround would not even be as impressive as the ’81 team’s feat. Nor would making this year’s playoffs be as satisfying as when the ’81 team came out of nowhere to knock the Leafs out of the post-season.
1982: February 12th; The now successful Nordiques were riding a six-game unbeaten streak and sporting a modest 27-20-10 record, after their seven-game winless drought to close out January. Their short western road trip to kick off the second half, began with a tie in Los Angeles the previous night, and they had to be feeling pretty confident flying into Stapleton for what nobody could have guessed would be the franchise’s last ever game as visitors to McNichols. Their confidence was soon shaken, when the Rockies pummelled them by a 9-2 score. The win must have been especially satisfying for the cowboy-clad coach, Don Cherry, who still enjoyed bashing on frenchmen in the early years of the Euro invasion of Swedish Sieves. Meanwhile, Gretzky tied the record, with his 153rd point of the season.
1987: February 9th-13th; Québec City was never chosen to host an NHL All-Star game. They did host the inaugural WHA All-Star Game in 1973, and again in 1978, while Colorado got to host the record highest scoring 2001 NHL affair. While those three events are all surely special to the franchise, the Rendez-vous ’87 two-game series that pitted the best of the NHL against the best the Soviet Union had to offer, was perhaps the finest hockey ever hosted by the franchise. The crowd never got to see the hometown Nords’ goalie, Clint Malarchuk, put his neck on the line against the future Nordique, and incredibly white Jackie Robinson of Russian goalies, Sergei “The Traktor” Mylnikov, who both served as backups. Michel Goulet, however, represented the home side, as did future Nord, Grant Fuhr, alongside future Avs Jari Kurri, Claude Lemieux and Ray Bourque. Kurri opened the scoring in Game 1, which Team NHL went on to win 4-3, then added an assist on the first NHL goal of the second game, which the Soviets took 5-3, thereby claiming the series on aggregate scoring. The Soviet MVP was future Nord-turned-Av, Valeri Kamensky, who scored twice and added an assist in Game 2 alone. An interesting side note to the series was that while the CBC did cover the event, it was not a Hockey Night in Canada production. Molson was the main sponsor of HNIC, but their rival, Carling-O’Keefe Breweries, owned Les Nordiques and Le Colisée. So rather than the blue-blazered Ron MacLean and Dave Hodge serving as hosts, CBC Sports anchor, Brian Williams, donned his usual orange coat and assumed the week’s hockey duties. Don Wittman and Blues’ President John Davidson called the game in Canada, while Doc Emrick and Mike Clement called the game on ESPN. Another interesting side note is that while Ron MacLean had just begun hosting the Western Canadian part of the HNIC broadcasts earlier that season, a month after Rendez-vous ’87 saw him take over the Toronto job from Hodge. When network executives decided to end a broadcast at 11PM with the Habs/Flyers game heading into overtime, Hodge blew up on air, Bill O’Reilly style, and was promptly fired from the network.
1988: February 13th; Kamensky and the Soviet Union defeated Team Norway 5-0 to open the Calgary Olympics. Playing behind the famed KLM line, Valeri still managed to score 4 goals and added 2 assists for the Gold-medal winners. Four months later, Québec took a chance by drafting him 129th overall. The gambit paid off four years later when Kamensky debuted for the Nordiques and recorded 21 points in only 23 games that spring. The next year, Valeri was up to 37 points in only 32 games. His best full season came during the Avs’ first year, when he contributed 85 points during the regular season and added 22 points during the run to the Cup. The next season, he chipped in with 22 more playoff points, as he established himself as one of the all-time Av greats.
1989: February 11th; Québec defeated Pittsburgh 8-1, a rare bright spot on the season, with their most lopsided victory of a campaign that saw precious few victories. Two days later, the Nords would defeat the Habs on Mats Sundin’s 18th birthday, in a game he was likely interested in following back home. Though the Nordiques would yet know the depths to which the franchise would sink, this season would see the dramatic decline of Peter Stastny’s and Michel Goulet’s numbers. Neither player would record more than 85 points that year, nor would either surpass 65 points, ever again. For these two players who had spent the decade at well over a point-per-game pace, year in year out, 1989 would be the beginning of the end for both. With the rookie Joe Sakic ready to take the torch the following year, the franchise was left in good hands. It has now come full circle, with Burnaby Joe handing it off to Peter’s son.
