The Colorado Avalanche won decisively at home over the Nashville Predators on Monday night.
I like confessions, so here’s one:
I’ve been out-of-the-loop on NHL hockey for a while. I paid attention in 2014 when the Avs made it, even went and got a new t-shirt (my gear is very dated).
Since I was a kid, my heart has belonged to the Denver Nuggets. I’m well-versed on and a huge fan of the Denver Broncos but if I had to choose just one local franchise, it would be the Nuggets.
In 1996, the Avalanche arrived from Quebec City with an absurdly talented roster. The best the Nuggets had to offer that year was the death rattle of Sarunas Marciulionis’ career.
The Broncos? That was the year they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The year before the back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Mark Brunnell, Michael Dean Perry’s too many men penalty. Still hard to talk about.
In a twist-of-fate/perfect storm of events, I was able to attend nearly 30 games that first season including all of the playoff games (except one of the Detroit games, the owner of the tickets I used was a Red Wings fan).
I had a history with hockey. I can vaguely remember my father taking me to Denver Spurs games at the Coliseum. More vivid are my memories of McNichols and the Colorado Rockies. I was a huge Wilf Paiment and Paul Gardiner fan. Don’t talk to me about Lanny, that’s when the Rockies became a Don Cherry sideshow. The real Rockies didn’t know anything about Chico Resch. The goalie was Doug Favell and he had a great helmet. Barry Beck was our blueline stud. Simon Nolet, Mike Kitchen. Wonderful memories.
So when the opportunity came to get in on that first year with the Avs (how I hated the name, at first), I couldn’t resist. Who knew what a magical ride that was going to be, I was hooked by the first intermission of the first game. At McNichols, in those early days, they had 3 wires that ran from the rafters down into the tunnel and before the opening riffs of Dick Dale’s “Scalped” rang out, they’d shoot flares down those wires. It was loud and coupled with the skate-in song it was in incredible experience. I loved every minute, every visit. Sakic-Forsberg-Kamensky was etched into my soul.
The honeymoon lasted five years, encompassed two Stanley Cups that bookended the Broncos Championships. All-in-all it was a great time to be a local sports fan.
Then, the NHL locked their players out for an entire season. When they came back, two things happened; First the salary rules had changed significantly enough that the game was different. Second, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote immediately signed with other teams (Philly, Columbus). The Avalanche went, in one offseason, from perennial players to bottom-feeders. A fall that was finally capped last season with the 48-point debacle. The fall from relevance was cold and hard. It cost the Avalanche one of the more rabid fan bases in sports.
They tried to alter that trajectory in 2014 with a lofty finish in the West and a playoff appearance. It didn’t feel the same. There weren’t the stars of yesteryear to step-up. There wasn’t a Roy to steal one. No Peter or Joey to pull it out. No Foote or Blake to bring the D or the pain, whichever was needed.
This year’s squad is different. They aren’t flashy, they don’t have a stable of the top names in the league. What they have is a spirit and a style that’s reminiscent of those first teams.