Colorado was going to turn up the aggression after what was basically termed a passive inaugural season. Rookie defenseman Barry Beck, forward and WHA assassin, who almost killed Marc Tardif in a savage on-ice attack, Rick Jodzio and rugged forward Wilf Paiement were going to lead the way in the Rockies' new endeavor. The Rockies weren't very successful in winning or roughing it up, but they gave Colorado fans a gift at the end of the season.
Jodzio Actually Playing (?) Against Buffalo
Fittingly, the Rockies started with a 4-4 tie at home against Vancouver. The Rockies blew a two-goal third period lead to lose it. However, since the NHL started awarding playoff spots based on points in the 77/78 season, every point was needed in a team's effort to reach the playoffs.
The Rockies then took to the road where new coach Pat Kelly would begin a season long habit of castigating the officials.
"If there was water out there, he (Borje Salming) could have got a 9 (out of a possible 10 points) for a high dive," Kelly said in the Denver Post. Kelly was referring to an obvious dive by Salming after being turned around by Rocky defenseman Barry Beck. Six seconds later, with 4:22 left, Ian Turnball scored the winning goal to stake Toronto to a 5-4 victory.
The first win of the season was another first for the Rockies as well. Once again with Favell in net, the Rockies took on Smythe Division rivals the Chicago Blackhawks.
Behind 33 Favell saves, the Rockies notched their first victory of the 1977/78 season and the franchise's first ever shutout with a 3-0 victory over Chicago at Big Mac. Favell had been left out to dry during recent games, especially the 5-4 loss to Toronto in which the Leafs scored four shorthanded goals but received enough support in this game to get the goose egg.
Favell With the Save!!
Actually, the Rockies started the season strong. An early season tie against Boston was one of the more upbeat and unlikely games during the season. Despite only finishing with three defensemen and going down 4-1 midway through the second period, the Rockies managed to comeback behind goals by Ron Andruff, Dave Hudson and Paul Gardner.
Already 1-0-1 on the homestand, the Rockies went on to pound the hapless Washington Capitals 8-1. Things began badly, Walt Frazier scored just 11 seconds into the game. Favell then shut the door and watched his team assault Washington goalies Gary Smith and Bernie Wolfe with 45 shots on net.
The Rockies would even hold first place for a few days. They pounded the Rangers and ripped the Canucks twice, once at home and once on the road. However that road victory would have to do for a while. It would be their last win on the road for about five months.
While the regular woes similar to the 76/77 season would hinder the team all year, the Rockies got their share of breaks and occasionally knocked around the opposition saying to the league that they weren't the same patsies as the year before.
Barry Beck began proving himself as a top-notch defenseman by doing some of the knocking and making some of the breaks. In a November 11 game, Beck TKOd Blues defenseman Jack Brownschidle. The hit put Brownschidle in the hospital. Beck also proved he wasn't somebody who could be easily intimidated. In a December 4 game against the Flyers, Beck challenged Philly Flyer Mel Bridgman after taking a shove in the face by the Bully. Bridgman backed away. Later in the game, Beck ran Bob "Hound" Kelly hard into the boards. A little later after Flyer Paul Holmgren was knocked into Favell, Beck challenged Holmgren to a fight. Holmgren obliged and the next day both The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News gave the decision in the fight to Beck.
Beck Stopping Dennis Hull
Besides fighting, Beck was scoring. Known more as a defensive defenseman in junior, Beck was astounded himself after a hat trick against Minnesota.
"I never had a hat trick in junior, eh?
I had a couple of two-goal games. But
I've never had a hat trick in my life," Beck said.
"I don't really know exactly what you're
supposed to do after a hat trick."
I don't know where the hats are. Nobody
gave them to me." ----Denver Post
Besides getting some stellar play from Favell and Beck, fortune sprinkled small doses of luck on the team to keep them alive for a possible playoff berth.
Islander goaltender Billy Smith assisted the Rockies the best he could as well. In 1977 no NHL goalie had ever scored a goal. Smith tried to become the first in a game against the Rockies. Rocky defenseman John Van Boxmeer took the puck up the ice with Favell behind him in an effort to get off the ice so the Rockies could have a sixth attacker and try to tie the game. Boxmeer fired the puck at Smith, which he caught. He then dropped it and attempted to lift it over the surging Rockies in an attempt to score. He failed and Paul Gardner gained controlled of the puck just fifteen feet away and fired it home with 54 seconds left to give the Rockies another tie.
