Part 2 of 2. Part 1 appeared on Sunday.
I was crushed. I'd spent years trying to find a suitable team to follow, and now they were gone. The Quebec Nordiques were no longer. I didn't have anything against Denver, Colorado. But, the Nordiques were my team. Even if I wasn't from Quebec - had never been to Quebec City, for that matter - it just didn't feel right to see my team moved 2,000 miles away like that. The new identity - the Colorado Avalanche - was pretty cool, but it wasn't the tacky red igloo and fleur-de-lis I had grown to love.
Then, in that first season in Denver, the team traded for a guy I absolutely hated: Patrick Roy. They were already on shaky ground with me to begin with. And now, my love affair with the franchise was over. I barely followed them that season, including the Cup win (although I did correctly predict that the winning goal in Game 4 of the Finals would be scored by Uwe Krupp).
I was back to a fan without a franchise again. I had a dalliance with the Senators for a while. They were new, based very close to where I used to live, and had some interesting young players. But, it just didn't feel right to me. Plus, to be honest, I missed following Joe Sakic. It was a tough couple of years for me in the late 90s. I wanted to like the Avs, but I still couldn't let go of the Nordiques.
Things changed in 2000. Ray Bourque, with the Bruins going nowhere in a hurry, had requested a trade. I was starting to follow the Avs again, and was 100% confident that Bourque would land in Denver, even though all the rumors had him going at the deadline to Philadelphia or Detroit. To this day, I don't know why I was so positive he'd become an Av. I guess it just seemed like such a perfect fit for both Ray and the Avalanche. They needed a defenseman, and he needed a legitimate contender.
On March 4, 2000, Ray Bourque played his last game for the Bruins. I was there, at the Fleet Center. The Bruins were hosting the Flyers - one of the accepted frontrunners in the Bourque sweepstakes. In fact, the rumor racing around the arena that day was that Bourque and goalie Byron Dafoe were both on their way to Philadelphia - the press conference had already been scheduled for after the game. I hate the Flyers, and the thought of Ray Bourque playing for them was revolting to me.
The Bruins lost the game. Sadly, Bourque's last game was in those ugly yellow third jerseys (sadly, I think I've lost all the digital pics I had from the game). There were some signs around the ice thanking Ray, and we gave him a nice ovation late in the game, but, overall, it was a pretty subdued atmosphere. Officially, there was still a chance that he would stay in Boston. But, when he grabbed the puck after the final whistle had sounded, you knew he was gone. The game, by the way, was noteable for paving the way for another star player to leave his franchise; Hal Gill leveled Eric Lindros in the contest. Lindros received one of his numerous career concussions on the play, although it wasn't diagnosed as such right away. In the weeks to come, there would be a lot of fighting between Lindros and the Flyers over the way the injury was handled, and, after just a few more games in a Philadelphia uniform, Lindros would be on his way to the Rangers.
Back to Bourque. The following Tuesday, the Bruins hosted the Senators. Bourque was a scratch. That night, March 6th - my birthday - Ray Bourque became an Avalanche, and I was back in the fold. My wife, having been to that Flyers game with me, was also caught up in the excitement. She too would start cheering for the Avs - especially Bourque and that quirky goaltender he was rooming with (I was warming up to the future Hall of Fame goalie myself).
The Avs took Dallas to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals that year, but lost the clincher 3-2 - a loss I took very hard (still remember Bourque hitting the post in the 3rd period of that game). And I knew then I was hooked. The Avs, of course, would win it the following year, beating the Canucks, Kings and Blues before knocking of the Devils in a thrilling 7-game Final. My wife and I both had tears as we watched Ray celebrate with the Cup. The Bourque trade and Cup win was a compelling story for anyone - for me, it's ultimately what pulled me to cheer for the Avs. I've never been to Denver. Heck, tonight will be the first time I've seen the Avs in person. Doesn't matter - I'm a fan for life.