Remembering a Play: After 22 Years, Sakic Hands the Cup to Bourque

Sports Remembering a Play
Remembering a Play: After 22 Years, Sakic Hands the Cup to Bourque

I am temporarily lifting the moratorium that I promised several weeks ago on remembering my biased and (sometimes) beloved Colorado sports plays, as the Stanley Cup Final has not produced the drama I had hoped for, which would have opened up a vast world to remember plays from. After getting a lead and putting the Edmonton Oilers in quicksand yet again, the Florida Panthers staved off a ferocious comeback last night led by the best player in the world to take a 3-0 stranglehold over the Stanley Cup Final.

The Panthers dominance is truly something to behold when they have a lead, as their smothering style hearkens back to a bygone age before the NHL opened up the game to more skilled players in this new and exciting era. That they are frustrating Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the high-octane Edmonton Oilers to this degree both proves what a special team they are and the maxim that playoff hockey is a different game from the regular season.

So given that the only drama left surrounds when Florida will lift its first ever Stanley Cup, we will take this opportunity to remember the most famous lifting of someone’s first Lord Stanley in NHL history, authored by a team who denied Florida its first opportunity to win a championship in 1996. This was as heartwarming a moment as it gets in sports (assuming you weren’t a Detroit Red Wings fan).

All these years later, it still gets misty in my room when I see Bourque’s kid crying.

Before getting to the man who makes this moment a moment, what made this extra iconic is that Joe Sakic, the first captain in Colorado Avalanche history whose “C” is retired along with his number in the rafters, eschewed the traditional captain’s skate around the rink to hand the Stanley Cup right to Ray Bourque.

That Sakic then told Bourque to do the captain’s skate with the Cup further speaks to both Sakic and Bourque’s character, and how much Bourque meant to his new adopted team. He had suffered through 22 years of losing for this moment and there was no reason to wait any longer.

This may come as a shock to some folks too young to have lived through it, but Boston used to be a loser sports town and they weren’t widely regarded as the least gracious winners on the planet. Bourque quickly etched himself into Boston lore through his transcendent two-way dominance on the ice as the team’s best defenseman since the generational Bobby Orr, but also through an iconic moment where he removed his number 7 jersey to reveal the figure synonymous with Bourque, 77, as the Bruins retired the legend Phil Esposito’s number 7.

Bourque made 17 straight All-Star Game appearances to open his career in Boston, won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman four times in five years between 1986 and 1991, and all he had to show for dominating the league for two straight decades was two Stanley Cup appearances that his team lost by a combined series score of 8-1. By the time 1999 rolled around and the Bruins lost for the umpteenth time in the second round of the playoffs during Bourque’s twenty years in a Bruins uniform, it was clear that if he was going to scale this mountaintop, it would not be in Boston.

He was the most sought-after commodity at the trade deadline in the 1999-2000 NHL season, and the Colorado Avalanche won a heated bidding war to add the most beloved ring chasing veteran in sports history. After winning a titanic battle with their generational rival in Detroit, all the Avalanche had to do was get past their other rival in the Dallas Stars to push Ray Bourque to the grandest stage in hockey. They lost a crushing Game 7 in Dallas, and the Stars went on to lose to a great, smothering New Jersey Devils team in the Stanley Cup Final.

Many wondered whether Bourque would call it quits, as he had admitted he did not have a whole lot left in him prior to the trade, but he came back for one final magical season in 2000-01. The Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy with the NHL’s best record, and they cruised through the Western Conference playoffs, save for a brutal seven-game series in the second round against the Los Angeles Kings where they lost their second-best player Peter Forsberg to a burst spleen. This set up one of the league’s most highly anticipated Stanley Cup Finals in history between Bourque’s Avs and the defending champion New Jersey Devils.

Bourque was no passenger for this ride, as he ate up big minutes playing between the first and second defensive units and played both on the power play and the penalty kill. He also scored one of the biggest goals of this legendary Stanley Cup Final, and you could argue that he would not be a champion without it.

In the championship video distributed by the NHL, Avs players tell a famous story where in between the second and third periods of Game 3, where the game and the Stanley Cup Final were both tied 1-1, the guys were all just pumping themselves up talking about getting the next goal. Bourque stepped up said that he would get it, and thirty seconds into the third period, you’ll never guess what happened.

That goal held up as the game-winner as the Avs took a crucial game in New Jersey before dropping the next two to set up a dramatic do-or-die Game 6 on the road. Yet again it looked as if Ray Bourque would come up short, as it seemed like the defending champions had figured the Avs out over the last two games.

Instead, the Avs proved they also had the heart of a champion, even if that heart lacked the hardware, and they cruised to a 4-0 win in Game 6 to send the series back to Denver for a decisive Game 7. Two goals from Alex Tanguay and one classic Joe Sakic wrister later, and after 22 years, Ray Bourque was finally a champion.

Perhaps nothing communicates Bourque’s importance to both Boston and the greater hockey world better than the fact that the smuggest sports city of the 21st century threw a parade for another city’s championship, all because of one man.

Raymond Bourque transcended hockey in a way few players ever have, and he touched the hearts of millions with his consistency on the ice along with his humanity and humility. He is one of the few players in the history of sports who could take a simple moment like turning and handing a trophy to someone into an event that echoes throughout history and underpins emotional league ad campaigns decades later. Bourque represented everything pure and good about sports, culminating in a perfect capstone to one of hockey’s most celebrated careers.

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