Double digits seem to represent special players. Wayne Gretzky’s 99 was retired league-wide in his honor. Mario Lemieux, it is said, wore 66 in deference to Gretzky. Ray Bourque wore 77 and Patrick Roy broke the mold of goalies wearing low numbers by donning 33. Does 44 hold any special memories for Avs fans? Let’s find out.
Serge Aubin: C 1998-1999 (#44), 1999-2000 (#49), 2002-2003 (#10), 104GP, 6-8-14, 80PIM
Drafted in the seventh round by Pittsburgh in 1994, Aubin bounced around in the various farm teams of the Penguins and the Avalanche before seeing his first NHL game. He got one game in 1998 (4 min TOI in a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Dec 31, 1998). The Avs were feeling more generous (or desperate) in the 99-00 season as Serge participated with the big club for fifteen regular season games and 17 in the playoffs leading to the Western Conference Finals.
The Columbus Blue Jackets picked up Aubin as a free agent for the next two seasons. Colorado invited him back for the 02-03 season (71 games, 4 goals, 6 assists, 68 penalty minutes). Afterwards, The Avs left him unprotected and he was taken by the Atlanta Thrashers in the expansion draft.
Sami Helenius: D 1999-2000, 33GP, 0-0-0, 46PIM
The “Fighting Finn” was selected by Calgary in the fifth round of the 1992 draft. And he took his job seriously. At his peak, in 68 games with the St Johns Flames, Helenius had 3 assists and 231 penalty minutes. One of the few Euro-born pugilists, Sami lived in the AHL occasionally popping up for a handful of NHL games. In 2003 Helenius took his act back to Finland for five additional seasons.
Rob Shearer: C 2000-2001, 2GP 0-0-0, 0PIM
Shearer joined the Avalanche organization as an undrafted free agent in 1995. He spent four seasons with the Hershey Bears producing nearly a point/game (.82 in 299 games). Rob finally got his big chance with the NHL club on Nov 11, a home game against the Ducks of Anaheim. The Avs kept him on the team for the next game and then sent him back to Hershey, PA. Having not received a qualifying offer from the Avs, Shearer went to Europe, playing mostly in the German and Swiss leagues for the next twelve seasons.
Nolan Pratt: D 2000-2001, 46GP, 1-2-3, 40PIM
Originally selected by the Hartford Whalers in the fifth round of the 1993 draft, Pratt only played a season in Hartford as the team relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina and was rebranded the Hurricanes. In June of 2000, Nolan was packaged with a first round pick and a couple of seconds in exchange for Colorado’s premier blue-liner, Sandis Ozolinsh.
Those were big shoes to fill and well above Pratt’s ability. But the stacked Avs team just needed him to play a solid defensive game and fill the periodic healthy scratch. Pratt actually began that season with the Avs sporting #4 since 44 was promised to Rob Shearer at the time. With Rob’s return to the minors in November, Nolan made the switch to double digits for the remainder of the season.
After the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals, Pratt was traded to Tampa Bay for a sixth round selection. He spent five seasons with the Lightning – adding a second Stanley Cup ring – and a year in Buffalo. Four years playing in Europe rounded out Nolan’s playing career. In 2011 he became an assistant coach with the Springfield Falcons and joined Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, in 2015. The next year he rejoined the Avalanche as an assistant coach where he continues to this day.
Bates Battaglia: LW 2002-2004, 24GP, 1-8-9, 18PIM
A sixth round pick by the Ducks in 1994, Battaglia didn’t play a game for the parent team before getting traded to the Whalers in 1997. He didn’t lace up for Hartford either as the team became the Carolina Hurricanes that next season. Bates finally got the NHL level in Carolina’s first season. After five seasons and a Stanley Cup with the ‘Canes, Battaglia joined the Avs in a trade involving Radim Vrbata in March of 2003. Bates preferred number was 33 but that was a non-starter in Colorado. So he settled for the double four.
Even though Battaglia’s stats include two seasons with Colorado, he only played with the club for 2003. Four games into the 2003-04 season, Bates was sent packing to Washington in exchange for Steve Konowalchuck. After spending the 2004 lockout in the ECHL, he joined the Toronto organization as a free agent. Subsisting on successive single-year contracts, Battaglia played five seasons splitting time between the Leafs and the Marlies. Bates last six seasons as a professional player happened in the AHL and finished in Europe.
Jordan Leopold: D 2006-2009, 129GP, 13-28-61, 52PIM
Leoprone was acquired from Calgary along with other stuff for Alex Tanguay at the 2006 draft. Not a popular move it’s fair to say. He played parts of 3 seasons for the Avs, racking up 13 goals and 38 points in 122 games while falling down a lot. He also scored a trio of assists in the 2008 post-season, which is nice.
At the Deadline of the nightmare 08-09 season he was traded back to the Flames for Ryan Wilson (see below ) and a pick that became Stefan Elliott. Technically he is part of the Eric Lindros trade tree, so that’s pretty cool.
Ryan Wilson: D 2010-2015, 230GP, 7-60-67, 157PIM
Wilson was never drafted and signed an Amateur Free Agent contract with Calgary in 2008 before being traded to the Avs at the 2009 deadline. In his 6-year Avs career he specialized in big open-ice hits, a little offensive spark and getting hurt all the time. In his first 3 seasons he averaged 62 games, in his last 3 he averaged 14. After playing just 3 games in 2014-15 he was let go by the Avs after his contract expired.
Eric Gelinas: D 2016-17, 33GP, 0-1-1, 12PIM
The Avs threw away a perfectly good 3rd round pick on Gelinas at the 2016 deadline which was part of a golden shower of bad personnel moves that are still cringeworthy to this day. He played 6 games than destroyed his arm with a gruesome elbow injury.
The following Autumn he did not impress the new post-Roy coaching staff and was played sparingly until finally being inflicted upon the San Antonio Rampage and their fans for the balance of the season. He left as a UFA for the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
Mark Barberio: D 2017-present, 80GP, 5-17-22, 35PIM
Barbs was given the #45 after he was claimed off waivers in the lost season but selected the #44 last year. Oddly enough the spot he vacated in the Montreal system was most likely filled by his predecessor, Eric Gelinas. He was a breath of fresh air on the blueline during the lost season, playing the final 34 games and putting up a respectable 9 points.
Last season he took a slightly more defensive role as the puck mover on the 3rd pair but still managed to produce 3 goals and 10 assists in 46 games. After a long mid-season hiatus due to lingering injuries he returned for a couple games down the stretch and scored an assist in the 6-game Nashville series.
The Avs signed him to a 2-year deal in May.
So, nothing super special. Hopefully Barbs continues to have an impact on the team with his play and as a mentor. Personally, I like the look of the double-four. May it have a long future with the Colorado Avalanche.