The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the National Hockey League’s more successful franchises since they settled in the state in 1996. They’ve won two Stanley Cups, and figure to contend for another in this unusual season. What most younger fans tend to forget (and for understandable reasons) is that were it not for a twist of fate, we would not be referring to them today as the “Avalanche”.
An Exodus from Quebec
In 1995, the Quebec Nordiques had a strong, young core of players brimming with potential, including future Hall of Famers Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. They finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but their playoff inexperience doomed them. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eighth-seeded, defending champion New York Rangers.
Unfortunately, the team had no future in Quebec City, the NHL’s smallest market. It didn’t help that they played in the same province as the storied Montreal Canadiens, who would always be number one in Quebec. A number of other Canada-based teams faced a similar predicament, with the Canadian dollar weakening in relation to the U.S. dollar; the original Winnipeg Jets also left town during the decade.
Even though the Nordiques were a promising side, the future did not look very promising. Seeing the writing on the wall, owner Marcel Aubut sold the team to Comsat Video Enterprises, whose intention all along was to move the team to Denver, Colorado.
An extremely 90’s idea
The NHL in the 1990s was a bizarre alternate reality where standards and good taste did not exist and it was the best thing ever. This was the decade of FOX’s glowing puck, absurd third jerseys, the Florida Panthers’ flying rats, and Wayne Gretzky staying with the St. Louis Blues for a week or two. With this in mind, what you’re about to read will make perfect sense.
The man at the top of the new Denver hockey team at its outset was Charlie Lyons, the CEO of Comsat. He had a name for the team in mind from the very beginning, and it wasn’t the one the franchise would end up. His idea stemmed from his love of skiing.
That name? Rocky Mountain Extreme.
This even made it as far as the logo design stage. Graphic designer Michael Beindorff created a few sketches for the team, which wouldn’t emerge publicly until 2014.
Denver fans say “no” to Extreme
Those plans were scrapped very quickly. The hockey team’s very first beat writer, Adrian Dater, first leaked the proposed name in the Denver Post. Backlash from Denver fans was immediate.
I remember Dave Logan, the host of an afternoon show on 850 KOA then, opened up the phone lines for public reaction to the new name, all with full credit to my story. The unfavorable/favorable reaction was something like 98-2.Adrian Dater, writing about the Extreme years later for the blog ColHockeyNow
Team management publicly backtracked and disputed the leak, saying they never intended to name the team the “Extreme” at all. The name of the team, as with many other expansion teams across sports, would come down to a fan vote. Among the names were Avalanche, Black Bears, Cougars, Rapids (which would become the name for Denver’s MLS team), and Wranglers.
According to Icethetics, “Cougars” won the vote. The owners chose “Avalanche” anyway.
If there was any controversy, fans forgot about it quickly. The newly-christened Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in their very first year in Colorado.