The summertime itinerary of the Stanley Cup is a thoroughly
documented phenomenon. Players from the NHL's best team spend the
off-season carting the trophy everywhere from family barbecues to
David Letterman's couch to the odd gentlemen's club. Yet after
the Avalanche beat the Devils to win the title in June, the Cup's
travels reached new heights. On Aug. 16, Mark Waggoner, the
team's vice president of finance, woke up before dawn and toted
the chalice to the top of 14,433-foot Mount Elbert, the tallest
peak in Colorado. "The Stanley Cup represents the top, and I just
thought it would be a great tribute," says Waggoner. "I think the
hockey gods were smiling on us."
If so, they seem to have turned slightly less sanguine. Colorado
opened training camp in Stockholm, where the team was supposed to
compete in the NHL Challenge, a mini-tournament against European
clubs. However, a day into the trip, the terrorist attacks
prompted the Avalanche to truncate the European exhibition
schedule and return home. Four days later star center Peter
Forsberg announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of
absence "to let my body heal." After a splenectomy caused him to
miss the final two rounds of the postseason, Forsberg underwent
two ankle surgeries over the summer. His decision stunned his
teammates. "I accept--I'm not saying I agree--but I accept Pete's
decision; we all approach the game in different ways," said
goalie Patrick Roy. "I'm sure we'll remain a very good hockey
Indeed, the league's deepest team should skate on just fine.
During the summer Colorado re-signed such key veterans as Hart
Trophy winner Joe Sakic (five years, $50.5 million), defenseman
Rob Blake (five years, $45 million) and Roy (two years, $17
million). Colorado is similarly wealthy in young talent: Chris
Drury, 25, wing Milan Hejduk, 25, and Alex Tanguay, 21, were the
Avalanche's top three scorers last year after Sakic and Forsberg
and are proven playoff forces, notably Tanguay, who had two goals
in Game 7 of the finals.
Colorado's biggest concern is whether it can overcome the tumult
of the off-season. "There have been a lot of distractions,"
allows Roy, "but if any team can handle it, it's us." If he's
right, Colorado could see another summit next summer.
--L. Jon Wertheim
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Rob Blake, Avalanche
The Avalanche's top line of Joe Sakic (+45), Milan Hejduk (+32)
and Alex Tanguay (+35) combined for a +112 rating last season,
the highest of any NHL line.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 2 Even without Forsberg, Avalanche has firepower
DEFENSE 3 Blake, Foote are anchors; pressure's on Skoula
GOALTENDING 2 Roy proved last season he's still one of
SPECIAL TEAMS 6 PP is awesome; Yelle, Podein must improve
MANAGEMENT 1 G.M. Lacroix is fearless; makes all the right