Nevertheless, most nights the Rockies were getting beat by the best teams in and out of the league.
On January 3, 1978 the Rockies took on Spartak, the national champions of the USSR. The Russians, known for their chippy style of play, beat our Rockies handily 8-3. But, while losing the "battle of wits" as Russian coach Robert Cherenkov called it, the Rockies were keeping the fans entertained by going after the Russians physically. Wilf Paiement even got into a fight with Yuri Turin after delivering an elbow to the back of Turin's head. "I was kind of surprised he dropped his gloves," Paiement said in the Denver Post.
Luckily the game didn't count in the standings. What did count in the standings were the ties the team was beginning to rack up. Remember, every point was vital to the team because of points being the deciding factor as to who gets into the playoffs and who doesn't.
You can point to any one of a variety of miracle ties that pushed the team into the playoffs. Maybe it was the last second tie in Washinton on January 25 that pushed them in. With the Capitals' fans counting down the seconds to a win over the Rockies, Paul Gardner slapped in a backhander with the fans on "2" to salvage a point against the team from Washington.
"The interviewer introduced his guest to the fans remaining in the
stands to watch the closed-circuit postgame show, a regular feature
at the Washington Capitals' NHL home games." 'Here's
the man who forced the 3-3 tie with only two seconds to go in the game...
Paul Gardner.' The Capitals' fans booed." ---Denver Post
While the road winless streak was still intact as of late January, another streak about to fall was an ominous one. The Rockies had never, never, ever won a home game where more than 10,000 people were in attendance at McNichols Arena. That streak would end in an unlikely way against the Flyers.
Gary Dornhoefer scored for the Flyers with just about five minutes gone in the third. Then Paul Gardner was steaming in on Flyer goalie Wayne Stephenson when Bob Dailey threw him into the boards. The referee kept his arm down and the fans went nuts, throwing all kinds of things onto the ice. The hit resulted in a broke vertebrae for Gardner, who was out for the season.
Officials cleared the ice of debris and the game resumed after an eight-minute delay. Twenty seconds later, Randy Pierce scored for the Rockies to close the Flyer lead to 4-3. Pierce would get the game winner with 4:44 remaining and Paiement would score two to bring the Rockies back for their first home victory in front of more than 10,000 fans. The final score was 6-4.
"Wasn't it beautiful?," Paiement said in the Denver Post.
"This has to be like when we beat Montreal
in Kansas City. It was great to come
back after those bastards tried to kill Gards. This
was one of our greatest nights."Denver Post
The fans would even get more unruly in a game about two weeks later against the Pittsburgh Penguins. During the game the Penguins often stood on their bench and traded insults with the fans. At one point, a fan challenged the much-maligned Dave Schultz to a fight. Despite the fan participation, the Rockies went down in defeat.
Come and Get It Davey
But it was wins the Rockies needed, not fan interaction with the opposing players.
And the wins were going to get tougher to come by. Besides Gardner going down thanks to Dailey; Beck, Pierce and Mike Christie were injured in a 3-2 win over the Flames at Big Mac.
But Pat Kelly managed to keep the team alive despite the injuries. However, the referees were really hurting the Rockies and Kelly was not going to let them get away with it.
An early season game against Montreal saw Kelly lamenting referee Dave Newell's partiality to the Canadiens and high-scoring forward Guy Lafleur. "He takes a dive," Kelly said after the Montreal game. "The ref didn't even see it. The guy (Lafleur) yells---Lafleur goes, 'oh!'---and down he goes. The referee looks over then and says, 'OK, five.' "Lafleur got speared and he plays the whole five minutes of the penalty. So he must have really been hurt."
