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The Colorado Rockies were an ice hockey team that played in the NFL’s Smythe Division from 1976 to 1982. The team’s home stadium was McNicholas Sports Arena in Denver.
How did the Rockies Start Up?
In 1974 the NHL had awarded Ivan Mullinex, owner of Denver Spurs of the Central Hockey League an expansion franchise. The new franchise was to begin playing in 1976/1977 but Mullinex sought to have the new team playing a year earlier because a stadium was already available. The initial plan was to acquire struggling team California Golden Seals and move it to Denver. However, the deal fell through and the NFL cancelled the new franchise altogether.
Eventually a group led by Jack Vickers purchased Kansas City Scouts and moved them to Colorado and renamed them the “Colorado Rockies”. As planned earlier, Denver now had an expansion franchise ready to play the 1976/1977 season. After the move, Genera Manager Sid Abel was replaced by Ray Miron and Coach Eddie Burns was replaced by Johnny Wilson.
The Colorado Rockies in Competition
Like their predecessors, the new team did not enjoy much success during their six seasons in the NFL. All six were losing seasons and the Rockies only made the playoff once. Their first game was a 4-2 win over Toronto Maple Leafs. However, it was downhill from there as they went on to close the 1976/1977 season with a 20-46-14, the worst in the division. Wilf Paiement was the standout performer for the Rockies returning a goal tally of 41 and 40 assists. Rookie Paul Gardner also shone, with 30 goals and 29 assists.
At the start of the 1977/1978 season the team had a change at the helm, with Pat Kelly stepping in for the departed coach Johnny Wilson. Colorado managed to make the playoff by finishing second in the Smythe Division with a 19-40-21 record. Rather than being a reflection of the Rockies’ superiority however, it was testament to the poor competition in the Smythe Division. They were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first playoff round by two games to nil. Captain Wilf Paiement again stood out, posting 87 points. There was a change of ownership as Arthur Imperatore bought the franchise from Tom Vickers.
Following a dismal run of 2 wins in 18 games towards the end of the season, Colorado posted a league bottom record of 15-53-12. Wilf Paiement again led the scoring with 60 points despite missing 15 games.
At the start of 1979/1980 season, Coach Pat Kelly was replaced by Don Cherry. They started the season badly losing 3 of the first four games and drawing one. Despite making many trades in midseason which saw them bring in 6 players and sell 2 including Wilf Paiement, the team slumped to a league worst record 19-48-13. New player Rene Robert contributed 63 points, the team’s best personal record that year.
After a quiet preseason without much trading activity, the Rockies began the 1980/1981 season with three straight wins. Results deteriorated after that, eventually finishing the season with a 22-45-13 record. Lanny MacDonald was best scorer with 81 points. Their penultimate season, 1981/1982 was a big failure, with the team finishing last in the league with an 18-49-13 record.
Colorado Rockies Most Notable Moments
Reaching the playoffs in 1978 was the highest point during the existence of the Colorado Rockies. They finished the regular season on a high beating St. Louis 5-2 , a win that allowed the to leapfrog the Vancouver Canucks in the standings snatching a playoff spot. After losing the first series game 3-2 in Philadelphia, the series came to Detroit. A crowd of 16,399 fans filled the McNickolas Stadium but the team lost the game 3-1, which eliminated them from the playoffs. The Rockets would never make it to the playoffs again.
Barry back played three seasons for the Rockies between 1977 and 1980. He was a reliable defenseman bt he was also valuable in offense. He recorded the most points in a season for a Rockies rookie (60) which is also the highest point tally of any Rockies defenseman.
In 1979, the franchise hired Coach Don Cherry who had just been fired by the Boston Bruins. Cherry was known for his flamboyance and Rockies management hoped he would help raise the team’s profile. Although the season was not particularly successful, Cherry became a fans favorite. In the final game of the season, the Rockies beat the Penguins 5-0, a morale boosting win for the fans. It was already known that the Rockies were relocating to New Jersey, but Cherry received a standing ovation. The players formed two lines with sticks raised and cherry walked between the two lines, acknowledging the appreciation from players and fans.
Colorado Rockies Notable Players
Wilf Paiement’s scoring prowess saw him top the scoring charts for three straight years and he was instrumental to Colorado’s run to the Playoffs in 1978. He holds the record for most assists (56), most goals (41) and most points (87) in a season for the Colorado Rockies.
What Happened to the Colorado Rockies?
When Arthur Imperatore bought the team in 1978, he had intended to move it to New Jersey but the NFL denied his request because there was no readily available venue. In 1982 following a dismal season, Arthur sold the team to John McMullen. McMullen succeeded where Arthur had failed and the team was relocated to New Jersey for the 1982/1983 season. It was renamed the “New Jersey Devils”.