1990: February 13th; Québec defeated Vancouver 5-3, ending their then franchise record losing streak at 11 games. The victory marked only their 10th of the season and they added even fewer ties to finish with a record of 12-61-7, which set the franchise records for fewest wins in a season, and for most losses in a season. They would follow up the victory over the Canucks by losing 5 more games, as well as 20 of their remaining 23, en route to their worst season ever. With Sundin still in Sweden, celebrating his 19th birthday by watching his NHL club defeat his future Canucks team, the Nords longed for secondary scoring behind Sakic’s first 100-point campaign. Stastny’s point-per-game pace proved too little to make up for the play of the seven goaltenders used by the Nordiques that year.
1992: February 8th; Québec’s first round pick from the previous year, Eric Lindros, made his Olympic debut for Team Canada in Albertville. He had refused to sign with the Nords and had been playing with Oshawa all season. On that same day, Nordiques’ prospect, Andrei Kovalenko, debuted with the Unified Team alongside future Avs’ defenseman, Darius Kasparaitis. Team Canada opened with a 3-2 victory over Team France on their way to the Finals, while the Unified Team opened with an 8-1 drubbing of Team Switzerland, on their way to the Finals. Four months after the Games, Lindros was dealt to Philadelphia for a pile of assets, including Peter Forsberg.
1994: February 13th; Québec traded a 19-year old goaltending prospect by the name of Manny Fernandez to Dallas, for Tommy Sjodin and a third round pick. While it would be easy to look back and complain about what a bad trade this was, keep in mind that Fernandez was merely a third-rounder himself, and as yet unproven at the professional level. Sjodin was coming off a 36-point season as a 27-year old rookie and was putting up a more-than-point-per-game pace in the IHL. Had he not stayed in Switzerland at the conclusion of the 1994 strike, it is conceivable that he could have chipped in 40 points per season for the Nordiques. So by swapping third-rounders and collecting Sjodin as a sort of toss-in, the Nords did alright. And, oh yeah. The third round pick Québec got from Dallas? They used it to draft Chris Drury. Meanwhile, on the day of the Fernandez trade, Forsberg debuted at the Olympics in Lillehammer as Team Sweden tied Stastny’s Team Slovakia by a 4-4 score. Team Sweden would later win Gold on Foppa’s famous shootout winner, over future Av Paul Kariya and Team Canada. Interesting bit of trivia: Stastny’s son Yan would later play for Team USA, making them the only father-son combination to ever play for four different national teams.
1995: February 14th; Milan Hejduk must have been celebrating as Québec improved to 11-1 on his 19th birthday with a 3-2 win on Long Island. After slipping to the fourth round the previous summer, he may have been doubting his ability to ever win the goal-scoring title in the NHL, but on this night he was probably curled up with a young Zlatuse in Pardubice, doing something romantic like watching the Nordiques game, while she slept next to him. Ahh, to be young and in love with the Nords…I remember it well. At least he didn’t do something stupid, like marry his bodyguard. I’m looking at you, Roseanne.
1997: February 13th; Marc Crawford celebrated his 36th birthday by beating the Coyotes 3-2 in Phoenix. The Avs began their season-high 6-game winning streak two nights earlier against the Kings, improving to 33-14-8 in defence of the Cup. The young coach was on top of the world, having won the Jack Adams Award two years earlier, in his rookie season. Three years before that, at the tender age of 30, he guided his St. John’s Maple Leafs to the Calder Cup Finals, in his rookie year as a coach in the AHL. His career arc was rocketing skyward with this, his third straight successful NHL season. He’s just lucky he never had to pick guys for the shootout.