A crucial game against Minnesota was a bad tie for the Rockies. Up 3-0 in the third period, Minnesota fired three straight goals to tie it and relegate the Rockies to a mere point for the tie. Once again, Kelly was miffed with the officiating. "Minnesota should have gotten those goals with all the opportunities the referee gave them, Kelly said in the Denver Post. "If that's NHL refereeing, then the NHL had better look for some new referees." Rocky Goalie Michel Plasse even lost his temper as he charged referee Charles Banfield, which earned him a 10-minute misconduct at the end of the game. For the record, the Rockies didn't have one power play the entire game, while the North Stars had four.
Then on February 25, Barry Beck spoke after a come from behind tie (yes, another) against the Blues in St. Louis. "We'll make the playoffs. I guarantee it," Beck said. Needless to say, it wasn't going to be easy. Their leading scorer was out and the team was still three points behind Vancouver for the final playoff spot.
Sometimes they were settling for ties, other times they were battling and rallying for them. Either way, they all amounted to additional points, the new NHL standard for playoff qualification in 1977/78.
By a March 17 home game against the Canucks, the Rockies were seven points behind for the final playoff spot. But Bill McKenzie stopped 15 out of 16, the only one getting by him with 30 seconds left, in a start after being called up from the Philly Firebirds the previous week. Two nights later the Rockies took on the vicious, but fairly inept, Red Wings and came away with a 6-4 victory, closing the gap between them and the Canucks to three points.
On March 22, the Rockies finally won another on the road. The Penguins fell 5-2 in the game that saw McKenzie backstop the team once again. The victory was the Rockies' third in a row and cut the Vancouver lead for a playoff berth to just one point. The win snapped a 32 game road winless streak for Colorado.
A win against the Flyers on March 28 in front of over 11,000 of the Rockies' faithful pulled Colorado to a tie with Vancouver for the last playoff spot.
"They've been doing it for a month now," Kelly said in the Denver Post.
"They've got more heart than anyone I've ever seen in hockey in all
the years I've coached. With all the guys out of our
lineup (seven) with injuries, and with all the other guys
coming through like they are, they've got to get all the credit." ---Denver Post
An April 1 game against the North Stars was a tie game until about 13 minutes remained in the third period. That's when Denis Dupere and Dave Hudson scored a goal a piece within 18 seconds of one another to put the match out of reach. The game vaulted Colorado to a two-point lead over Vancouver for the final playoff spot.
The playoff race came down to the final game of the season. Both the Canucks and the Rockies were tied at 57 points a piece. A Colorado win and a Vancouver tie or loss would ensure the Rockies a quarter final appearence against the Flyers, a team the Rockies were beginning to compete well with in the final two months of the season.
McNichols was sold out for the game against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were 4-0-1 against the Rockies, but all streaks seemed to end for the Rockies this year. The road winless streak ended, the winless streak in front of a home crowd of over 10,000 people ended and the games without a shutout ended. The Blues mastery over the Rockies would end in that final game of the 77/78 season as Colorado skated away 5-2 behind strong performances by Favell and the "Kid Line" of Pierce, Joe Contini and Larry Skinner. Both Pierce and Contini scored in the third period to stake the Rockies to a 4-2 lead. Paiement added another for the final score of 5-2. About an hour-and-a-half later, the Rockies learned the Kings had defeated the Canucks and that they were going to face the Flyers in the playoffs.
Mike Kitchen Scores Against Blues April 1
The first game was in Philly. The Flyers scored two goals on 42 shots in regulation while the Rockies scored two on only 18 sorties against Bernie Parent. It was one of those games good teams fear against lesser clubs. A gritty team hanging around can steal one from a team of superior talent. But this wasn't to be as Mel Bridgman scored just 23 seconds into OT to give Philly the 3-2 win.
Although coach Kelly said that nobody should be disappointed, the Rockies were. "We got into the playoffs, so we've got to be---and we've got think like---contenders," captain Wilf Paiement said in the Denver Post. "So no way should we come out happy with a loss."
The Flyers won game two in Denver to close out the Rockies season. Flyer captain Bobby Clarke and Mel Bridgman, scorer of the game one winning goal, both praised the Rockies. Clarke said they had everything they needed to be a contender in the future. Bridgman added, "I'll tell you, in a couple of years they're going to be right up there with the best of them."
As we all know, this wouldn't be the case. But in 1978 things were looking up.
NO GOAL!!! This one Didn't Count for the Flyers in Game Two