The Colorado Rockies were an American professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) that played in Denver, Colorado from 1976 to 1982. They were a relocation of a 1974 expansion team: the Kansas City Scouts.
In 1982, the franchise moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey and was renamed the New Jersey Devils.
Bringing the NHL to Denver
Ivan Mullenix (the owner of the Central Hockey League's Denver Spurs, had been awarded a "conditional" NHL franchise for the 1976-77 NHL season.
With the 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, but the proposed arrangement fell through and with the continuing franchise difficulties, the NHL called off the 1976–77 expansion.
Then, the Spurs elected to move to the World Hockey Association (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 only lasted for two weeks before folding.
The Seals ultimately relocated to Cleveland for the 1976–77 season, where they played for two years as the Barons before merging with the Minnesota North Stars prior to the 1978–79 season.
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, the team had fared somewhat better on the ice over their first two years than their expansion brethren, the Washington Capitals.
However, their ownership group lacked the resources and patience to handle the typical struggles of an expansion team and 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 2,000 tickets, the Scouts decided to pull up stakes and get out.
The team was sold to a Denver based group headed by Jack Vickers (who moved the team to Denver as the Rockies).
Unfortunately, the situation didn't improve significantly.
In six seasons in Denver, the Rockies made the Stanley Cup 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 team 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 runners-up 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 team not only never had a winning record in their six years in Denver, but they never won as many as half of the games they lost.
The Rockies did have some star 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 and Bobby Schmautz, however, the team always had a lack of overall depth and traded such quality for quantity.
The team was also plagued by instability. In four years, they had seven coaches and none of them lasted for more than one full season. The ownership changed hands twice in four years.
The attendance was fairly respectable, considering that the team was barely competitive on the ice and unstable off it.
The Team Under Don Cherry
One of the few bright spots in the franchise's history was during the 1979–80 season when the flamboyant Don Cherry (a former Jack Adams Award winner) was named the head coach of the team after being fired by the Boston Bruins.
Under Don, the Rockies adopted the motto: "Come to the fights and watch a Rockies game break out!" which could be seen on billboards all over Denver during the 1979–80 NHL season.
However, as he later admitted, Don's outspokenness and feuding with the Rockies general manager Ray Miron did not endear him to the front office.
While Don did much to motivate the players, goaltending was still the team's weakness as Ray refused to replace Hardy Astrom (whom Don dubbed "The Swedish Sieve").
Don recalled one game where his players had got ten shots on goal without scoring, but then, Hardy conceded a goal from the opponent's first shot and was yanked from the net.
The Rockies finished with 51 points, tied for the worst record in the league. In their final game which was held at home. Don's team defeated the Penguins 5–0.
As it was already known that Don would not return next season, he wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots for what would be his last NHL game. 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.
The Team Moves to New Jersey
In 1978, New Jersey trucking magnate Arthur Imperatore, Sr. bought the Colorado Rockies with the intention of moving them to northern New Jersey, however, the NHL vetoed the move because the Brendan Byrne Arena (where Arthur intended to have the team play) was still under construction and there was no arena in New Jersey that was suitable even for temporary use.
Finally in 1982, Arthur sold the Colorado Rockies to another New Jersey multi-millionaire, shipping tycoon John McMullen. He announced that he had "big plans" for the franchise, but they involved making the long-awaited move to New Jersey.
The team was relocated for the 1982-83 NHL season and renamed the New Jersey Devils.
The last active NHL player who had played for the Rockies was Joe Cirella, who retired from the NHL following the 1995-96 NHL season and played his final professional season for the Cologne Sharks in Germany.
During that season, incidentally, Colorado saw hockey return to Denver as the Quebec Nordiques moved to the city and became known as the Colorado Avalanche.
Two other former Rockies: Paul Gagne and Rich Chernomaz played until 1999 in the Swiss and German leagues respectively.
The 2001 Stanley Cup Finals pitted both teams that had called Colorado home in their histories, with the Avalanche defeating the Devils in seven games.
The Avalanche won Game 7 in Denver and the victory enabled Ray Bourque to retire as a Stanley Cup champion (to that point, he had yet to win the Cup).
The Colorado Rockies are credited as being the first team to use the Gary Glitter song "Rock and Roll, Part 2" (commonly referred to as "The Hey Song") at a sporting event. The team played it after every goal scored by a Rockies player.
Other NHL teams picked up on this practice as did other teams in other leagues.
- 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
- 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)
- 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)