1998: February 13th; The main Round of the Nagano Olympic hockey tournament began with Avs representing almost every team. Team Canada opened with a 5-0 win over Team Belarus under the guidance of head coach Crawford, and with starting goalie Patrick Roy, forward Sakic and defenseman Adam Foote. Future Avs forward, Theoren Fleury, defenseman Bourque and former Nords prospect, Lindros, captained them. Kariya was also named to the team again, but he suffered a concussion at the hands of Gary Suter just prior to the Games, and could not play. Team Belarus featured current Avs defenseman, Ruslan Salei. Team Sweden once again featured Forsberg, alongside former Nordique, Sundin. They opened the tournament with a 4-2 victory over Team USA, which featured forward Tony Granato and a bunch of rock stars. Group B produced all three Medal winners, including Bronze Medallist Jari Kurri of Team Finland, Silver Medallists Kamensky, Kasparaitis, Kovalenko and Alexei Gusarov of Team Russia, as well as Gold Medallists Hejduk and Martin Rucinsky of the Czech Republic. Team Germany, who finished in 9th place two days earlier, featured Avs’ defenseman, Uwe Krupp.
1999: February 14th; Thanks in part to a rare Adam Foote goal, the Avs tied Philadelphia 4-4, beginning a streak of four straight tie games. For what it’s worth, this is truly a record that may never be broken. The only hope lies in the mistaken belief that the NHL may one day eliminate the stupid shootout, but even then, the record would be tough to break. The seven-game winless streak that encompassed these four games came on the heels of a franchise record 12-game win streak. These seven games stood as the longest winless streak of the season, but the Avs shook off the slump and went on to win another Division title, before bowing out to Dallas in the Conference Finals.
2001: February 10th; For the first time in franchise history, the Avs lost a game at home while coming away with a point. A month earlier, they had been awarded a point for losing in Detroit, under the NHL’s new “everybody’s a winner” approach to assaulting the record books. All of a sudden, 75% of the league could market themselves as having a winning record, in what amounted to just one more dumb move, in a long line of overtime perversions. Word on the street is, the league is planning to use the popularity of Ovechkin’s hat-and-sunglasses goal as an excuse to make yet another change to what determines who gets into the playoffs. If a game is still tied after three shootout attempts, four rounds of target shooting, five fastest-skater races and six hardest-shot competitions, then 5 points will be awarded to the team who garners the most text messaged votes supporting their prop comedy interpretation of a scene from Who’s the Boss, with 3.5 points awarded to the losing squad.
2002: February 9th; With corruption rampant, Team Belarus was once again forced to qualify for the main Round of the Olympic hockey tournament in Salt Lake City, despite their 7th place showing in Nagano. Only six byes were granted to the original 6 hockey powers, so Salei and company were forced to win their Group, in the 8-team Preliminary Round. They opened the tournament with a 1-0 victory over their neighbors from the Ukraine, which would prove to be the difference. Both teams finished the round robin with identical 2-1 records. Team Ukraine even had the better goal differential, as well as more Goals For, but the head-to-head loss to Team Belarus prevented them from moving on to the next round. Now Team Belarus was up against the big boys, placed in a Group with Team Russia, Team USA and Team Finland. After the tourney ended, Salei returned to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to complete his 82-game regular season. Nobody played more games between that October and that April, than Comrade Ruslan, a true worker.
2003: February 13th; On Canucks’ coach Marc Crawford’s birthday, The Avs lost in overtime in Vancouver, ending a season-high 6-game winning streak, but went on to amass a streak of 14 straight games with at least a point. At the beginning of the streak, the Avs’ record stood at 17-14-9-5, but more than one month later, they had improved to 28-14-11-6-3¾-∂, where the 5th number in the sequence represents games where they showed a lot of effort and the sixth denotes the number of games that they probably should have won. Thankfully, the NHL abolished many of these categories. Solving for winning percentage that season involved using Newton’s root approximations.
2009: February 13th; The Avs fired a season-high 48 shots at Jaroslav Halak on Friday, but came away with another doughnut in the points column. Talk about unlucky.